My Birthday Status Update

I was suddenly touched (probably the wine) and felt like writing something meaningful as a Thank-You for birthday wishes on Facebook, when all of a sudden I exploded with words. I thought I should post it here because I really want everyone who hasn’t had this feeling of pride on a birthday to be able to experience it for themselves. If I inspire ANYONE to make any moves on life goals, I’ll be so proud. So here’s what I wrote:

***

People, birthdays are better when you know you’re accomplishing your goals. What haven’t you started? Isn’t THIS the year you want to say YOU DID IT?

I haven’t done anything “special” with people this weekend because I’ve seen a lot of folks of late, and have a lot of events coming up. Keeping to myself this 41st birthday of mine has been really nice. I know it’s the end of a lot of chapters in my life, and the start of many more.

My 40s, however short they’ve been, have been much better than my 30s. 3 weeks before I turned 30, I had what could’ve been a fatal accident. I just happened to be adjusting my stereo while turning left 1 block from home when someone ran a red light at 80km and T-boned the front of my car. Had I been “paying attention” and driving faster, I might have been killed. Thank god for distracted driving on my part.

ONE YEAR to that week, I had another very serious accident and spent the next two years rehabbing.

And that pretty much set the tone of my 30s, until I pulled the plug and moved to Victoria.

Here, I’ve been healing. I’ve been reconnecting with work. I’ve rediscovered photography (I did photojournalism in college, was darkroom staff there too, and managed photo labs, then walked away for a decade). I’ve published my first ebook, expanded my freelance life, doubled my income for a while (and then opted out to focus on my own writing), and more.

All of that took making choices, sacrificing, and focusing on the end goal rather than dwelling in the present. I have more choices to make, more focusing to do, but I want to enjoy my present more because Victoria has been good to me, I know I will always look upon this apartment as one of my best homes ever, despite BaconHater, and I know my time is not long left here in the Queen’s favourite Canadian city.

So, yeah. I’ve enjoyed keeping to myself today. I’ve had a lot to reflect on, a lot to be proud of, and a lot to choose to look forward to.

And that’s why I’d like to encourage some of you to stop thinking of all the reasons why you “can’t” do the shit you’ve got on your list, and start realizing the only person holding you back, really, is you.

I’m glad I got the fuck out of my own way.

THANK YOU EVERYONE for being a part of a special “me” day. Thanks for all your birthday wishes and anything good and kind you’ve done for me in the last year, or EVER.

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Oh, The Hypocrisy

It’s strange how hypocritical and blind people can become to their own actions.

It’s also weird how it’s things like the launch of a new social site that can spur them on to being their worst person.

This time, I speak of the recent embiggening of the fledging social network Ello.

The short of it is this: Social network launches, pledging to not treat people like sheep and that they’ll never fall into the marketers’ hands a la Twitter and Facebook. Now I’m skeptic and doubt all that is legit, but I don’t really care. I just want a place today that isn’t what the others are becoming. And if I’m in on the ground floor, maybe I can be a part of the force for good to keep it what it begins as.

Well, enter your naysayers.

You know, it’s fine to not like it. It’s fine to disagree with the premise. But to insult anyone who’s liking it? To slam them as trend-fuckers or whatever you want to call them, that’s just not cool.

What’s funny about this is I see some people I’m almost sure were bullied in school and now they’re the ones insulting other people, putting it down, deriding all the users as hip losers who have no soul or depth. (Albeit I’d like it to be a little less white, more diverse, but it’s early days, man.)

My jaw drops at the hypocrisy. It’s so toxic to have those attitudes. Go ahead, don’t like the site. Question its ethos, diss its design, but don’t be such an asshole that you’re painting everyone party to it with the same brush. Ironically, most of the people I know who insult hipsters are the ones who seem to try hardest to be in with the cool kids.

Fact is, I’m beyond tired of the petty fuckery that happens when people dismiss entire groups out of hand.

