Man relaxes on a Croatian sidestreet, photo by zolakoma on Flickr. (Creative Commons.)

Here Yet So Far Away: Dreaming of Distances

I vacillate. Often. Back and forth, back and forth.

Why wait?” I ask. “Why stay? Why keep banging my head on this wall?”

A part of me wants to cut and run tomorrow. Today. Now. Zippity-doo-dah, gone like the wind.

But the pragmatic part of me clears her throat and says no, we stay. We see the summer through. Turn 42. Celebrate Thanksgiving with my whole family together. Vote out Stephen Harper. Leave two days later, either in victory or defeat. That’s the ideal situation. See another shoulder season, enjoy another summer. Ensure I’ve laid solid freelance ground beneath my feet before I plunge.

Then, poof, off to Europe and chase the dream.

Prague's celebrated St. Charles Bridge, by Max aka Max Tim Tom on Flickr.

By Max aka Max Tim Tom on Flickr.

The Nutshell

Five years abroad. 89 days or less per country. Working my way through — keeping my job, my writing, all of it. Writing books. Photographing. Plodding the land, meeting the folk, noshing the foods. Write it from a first-person living-the-dream perspective. A literary treatment given with my voice.

The world through my eyes. Not travel guides, not tips. You want that shit, go read Lonely Planet. My journey will read as a mashup of Elizabeth Gilbert and Anthony Bourdain — a weird lovechild / hybrid of edgy, insightful writing set in the here-and-now of someone trying to figure out where in the world she belongs.

[INSERT DREAM HERE]

When I go to bed, I don’t know where to dream of. Should I dream of two weeks on the hills in Tuscany, a writing/reading/eating retreat, growing fat(ter) on cheese and wine as I trudge the verdant slopes?

Maybe I should dream of working on a new ebook in a seaside port on a lesser-seen part of Portugal’s coast, where fishermen persuade me to get over my fear of seafood and eat fresh-from-the-sea local specialties, laughing at my timid ways and shoving wine at me to wash it down with?

Perhaps I should instead fall asleep imagining a bucket-list check-off of shooting Prague’s St. Charles Bridge in early autumn morning fog as steam rises from the river below, hatching a plan for eggs in some underground cellar joint for breakfast as warmth returns to my chilled photographer’s fingers?

Tonight, it’ll likely be dreaming of dining on Croatia’s Pag Island, drinking local wine to accompany the famous island cheese made from the milk of sheep who spend their lives roaming seaside cliffs eating salt-dusted wild herbs daily.

I’ll do all of these things, and many more. Someday. One day in the next six years, I will.

My dreams, they’re not outlandish. No five-star hotels or crazy excess. Not my style, never has been. My dreams are like people I favour — a good way to spend a little time. Filled with intrigue and wonder, appreciation and simplicity, lively and fun. That’s how I roll.

The salty-herbs-eating sheep of Pag Island, Croatia, shot by Dimitrij Mlekuz on Flickr.

The salty-herbs-eating sheep of Pag Island, Croatia, shot by Dimitrij Mlekuz on Flickr.

You Gotta Ask Yourself One Question…

Waiting for these times ahead, so hard. Especially knowing I can do this lifestyle less than I pay now. I can improve my quality of life while living my dream, and yet it’s on ice ten more months. The idea of the wait is killing me already. I’m not sure I’ll last that long.

Just weeks ago I asked myself: Can I be this person? Am I cut out to spend five years abroad? Am I willing to just up and sell my belongings to do this? Have I got the guts?

At that time, I had to convince myself. The part that said I can wasn’t as loud as the part that scoffed at the notion.

Now, it’s not about if I can do it — it’s that I have to do it. I have to take this chance. I need to sell everything. I need to get the fuck out, live the dream. I need to know I tried. And one country isn’t enough. Five countries isn’t enough. Five years, that may be enough.

The hills are alive with wine and cheese. Tuscany, photographed by Konrad Jagodziński on Flickr.

The hills are alive with wine and cheese. Tuscany, photographed by Konrad Jagodziński on Flickr.

