The Real Journey

It’s been a while since I posted. I could blame it on the fact that my computer is still giving me fits. Or that I got back from Turkey and then left a week later to come to Utah.Or that I have been so busy I haven’t had time to walk or write. But none of those are the real reason.

I haven’t not been walking. There are seven posts I have waiting to be published.

The real reason is that I am scared.

I’m not scared to share London with you, that is easy. I am scared to share me with you – a much harder task. The truth is, this journey has become something much more personal than I expected it to be. It has forced me to face some life-long insecurities and fears head on and, now that this challenge has taken on its own life, I can’t just stop and avoid it any more. And I can’t really write posts without purposefully or inadvertently revealing some of that. That’s terrifying for me.

I panicked and ran away to Utah because I was so overwhelmed that I needed to recharge in a place where I know myself, or at least where I thought I did. But I have spent two weeks here reading my old journals, reading great books, writing pages and pages in my journal every day and meeting up with friends and family for long chats about my life and theirs. It turns out two things are a fact: I am the same person I ever was, and I didn’t know much about myself.

These walks have suddenly become a very real analogy about my life and I am suddenly seeing all kinds of meaning in them that I was actively ignoring before.

They haven’t been about London at all. They have been about me learning to let go. To let go of my idea of what my life should be. To let go of what people think about what I am doing. To let go of London and allow it to be part of my story but not the whole thing.

There’s another paradox I figured out today too: I am desperate to leave a mark in the world (on London in particular) without leaving a trace of myself in it.

I love that people write to me and find inspiration in my posts. I love it when they find new parts of the city they didn’t know about or go out wander after reading about a place they hadn’t really thought about visiting. But the instant I get your great comments, your encouragement to keep going because you enjoy reading it and find value in what I am doing, I want to take myself out of the equation. I want to be a matchmaker who puts two halves together and vanishes into the background. I am scared of the recognition, the honour of having you spend some of your time writing to me with your thanks and encouragement. You are all doing such amazing things that I don’t feel worthy of the same level of engagement because I am just little old me, walking around, thinking silly thoughts and going down smelly alleys. I am not changing the world, curing cancer, developing alternative fuels or solving world hunger or poverty. I’m just sharing the things that matter to me and sharing the experience of a journey I don’t know why I am on.

So often people ask why I am doing this project. I change my About page all the time trying to answer that question because I feel somehow obligated to know the answer for the person who asked it and for myself .

The REAL reason I am walking EVERY street of London is this: I don’t know.

I have NO idea why I am so compelled to do this.

I really don’t.

Some days I wish I wasn’t.

I don’t make a penny off of these and it has never been my intention to do so. I have struggled to make rent, to find ways to stay one month more in London so I can go on just a few more walks, to find workarounds for computer crashes at a time when my bank account has less money in it than the average 10-year old’s. I live off the kindness of strangers, friends and family who are pulled into the idea of this project and see something in me and what I am doing. They seem to think that just the fact that I am me and that I am sacrificing everything to finish a project I can’t explain the reason for is enough of a reason for them to give me things like free rent, spare computers and love and support on the days when I feel like it’s all falling apart.

I don’t know why they do it. I don’t often see glimpses in myself of what it is that makes them feel the desire to help me do this thing. I certainly don’t want to acknowledge that I deserve this (writing that word even seems self-indulgent). I mean I created this project, I set the deadlines and the pace, if I can’t make it that is nobody’s problem but mine, right? And yet I get nothing but love and support in every way from people who seem think that if it is important enough to me to do this, it is important enough for them to help me make it happen. That’s a hard thing to accept for someone who has a habit of apologising for her existence.

While I am struggling to acknowledge that I can’t remove myself from this journey – it is mine and one that I am clearly making for a reason, although right now it’s hard to own up to that – I have learned some things from the walks that annoyingly line up with a lot of life lessons I have experienced before and with a lot of things I am reading right now about other people’s experiences. Trouble is, I believed these things wholeheartedly when the times were good but I have flat-out  ignored them when things are rough. I know now they are true all the time, it just takes more practice (and patience, my eternal tormentor) to trust them to be true when life is hard.

