And If My Mind’s Somewhere Else, You Won’t Be Able To Tell

There are two certainties for me about a work trip, I’ve come to realize after this past year of travel. (I’ve been to Chicago, San Diego, New York and now, São Paulo, where I’m actually writing this; I’m back by the time you’re reading it. I’m the inevitably jetlagged one moaning in the corner.) The first is, I always end up packing more clothes than I actually need, no matter what. The second is, I always end up working more than I intended.

I was sure I’d licked the first problem on this trip; as I packed in an admittedly hurried state the night before I left, I literally counted out clothes, mentally matching them to the length of the trip. “I’ll be gone seven days,” I reasoned, “so I’ll need seven days’ worth of clothes.” And then I counted them into my case. What I didn’t realize until midway through this trip, though, is that that’s not actually true: I have two overnight trips, so I really only needed five days’ worth of clothes. I tried so hard, but not hard enough.

The second thing is more of my hope crashing against the harsh shores of reality, I suspect. I imagined this trip having more downtime, with evenings I could explore the city and lazy mornings as I prepared for the show. Not so much — I went three full days before I could take any kind of serious break, just because I had deadlines on top of deadlines. (Being a freelancer means that, just because you take a trip for one of your gigs, you still have to hit deadlines for the others, even if they usually take up half a day at a time.)

The same thing happened in New York, as well, to an extent. Before the trip, I had visions of being able to spend time with Chloe on long walks through the city in the fall, or spending time with the friends I only see at shows. Nope; instead, I ended up working 12-18 hour days on every single day of the trip.

On this trip, there’s been a saving grace: Each morning since the second day, I’ve been wandering through the streets on a dérive, something I’m sure I’ve written about here before. It’s walking around with no plan and no map, and allowing the surroundings to tell you what you need to know about where you are. (It’s something from Situationist theory that dug itself deep into my head when I was in my early twenties, and I’ve done it every chance I’ve gotten when I travel to new spaces; I went to art school, so sue me.)

The early morning walks, as short as they are, are my time. No deadlines, no nothing except me, music in my ears — on this trip, oddly, music from 20 years ago for some inexplicable reason: a lot of Ben Folds Five and Supergrass. I don’t know why — and the city. They’ve kept me sane on this trip, giving me something of my own during a period where the rest of the experience belongs to other people. I’ve even got my choice of what to wear during them, as it turns out.

All Over The World Is How I Feel Right Now

Unexpectedly, I didn’t feel as if I’d really arrived in Brazil until the second day I was there. I’m unsure if it was jet lag or general exhaustion — I didn’t manage to sleep between Tuesday morning and Wednesday night, and spent almost every moment of that either traveling or working, which was as overwhelming as it sounds — but the end of the first day in São Paulo saw me essentially collapsing into sleep, too dizzy to be able to focus my eyes and minutes away from getting up to be sick after making the mistake of drinking water from the tap because I was so dehydrated. Everything felt surreal and skew wiff; I knew I wasn’t home, but it didn’t really feel like I was anywhere, if that makes sense.

The second day was much better. It wasn’t just that I had slept, although that helped considerably. I woke up and worked, because that’s the job, literally. But after I’d hit the deadline that was looming scarily in front of me, I did the thing I’d wanted to do since landing and hadn’t had the chance: I went on a dérive, wandering through the streets around the hotel with no plan or direction (Well, a mild plan to go get some breakfast, it’s true). Basically, I walked out the door to give in and let the city tell me what it was like.

The city is… I don’t know what to say. (I’m writing this while still here, so I don’t have the necessary perspective yet, that’s true.) The city is alive. And at once more green and more urban than I expected. It feels as if it’s been put together haphazardly, in the best way possible; the layout, the types of buildings, the uses for the buildings, all seem to have little rhyme or reason to it.

There’s a lot of traffic, and a lot of noise in general. There’s a street, a few blocks over, where it seems as if everyone walks their dogs. There are lots of tiny little storefronts within a few blocks, selling almost everything you could want, open onto streets filled with people and newsstands, God, I love the newsstands here, filled with newspapers and magazines and comics. It makes the city feel like a place obsessed with reading. How better to win my heart?

I’m writing this literally midway through the trip, and I feel grounded here now, but also… comfortable…? This despite not knowing Portuguese and basically reduced to communicating via hand gestures and goodwill. I needed a day to arrive properly, but now that I’m here, I feel like the world has opened up to me again. That alone makes the 18-hour travel worthwhile.

The Morning Found Us Miles Away

As you read this, I’m in Brazil, as odd as that might seem.

I’m actually writing this a couple of weeks prior, and to give you an idea of how quickly and last-minute this came together, it’s literally only just been decided that I will, in fact, be going to Brazil and my travel and lodgings still aren’t anywhere near finalized as I type. A week ago, this was nothing more than a vague off-handed mention at the end of a workday.

As that might suggest, it’s a work trip. Of course it is; even I am not scattered enough to try and book myself a vacation — what would be my first vacation in years — at the very last moment, leaving the U.S. at the start of the holiday season that I love so much to spend some time in weather that’s expected to be 80-odd degrees and humid as hell. Instead, it’s a work trip to cover a comic book convention in Sao Paulo, which seems surreal and unlikely enough that it felt impossible to resist.

Nonetheless, I feel compelled to confess that I did almost resist it, and that I am feeling curiously cautious about international travel for the first time in… almost a decade, at this point…? That can’t be right, but it’s certainly about seven or eight years, I think. It’s definitely been far more than a decade since I was in a country that wasn’t the U.S. or the U.K.

The prospect is as nervewracking as it is exciting, which feels like a sign of age as much as anything else: I won’t be able to speak the language! How (where, when) do you exchange currency these days? What is it going to be like working during all of this?!?

By the time you read this, I’ll be working some of those details out (I hope) and will be enjoying the trip (I also hope). One way or another, expect more on this subject when it’s all over.