The Little Traveller Who Could

When I took this apartment, I increased my monthly rent by 25% in one jump. It was a risk. Only a year before, I sold my bike just to buy groceries. Could I hack the increased expenditure? Was I capable of working that hard, seeking out opportunity? Could I up my game? Could I commit?

I decided I could. Sure, I doubted myself and had a lot of fear, but I decided I wanted to make it work. So I would do just that.

I’ve done better than I hoped. I’ve really led the good life in this apartment. My standard of living is better, my dreams are bigger, my confidence higher, my focus sharper. A year ago, I didn’t have the guts to tell folks about this travel dream of mine. Now I can’t shut the hell up.

That’s not to say I’m fearless with this adventure. I have a lot of fear. Lots. And I should. There’s so much unknown. There’s new cultures, places, risks, threats, adventures, mistakes — all just sitting there, waiting for me. I know that.

But I also know of what I’ve toughed out — all the misadventure and adversity of my thirties. And I kicked its ass.

I don’t know what gauntlets await me, what struggles might come. I just know they’re there. They’re always there. But so is the knowledge that whatever else I might be, I’m a survivor. I make it through, and I come out better. And sometimes I have fun during the mindfuck of it all. Because that’s who I am.

So, yes. Just weeks ago I wasn’t sure if I was ready for this. If I had it in me. Now I know I do. The more I learn about the places, the more I know I can hack it. Besides that, I’m smart enough, savvy enough, and I’m good with strangers. I have rarely-fallible intuition on folks that will serve me well.

Fishing boats in Portugal, shot by salvadorveiga on Flickr.

Fishing boats in Portugal, shot by salvadorveiga on Flickr.

To Dream a Vivid Dream

I may not know what specifically to dream about when I lay myself down, but I’ve inklings of experiences I want. I want this craving I have right now, coupled with the heart-exploding anticipation of being amidst the travel zeitgeist. The brighter-than-bright saturation of moving fast or slow through worlds previously unknown to me. The kaleidoscope of color, places, and people swirling together around me. The feeling one gets from stopping to just be of a moment, in some strange great place. “I’ll never be here, like this, again.” And knowing it.

I dream of being confused by things like trying to buy vitamins and toothpaste in local shops, never knowing the same bed for longer than two months, shaking my head in confusion at foreign-language street directions, wheezing from running to catch planes/buses/trains, and always finding a new spot to see a sunset.

I long for the day when the boredom and routine of me being a hermit in my character apartment here/now seems like a great and distant fantasy. I think of the people I might meet who’ll indulge just a moment, or maybe for a stolen hour over coffees, to teach me their language.

I don’t need to dream of specifics. I dream of moments. Tiny moments I’ll remember for a lifetime. These vague and fleeting seconds will fuel me. I don’t want planned travels, just organic and whimsical detours. Dreamlike and surreal. Fed by impulse.

And with that, I have some wine that needs some drinking, and more travel shows to get lost in, as I tab through AirBNB listings and cost-of-living comparisons. Because this is what I do, these days. Haphazardly living in the present while stuck in the future.

I’ll be writing ebooks about these journeys. Sign up for my mailing list. I won’t be spamming you.

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Victoria's Dallas Road. Sun, storm, turbulent ocean -- it ain't clear sailing, but isn't it fucking beautiful? And that's life.

For the Love of a Storm

The Pacific is a vast and daunting thing. All the world’s continents can fit inside it with more room leftover for an extra Africa. 99% of the Pacific is water. 1% is land.

Living on its edge means a constant barrage of weather rolling in over the winter, all that turmoil brewing over those high seas. Today we’re warned of an “incredible series” of subtropical storms that have set sail and will land here shortly, the first of which is expected dump within the hour.

The novelty of incoming storms never grows old for me. Inside, I completely understand the unbridled rage and joy with which Lieutenant Dan screamed into the hurricane from the crow’s nest of that Bubba Gump shrimping boat.

There’s a primal sense felt by those of us who are storm fanatics. We feel a storm brewing on the wind. We can read it in the ripples on the water. We smell rain on the breeze. The stormfront’s pressure throbs behind our eyes as the changing, charged airmass nears us. In the day leading up to it, a dull pain hits the joints and we creak like the Tin Man before he got his oil.

