Friday, July 22, 2011

Notes from Hydra. 6.

The thing about last days is that you know they're inevitable. You see them ahead of time, on your calendar. You work tirelessly to beat the last day — to fill the days prior with all of the best and most wonderful stuff so that when the last day does come, it will be a celebration of a vacation or time well spent. But no matter how much I've loved every second of that well spent time, I find that last days are hard days. Sad and bittersweet.

On the eve of a last day, I go to bed imagining the perfect last day. I'll wake up early and do exactly what I've been meaning to do and all the things I've wanted to do again. But last days in a place never turn out like that. The tedium of packing and checking flights and cleaning and packing some more trickles its way into your morning. And afternoon. And evening. Every time I wake up to face a last day, I'm surprised by the power of these logistics. A last day is never what I think it should be.

You fight for that last walk or last bit of sun or that last bead of sweat because suddenly you panic. You're afraid that if this last day isn't perfect, you'll forget everything about the entire trip, and all of that time well spent won't matter.

As a music student, I became proficient at not listening to the advice of my piano and cello teachers: Just 30 minutes a day, and you'll be fine for that recital. My problem was never the 30 minutes a day. My problem was always the night before that recital, and the hours prior to performing — I panicked. However much I had practiced was not enough, and all of the doubt and worry I had worked so diligently to dispel through hours of meticulous phrasing, finger exercises and memorization engulfed me like a violent storm. On this last day, my confidence in the music transferred itself to my confidence in an impending on-stage failure. No amount of reassurance, breathing exercises or beta blockers could help me. Instead of listening to my my better judgment and taking a nap, I sat down at the piano, or I picked up my bow and proceeded in even more relentless hours of very, very panicked practice. When I'd practiced long enough to deaden the shakes from my hands and arms, I'd get up on stage and play (I'm never quite sure how I found my second wind). And usually (aside from a couple of very traumatic memory blocks), I played quite well. The thing was, when I was actually playing, I never worried about forgetting or failing miserably because I was always aware that the practice-everyday method worked. There was never a need to panic (except when I really hadn't practiced everyday, and these performances were always played like the grades of papers that are written the night before) because I knew that no amount of panicked practicing, no matter what I tried to quickly fix, would ever enable me to give a better performance. Last-minute practicing just made me more panicked.

This is what I've silently retold myself today, our last full day on Hydra. Normally I'm ready to go home after a long trip like this, but today I do not feel ready (and I don't think it's because I'm in the midst of my thesis — yet another example of the little-bit-everyday method). I went to bed with big hopes of taking a boat to a new beach, going on a long hike and spending every waking moment in the sun. We'd have a great lunch, take a nap, I'd write and press on with my obsessive reading of Freedom. There'd be drinks and dinner and yet another swim and star-watching on the roof. And. And. And.

This perfect last day didn't happen. Because we had to pack. And clean. And check flights. And pack some more. We did what you have to do on a last day. Instead, today has been a normal day on Hydra. We swam and read on Kamini beach, our favorite beach. And we read some more on the roof. We people-watched and drew and wrote. We continued to slice away at the melon-sized tomato in the fridge and we managed to (I think) fill our Paul Simon quota for a while (but honestly, who really tires of Graceland?). All this isn't to say I didn't spend an hour frantically taking pictures of every last shabbily beautiful, fading, chipped blue-painted door, alleyway or curve I could find (What? We haven't used all of the storage on our 15 gig camera card?!), but today I've done my best not to panic. Because if we had managed to do all the things I dreamt we'd do, the only thing I'd remember later would be a bad sunburn and sore feet. Today has been, like the rest of the days of this trip: a good day. An amazing one. And that's the way I'd like to remember it.

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