I’m in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

I need to get back to Albuquerque before nightfall, because I’ve rented out a little tiny wagon home for the night, before my flight out of the States the next day. I don’t know why I chose the tiny home in Albuquerque. Maybe because I liked how it sounded. Maybe because I knew one day, I would need an opening for this exact article. Maybe, I did it just because I felt like it. Just like I felt like getting the half-moon tattoo on my wrist that morning, still wrapped in plastic, the blood-red color of the New Mexico desert.

Por que no?

 Santa Fe is about an hour-and-a-half away from Albuquerque, and on this particular morning I was running through my options of how I’d get there. There was train, or uber. Those were my options. I was leaning toward Uber because after a weekend full of amazing company and meeting new people and busting right out of my comfort zones, I kind of wanted to retract into my bubble of solitude. Call my boyfriend. Mentally reintegrate into my little comfortable life I’d built for two years in El Salvador. That kind of thing.

My tiny home in Albuquerque

I am an introvert. People often think that this means introverts are loners or antisocial or hate people. But that’s not true.

I love humans, I love connection, I love the kind of mind-bending conversations that crack open new doors into new worlds of thought and feeling.

I’m a mother of stories and a midwife to the stories of others and that shit doesn’t happen in a vacuum. So of course I love people.
All it means is that I recharge in solitude. And surface-level conversations drain me.
That puts me at odds with the travel mentality and meeting new people sometimes, because travel has a lot of these conversations:

Where are you from.

How long are you travelling for.

What do you do for work.

Where have you been.

Do you know so-and-so.

It’s not that those questions themselves are inherently bad. It’s the intent behind these questions. What I don’t like is forced conversations, the kind where you start filling up the air in front of you just to alleviate social friction. Those are the conversations that, after having had them a hundred times over, make me low-key feeling like I’m slowly dying, bleeding out.
Maybe that’s why I slowly stopped putting myself out there to meet new people in my adopted tourist town of El Zonte. Maybe that’s why I stopped forging new connections other than those I already had with the locals and established expats, believing the conversation with anyone new would be shit and even if it was’nt, people always leave these towns anyway, so why invest the time in connecting?

Anyway, here I am in Santa Fe, and at the last minute, I decide to take the train to Albuquerque after all.

Much as I don’t fancy making forced conversation with my seat passengers for an hour and a half, I fancy the eighty-dollar Uber fare even less.

Then something weird happens.
As soon as I get on the train, I go to pay the fare, notes in my hand.
The lady selling the tickets looks at me, smiles, and plucks only the one-dollar note out of my hand.

“It’s $1 day, love.” She says. “Last weekend of every month.”

I find a seat, and like I’ve done on so many planes, trains and buses before, slip my earphones into my ears, deciding on a Podcast to dissolve the travel time.
I watch two women find the seats facing me and sit down; one a svelte, middle-aged, tall woman with a sheath of brown hair falling over her scarlet coat. The other a blonde, curvy woman with sparkling ice-blue eyes.
The red-coat woman is directly opposite me, and when she sits, she looks at me and just smiles. That’s all.

But there is a knowingness dancing in her brown eyes that hooks me, unsaid stories that play across her scarlet painted lips.

I can’t even describe it, but before I know what I’m was doing I’m puling my headphones out of my ears. I neede to know her. Her smile widens. She knows.
Her name is Arzelie. She is from France. She is coming out of a long-term relationship and looking to possibly, maybe settle in Santa Fe if she likes it. She paints these amazing celestial art pieces, moons and planets and spheres and orbs of rolling glitter, inky dark night skies and trick-of-the-light silhouettes. She tells me a story of how just that morning she accidentally friend-requested her ex boyfriend’s new girlfriend while she was trying to creep her pictures. All three of us our laughing our heads off. All I could think is ‘we are all the fucking same.’
I feel filled up. Connected. Alive. Infinite.
I think about the ticket. The chance encounter. Oh. Turns out I was meant to be here. Simply to remind me there are other cool humans out here to meet.

And that never would have happened if I’d stayed hidden in my shell, headphones in my ears, the red New Mexico desert slipping past the wide train window.

I have a friend who says if you’re not expanding, you’re shrinking. For a while, I didn’t believe this. I thought there was a kind of plateau phase you could chill in for a while.
I was wrong.
We so often get stuck in our comfort zones. Our friends. Our partners. Our coworkers. The usual transit home. The usual weekend plans. The usual people. The usual projects.
Slowly, we can start to convince ourselves that there’s no one else out there worth meeting.

‘Different’ becomes ‘scary.’

Then we’re a few years down the track and wonder why our lives have become so uncomfortable, like a sweater three sizes too small, squeezing off the circulation at our wrists, like shackles, the collar wrapped tight around our necks in what feels like a chokehold.

When my grandfather died, my grandmother  lost her other half,  the foundation upon which she’d built her identity and sense of self for decades.

 She could have, and no one would’ve blamed her, started to shrink. To pull back into herself. To potter around the now-empty house, creeping around the big empty spaces in routine my grandfather had left, until she simply joined him too.
She didn’t do that. Not even a little. She started volunteering at Meals On Wheels once a week, delivering meals to those who couldn’t cook for themselves. She joined a Probus Club, which in Australia is a group of semi-retired people who meet regularly to keep their minds active, expand their interests and meet new friends. Creativity pulsing through her, she started knitting these incredibly intricate dolls that she’d drop off to the local hospital each fortnight, to be given to children going into surgery who didn’t have a doll to cuddle themselves.
She got busy expanding. So busy, in fact, that when I called her to hang out I’d more often than not get; “No, sorry Cait, can’t do today… let my check my diary… okay, we can get lunch together Thursday next week?”
My grandmother officially had a better social life than me.

What is my point to all this?

While I, and so many other people who define themselves as an introvert, do have to do the work to honour their boundaries and know when they need to recharge in solitude, that is not an excuse to not live in ‘expand’ mode.

When you are not expanding, you are shrinking.

There are always more people to meet.
More stories waiting to happen.
More adventures waiting for you, just dying for you to say the one word of consent, of free fall, of surrender; ‘Yes. Take me. I want to taste it all.’
There are entire universes lying dormant in you, aspects of yourself you haven’t even met yet. Parts you will never meet if you keep just doing the same shit you’ve always done, for the next 60, 70, 80 years.
We have to rebel against mediocrity. We have to push back at the desire to sink into whats comfortable and safe, push with everything we have.

You’re not finished yet. Your story isn’t finished. It isn’t even close.