It comes. Slowly, but it comes. The skies are blackening and a strange eerie calm has descended. These are the moments when one turns and sees a spider scurrying up a wall. Nature understands nature. Even dogs can feel an earthquake before it comes.

We humans, not so much. We invented clocks and then we let machines do our natural thinking for us.

Still, there are those who do feel and see nature like the animal world does. Like natives who listen to the wind and smell the earth. They can tell you when a storm comes. We can see it in nature — the bugs skitter, squirrels panic about nut-gathering, birds seem to vanish from the skies. Nature knows when the skies are due to unleash fury.

Us, we fall into ruts of Westernized life. Clock-watchers, weather-forecast-readers. So plugged into the digital world that we’re not in tune with things from nature that our forebears could read for generations before us.

So few people notice when a first gust of wind rises, signalling a shift in climate. They don’t see when clouds appear menacing all of a sudden or their direction seems to change. They don’t feel a sudden drop or rise in temperature that signals an onslaught of wind or rain.

But some of us do.

Weather, for me, is something I feel in my bones. My head throbs, my throat gets scratchy, my eyes grow heavy and pained. And yet I watch out my window like a kid on Christmas, for I know, when that storm hits peak and rages like a woman scorned, I’ll feel an utter release of all those barometric head systems and I’ll be sharp and alert and happy again.

Weather migraines” are a curse for some folks. I’m usually not fond of them myself, but I am deeply grateful to be one of those people who “feels” the climate.

It’s satisfying when I feel like I’m of the Earth and privy to what it’s going through. I love this bursting sense of anxiety that pulsates under my skin as a storm draws near. I understand the skittishness and apprehension of the natural world — the squirrels who panic, the birds who take cover, and the ants running for their hills – because I feel it too.

Unlike them, I have the luxury of knowing my phone and flashlights are all charged up, and the noodle house is a short walk away. I have a nice comfortable home and warm socks and blankets. For me, a storm is a chance to bundle up and be witness to something greater than us.

And so, like Lieutenant Dan, I say bring it. I promise you, at least once tonight, I will shout out my window into the wind and rain, “IS THIS ALL YOUVE GOT?”

Then, like a pussy, I’ll batten down the hatches, bundle up, pour a whiskey, and watch Netflix until the power craps out. If it does. And then it’s book time.

Because: Storms.

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Postmedia News.

L’ecole Polytechnique: 25 Years After

25 years. Wow.

I’d just turned 16. I grew up as the last generation to be bombarded with cigarette advertising everywhere, when Virginia Slims still sold us the idea that women’s liberation was Mission: Accomplished. We’d come a long way, baby.

But then December 6th came. An angry man had a murdering rampage, killing 14 sharp, ambitious, promising young women, all engineers at L’ecole Polytechnique.

It blew my mind. I was young, death didn’t have the same impact as it does now because I was still innocent and hadn’t encountered much loss. And I didn’t really get why women trying to be engineers was such a radical concept to a backwards murderer like Lepine.

What I did understand was that these women were killed because they wanted to play at the big boy’s table. I understood this was a crime motivated out of resentment, pettiness, and jealousy.

The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve understood that petty misogyny that drives hateful men like Lepine.

I’ve gone from not wanting to be identified as a feminist when I was young to now being of the “goddamned right I’m a feminist, and why the hell aren’t you?” persuasion.

Something Must Have Caused This

Back then, I thought this terrible rampage was a backlash from women’s lib. The old cause/effect argument. “Women are changing things, men are reacting to change.” Simple.

It seemed then there were only two ways things would go. One, awareness would increase that violence against women wasn’t some Hollywood plot point, but rather a real social ill needing remedying. Or two, we were just getting started and an era of blowback was yet to come.

I didn’t take option two that seriously. We couldn’t be just starting an era of blowback… could we?

Maybe we could. 25 years later, we’re still seeing crimes against women happening because men feel entitled to attention from women, or they feel entitled to career advancement over women, or all kinds of other situations prefaced by the phrase “men feel entitled.”

Marc Lepine killed 14 women because he felt he was entitled to attend an engineering school, and that women had no right to occupy his space in the program. He didn’t make the cut, and instead of taking it to mean he had to work harder, he chose to believe women were accepted as a quota, that they hadn’t earned their space.

