There was a time when I would frequently get lost.
I could turn from my desk to my bookshelves to look something up, and find myself an hour later lost in the opening pages of a dozen well-loved novels.
I could stay at my desk, having sat down to do half an hour of preparation, and find myself two hours later, lost in the excitement and possibilities of a new set of lessons on Macbeth.
I got lost in work, in language, in ideas, in creating.
I could get lost in the word ‘let’s’ and all its spontaneous possibilities. Weekends got lost to impulsive decision-making and the urge to tease out exhilarating moments, to stay in them forever. Even schoolnights could get lost to a sense of abandon and the implicit knowledge that there was plenty resilience to handle the consequences. I got lost behind intoxication and smokescreens.
I got lost in hour after hour of flipping vinyl, made possible by time slipping away in the aisles of record shops.
I’d like to say I got lost in the winding streets of strange cities, but that rarely happened; I would already have got lost in poring over maps and leafing meticulously page by page through guide books.
Of course, those were the days when being lost also meant not knowing quite where I was, and who or where I wanted to be.
But now those lost days feel like a luxury.
These days I’m never lost, never far from where I’m needed. The acres of pages of fiction are in a distant room waiting to be unboxed and put on shelves. The vinyl is stacked and stored. And it’s hard to get lost in creativity when I’m never out of reach, never unconnected, just ticking minutes away from obligation. It’s hard to be deep in thought when you’re always listening, always aware.
I’m privileged enough, for certain, to have a room of my own and the equivalent of my £20 a year. But in my ideal room, there would be no clocks. There would be time to get lost.
Once, I did get lost in a strange city. Venice, after superseding everything I thought I knew to expect of it, did conform to that much touted idea – everyone gets lost in Venice, even me, with my maps and guide books. The city was so fluid, it seemed that streets and bridges and campos would shift their positions in the time it took to look down at a map. It was exhilarating to find ourselves well and truly lost in the mysterious alleys with dark moonlit waters lapping at our feet.
So it makes wonderful poetic sense that I’m off to Venice again, to get away from obligation and let myself get lost. It still seems incredible, which is why I haven’t let myself get too excited about it so far, but as I type I’m waiting – alone – to embark on the first stage of my journey. Which, just for extra romantic frisson, has me landing in Casablanca, Morocco. Then I’ll be off to actual Venice for a writing retreat with the lovely Rachael Herron. (Shall I just decide that any future writing gurus I follow must be Rachaels (with an extra a)?) That’s a whole week of no obligation other than finding words and losing myself.
Then, to get me back where I belong, I’ll be meeting my family (beautiful obligations) for our well-earned holiday in Cape Town. It’s taken nearly three years of living in Africa for us to get there. So there is not only adventure ahead, but also – count them – two whole long-haul journeys…without children. The second of which has me setting foot in Dubai, my first ever visit to the middle east.
That is, if I’m not too busy getting lost.