A Lesson in Staying Still

During the past 7 years of travel, there have been many instances where I’ve managed to get hurt in the most spectacular and occasionally comical of ways. Falling off a motorbike and over a cliff  when a truck full of cabbages broke down in front of me, raining cabbages down the steep road to Pai in Northern Thailand. Eating a llama empanada that gave me giardia and salmonella, karmic retribution for chowing down on an animal I love. Dengue and a respiratory infection in Saigon. Getting teargassed in Bangkok. And much more.

As I move around, I speak with my parents frequently. Communication with loved ones, be they friends or family, is something that has become far more simple since I set out in 2008. My parents are always happy to hear from me but remain in a state of vague dread for the next phone call that begins, “So the good news is that I’m alive. But…” To their credit, they’ve always remained calm — uh, except for that teargassing one — and I can almost hear the sound of their heads shaking at my newest misadventure.

After each injury, I did not stay still. I kept moving, and travelling. It seemed that my life was already quite decadent in that I built it around what most people think of as vacation, so taking the time just to rest seemed silly.

Someone once told me that the reason a lot of this happens is that my brain is always thinking and ruminating, half present and half not. Perhaps that explains part of it. Not the mosquitoes or that damn cabbage truck, mind you. But the mishaps that fall within my own circle of movement can be attributed to this kind of foggy non-presence.

A few days ago I woke up to the sound of something falling off a high surface. Heart pounding, I crept down the stairs and as I did, I imagined the possibilities of what created that sound. Half asleep, my heel landed too close to the edge of a stair and I slipped. I was surprised moments later to find myself on my back and at the bottom of the stairs. If there was an intruder, I’d have had very little ability to do anything about it by then.

Happily it was not an intruder. It was my friend’s cat at my cat-sit in Toronto, being mischievous and knocking off an item from the kitchen counter and onto the floor. While she looked at me with disdain, I curled on my side and waited for the initial pain to subside. I hoped that it was just that — the early shock — but unfortunately it was not. The next day a doctor confirmed that I would need weeks of rest to heal the back rib that cracked against the stairs as I fell.

toronto catsit

“Wait, I’M the reason you fell down the stairs?!”

As the site has grown I’ve held back from writing about these injuries. I wasn’t the only traveller who had them, of course, and it seemed dramatic to do so when I could still write about food. Ultimately, after a year of not knowing what ailed me I did write about dengue, but the smaller stuff stayed on the DL.

It’s only a cracked rib, but it reminded me of a paragraph in the excellent Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals that Brought me Home, a recent release about a woman who suffered a brain aneurysm and had to learn how to be whole again in the new version of who she was. She used to put on huge dinner parties but in her recovering state could not, and had to contend with sitting helplessly while others catered to her for a change.

In my case, thankfully it was nothing remotely as devastating or eclipsing as a brain injury. But sometimes it takes a small thing like this to fully put your rumination on pause and force you to reassess. Earlier this week, when a stranger at the pharmacy offered to tie my shoelaces because I couldn’t bend to do so, it reminded me that I am truly terrible at accepting help. I stood there, flushed red, telling her it was fine, that I could do it. She pointed out that I clearly could not since I just tried three times and failed. She tied my shoes. I stammered out a heartfelt thanks, and left embarrassed.

I love taking care of others, and try to anticipate what friends or family might need. But the people closest to me are the first to say “but Jodi, what about you?” Me? I usually try to deal with the problem by myself, to my own detriment. The times where this has spilled over into a state of overwhelm has shown me that it is most definitely not an effective solution. In this case, unable to actually move in normal ways, I have had to lean on those around me in Toronto. I am lucky that this injury happened in a city where I know many people, and they have immediately come to my aid, feeding me, driving me to the doctor, offering careful hugs for fragile ribs. I feel like a moron. I’m trying not to, because they tell me the only moronic thing is my feeling moronic. Fine, point taken.

I’m not sure everything happens for a reason but I do know that it’s been a bit of a rough year in private ways, and that’s why posting has been even more sparse than usual. I’ve avoided staying put as I pushed hard to try and get through whatever has been on my mind. Instead, I did the things that scared me. A 10-day Vipassana in New Zealand in January. Getting on a sailboat for 5 days despite having almost drowned as a kid, and many other smaller victories against deeply-embedded fears.

While these felt like accomplishments, they did not address the underlying rumination. Movement rarely does. I have no choice, now, but to stay still. Perhaps the lesson here is to re-familiarize myself with my own thoughts and words, something that used to bring me comfort but that I decided was a chore during the last few months.

This injury is insignificant in the grand scheme of things but it has made me throw up my hands and say “enough”. It’s ok to say you need help when you actually do need help. It’s ok to listen to your body when it says “no more” and to stay still as a result. And it’s ok to write about it too.

So here I am.

I’ve spent the day writing by hand and it feels good. Foreign almost, since I had stopped doing so in large part this year. People often talk about routines and how they are important on the road and I truly agree. What I’ve failed to include in mine of late is an outlet of words, even if they remain unpublished forever. When people ask where I learned to take photos I say, “Oh I’m not a photographer – I shoot in auto. I love pictures because they make my true love — words — even better.” To me, the photos are the accessories to the breathless possibilities of prose and yet in the last year I’ve stopped writing even for myself.

I’m going to follow doctor’s orders and take it easy. I can’t climb a mountain this year for my birthday as I normally do, so I will spend it with friends, family, and readers in Ottawa instead. I was supposed to take the train out but since I can’t carry anything — no backpacks for weeks, says the doctor — my brother is going to have to come fetch me from Toronto. As per usual, I felt terrible to put him out in this way. He just laughed at me. “Jodi, please — you get hurt in ALL these far away places and I can’t do anything. I’m just happy you finally hurt yourself close to home. I’ll come to get you next week.”

This is the kind of brother we all want.

I will stay with family until I head to Bangkok in October to keynote at TBEX Asia.

Some housekeeping notes:

– To those who came out to the reader meetups in Toronto and NYC – thank you! I had a great time, and it was lovely to meet you. Props to Amy, who works on boats and navigates them up and down the St-Laurence river, training to be a captain. When I met her at the Toronto meetup she said, “Oh I parked the boat at the beaches and then walked up to your meetup.” Amazing. The best part of these is seeing readers befriend each other, and then they send me photos later of them all hanging out after I leave. Yay!

– Some of you saw the note about my rib on Facebook, and I thank you for the many lovely comments and well wishes.

– There will be a Montreal meetup as well in September, but I’m not sure when yet. As with the others, I’ll be posting it as an event on the Facebook page. You can subscribe to the events for the page here.

– An update about the Word Master position. With close to 400 applications in 2 weeks (!) I hired a wonderful lady named Marloes, who I actually met in person in Chiang Mai in 2011, when she sat next to me for a foot massage. She had apparently followed the site ever since, and her application was excellent, as was her second round submission. She’s been helping update and reformat the resources pages, with the first one – my World Travel Resources page – complete, along with shiny buttons for a new table of contents. We’re working on the gluten-free cards project too, and if you’ve submitted your name to the language translation sheet, she will be reaching out soon.

That’s it for now,

Jodi