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the return

I hope everyone is having a great holiday season and is looking forward to the New Year. I just got back from seven days in Rome, which was highlighted by great food, amazing sights and — I hope — some pretty good photographs.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting photos here, along with my thoughts from the trip. I found myself taking notes, returning with pages on food, travel, language barriers, imagination, cultural similarities and differences. I shot over 400 photos which I’ll probably edit down to around a dozen or so.

During the trip an odd thing happened that I want to share, and it makes a decent introduction to the next few weeks of posts.

On the third morning in Rome, which made it the fifth day of vacation, I woke up with a dream still vivid in my memory. I was in my childhood home, surrounded by paintings I had made. They were vivid and intensely colorful, and though I didn’t recognize them as anything I had painted before I knew that they were mine.

When I woke, I found my mind strikingly clear — my imagination seemed sharper, my thoughts were more random, my conclusions more varied. It was almost as if the time spent travelling and relaxing had a cleansing effect on my brain. This lasted throughout the rest of the trip, and I had to wonder what had changed.

Obviously being “on vacation” helps immensely. But the change was so apparent and intense that I wanted to spend a little more time on the possible cause. I have to wonder if perhaps our brains aren’t wired for a set amount of information to flow in and out. Which is to say, if you have too much coming in then you can stop up what flows out.

In Washington, I sometimes get the feeling of sensory overload: television and the internet, movies, music, phones and newspapers, classes and email and work and books and conversation and text messages. They all seem to be throwing information at me — things I need to take in and process.






During the trip to Rome, much of this overload was gone. I spent more than a week without internet access, which is something I can’t recall ever happening over the past 10 years. I didn’t once read a newspaper. I didn’t use an mp3 player. I had no cell phone, and only twice tried to make phone calls: to make a dinner reservation (failed), and to confirm a flight (also failed). Even street signs and advertisements were removed from much of my thinking, since they were in Italian.

And so I have to wonder if, having greatly cut down on the incoming stimulus, I didn’t start compensating with the outgoing.

Of course, you can also just say I was on vacation — away from my normal life and routine, far from usual haunts and set paths. I was refreshed. And, the simplest solution usually being correct, that is probably true. But spending a week with nothing to do but wander, observe and eat, did made me wonder.

I don’t know if this feeling will last, or if will fade as the barrage of information returns. It makes me wonder if simplifying my life wouldn’t help this change to be more permanent. But reducing outside stimulus seems near-impossible when you spend most of your day working in front of a computer (as I do).

The goal of course, assuming the premise is right, would never be to cut out all the extraneous stuff. Instead, perhaps pare it down, reduce it and streamline it a little. But even that simple ideal even seems tough, knowing that work and play and simply existing in a city means a constant flow of both necessary and not-necessary information.

I’m sure there are ways, and over the next few weeks I’ll look for them. Perhaps I can simply surf the internet less, watch television less, even read the newspaper less. Or, perhaps not; perhaps my routine is so rooted in these things that I will quickly move back into usual ways. Indeed, I’m now writing this and will soon update the web site.

Whatever the result, it’s been an interesting experience: a reminder that our brains have more potential than we’re using; a glimpse through the clutter that at times obscures.




All Images Copyright 2006 -- Robert Walton