When I see people saying things like these, behaving like this, I’m not interested in knowing them. Period.

People have realize the things they say about others tend to speak most loudly about themselves.

I try to speak my mind and be blunt but I also try to be fair and not slam entire collectives. This hasn’t always been true. I was once far angrier, more petty, and more judgey. I’m glad I’ve turned the corner on that, for the most part, because it really makes me vomit in my mouth a bit when I want or hear others doing it.

And, yes, I’ve called even my best friends on comments like these at times, which can cause an awkward pause in the evening, but at least I’m being consistent across the board.

Don’t be a hypocrite. Don’t be a bully. Have opinions that don’t require flat-out insulting others.

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A Quick Rant about Quick Travels

Three Norwegian guys are getting a lot of press today for breaking the world record for most countries visited in 24 hours. I railed against this in a tweet and was retweeted by a guy who’s visited all 198 countries by the age of 35, who is one of the three dudes who accomplished this.

So I sat and thought for a minute. Am I annoyed because of jealousy  that they have the opportunity to blow through all these countries? Well, sure, probably a little bit, but I think my angst is on a deeper level than that.

Beyond being able to say they’ve done this, what was really accomplished? Maybe a quick bowl of local food as landscape whizzed past? Like, anything? These guys are what can be called professional travellers — they’re not missing a lot because they’ve done these places, seen them before. But for the most part, a lot of speed travellers can’t say that.

Collecting Airports”

We’re a society that’s in it for the pictures, the proof, the acclaim. “Pics, or it didn’t happen” isn’t just a catchphrase, it’s a lifestyle ethos.

As a passionate hobby photographer, it’s ironic for me to rail against “pics, or it didn’t happen,” but I at least try to be in the place I’m at. I try to absorb what’s around me, look for a better shot. I talk to people, engage. I mean, I just spent 24 hours in a town that’s only 60km away from me and I feel like I didn’t get enough time to see it all, and there’s only 50,000 population.

I think this “record” is just one small example of things I see happening a lot. Fortunately, I see others doing travel really well too, and they inspire me daily.

Photo from Lonely Planet

Photo from Lonely Planet

Different Folks, Different Trips

Travel is still a luxury for most of us. It’d be easy for someone to mock me as some observer who doesn’t have a clue, because I technically haven’t been a traveller for years. Yeah, I’ve been to England on a family trip, and when I owned a car I probably saw more via road trips than most people will see in a lifetime. After all, my vehicles racked up more than 500,000 kilometres before I became a walking/cycling gal. But when I roadtripped, I saw everything from the big, popular places, to really cool weird little places. I’ve been from Mexico to Alaska and halfway across Canada, and everywhere in between, and I still feel like there are so many more roadtrips I could take in just those regions.

But I guess that’s why it riles me up when I see “speed travellers.” People who seem to go to a place, be there, leave. Boom. Done. TAPPED THAT. There’s a Facebook update, so that happened. It’s a wasted chance, it seems.

It’s different when it’s for work and family. Short, whirlwind trips sometimes make sense. I’m talking about the “collecting” of airports and visa stamps, rushing through places so you can say you spent a day at best in some town before rushing to the next. Even that seems almost luxurious against this 19 countries in 24 hours challenge.

Travel is about seeing the world. Being of the world. Seeing cultures, trying foods. It’s about experience, not just brief exposure. It’ll be a cold day in hell before I ever sign up for a “five countries in seven days” vacation. I’d sooner not leave home than have to race for such a short and unrewarding trip I’ll mostly remember taking photos on, not being places.

That said, I don’t want to shit on this young guy who’s seen every country in the world. Would I kill for that experience? I probably would. I just know that I’d have constant regrets about places I didn’t linger. I’d have a new list, “Places I need to go back and see properly.” I’m sure he’ll never regret doing what he’s done, but instead might regret not seizing moments or blowing off the next leg, all because of some predetermined schedule. I’ve been there, too.

