Two months ago I asked my lovely readers to vote on a monthly series I had running for two years, The Life Enthusiast Chronicles. The series is all about what makes people from all over the world absolutely in love with life. The sole purpose of the series has always been to inspire and uplift.
Worried that maybe the series had gone on too long, I had to ask you guys this: Should the Life Enthusiast Chronicles continue?
You said yes. So, here we are.
I took some time selecting a Life Enthusiast for the comeback post, because it felt important to bring someone here that could reinvigorate the series with unabashed beauty. That person is Victoria Dougherty from Cold (and from Virginia).
I’ll proudly admit that I have had a girl crush on Victoria all the years I’ve been reading her writing, both on her blog and her fantastic novel I can’t recommend enough, The Bone Church. Her writing is sultry, haunting, and edgy—but somehow it’s completely down to earth. Victoria’s writing never fails to make me feel something new, and she exudes life enthusiasm on a very deep level.
I’m honored to have Victoria here today. And, I am overjoyed to kick off The Life Enthusiast Chronicles again.
Journey. The word feels so lavish on my tongue, like really good whiskey. It has a bite, too. If I could endeavor to swallow it, the word would burn as it goes down.
When I type the word journey, it takes on a whole other dimension. It makes me ache, awakening my wanderlust, making me feel unfinished. Like I want another, then another.
I’m talking about a Journey, of course. The process of going somewhere or going through something.
A journey can be the fresh snow path of a spiritual odyssey, where we make our own way one snowshoe at a time. Or the intellectual, emotional, and physical treks of a career, a marriage, or a yoga practice.
All transformative in their own way.
But for my Life Enthusiast post, I want to focus on a more literal journey—the kind where you pack your bag, leave a safe, familiar place and within hours, find yourself among strangers, not neighbors, in a place that looks nothing like home.
Perhaps it’s more beautiful, or more rough-edged, interesting. There might be a level of danger, or at the very least…alienation. You may or may not speak the language or understand the customs.
I’ve become mostly an armchair traveler since turning in my Eurail Pass and passport for a minivan and Facebook page. And while I cherish the more interior journey of becoming a wife and mother, I miss my days as an observer and cultural chameleon. So much so that I wrote two full novels that drew heavily upon my years of travel as a young adult.
For over a decade now, I’ve sat at my computer—often pregnant or breastfeeding—and channeled everything from the more mundane experience of having to learn how to operate a Russian-made washing machine, to an obscenely glamorous encounter with then-Secretary of State Madeline Albright in an Art Nouveau cafe dripping with luxury veneers and attitude.
I’ve slept on the street, like a pauper, and stumbled into spending the night at a castle when I simply rang the wrong doorbell. I thought I’d come across the most ancient and titanic student hostel I’d ever seen, but the genteel sixty-something woman who answered the door took pity on me and offered a guest bedroom. (Note to self: Young men with handsome faces and sensual kisses can’t always be relied on for good directions.)
Or I’ve just sat on a local beach for hours, watching a sand crab scuttle from one hole to the next, and finding a sense of commonality with that tiny creature.
This is the art of the voyage. It’s a garden of empathy—given and received—that grows from within.
Travel is also about discovery and escape from the mundane. The disruption and then restoration of routine—all with the idea that we somehow come back better, the richer for it. Even if we were only away for a week.
When we embark on a journey to another country or city, it’s an opportunity not just to escape, but to renounce, reinvent. And once there, we get into character. We often dress differently—more whimsically or sexier. Our stories fall upon fresh ears, and help us see ourselves anew.
It’s exhilarating to imagine how strangers in a strange land might be interpreting us. Those who haven’t been subjected to our social media posts and political views. People who don’t know that our living room still sports Aunt Joan’s old, pink camellia patterned couch, or our weekends are spent in a frayed Virginia Tech t-shirt and army pants. They’ve never met our past boyfriends, or heard us complain about our jobs or stubborn muffin tops.
If we fall in love when we’re on a journey, it’s often with a mighty wave of passion, and can take months, years to get over. We are in the moment, falling in love as a refined version of ourselves, perhaps with a person who’s more creative and dangerous than our usual type…or pretending to be. An individual who doesn’t quite belong in our regular lives, no matter how much we want them to.
And travel always brings at least some of that home, allowing us the most glorious hangover. Colors seem richer, almost making our eyes hurt, compelling us to stew in the experience, and avoid getting back into our old habits too quickly.
We want to remain the person we became, at least for a while. Because when we do re-enter our old lives, we long for at least one person to say, “You seem different.”