Credit: Gary Winfield
I didn’t cry on Election Day 2018 when I lost my race to become Connecticut’s 117th District state representative. But I sobbed uncontrollably most of the day before.
My sons Teddy and Steven found me late that afternoon curled in the fetal position, face swollen, nose running, with mountains of crumbled Kleenex all over my chest, the bed and floor. Showtime’s The Tudors was playing on the TV. The volume was muted, but we all knew what was happening to Queen Catherine.
Like Stouffer’s mac and cheese (baked so the top is crispy), The Tudors is one of my go-tos in times of crisis. I’ve seen all 40 episodes at least five or six times, which means my kids have seen many of them multiple times, too.
So even without the TV volume, we knew Henry VIII was telling Catherine she was no longer his lawful wife. He was sending her away from Court, despite her pleas and protestations, so he could marry Anne Boleyn.
Teddy, home from Brooklyn to help on Election Day, seized the moment: “Hey, even if you lose tomorrow, at least you’re not going to end up like Catherine living banished in shame in a freezing-cold castle, where you’ll die in pain and all alone.”
Then, after a pause: “You’re being very dramatic, Mother. And you know you hate drama.”
Oh, Teddy. I love him. He knows his Tudors, and he knows me.
He made me laugh. But when he and Steven asked me to explain why I couldn’t stop crying, I couldn’t. My body just wouldn’t stop.
Looking back at that day, I believe it was my subconscious that caused my sob-a-thon. Likely wiser and more honest than my conscious mind—which was screaming Do! Do! You have 24+ hours until the polls close. Use every minute!—my subconscious mind knew it was time to let go. I had spent the previous year-plus giving 200 percent to this campaign, putting everything I had on the table. There were no more doors to knock on or phone calls to make.
There was nothing left for me to do except greet voters at the polls the next day and see what they decide. So with the help of my subconscious, my body did what my conscious mind could not: stop, let go and, through my unstoppable tears, accept that I was no longer in control of the results.
I admire those able to “Let go and let God.” But surrender and I? We don’t do very well. If I ever need a 12-step program, I’m afraid I will fail that step miserably. I’m Type A all the way. In fact, just sitting here thinking and typing about not being in control of any situation makes my shoulders and chest get tight. In control is where I am most comfortable.
That’s why among the many things I want to do on this road trip is find ways to give up control, force myself to be uncomfortable, and then to see what happens.
At one point, I thought one good way to achieve this might be to have no concrete plans; to make up my route, and how long I’d stay at each place, as I went along. But there are articles I’m being paid to write, people I want and need to meet and a conference I committed to attend.
So I created an itinerary and booked the hotels, motels and hostels where I’ll sleep. I’ve also scheduled my interviews, plus where and when I’ll meet people. But otherwise, I’ve made no spreadsheets, no calendars. I’ve made no lists of must-see places, checked no restaurant ratings or business hours and have asked neither friends nor strangers for recommendations.
You may be reading this and thinking, Huh? But as anyone who has ever traveled with me will tell you, this is big. Plan every detail in advance, and you can consider and overcome every potential challenge in advance. Road work, weather, overtired kids, the people you’re with drinking too much and getting annoying: When you have options for every scenario, your likelihood of success and happiness are that much greater.
With my road trip just three days away, I have none of this. And to be honest, it’s making me feel a little vulnerable.
Not unsafe. But bare. Even just a little bit at risk.
Not physically, at risk. I have no fear about going alone to new places. But emotionally, not having a concrete plan makes me feel a little too open. Almost like there’s too much freedom. But that makes no sense. The opportunity to experience total freedom and unknown possibilities are two of the main reasons for this road trip.
Confused, I asked my brilliant friend Karen Caffrey, a psychotherapist based out of West Hartford, Conn., to help me understand what felt like a dichotomy. She begins by explaining that freedom to act is not the same as freedom from emotion:
“Giving yourself the precious gift of unstructured travel time—giving yourself freedom—doesn’t mean you will only feel positive emotions,” Karen said. “Feeling vulnerable makes sense when you let go of control. Researcher and author Brene Brown describes vulnerability as the emotion we experience during times of uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure, and defines courage as the willingness to be vulnerable. That you’re choosing to open yourself to uncertainty doesn’t mean it’s going to feel comfortable. It means you’re brave enough to risk discomfort in the service of growth.”
Gloria Steinem writes about vulnerability in her essay “Sisterhood,” which appeared in the first issue of Ms. Magazine and is included in her book Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions. She says:
“I have met brave women who are exploring the outer edge of human possibility, with no history to guide them, and the courage to make themselves vulnerable that I find moving beyond words.”
There are many types of exploration. Although I’m not sure my road trip qualifies as “exploring the outer edge of human possibility,” it is still a pretty unexpected and in some ways radical act. Women, as a rule, do not leave family, hearth and home to travel far distances, and for extended periods, alone. And honestly, I’m grappling with a lot of guilt about doing it.
What helps ease at least some of this guilt—which is usually as illogical as it is unrelenting—is what I can only describe as a need to know who I am, and what I look like, away from where tradition and society say I belong. Not everyone understands this need. And when questioned about it, I wish I didn’t always feel so obligated to explain.
In her Introduction to “Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions,” Steinem writes about her own experiences on the road, saying that travel can lead “us out of denial and into reality, out of theory and into practice, out of caution and into action, out of statistics and into stories. … [It’s] a way to be fully alive and present.”
That idea of being fully present: I believe that was also one of the messages my subconscious was sending me through the pre-Election Day sob-fest that shut me down from doing anything but just be.
Be present, it said. Experience rather than execute.
The trick now, I think, is for me to learn how to do this more consciously. To use my road trip as a way to confirm that letting go through being vulnerable, not thinking so much and being open to the unknown are necessities to being fully present, fully alive and fully myself.