The time between the actual writing of a book and finally seeing it in print is pretty significant. So much of our life has changed during that time, and in some ways, we hardly feel like the same people. We became parents, moved to a new city (Portland!), and even changed careers. It was nearly two years from signing the contract to seeing our first advanced copy, and we were both beyond excited to read the book in print… and anxiously hoping we’d love it.
As we leafed through the pages, we noticed that some sentences and phrases were highlighted through a design system. Our editor had selected these phrases. We had some recollection of this in the review process, but it was not until the book was in front of us that we paid them much attention. We read each one aloud to each other and realized that although our life looks quite different, the sentiments behind many of these statements are as alive in us today as they were in those moments on the trip.
When Powell’s honored us with a request to write a blog post, we decided to stick with how we wrote the book and integrate both of our unique perspectives on a few of those highlighted statements.
Our book contains an essay entitled “Reaching the Badlands,” where I recount an experience we had during the first leg of our journey: the Great American Road Trip. Although we intended this to be a peaceful and reflective time during which we listened to great music, watched the world go by, and dreamed of what the year of travel would hold for us, the experience ended up feeling more like a somewhat miserable race with no prize at the end. By the end of our first week on the road, we had reached Badlands National Park. We were exhausted, and morale was getting low. That is where the essay begins.
When leafing through the book, however, all that pops out are some pretty pictures and these quotes: “I quit my career for this”
and “Something began to crack inside me. I am here for a reason, I heard a bold voice say.”
We all hope to carry the great lessons of our past into our daily lives, but more often than not the present is far too all-encompassing to have the capacity to do so. As a person who never journaled, it was an odd experience to see my own words from the past quoted back at me. It felt like an old friend had sent me a message, pointing out how similar this part of my past was to my present.
Once again, “I have quit my career for this,” and I am again exhausted by our tendency to take on way more than we can handle. Before moving, we had not yet caught our breath from a whirlwind couple of years. All in one month, Alexandra found out that she was pregnant, Chronicle offered to publish our short guide if we were willing to turn it into a full-length book, and I committed to a very serious and time-consuming job. From that moment to today we have been asking ourselves a question similar to the one we asked on our Great American Road Trip: Why are we doing all this?
We all approach life differently, and Alexandra and I are hopelessly heady, passionate, and curious people. We will likely always pile on what feels like too much and then lose sight of why we are doing what we are doing. I am not referencing the ultimate “why” such as destiny or greater purpose, but the why that makes things matter — the things that inspire joy, love, clarity, connectedness, and agency. The things that feed our soul. And even in those moments, we may not be able to articulate what is happening, but we know as well as we know anything.
As life would have it, today is the day this blog post is due… and today is the day we finally close on our house… and today is also the day the contract I had relied on for work evaporated in a pretty shady way. Facing my first mortgage as a new father with no income is simply hard.
But as luck would have it, I am tasked with writing something thoughtful on a day when I would rather stick my head in the ground. And through the writing process I again felt something crack within me that made me look for a reason for why I am here. No matter where you go, you are going to find some bad luck, be mistreated, and run into some rough times. But if we live into that sort of stuff, the beauty that is life will disappear. Sometimes we need something incredible to snap us back into the moment and into the things that matter most. And other times, it just takes us sitting and being thoughtful. Good to know that the latter is available anytime.
[It's] the seemingly infinitesimal interactions that ultimately make up who we are...that shepherd us forward from one day to the next.
So much has happened in the last two years that it has been quite natural to look forward toward the bigger pivot points rather than stay present and engaged with life’s day-to-day moments. At the end of a full-tilt day in a full-tilt week in a full-tilt month, I’ll wonder if I’ve become addicted to stress, or at the very least, addicted to constant doing. Time and time again I’ve told David that I want to slow down, yet it’s almost as if the minute those words escape my lips, I sign myself up for yet another deadline, another ambitious goal, another life-altering decision that will throw our worlds temporarily upside down.
It’s been my nature for as long as I can remember to infuse my days with a sense of purpose and action. On better days I see this as ambition. On days where I’m feeling less sure of myself, I see it as distraction. But more and more I crave the quietness and slower pace needed to see the subtle things in life. So, when I leafed through our book the other night, I found it no coincidence that the following highlighted quote jumped out at me: “We found life, real life, in the in between.”
This sentence is from an essay I wrote about our time in Lyon, France. We were in the last third of our trip and had been doing and seeing so much. We traveled to Lyon from Tours, where we had spent a week reconnecting with old friends and discovering fantastic winery after fantastic winery in the magical region that is the Loire. Our plan upon arriving in Lyon was to rent a car and continue our wine exploration, taking day trips to the nearby Burgundy region. Yet when we arrived in Lyon, we realized we had completely disregarded the cultural phenomenon that is August in France.
August in France (and many other European countries) is a time of holiday. Businesses shutter their doors. Cities empty, and beachside towns and mountain escapes overflow with throngs of vacationers. We were crushed to find out that not only weren’t wineries open but there also weren’t any rental cars. We were, in a sense, stuck in Lyon. But after a day to reset our expectations, we realized what a gift we had been given. Over the next nine days in Lyon, we reconnected with our music, read a lot of books, cooked simple meals at home, and befriended locals at some of the few open businesses in town. We found ourselves welcomed into a community of underground musicians, seeing a side of Lyon we wouldn’t have normally been privy to had we filled our days with to-do lists and schedules and expectations. We were no longer tourists or even visitors. We were friends. It was, as the highlighted quote said, real life in the in between.
Whether you’re traveling or whether you’re home, real life isn’t seeing the monuments, the galleries, the museums, and more. They’re amazing, but they don’t provide enough nourishment for us to thrive in the day to day. What keeps us going, what keeps our hearts and minds at peace, are the moments in the in between. It’s the conversations we have. And the relationships we build. And the seemingly infinitesimal interactions that ultimately make up who we are and what we care about, that shepherd us forward from one day to the next.
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Alexandra and David Brown
spent the first year of their relationship planning and going on a trip around the world. They are now happily married and live in Portland with their daughter. A Year Off
is their first book.