Travel: The World As a School

I have no idea what my five years of travel will entail. Travelling is, and should be, a deeply personal journey. That’s part of the beauty of it. There will be a lot of places where I stay long, and others I breeze through. In my travel dreams, I see myself learning local recipes, exploring markets only the locals go to, taking cooking and language classes, making friends who are from the countries, not just expats.

In the end, the important thing is just to travel. It’s critical we all realize just how much more binds us to each other than pushes us apart, how interconnected our environment is, and how much we take for granted. Travel is a crash course in humanity.

Or it can be, if you stand still sometimes, and look behind the curtains in others.

Slow down. Breathe. Life isn’t a race, and those lists of places “to go back to” — well, I’m old enough now to know just ow often we don’t get those do-overs.

 

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Dreams of Flight and Fancy

When I was growing up, I dreamed of going to places like Italy and France. I always thought they were out of my reach, far too expensive.

Before I could become the traveller I wanted to be in my 20s, life interfered with much stupid/tragic/disruptive stuff. Travelling didn’t happen beyond my roadtripping days, where I saw half of Canada and the whole west coast of North America, from Alaska to Mexico.

In hindsight, I understand why I got so dramatically derailed. I can say truthfully now that one’s propensity for having regrets grows exponentially with age. That’s hindsight for you. With wisdom comes the acceptance that there is much we could have done better, learned faster.

Staring down age 41, I have some of that regret, these days.

Surprisingly, not as much as I would have expected, given how unhappy I was, and for how long. As “old” as I feel, I also feel far younger than I would have thought for 40. I have excitement that I can still change things. I also have a sense that everything has kind of gone just as it should.

After all, becoming a world traveller in my 40s will mean I’m old enough to understand and appreciate all the culture around me. I’m wise enough to see what contentment is, and just how little is required to attain it. I’m cynical enough to look behind the curtains and ignore the tourist veneer. I’m confident and defensive enough to stroll off the well-trod path and find the “real” people and places behind the cultures I’m visiting.

I’ve been watching all my friends travel, and none of them have done it in the way I think I will. That’s the beauty of travel. It’s a world of options for a world of people. Literally.

photo

The Great Wandering Act of ’79

When I was soon to be six years old, we were on our first big family trip to Disneyland in ‘79. On a daytrip to Tijuana, I meandered off. I mean, not just a few feet away — I walked the hell off. I was gone for hours. My parents thought I was kidnapped. They waited to file a missing person’s report in the then-corrupt-as-hell-and-lacking-a-PR-department Mexican police station for two hours. My mother had $500 cash stolen from her IN THE POLICE STATION. This was in ‘79, man! Oh, Mexico. That’s a lot of dough.

Meanwhile, me, the absent 5-year-old, I was having a grand old time. I wandered the streets, talked to strangers. I bought a giant bag of candy and made a MILLION little Mexican friends who followed me around as I got them high on free candy.

Then I found my way into a street market and managed to barter with a vendor for a fringed leather cowgirl vest I would cherish for the next two years, followed by a Seiko watch.

I don’t remember how I reconnected with my parents, but I went back with no spending money, a candy-full tummy, a new vest, and a watch.

That afternoon, I learned about how sometimes people stole children and sold the kids to bad people. I never wandered off again. It was pretty fun while it lasted, though.

You Are What You Do

If this premise that our personalities are fully formed by age seven is true, then I guess my little wandering act says a lot about who I should be today.

It’s long overdue that I finally shift gears to be that wandering-act girl again.

When it comes to watching how all my friends are travelling, it’s helping me to decide the sort of traveller I wish to be. I don’t want to be breezing through places with only two to four weeks to see the region (or worse, less). I want to stay put, be a part of the place, become privy to the rhythm of their streets.

I see people shit on others who take trips and only see touristy things, but if I was confined to only a week or two, I would fall victim to the same dull scheme. That’s why I fancy the idea of 5 to 6 months spent per place. As a writer, I love the idea of really getting to know areas.

