from “Night Ride Home” by Joni Mitchell
There are many road songs, but this one is mine. I still remember the first time I heard the guitar trill in rhythm with the crickets’ chirp, Joni’s voice as warm and magical as the Hawaiian evening drive she sings about.
I was 17 years old, mowing the lawn at my father’s dental office, waterproof yellow Walkman banging on my hip. I hadn’t been much of anywhere, but I knew I wanted to go.
“Night Ride Home” captures everything I love about travel ~ weightless freedom, surreal moments at every turn, the quiet joy of being with your dearest ones in the world.
Shawn and I began our romance on the road, biking through Prince Edward County and the country north of Belleville with our high school class. Slapping at mosquitoes as we shared our first kiss. Watching each other settle into sleeping bags from across the hay barn. Maybe the thread of travel caught and entwined as our hearts came together, and now we couldn’t separate our love from our wanderlust if we tried.
The thread pulled tighter when we flew to China to bring two children into our family. Meeting them in hotel rooms. Rocking them to sleep on buses. Posing for photographs on the Great Wall. Becoming parents in a place where everything was new and strange and utterly captivating.
No surprise that our wedding text is from Song of Solomon:
Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.
Two weeks ago, Shawn gave notice at his job.
In May and June, we are emptying our townhouse.
In July, we set out on the open road.
We’re starting with a very leisurely trip around the globe ~ visiting family and friends in Ontario and Michigan over the summer, jetting to Malaysia for the winter, moving on to France and Holland next spring. We don’t have definite plans beyond that, but if all is well, we’ll keep going.
In a nod to Joni Mitchell, we’ve named our adventure Operation Hejira, after her 1976 folk jazz album of the same name. Hejira, meaning “journey,” was written on a car trip Joni made from Maine to L.A. For me, hejira is not just about the “urge for going” but the urge to turn the journey into art.
Funny, of all the people we’ve told about our plans so far, only one has asked me why ~ my 13-year-old nephew who called last week from his home in Georgia. “Why are you moving so far away?” he wanted to know.
Why indeed? Why make life difficult and uncertain? Why leave people we love?
Those questions are roaring in my head as we begin to make the break. A friend stops me on the street and tells me that our news made her cry. I box up books I’ve owned for twenty years, ready for the garage sale. I need to stand in line at the passport office but I made a mistake on the paperwork.
Here’s what I can tell you about my own reasons for taking this leap.
I’m an artist.
I crave stimulation and contrast. I love to figure out how things work, what’s going on, decipher language and notice patterns. I’m driven to collect as much truth and beauty as I can, and transform it into something meaningful. When my life and surroundings are too predictable, the fire goes out.
I love being an outsider.
Some people long to fit in and belong. I relish being different. I’m comfortable at the edge of things, watching and wondering. Travel gives me so much more to observe, and also lets me withdraw into myself so I can process what I see.
I want to cut down on my domestic load.
No secret that I’m not a housekeeper. I’m not big on decorating and entertaining; I’d be happy to hand over cooking, cleaning, and laundry to someone else. Travelling gives us a reason to radically simplify our stuff and living in cheaper areas means we can outsource more of the chores.
I want to lead an interesting life so I have things to write about.
Yeah, I know I could write poems about red wheelbarrows and white chickens. But I write children’s novels. Action, adventure, mystery, colour, flavour, excitement. That’s what I need to keep the Truth and Beauty Cycle flowing for my books. I can already feel the emotion rising as the departure date gets closer.
Rest assured that Operation Hejira does not mean I’m easing back on coaching. Just the opposite ~ another reason we’re travelling is so that I can devote myself even more to my clients and their mission of designing art-committed lives.
[Edited to add: I've written a memoir called Pilgrimage of Desire: An Explorer's Journey Through the Labyrinths of Life. It's the story of our travels set against the backdrop of my recovery from depression, and it includes coaching exercises to move you toward your own Operation Hejira. Learn more here.]
By the way, Joni isn’t the only one I have to thank for inspiring this adventure. Props also to Tim Ferris, Christine Gilbert, Colin and Tracy Burns, Jennifer Miller, Cath Duncan, Lea Woodward, Chris Guillebeau, Adam Baker, and Ev Bogue for showing us what’s possible and, indeed, irresistible.
Sing us out, Joni.
Now I’d like to swing the spotlight back on you. Because as earth-shaking as this step is for me and my family, I’m sharing the news with you as a coach, and I want to know what thoughts and emotions it stirs up for you ~ even if you’re not personally interested in location independence.
And if you have questions about our plans, I’d love to hear them.