He felt entitled. Angry. Bitter. Vengeful.

And He Wasn’t Alone Then — Or Now

I look on the internet today and I see a lot of angry, bitter, vengeful entitlement making the rounds. Usually middle-aged white guys who are bitter they’re not more important at their jobs, or wealthier. They see women being smart or successful as further threatening their status quo, and they hurl insults about how ugly the women are (as if women are only trophies), cut them down professionally, and lob rape threats.

God help us if these anonymous, spiteful men ever screw up the resolve to grab a gun and let their bullets do the talking.

Misogynists are everywhere. You hear them defending those accused of serial rape — like Cosby and Ghomeshi. They spew ridiculous defenses, usually about how maligned men are, and the accusations by “spiteful” women are a conspiracy to destroy lives, et cetera.

There are GamerGaters verbally attacking female journalists because they don’t like their opinion, threatening them with rape, and worse.

There’s the infamous, ongoing brogrammer culture in Silicon Valley, celebrity serial misogynists who never get reined in. We even had a mass killer in California who blamed women for not sleeping with him.

A Flickering Light in the Tunnel

Despite all these recent reminders of just how big this struggle is, there are signs, I think, of women saying “enough is enough.” They’re exposing misogyny online in Italy and France. Just this week, a pair of Indian women went viral for beating up men harassing them on a bus. Women coming forward against beloved celebrities like Ghomeshi and Cosby are actually being believed.

There are signs.

But still I sit here today, aware that a quarter of a century has passed and we have so far to go.

In 2006, the first time I blogged about this day, I wrote:

I think there’s good to be found in remembering what was lost that day, especially in proximity to Christmas, a time of joy and rebirth. I try to remember that in the smoke of that gunfire was borne a new kind of feminism. I like to think some part of me is a product of that day.

It’s the only way any of it can ever make sense.”

And five years ago, I wrote this remembrance of L’ecole Polytechnique, about how far we still had to go with the feminist struggle.

And here we are, 25 years on, still fighting an uphill battle as a new generation vacillates between accepting gender equality and railing against it.

Let’s Hear it For the Boys

But “feminism” is still a dirty word. There are those who still deludedly think it’s a female-supremacy movement. (No, but equal pay would be nice.)

These days, the only time feminism gets good press is when a man comes out and speaks up about why feminism is important, like Terry Crews did recently, which is going viral as I write.

And yet, I saw someone snarking “Oh, [Crews is] just saying what all these smart women said before him.”

But isn’t that what we fought for? Isn’t it in the benefit of all women that guys start identifying with why feminism is important? Isn’t it a bold new day when guys like Crews are standing up to say “If you’re silent, you’re a part of the problem”?

It’s helpful to the cause when guys like Crews explain to other men that it’s not about female supremacy, but rather just leveling the playing field. If they understand that, they might be able to accept that change is needed.

Mediocrity & Misogyny

Marc Lepine didn’t get that change was a long time coming. Instead of understanding that women should be in the engineering program, he felt they were stealing his opportunity. But he just wasn’t good enough to compete in a crowded arena.

Mediocrity, perhaps, is the greatest enemy of gender advancement. Men like Lepine don’t make the cut and then, instead of thinking “Well, hey, I’ll work harder and get in next time,” they blame the bitch who stole their spot.

It’s sadly ironic, but the only way feminism wins is when more men identify themselves as supporters of the feminist cause, when more men like Crews keep saying that silence means you endorse the status quo.

When I was a kid, I thought women would be truly equal by the time I was 30. Now I’m 41 and hope an era of change is upon us and maybe I’ll see a different world for women by the time I’m 60.

Maybe.

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10442543_10152431224106916_2991878099913515482_n

Cutting Paper Snowflakes: Having a Moment on December 1st

I should be in bed. 12:43 am, work comes early. I’m writing by the glow of the Christmas tree on my right (with an assist from my monitor). To my left, a fog-rimmed half moon rises.