I’m also not deciding on a plan of attack. I want to see where the flow leads me. We live in an age where you don’t need to speak the language. Photo apps translate foreign-language signs, for crying out loud! Dictionaries and translators will speak for you at the press of a button.

Aside from medical vaccines, money, and visas, there’s no reason why one should be limited where they travel today. It’s an open-door world, thanks to gadgetry.

lone tree hill

Times Have Changed, As They Do

The world I thought was once too expensive to see has become far cheaper than where I now live. If I set the only parameter as being “must be 30% cheaper than where I live today” it seems as if more than half the world is an option for me.

It’s a strange phenomenon to go from a cheap little Canadian city to the most expensive in Canada, and top 100 in the world.

It seems an unrealistic goal, to spend my life travelling for a few years yet live for 30–40% cheaper than I presently do, but according to friends who’ve spent a year or more abroad, it’s not unrealistic at all.

It’s about choices, doing a little research, and being willing to live with less.

When you’re travelling, you don’t need entertainment. Your life is constantly new, entertaining. Stopping, pressing “pause” to spend time writing, or just wandering for photography, will become all-consuming. Writing, photography, they don’t cost money. They just take time.

Time I have too seldom of today. That’s my “pause” for this morning. Dreaming about the next phase. It’s taken some edge off some depressing world news I’d read before breakfast.

But later today I get to be a small-scale traveller as I go visit my brother in a town I’ve never seen before. Something new is always fun, even close to home.

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The End, My Friends

It’s the tale-end of summer. Leaves are on the cusp of turning. Some early-achievers are already gold and red. Days are shortening at an unsettling clip, but the daytimes are beautiful and sunny and fresh.

The tourists have largely fled, and rain looms at the end of the two-week forecast. It’s not just any rain, it’s the likely start of autumn proper. Once it begins, it begins quickly.

I had beers with a friend last week, one who, in the time since I last saw him, has slept in Everest Base Camp, hiked in India, travelled the States, trekked Nepal, swilled beer in Berlin, cycled in Amsterdam, and so very much more. I admire it, long for it, and can’t wait for that day where my adventures are underfoot.

It’s driving home to me just what a contradictory world it is between the lifestyle I want to lead for five years and the life I lead now. It’s almost comical how opposite the two lives are. It was nice to talk to someone who gets what I mean when I’m talking about the weird mindset that comes when you know you’re about a year away from giving up having a home of any kind.

When I look at things today, I’m deciding whether I really need to have that during the next year, or if instead it’s something I can work around. Because that’s where I’m at now. I’m one year away from compartmentalizing what’s life of my life after I sell off everything I can, so buying anything else just seems so foolish.

That’s one year left of a home that feels homey, having everything I need, not having to live out of bags. I’m trying to not just look forward to the life I’ll lead, but I’m trying to be actively present in this experience of being a homeowner for another year — the stresses, the comforts, the laziness, the extra work — everything.

And today is one of those days where I’m enjoying my life on all fronts in the moment, but also doing little things to help smooth the way for that life I see on my horizon.

It’s a tricky thing, living for today while preparing for tomorrow. It’s no wonder so many people do it poorly.

And so, I’ve stopped. I’ve paused. And now it’s back to work, but for other people. A mistress to many masters, the life of the multi-employed freelancer.

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The Zen of Landing Badly

I recently had a reminder that asphalt ain’t good eatin’.

I can’t play the victim card here. I fucked up. All my fault, 100% dumb-ass coming your way. I knew I was cutting it close between an intersection curb and a truck waiting for the light, and foolishly tried to ride through anyhow. Handlebar whacks mirror, down goes me. Mashed my face, my knee, my thigh, my hands, everything. I was so bruise-spotted, I looked like a human-leopard hybrid.

