Saturday, August 4, 2012

Flying Solo

During the summer, it's not uncommon for me to spend quite a bit of time by myself. For some this sounds lonely and perhaps depressing. They wonder what the hell I must do with myself all day.  (Trust me, not a whole lot.)
But during the school year a typical teacher has to divide his or her attention amongst the 140ish students and their parents, our fellow teachers and finally the few administrators. The constant social stimulation becomes annoying and then by March, just fucking intolerable. You'd be amazed how sick you become hearing your own name being repeated followed by yet another request.

I'd like to say consequently I need my quiet time, but honestly I think I always revered a little isolation. Growing up in a very modest home with minimal square footage, I preferred the solace of my own bedroom with my own novels and music. Now, I'm no J.D. Salinger. I went out to play, and Oh, how I played, but I never felt "bored" being by myself. Yes, after some time alone, I'd call up the homies and we'd do whatever we did as teenagers (ahem), but then after some time, I'd want to crawl back into my turtle shell.

So, now in my thirties, I continue to cherish this time of reflection, serenity, and regeneration.  Really, I just like to do whatever the hell I wanna do, and when I wanna do it!  The tricky part to this solitary bliss is that it occurs in the comfort of my own den.

My own couches.  My own sofas.  My own internet.  My own refrigerator...

And I don't just stay inside for God's sake.  The bliss continues... in my local surroundings.  There are errands to be run, shops to explore, and lakes to run around.  I'm pretty comfortable even seeing movies by myself.  (At this point I'd like to remind everyone that when a theater is not at full capacity to leave the courtesy buffer seat between you and your neighbor.  You'd be surprised by how many folks do not honor this etiquette.)

The comfort I took in my solitude was recently put to the test when the hubs and I went to Washington, D.C. to meet with colleagues for his work. Obviously while he was in meetings for three full days, I would then have to traverse the city solo. Naturally I took the opportunity to geek out on the sites including the legendary 17 (or so) Smithsonian Museums and Galleries in the area. I'd purchased my travel guide and spent some serious time on the Google machine mapping out my itinerary for the trip. Since I'm too cheap to take a cab and too scared to navigate the subway system with my penchant for getting lost, I'm relying on what God gave me. Working legs and feet. 

With a little trepidation and lots of maps to arm me against my own self destructive broken internal compass, I was stomping down 14th street  ready to take on the city! Well let's be honest--the historic, crowded with tourists, "safe," part of the city.  Shit gets crazy 'round the other parts.  

I hit the National Aquarium first since I was making this an efficient trip. It opened first and was on the way to the bigger fish.The gal behind the desk hands me a ticket and says I don't have to pay!!!  Hollah!

This trip is going to fucking rock!  

Actually I think it was because the person in charge of money including the key to the cash register hadn't arrived yet, but I took it as a sign that this trip was fated to be a success. So, yes, it was entertaining--alligators, fish, a small shark, a teenaged tour guide who wanted to "help me" since apparently reading the placards seemed too difficult... but I wanted dolphins, mermaids, and King Triton (Ariel's Dad) himself! Too much?

Next on my tour was a biggie: The National Museum of American History. Doesn't that make you want to say the Pledge of Allegiance or shoot a firecracker at somebody? I'm still on my high from not having to pay anything and my personalized, albeit unnecessary, tour. I get in the giant line forming and then once we're in it's like a frenzy. People are just taking off to be the first in an area.  I just start taking pictures of shit without really knowing what it is. The funny part is that I'm taking pictures of things I think my hubs would enjoy seeing. Pieces like the first compound engine. Or the first steam-engine piston, or the first generator. These items, although very important to the growth of our nation ... are boring. I'm marching on and stumble across something pretty cool.  The first public school bus!

How freaking cool is this?! They had all kinds of other early modes of transportation that you could actually go inside.  Ok, still loving the freedom but at this point I found myself pointing and going "Whoa, this is the first school bus"... to NO ONE.  I shrug it off.  Take a picture and move on. 

So, I attach myself to a group of people led by one of the ancient docents through one of the floors and we get to share in some anecdotal laughter, but it's forced and it makes me depressed, so I disengage from them and found some treasures like Dorothy's "Ruby" slippers from The Wizard of Oz. I'm saying out loud how amazed I am by how simple and obvious the slippers are in reality compared to my childhood imagination which allowed them to be actual rubies, when I realize that yet again, I'm talking to myself.  Actually, I'm talking to another young woman who is taking her children through the museum.  She quickly guides them away from me.  

I meander and find many interesting items to read about and take pictures of.  One of them was the first lady's collection of inaugural dresses encased in the belly of the museum with lots of descriptions. Um, Nancy Reagan was a little minx! Her dress was divine, and then naturally I had to take a shot of Michelle Obama's dress in all its glory complete with her Jimmy Choo heels. The picture doesn't do it justice, but believe me, this is the shit.  

I've been plowing through some serious historical artifacts from Kermit the Frog to the actually namesake flag from The Star Spangled Banner, which was quite dramatic in the way it's presented.  Dark room, the song is playing, no pictures allowed... you feel special just looking at it.  

I move on to the National Museum of Natural History to see the dinosaurs, which they call the fossil exhibit, but that's a boring name.  Kids come for the Jurassic Park adventure minus the screaming and death.     

This was underneath the fossil of something called a "stellar sea cow" which to this day just makes me giggle.  It's like a compliment and derogatory name-calling all in the same phrase.  

"You fat magnificent bastard!"

There's also an entire section devoted to the history of mankind complete with the first lady herself, Lucy! I really wanted to hear children from conservative religious backgrounds asking their parents how this could be if God created the earth in seven days. No such luck.  

