Writing has always come naturally to me. I've kept a journal since I was 12 and have always found it an easy, calming, and expressive way to take in the things around me. Writing has been my best friend for as long as I can remember. It listens when I need someone to hear me, responds when I need feedback, and brings color when I need it most. It's been my coping mechanism, my internal processing guide, and a way I can express my truest self. It has also been a way for me to imprint moments in my memory. I can revisit people, places, and feelings from a certain point in time, without time travelling, or spending money I don't have.
The memory pushing its way into my mind today is when I was sitting in the Residenzplatz Square on the steps leading up to the Residence Fountain in Salzburg, Austria in 2012. I had taken the train from Schladming, Austria, where I was attending Tauernhof Bible School. I needed a break and wanted to branch out on my own for a day. Austria is a beautiful country, the people are kind, the mountains and rolling hillsides are stunning, and the cities hold so much history. There was a market taking place in the square, I could smell the fresh croissants in the crisp morning air. It was October... or November? I can't quite remember. All I know is autumn had arrived and the city was buzzing with activity.
It was here, in the square, sitting on the steps of the fountain that I found myself writing. I opened my journal, I had to tie my hair back because the breeze kept pushing it across my pages as I wrote, smearing the wet ink. The flurry of activity in the square, the smell of freshly baked bread, and knowing nothing of the language everyone was speaking, inspired me. I felt like an observer. Sort of invisible. I could watch, interpret, take it all in. I didn't have anywhere to be at any specific time. No one was waiting for me to hop back on a train and return (I may have left the campus without permission... I take a little rebel with me wherever I go, just to keep things interesting). I wasn't going to run into anyone I knew. I was truly a stranger in this magnificent place.
There were many carts set up in the square, people purchasing freshly made jams, freshly cut meats, olives and cheeses. It made me wonder what they were all making for dinner as I sat and watched. I purchased a croissant from the cart that smelled like heaven. It was warm, soft and flaky as I bit into it. I paired it with a cup of Austrian coffee, which still goes unmatched in my coffee drinking experience. The pigeons got a little too close for my comfort a few times. I always knew I wasn't a bird person but I never realized how much they freaked me out until I got to Europe. They're everywhere in the cities there! Anything with wings and a poor sense of direction is not my cup of tea. Birds are actually better than most directionally challenged wise... don't even get me started on butterflies and grasshoppers. I digress.
Even though it was ten years ago now, I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember the feeling I had when I was madly trying to capture every defining aspect of this moment. I didn't want any of it to go to waste. I know those journal entries are somewhere, packed away and full of dust, behind many others. Not only is writing a way for me to express myself, it acts almost as a photographic memory. There are certain places I have sat down to write, with the intention of fully taking my surroundings in. So I write. Everything I see, everything I feel, I write. And it does something for me, it ingrains that moment in my mind like a snapshot. One I can call on when I'm feeling lost, or not myself, or like I'm not living my best, most fulfilling life. I call on those snapshot memories and remember what I've been so fortunate to experience. I remember when I was happiest, and what filled my heart with joy. Sometimes if I sit long enough, close my eyes and take a few deep breaths, I can start to hear the sounds of that place, feel the warmth of the sun on my skin from that moment. I live there for awhile sometimes, in those memories, those written photos.
Life has a way of passing us by. We get caught up in the hustle of everyday life. Paying bills, working, making meals, going to the gym, working more and paying more bills. In my early twenties I was care-free, had no responsibilities, could go wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted. Now, it's not so easy. But just because things shift doesn't mean we have to leave those pieces behind. It reminds me of when I hit junior high. I used to find so much joy in using my imagination. I would play in our playroom for hours on end with my toys. Sometimes with my sister or brothers, but mostly alone. I loved to create stories and characters. Then when junior high came, I told myself I had to "grow up". I remember walking into the toy room and intentionally packing away all of my things. My littlest pet shops, barbies, my little ponies, everything. I packed it all away, put it up on a shelf and walked away. I did the same thing with my stuffed animals in my bedroom. My teddy bear, beanie babies, everything that could be seen as "childlike" was shoved into the top of my closet to collect dust, as if these things never meant anything to me. Now looking back, it breaks my heart. It was one of the things I loved most about myself, using my imagination, and for some reason I felt like it was time to "grow up". I didn't even know what "growing up" meant, but I figured it must mean no more toys or teddy bears.
I don't know if this is true for everyone, but as I reach my mid-thirties I believe sometimes you need to remember who you were, to know who you want to be. My last few trips home I've begun pulling some of those dusty items off the shelf. I opened the closet doors and pulled out my teddy bear. There he was, just waiting for me, after 22 years in a closet. The memories came flooding back as I pulled one after the other of these precious toys off the shelf and out of their boxes. I think sometimes as kids, and adults, we compartmentalize too much. We think we can only be one thing at a time because there's no space for more than that. I used to love my imagination, but I had convinced myself I needed to "grow up". I used to love to travel but then I went to school, moved to an expensive city, started building up debt and convinced myself I couldn't afford it. The first thing to go seems to always be the thing that brings me the most joy.
Writing is a funny thing. I'll say it again, it listens when I need to speak, and provides feedback when I need to hear it. Just now, while writing this blog, I realized the reason I've felt stripped of who I am lately, is because I've consciously decided or convinced myself that those life-giving pieces of my personality are expendable. Maybe I can't fully be those things anymore, I mean as much as I wish I could pull a 13 going on 30 situation, I don't think its realistic... but I can, and must, find a way to incorporate them into who I am today. If we strip away the things that make us unique and bring us joy, what's left?
Visiting those snapshot moments from my past help me remember who I was, and help me realize I need more of my old self in my current life. As I said earlier, sometimes you need to remember who you were, to know who you want to be.