Oddly, it’s the third time I’ve been injured since late May. First time, I literally fell off a bar stool at the pizza joint, flat onto tile floor. Incredible fluke – Not only did I not hurt my back or head, I didn’t really get hurt at all. A couple days’ stiffness, and I was basically fine.

At the time, I was thick in the mire of a three-month contract that upended my life balance far more than I’d intended, so I wasn’t getting out much. I was counting days, like a schoolkid, until July 1, when the contract would be gone. Summer! Whee! I planned to blow off writing until the fall.

I shit you not, June 30th, 11:50pm, hours to go before my “So, our contract is up” email is to be sent, I’d been watching TV from the floor, went to stand, and heard CLICK as my knee popped out of joint, my tibia grossly cranked to the left. Horrified, I hopped to the kitchen on one leg, got an ice bag, and for no reason, the tibia popped back into place. Boom. Back like bacon, baby.

That boo-boo, unfortunately, did inconvenience me. I couldn’t walk much until the end of July, and most of the month’s summery fun eluded me.

Life removed the distraction of summer because I just couldn’t get out. I channeled that inconvenience into finishing my cookbook. Finally done  (it’s really good! buy it and support me), I once again felt like a kid getting outta school for summer. I was excited to cycle, be leisurely. I’d rode my bike daily that week. Bliss, whizzing through August air, sun beating down.

Five days into “summer break,” I whacked the truck mirror. Now I’ve been home licking my mental wounds for much of the last nine days. Once again: “I could’ve been hurt so much worse.”

It seems fortune has a twisted sense of humour in the dog days of summer.

Look ma, asphalt for eatin'.

Look ma, asphalt for eatin’.

School of Hard Knocks

Shit happens. Ask me my top ten life mottos, that one makes the list. Shit happens, it is what it is, que sera sera. Cliches to live by, my friends.

I’ve ridden the rides in this injury-filled park one time too many and I don’t need to be uninvited from the party anymore. When it’s time to go, I’ll grab my coat and be gone.

This is one of those times. Injured three times in three months? Yeah, okay, universe, you got my attention. What’s the lesson?

That’s rhetorical, people. I already think I know.

Writing well is a gift. It’s a privilege. It’s also a craft. It requires great sacrifice and dedication to accomplish matters of note. It’s not some flip of the switch. Like sailing a long ocean voyage, when finding one’s sea legs can take some time, getting a good writing flow takes a while of testing the waters.

Where the craft part comes in is where the sacrifice plays out too — daily duty, workworkwork.

Opting Out

I know writing is a choice. You see a keyboard, you sit, you pound it out. It’s like the old Hollywood movie trailers — “One man, alone in a foreboding wilderness… where only he can decide–”

The struggle that constantly assaults me is guilt. I feel like a failure if I’m not doing the outdoorsy-n-awesome things the locals here pride themselves on doing. Oh, look, someone else climbed a mountain and parasailed before landing on the moon for a local, organic picnic with cheese they hand-pulled at dawn. Thanks for the shame, Instagram.

I wish I could write in other places, but I’m a creature of habit and I like to be at my desk. I like the noise my keyboard makes, the rattle the keyboard tray emits under my staccato-fire key-whacking, the distance of the screen from my eyes, how I squint when I’m lost in thought and the creamy walls blur before me, while I listen to the white-noise whoosh of cars under my window, always noting the sea breeze blowing in and stiffening my knuckles. It’s my thing. This is where I do it.

So as summer days pass and nights get longer, cooler, and darker, my Catholic upbringing leaves me pounding the keys in shame and guilt at my desk, as others pass my window in their shorts and sunglasses, oozing optimism for a fun day ahead or the fatigue of a great day behind them.

And there I sit staring as they pass me by, me in my passive glory, ever the observer.

Of People and Places

But that’s writing. It’s not a party favour. It’s not a group activity. It’s a dark and dingy thing done alone.

There are different kinds of writers. Ones who write on events and places, happenings and zeitgeists. They need to be in the thick of it to serve it back to the masses. Then there are the those who slip away into otherworldly mental caverns. No safe place for others.

