by Amy Flyntz
Recently, in a painstaking game of textile Tetris, I arranged four pairs of shoes at the bottom of my favorite canvas weekender bag. Rolling my t-shirts, sweaters, dresses, shorts and jeans in one zipper travel pouch and bathing suits and underwear in another, I pressed them inside my bag and willed them to flatten out. I grabbed the leather zipper pull between my fingers and exhaled, pulling with one hand while trying to cinch the teeth of the zipper together with the other. The zipper groaned in response. After several minutes of pushing and pulling, I opened the bag and sighed. I would be in Cape Cod for two weeks, one of which I would be fully immersed in a writing class. How much did I really need to take with me? Out came the four “extra” t-shirts, the two “just in case” dresses, the “in the event it’s freezing cold” additional pair of jeans and the “if I’m bored with my other sweater” sweater. I swapped out my pair of wedge sandals in favor of flat, sand friendly flip-flips and tried the zipper of my bag again. This time, the it closed with a quiet whoosh.
“Do you smell that air?” asks a low voice behind me now. “That’s the air of the sea. Can you smell the salt?” I look over my shoulder to see who the voice belongs to. A man and a woman sit on a bench in the dappled shade of a leafy tree, their two young children between them. The father leans his head in closer to his daughter’s, one arm draped around her bare shoulders. “We’re going to sit here for a minute and enjoy the view,” he continues, his other arm outstretched as he points in the distance. “The water, the boats and the sunshine. Can you tell me what you see in those big, fluffy clouds?”
I turn back toward the water. A camel, I answer silently. A blowfish. And there…that’s a dragon. I smile to myself and finger-comb the strands of my blowing hair out of my eyes. In a town lined with shops peddling stuffed whales and puppets with plush lobster claws, this family is not only teaching their children to appreciate the simplicity of nature, but to marvel quietly at the beauty before them. I reach for my journal, its well-worn spine splaying open in my lap. The world needs more people like these, I scribble. I need this lesson as much as the two toddlers behind me. Perhaps, I realize, I need it even more.
This year marks the third that I’ve traveled to Cape Cod for a writing workshop. It is a retreat from the demands of my daily life; a chance to study with some of the most respected American memoirists, to mingle with beloved poets, to dive headlong into workshopping some of my personal writing with perfect strangers and to learn how to hone the ever elusive craft of writing. It’s a week I find endlessly inspiring and wholly exhausting, and each January, I begin the countdown to my August reprieve. Upon my arrival at the Cape, I throw open the windows to my humble home away from home, breathe in the salt air that has infused all of my summer memories from childhood and unpack my belongings. The whole ritual takes less than five minutes; my entire wardrobe takes up a single dresser drawer and four mismatched hangers in the closet. Yet, I don’t miss what I left behind. I don’t think about what didn’t fit in my bag. I am only aware that I am here, and that I have all that I need.
Now, sitting on the beach and listening to the slow, gentle cadence of the father’s voice behind me, I note in my journal the disconnect between my life here and the reality of my life back home. What is it about being here that allows me to be more present? Certainly, the very sentiment of “vacation mode” is not unique to me. But it is more than that. Here, I am not seduced by pretty things hanging in shop windows, but instead, by the call of the sea and light that changes so often it leaves me breathless. Here, I leave the house in the morning wearing the same shorts I have for two days, a clean t-shirt the only differentiating factor in my wardrobe choice. Here, sunscreen is mandatory; makeup is not. Here, my hair, still wet from the shower, will just have to dry in the ocean breeze.
I look up from my journal to the boats bobbing in the water in front of me. Clumps of black seaweed are gathered haphazardly across the sand, inviting the local dogs to dig for what they deem a worthy treasure. Later, I will walk with my dear friend across the breakwater that divides Provincetown harbor; we will pick our way among the uneven rocks and slippery tidal pools, our heels sinking in the hot sand of the dunes and finally, we’ll revel in the abandoned beach at Long Point, the seals and seagulls the only witnesses to our journey.
I scratch a crude drawing in my journal with my pen: a lopsided rendition of my canvas travel bag, bulging at the bottom corners, gaping open at the top. I want to take all of this with me when I leave—the wide expanse of the sky, the water gleaming silver in the sun. I want to remember that living simply is about small acts that make me feel free: an uncluttered living space, a smaller selection of clothes chosen to reflect my style and dedication to conscious consumerism. Life back home holds the burden of reality, but today, I have been reminded to stop and acknowledge what exists in front of me. In packing a bag, in traveling, in learning what makes me feel most inspired in this world, l only have to make room for the beauty of life to rush in. In discovering that I can live with less, I have unearthed so much more.