I’ve spent my evening cutting out paper snowflakes, eating carbonara, watching the (adults-only, and awesome) documentary I Am Santa Claus, and drinking wine, after a long day of work punctuated only by escaping to buy my best friend a Christmas gift, myself an alpaca knit toque, and some jam. Ahh, Christmas craft fairs, for the win.

I’m savouring the day, the weeks, the months. This might be the last time I decorate a home for Christmas for five years. FIVE YEARS. I love Christmas. I love my version of Christmas. It would be strange and odd to live under other people’s ideas of Christmas for a half-decade. To travel the world, though, I can make that sacrifice. And wherever I go, I can always make paper snowflakes. I’m a pro now.

But this exactly is why I favour the long-term approach for leaving. If saving money is the goal and I can save up to 30–50% per month by living elsewhere, shouldn’t I leave sooner than later?

Well, frankly,I’m under no illusions that my life is anything but great right now. I may have some operational shortcomings in which I fail to maximize on my life’s awesomeness, but the bones are there, man.

I’m not in a rush to LEAVE this. I’m just wanting something new. That saying you don’t know what you got till it’s gone? Wrong. I know what I’ve got. So, I’m aiming to at least get close to “overstaying my welcome” as opposed to “premature departure.” I don’t ever want to regret not living in this particular apartment just a little longer.

If it goes as planned, next Christmas I’ll be enjoying the holidays in Croatia, a predominantly Catholic country that does it well. I’ll be just a few weeks away from a late-January/February trip to Istanbul in an attempt to photograph snow  falling in the Old Town. (Which is currently my desktop wallpaper, by dilemmanya.)

snow_in_istanbul____by_dilemmanya-d4oecxk

I know where I am. I know where I’m going. I may want the world of travel today but I also know I will have frequent times of fatigue and weariness where I miss owning a bed, having a routine, and knowing EXACTLY what is around me. Which is what I have, and am savouring, now.

I’m a woman of two minds right now, but the one I’m “in” is the one that’s got my attention tonight.

And that means the kaleidoscope glow of a tree, snowflake-filled windows, and a bed that’s all mine, from which I’ll pad away in the morning, and restart my work week.

Tonight I know it’s 24 days to Christmas, and less than a year to the adventure of a lifetime.

Both are working for me. Night, minions.

I’m working on the first of the books to come about this life-changing journey/goal/dream I have. If you want to be alerted when it’s coming together for your reading enjoyment: Join my seldom-mailed Mailing list! 

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Busted! At bail hearing. CTV photo.

BUSTED! Jian & His Big Penal Adventure

Woke up this morning to the news that Jian Ghomeshi has been arrested. It’s like rainbows exploded in my head. So this is Schadenfreude, eh?

I’m not someone given to delighting in the misery of others (aka Schadenfreude), but this time I’m not fighting it.

There are still some early defenders of this ass who’ve not publicly reversed their opinion on social media, and that’s sad, but hopefully they’re starting to realize that, yes, when you have a number of women coming forward, there’s probably a lot of substance behind those charges, and to not give them any credence is just another form of attack against them.

Those courageous women had NOTHING to gain from coming forward. They stood to have their lives dismantled. Lucy Decoutere could never have guessed that, instead of being hounded and harassed, Twitter would explode and “#IBelieveLucy” would be the first of several hashtags empowering all women to talk more about this oft-dismissed topic of sexual assault and violence against women. But thankfully, that’s exactly what happened.

Today, Ghomeshi’s on $100,000 bail, has dropped his $55 million suit against the CBC, owes them $18K in legal fees, is the topic of social media for deleting all his public accounts, and even has to go live with his mommy until completion of the trial, the duration of which will be spent without a passport in his possession.

Cops don’t proceed much on sex cases like this unless there really is something solid somewhere, which is often so hard to obtain given the nature of the crime.

With any luck, these charges being laid will give faith to others who’ve been hedging their bets. Maybe still more women will come forward.

The guy looks like a mess — sleepless and lost. The photo above is from his brief appearance in public today, which I think is his first since all of this news broke a month ago. Life’s hard on a narcissist like him, when they think everyone hates them.

Hate him I do, but I’m proud of the victims, thrilled with the cops, deeply sorry for Ghomeshi’s mother, and still curious how the CBC side of things proceeds, since I think they’re not taking responsibility for his almost legendary misogyny.

