We honeymooned in Vietnam last September. My second time in the land of rice paddies and banh mi, and Jonathan’s first, we had purposefully planned very little. There were a few nice to have’s on the itinerary, and even fewer must-do’s. I’ve learned over the last few years that a holiday (or anything, really) is only as good as the mental state you’re in, so we left ourselves space and several open days.
We did hardly anything on the must-do list. The ten days that had seemed like a potential canvas for traipsing to at least four different spots ended up being a perfect amount of time to barely see two different cities.
Amidst the year that was 2019 (2 stressful jobs, Jonathan gone for weeks on end, adopting a dog, planning an overseas wedding and a pretty major local celebration, multiple overseas visitors for weeks at a time, and trying to stay sane and present for ourselves and eachother somewhere in there), I knew that we were going to need some breathing room and a slower pace, post-wedding. I had completely underestimated how much would be required.
We lazed. We spent hours over breakfast, I started reading again. We ate late and rose late (wine may have been present). There were a lot of cocktails.
I like to keep a very stream-of-consciousness journal of observations when I travel, and one of last year’s Vietnam outtakes (aside from other profound inclusions such as “make our bedroom feel more 5-star” and “have more long breakfasts”), was dolce far niente.
Literally: Pleasant idleness. “Sweet Doing Nothing.” I remembered it from Eat Pray Love. It was such an alluring concept and sat well with my values and who I want to try to be. At the time, it felt very foreign, very far away from any sort of logical reality.
Do less. Live more fully and openly. Take more time. Eat more slowly. Stop, rest. Enjoy the spaces in between.
Fast forward a mere six months, and Dolce far niente has come home to roost for so many of us in a way previously inconceivable.
Slow weekends are now the norm. Taking time while cooking dinner is a given. Cooking dinner is in itself now a regular occurrence! I went kayaking last weekend. I walked the dog twice today (the second time for an hour), because I suddenly have an abundance of time.*
I need to add several disclaimers here, because to ignore the privilege that I have to be able to even try to enjoy the time we find ourselves is a glib, gross oversimplification of what isolation means for so many- too many.
- I have a safe and spacious home, where my husband and I can easily co-work
- I am in a stable, harmonious partnership
- I have work
- I am reasonably healthy and have no compromised immunity
- Our families overseas are healthy and taking care of themselves
My heart aches for those at the fringes of this pandemic, those not directly impacted by health reasons but through the waves that this is creating- whether financial, personal, or relational. For many, this represents the sacrifice of a path that was previously without impasse. The pandemic is for many the start of what comes next- whatever that may be.
That being said, I know I’m not the only one astonished at the abundance of time that suddenly has appeared in my life. Gone is the commute, the early rising and returning home after dark. Gone are weekends packed full of errands, get-togethers and life admin squeezed in around the edges.
What is left behind is space. Time to catch up on those projects that have been hanging around, but moreso time to just be. Time to explore those hobbies I’ve just not gotten around to (harmonica, anyone?), time to read, time to virtually connect with friends and family, despite the distance.
I am, in my foundational extrovert self, longing for a return to crowded social events, live music venues and an after-work drink. But the introvert in me, and the person who so deeply craved rest following The Year That Was 2019 (and really, the leadup in the few years prior to even that), is relishing some aspects of this imposed isolation on a genuine level.
I have not transcended reality, and my life is certainly no Instagram feed of Real Simple covers, but I am seeing learnings creeping in as a result of this forced slowing down.
We will all be very glad to leave this pandemic and its isolation behind, but maybe- just maybe, there will be a few things we bring with us, into what lies ahead.
*He also was very keen for a second walk, and is very cute and I am a decent dog foster person.
**Henry is our new foster dog, following the sudden and deeply upsetting death of our gorgeous Reine earlier this year. He is only temporary, and we are only fostering.
*** Because I signed my marriage on the dotted line, so if I cave on this one my credibility is utterly gone. Anyone looking for an obscenely adorable, loving greyhound to adopt, you know where to find me… in time.