Approximately one year ago this week, I heard of an opportunity to become a ‘global resource.’ It turns out my employer takes that ‘global’ word seriously. The past 12 months have added 170,000 miles to my various airline accounts, and taken years off my spinal alignment. While my previous assignment found me in the occasional European capital city, this one favors Asia for the most part: Beijing, Mumbai, Bangalore, Sydney, Hamburg, The Hague five times, and Hong Kong four times. Today, I am shuttling off to Chicago, which feels like a light cab ride compared to the 30-hour days between lie-flats for those Hong Kong shleps.
My favorite has to be the Hamburg (1 week) to Sydney Australia (1 week) to home (15 hours) to The Netherlands (2 weeks) trip. Sitting at home during those 15 hours, my Bride asked me if I wanted to jump in a hot tub. “Sure, sounds good!” And I sat there, staring. Then she asked if I could use a sandwich. “Yeah, I could go for that!” Leaning in, she says; “How about a gin and tonic?” “Outstanding suggestion!”
It was 10 am local.
That’s when I realized the wisdom of the old saying: Time exists so everything doesn’t happen at once. When you collapse time, your body apparently gives up on sequencing or aligning behavior to the time of day. I needed to introduce some time structures, and fast. I can’t say I’ve succeeded. I tend to screw up my calendar in Chicago, one time zone away, more than I do Hong Kong, 12 time zones away. Nevertheless, I realize several things need to change to accommodate the constant movement.
More troubling than the personal misalignment is the lack of productivity. I keep thinking I’ll be able to write and think on a plane – but that rarely happens. I did get upgraded once, and managed to grade a semester’s worth of papers “overnight.” I landed and uploaded the grades, prompting one student to email me: “I am now convinced of your superhuman powers.” I could have mentioned that I was at 38,000 feet while she slept, but why ruin a young person’s idolatry?
At the one year point, then, it’s time to consider that this is my way of life now. I’ve had the opportunity to chat with friends who have done this for years. I’ve spent time in deep conversation with folks who were formerly email buddies on a crowded listserv. I managed to finally meet up with a Scot I’ve admired for years, grabbing a beer in a Dulles airport bar one evening during his layover – and spent a delightful evening with a Welsh friend in Hong Kong who is a member of a multi-million mile club with an airline. These conversations confirmed what I was beginning to realize. In traveling this much, your life becomes very small. I think of my mother, now limited in mobility. Her life has become defined in terms of what she can navigate. While I navigate the globe, my life becomes defined in terms where I can focus amidst the blur.
In truth, living among strangers can be a liberating experience. I can focus where I like. I can allow my creative life to fill in the vacuum formed by the lack of a social life. As with most things, I just need to become intentional about it. So here’s to a more intentional year ahead. This is not an ideal existence, I will need to get off the plane at some point. However: For now, I get to see the world. My Flickr feed is a thing of beauty. I am gaining an understanding of global culture and humanity than I could not find any other way. I am most, most fortunate.