On being "away."

So I read this blog post by Steven Berlin Johnson over a week ago and I can't stop thinking about it. Steven B. Johnson is an author and thinker about innovation who lives in Brooklyn. I heard him speak last year at a conference, where he was really engaging and made me want to read every one of his books. (Best one I've read so far: The Invention of Air. Amaaaaazing.)

Anyways. His most recent post is about picking up and moving his family to California for two years. Their kids are young and his job is flexible (author/speaker for the win!) and he's always wanted to spend some time out west. What's unique about this situation is that they're not moving, per say. They're spending two years somewhere else and then coming back to Brooklyn.

And I gotta say, I adore this idea.

On hearing about their move, one of his friends told him that this is going to be like slowing down time. Since the four of them are going to be focused on where to live and getting lost in their new town and finding the best places to eat and just plain old DISCOVERING all the time, they're going to be able to spend more time together. No more routines, no more birthday party obligations or standing lunch dates or stuff you do just because you live where you live and everyone else is doing it. For two years, they're going exploring.

Can't you just see it? The kids grow up and they talk about the two years they spent in California. The two years when they hung out with their Dad more than ever, when they all piled in a car and drove to see the Redwoods or vacationed in Seattle or got to know the friends and family out there who they never normally see. By breaking the schedule of life in Brooklyn, they create unique memories, ones that will last longer than the others, because they aren't all blurring together in a rhythm of sameness.

On Friday night, Chris suggested we take a walk. It was gorgeous weather and we had eaten an early dinner, so we headed down to Brooklyn Bridge Park, where we found the WORLD SCIENCE FESTIVAL was kicking off! There were telescopes for star gazing later in the evening and at 8:30 there was a panel of astronomers speaking about their jobs and the universe. We were giddy! A beautiful evening with a stunning sunset over Manhattan and a free panel filled with super-smart guys. It was an awesome night, one that I won't forget for a long time.

But what allowed us to stumble onto this? For once, we had a free weekend. No plans, not even one. And with the freedom from obligations, we allowed ourselves to be more spontaneous, to wander our neighborhood, to stumble upon and enjoy something without worrying about needing to get back or get up the next morning.

We woke up Saturday morning and decided to grab the ferry to Governors Island. Let me be clear: we've wanted to go to Governors Island for over two years now. The ferry is a 7 minute walk from our place. And yet! Not once have we made it down there, not once have we taken the 3-minute ride to the island. Friday's spontaneity put us in the mood for more exploring, so we spent a few hours walking the island, swinging on swings and sitting in Adirondack chairs.

It was the best thing ever.

And all weekend, this joy kept bubbling up in me, this love of doing tons of fun stuff on the fly. It felt so familiar, I couldn't quite place it. Until I could. And I realized that a huge reason why my time spent in France was memorable is because, while I lived there, I was free. Family lived far away so there wasn't the guilt of needing to plan visits. Most of the people I hung out with were not from France either, so we didn't have hang outs that required calendars. We were there for a year, living it up without repercussions or savings accounts. And every single day was a clean slate, one that could end with a dance party or dinner by the Seine or a free night at a museum. I miss this, but have never found myself able to replicate it on this side of the ocean. I have always assumed that this is a France thing, but now I'm wondering if it isn't, simply, an away thing.

There's no clean ending for this blog post because I don't know what the ending is myself. Is the moral of the story to move away every few years, take a year abroad? Am I supposed to resist making plans here in New York so that they never feel like obligations? Or is this another one of those life balance problems that you never quite figure out? In lieu of an ending, how about some pictures from our super spontaneous weekend, eh?

1 comment:

Erica said...

Have you seen his talk on TED? After watching it, I immediately went out and bought his book, "Where good ideas come from". It's really inspiring !!

I'd like to hear him talk someday ...

(Now I have to go back and read the rest of your post, I got distracted by the first paragraph!)