I’m the latter. My introversion can be extreme. A party of one works all too well for me. Three months on an Irish coast with a broken phone, only sheep dotting the horizon, and wine to keep me warm while winter winds howl and the skies cry, that would be a vacation for me. I might commit a serious crime if it meant time in isolation like that.

Paradox of paradoxes, for convenience and more time alone, I find myself living on the edge of the busiest part of my town. The most crowded, superficial, hyped, over-marketed part of my city. Rare does even a moment pass when people aren’t walking past my writing window. Isolation? Beyond my four walls, I think not.

Unlistening to the Machine

Part of me is very much of the “So? This is who you are. Just own it. Who cares?” mentality about self-imposed isolation. But I also think the world is beautiful, nature is powerful, and if I could have more of it with less of the humans in it, that wouldn’t be so bad. Humans aren’t so bad in small doses, either.

But society tells me Summer is fun! Go do summer! There’s only so much summer, so go out and play, kids! Whatchoo sitting inside for?! Don’t you know only losers don’t play outside? Come on, kids! GET HAPPY — it’s right there, outside your house!

It’s something I only want in 90-minute spurts. It’s not a lifestyle I seek. I don’t need to be on the Tilt-a-Whirl of the big-city life. Getting happy isn’t gonna accomplish my dreams. It ain’t gonna write my books. It’s not gonna pay my bills.

People who don’t understand introversion think people like me opting out is “sad” or “lonely,” but we think it’s sad and lonely that they can’t enjoy being alone in the same way we can. As Oscar Wilde wrote, loving oneself is a life-long romance. Even if there’s no one around to see it.

Among my favourite places to go alone: The sea.

Among my favourite places to go alone: The sea.

Do or Do Not, There is No Try

The trouble with writing a book, for any author, is it means sacrificing time you can spend earning other income today on the dream that it will earn income for you well into the future. This is where the stereotype of the broke-ass writer comes in. I have to cut back on my earnings AND my spending to be the writer I want to be. That’s sacrificing on every level.

That’s the risk we take when seeking the elusive dream of passive income and royalties. Passive income, that’s money you don’t have to run ragged on the hamster wheel to bring in. That wheel spins on its own, in theory.

The best way to grow that passive income isn’t to keep talking about the one book, it’s to continue writing others so you’re attracting new audiences.

For me, that time is now. I have to write more, produce more, and promote myself at the same time. All of it must be done at the expense of everything else in my life. Less time for leisure, less time to earn “real” money on the side of my primary job, less time to exercise, to cook — everything.

The longer I wait, the more interruption it causes in flow on all sides, the less then that momentum can carry me.

It’s a matter of discipline now. And my summer, as little or as much may remain, is a distraction from that discipline.

Dinner is Served

Which brings us back to the asphalt.

That day, I’d been meaning to cycle to the Gorge and sit under a big leafy tree as I considered my choices. Do I take more time to enjoy summer, or do I finally concede this summer’s a bust and writing must be my focus while the motivation burns?

For good or ill, I needed no leafy tree for the pondering. Life threw me to the curb and said “Eat this.”

I’ve never felt more strongly that I was getting told what was what. Writing, life said, was what my days had to be about for now. It was safer, for one. No moving parts, except on the chair.

If I barrel through this year as a writing tour de force and accomplish all the goals I’ve got bopping inside my head, I’ll have no regrets for the choices I made this week.

photo 2 (2)

Road Warrior

Sometimes when life knocks sense into you, it can be very literal about it all. It gets literal with this girl.

It took three injuries in a little over three months, but the Zen of landing badly has taught me a thing or two about a thing or two.

Sacrifice, choice-making, focus — all these themes played on a crackling, staticky loop in my head for days. Here’s hoping they echo loudly in the wintery, writerly months to come, ‘cos I know what road’s ahead of me — asphalt, curbs, potholes, and all.

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