Topher Payne: Wherever you go, there you are

I’m fairly certain he bought the new sofa just so I’d stop using it as an excuse not to go on vacation. Damn, if I’d known that would work I would’ve used a different example. I could have gotten a patio out of this.

Despite my initial resistance, I find myself away from my daily life for a few weeks, relearning the lesson a holiday teaches: Removed from usual context, there is an opportunity to learn more about you.

This is appealing to me, because I find myself fascinating. That’s not totally ego-driven: I find all crazy people fascinating, I’m just the most consistently available subject.

Years ago, I took a job working in Scotland, the land of my people. Visiting the land of one’s heritage is a startling experience, being in a city where everyone looks like your first cousin. Tourists would ask me for directions. Locals would express surprise when I would open my mouth and an American accent would fall out — the visual didn’t match the sound, like when Kate Winslet plays a New Yorker.

But the most distinctive tie to my roots came, appropriately enough, in a pub. The building itself had been around since the 1700s. Centuries of bad decisions had taken place in that room. The electric wiring ran exposed along the walls, giving the impression of a weekend project someone had installed very quickly, with the intention of going back at a later date and tidying it up. And then no one had touched it again for 70 years.

Ah, yes. These were truly my people. I’m fairly certain the ruins of castles in that country aren’t actually ruins. I don’t think they ever finished them in the first place, and the tourism board put a positive spin on it. It’s nice to know that my having the attention span of a hummingbird is not the result of my ADHD, but is in fact part of my proud Scottish heritage.

On this trip, I’ve been taking advantage of Preppy’s desire to sleep late, and my complete lack of ability to do that. This buys me about three hours every morning to get a little work done. But here’s the shocker: I actually get it done.

A task list which ordinarily would fill a day is completed before 11 a.m., and it leaves me wondering: What the hell am I doing at home? I know the dog’s not here, but I’m fairly certain I am not lavishing her with six hours of attention. At least not every day.

The me of somewhere else is more productive and focused than the me of home. The me of somewhere else hasn’t turned on a television in four days, spends far less time perusing Facebook, and has absolutely no idea what Lindsay Lohan has been up to.

I think I’m a better person for it, far less frenetic. I suspect it’s the person Preppy’s been trying to take a trip with all this time.

My grandmother used to say the best way to find something you’ve lost is to sit for a minute, then walk back in the room and you’ll see past the clutter. So I’m doing that for the moment — collecting myself, so I can walk back in with fresh eyes and see what doesn’t belong.

I know it won’t be the sofa. The sofa is fantastic. But everything else is up for negotiation.


Topher Payne is an Atlanta-based playwright, and the author of the book “Necessary Luxuries: Notes on a Semi-Fabulous Life.” Find out more at