When I go out for a walk, I decide on the area I would like to cover that day. I have a decent idea of what amount of the map I can get to on one walk so I mentally decide the boundaries and set to it. When I started, I was ticking off streets. The plan was to cover them all and I was covering them all. I would stop and take pictures of things here and there, the things I thought people might want to hear about, and I would make notes of the things that actually interested me for my own future reference only. When it came to this blog, I spent more time figuring out what I would say about the walk than actually experiencing it.

As things have progressed, I have learned that this is the ONLY time I am going to do this. It is a lot of streets. I love the project but I don’t plan to do it again. So I decided to start paying attention to the things I actually wanted see, the ones that piqued my curiosity just because they did. I started allowing myself to zigzag instead of follow a pre-planned path through the day. That made things so much more fun. I found things and met people I never could have planned for and they changed the course of my path in a much more interesting way than I could have designed.  I still get nervous at the beginning of the day that I really will have nothing to share, but after 41 walks, I have started trusting that things worth mention will make themselves known along the way somehow.

In a time when a lot of things in my life are really unknown (Where will I be living a few months from now? How will I make money without going back to jobs that I hate? Will I be able to turn my passions into the life that I want?) I have used the walks as a way to escape. It’s the place where I let things happen as they happen. I enjoy the detours because I find things I wouldn’t have otherwise, sometimes really great things. I no longer plan how to cover the ground from A to B, I trust that I will get to it all even if I let my curiosity take me on detours. I just let go and enjoy the journey.

So for about 7.5 hours of my week  (4.5% for math geeks) I have been viewing my experiences the way I should be doing it all the time. All this stress about the future and worry about what will happen is the same as what I was doing with those first walks. I am trying to plot it out and decide ahead of time how to experience my life so that I have no surprises along the way, so I get it done. But I don’t want that any more. I want to say I experienced it. I’m battling against the fact that zigzagging and following my curiosity and passion in life might make things less predictable and certain but all these walks have proven that it makes it a lot more fun.

The only way to see the beauty and incredible gifts around me right now is to take time to explore them and acknowledge how much they make my heart leap, to take photos of them, recognise them and share how happy they make me, even if they are only part of my story for a short time. I don’t want to pass them by as I head toward a predetermined destination.

I don’t know how much time I have left in London – one of the best places in the world and one I have been lucky enough to live in for four years. I don’t want to only really be in it 7.5 hours a week until this project is done. I have amazing friends and family, an incredible boyfriend, fantastically supportive flatmates and unfolding opportunities that may not be certain yet, but right now in this moment are pretty ridiculously exciting. I want to explore and appreciate these things the same way I do a great hidden garden or unexpected chat with a stranger on my walks.

That is the real journey.

For those who still want to stay tuned, I look forward to sharing it with you even though it scares the shit out of me.

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10 thoughts on “The Real Journey

    • Hi Muriel. Thanks for the offer. All it needed was a new hard drive so it was easy in the end, just a pain for a while there. Hopefully this fix will last through the rest of the walks and one day I will be able to afford a new laptop. I found out while I was working on it that this one is six years old. Crazy! It’s seen a lot in its day 😉

  1. A great post. It raises much for your reader to consider too. I often wonder, for example, that if the process of blogging is cathartic for the writer then the subject matter is less important to the writer initially, but one is still needed as the price of admission. Then as time progresses the writer starts to develop an obligation to the reader… hope that makes sense. All the best, Ian

    • Hi Ian. It definitely does make sense. I didn’t really expect people to read this so I posted what I felt like saying then when people started reading it (why would they read a blog?!) I felt like I had to suddenly make it really worth reading. The irony being that they were reading it when I wasn’t trying so why I thought I had to change that is a little silly really. I am glad you are back! The site looks great 🙂

  2. michellemhudson says:

    A terrific and brave post Noelle. Thank you for sharing this. And I can so relate to what you’re saying – in particular “Where will I be living a few months from now? How will I make money without going back to jobs that I hate? Will I be able to turn my passions into the life that I want?”…

    Love from across the pond.

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