Beauty is on the inside, right Lucy?
So now I'm in line at the cafeteria inside the museum and having to navigate those lines with hungry parents and screaming children really makes me want a drinky-poo. I spot the little individual wine bottles you get on airplanes, but decide that might be pushing it.  I get my eggplant panini and water and begin wandering through the long tables looking for a spot for little ol' me. It's middle school all over. I start to beat myself up a little thinking that if I were stronger I wouldn't be thinking about it. 

It's just one meal. Eating a meal by yourself doesn't mean you are lonely or strange. Where am I going to sit? No, those people are not looking at you with pity.  

But as much as I try to eat slowly and calmly, I don't. I scarf down my food, chug my water, and head on past the hordes of groups continuing to pour in. I hit up a few more exhibits including the rocks and minerals which are great. Here are some of my favorite "gems" ...

I'm loving these but really I'm just forcing myself to recognize this feeling and deal with it.  I'm also acknowledging that I have two more days of this, so I better get used to it. But the truth is that it's way too crowded, I'm tired, my head hurts and I miss having someone to share this with. I'm thinking of just heading back to the hotel for some air conditioned quiet complete with cable, but I decide to switch it up and go through the surreal National Sculpture Garden over to the National Gallery of Art.  

Hello, Heaven!  

It's quiet. The building itself is breathtaking with the giant rotunda with columns surrounding the proportionately giant fountain in the center. The artwork is just unreal. I'm alone and it's perfect since the hubs is a lot of things, but he is not a fan of art. I feel rewarded and blessed as I make my way through this immense and mind numbing collection. This is what I've been waiting for.  

Vincent Van Gogh
I'm simply grinning as I walk from room to room admiring these treasures: Van Gogh, Raphael, Rembrandt, Whistler, Sargent, Corot, Cezanne, Monet, Gaugin, Degas... it's just too much to take in. I know that I'm smiling and recognize that there have been moments where I would suppress that emotion.  But not today!  I try to sit on one of those giant ottomans they put in large galleries for people to share, but the old guy keeps giving me the stink eye, so I don't linger. It doesn't matter though because this is why I came. For this feeling. Art that lifts, inspires, and allows quiet contemplation.
Thomas Cole
Edgar Degas
And here is when I feel the universe smile. See, it's worth it. I call it a day and hike my way back up to the hotel, but whoa, watch out!  I take a detour up Pennsylvania Avenue--uncharted territory folks.  Along the way I stumble upon the impressive Navy memorial with fountains and bronze artwork and take a quick rest there. Then I pass the FBI building where I make a shout out to my homies--Mulder and Scully.  

Later that night after the hubs returns and we all have this great dinner together at a tucked away Indian place, I try explaining my day. I begin by going through the photos which are small since I'm only using my I-phone, and dark since the flash isn't the best quality. Since you really need to be the one holding the phone to get the best version of the image, I give him the phone and let him scan through. I'm trying to give my explanations and reactions but he's just flying through them which really hurts my feelings especially since I was taking so many for him. But then I take another look.  The images are fuzzy, dark, small and for the most part pointless unless you were there. And that's when I come to the understanding that unless you're there it's rather meaningless. You have to be present. We all know the postcard doesn't do any justice to the real thing.  

The hubs is appreciative of my effort and we agree that I don't need to take pictures of everything, especially not for his sake. This trip is for me. I need to slow down and appreciate what I'm seeing. This is not as easy as it sounds.   

So, the next day I'm more mentally prepared. I have a tour of the Capitol building which I'm totally psyched about--which consequently ensures disappointment. Long lines, crowded rooms, impersonal docent, and way too short considering they tell you to be there 45 minute prior to your tour. 

I call bullshit.  

But I got a cool shot of the building with all the questionable black suburbans.  

And then, again, after going through some crap, I went to visit the U.S. Botanic Gardens.  
Here are a few of my personal favorites.  

So, while I'm still enjoying my freedom I do miss the opportunity to share these little findings with someone who might also take delight in finding a plant that totally looks like a penis. But no. I have to hide that little joke for later.  

Last on my itinerary for day two was the Freer Gallery which was also nicely cool and underpopulated. Asian art is not quite in high demand on The Mall.  I fell in love with this very serious Japanese silk screen when I looked closer and found this bratty child painted in the corner of the last screen. Everything else on the screens was so stoic, but this little shit just made my day.  

Followed by this sassy little fella. He had some gruesome friends who each guarded the temples against one of the winds.  East, West,... each had a job. But this guy with the hip out just cracked up my shit. At this point, I'm totally laughing out loud by myself and absolutely not giving a rat's ass.  Freedom.
"Give me angry and sassy! Yes!"

I also found my dwindling number of photos taken to be an indicator of my desensitization, or comfort in taking things in as I was experiencing them. We'll go with the second interpretation so it sounds like I'm learning and growing.  

Here's the one and only picture I took day three at the Corcoran Gallery by the White House. I'm proud to say I join a tour group and stay with them the entire time through the gallery which was a very rewarding experience.  
On day three I finish up early with only the Corcoran under my belt.  Overwhelmed with names, dates, and art modes I find a posh restaurant with a bar close to our hotel.  I'm killing time until my hubs and his boss finish their meetings, where we'll all meet at the hotel, and then we'll head to the airport that evening.  I muse over all that I've seen and experienced.  I'm proud of my independence, my overcoming some expected social norms, and enjoying my aloneness in a different place.  I think to myself what a perfect way to conclude this little journey but with a glass of wine by myself.

The bartender finally comes around and takes my order.  He asks if anyone will be joining me, to which I quickly reply, "Oh, yes,  I have a friend meeting me."  


And then, when no  one comes to meet me, but I still get another glass of wine, I have to make up another story so I don't sound like a crazy person.  See kids.  This is why you tell the truth.  

This lesson is apparently still in progress.  

No comments:

Post a Comment