I hope every woman who’s ever had a bad encounter with this man, or any man, is enjoying watching his downfall. There are so few victories in the fight against misogyny and sexual violence against women that I think a little Schadenfreude today has been a long time coming.

Now we can allow the courts to do their thing, but here’s hoping the journalists keep digging too. One small victory for women, but it’s a good ‘un.

Join my mailing list here to stay informed on upcoming projects.

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Sunset over Beacon Hill Park.

Rain-Streaked Daydreams of a Would-Be Nomad

It’s one of those Wet Coast days I think might wash away all my sins if I stand in it long enough. The kind of rainy day that makes my head thick and my eyes heavy.

I sit by a window, umbrella-head after umbrella-head passing me by. Between pulled-taut hoods and umbrellas, I’m not sure anyone with a face remains. It’s like some surrealist daydream. The bobbing umbrella-heads.

This rain, these days… in some ways it’s all I’ve ever known.

photo 3

I drift off between the wet tires splashing and my clacking keys, wishing it was the clickety-clack of a train rumbling under me instead of the Wet Coast Writer soundtrack that it is.

I have a tentative date of November 1st, 2015, for when I set out on a bold adventure I hope will last me five years. Trains, planes, and automobiles: Steff Style. If I don’t leave earlier, that is.

I have ideas of where my path will lead but I’ve learned life’s more fun if you misplace the roadmap. Maybe I’ll plan it out, maybe I won’t.

For now, I have a rough idea of my first year abroad with pretty simple rules — stay nowhere less than two weeks or more than three months. I’ll tell you more about that one day.

I have many places on my list. Many weird little things I want to do, like ride as many funiculars as I can everywhere I can. Forage for food in every region I stay longer than 4 weeks in. Write ebook upon ebook, but in the classic travelogue or literary journal style, not the “I got your deets” type travel-writing one sees everywhere on the web.

I want to write about places and times, peoples and experiences. My culture-shock and awe. I want to dream of adventures to come then embark on a completely different journey than planned, and to be changed in every way by the world I get to explore.

I’ll sell half of what I own before I go, strategically “loan” my antiques to friends and family. I’ll start over with a simpler life when I return. I wonder sometimes how living around the world for five years and opting out of this rooted life, tapping into a roaming nomad life will change me. What new values will be sculpted? What parts of the old me will crystallize? How much metamorphoses do I have in me?

It’s a big goal. I don’t have anything emotional invested in making it to the end of that five years. Instead the end of the journey will be something organic. Like love or a really good sale — I’ll know it when I see it.

I want to live in locations as far flung as Tangier, Zagreb, Prague, off the beaten path in Spain, Cape Town, the vineyards of Mendoza. I want to sit in Iceland’s Blue Lagoon, photograph Madagascar’s baobab trees, dip a toe in the Congo river while I read The Heart of Darkness. I want to walk the beaches of Fiji, visit family in Australia, live in the mountains of Ecuador. I want to see cherry blossoms in Japan, drink tea in Osaka, and ride a scooter in Vietnam.

The list keeps getting longer, because that’s what good lists do.

photo 2 (3)

So today I stare wistfully through my rain-soaked window, knowing that all this familiarity and routine is not long for my world. I relish in being bored and stuck in routine lately. I cherish bad hair and pajama days. I know it soon won’t be an option soon. Not for the better part of five years.

In the end, this life of mine where I’ve felt trapped in this costly part of the world is proving to be a gift — the gift of losing connection, of sensing opportunity, and of daring to take a chance.

I’ve deliberately made my departure date further away, because I think I want another summer here in Victoria. Like I say, I’m not married to my plans. I’m going to listen to the wind and go where it leads. Those winds may gust sooner than November, like say on my 42nd birthday in September. I’ll listen for the breeze and heed its way.

Paul Theroux once wrote that tourists don’t know where they’ve just been, and travellers don’t know where they’re going.

And so I daydream of all the many places I would love to see while committing to none of them. Wherever I start, it’ll be the adventure of a lifetime. With every day that passes, I grow a little more ready for it.

For now, I’ll return my gaze to the screen, fall back into the routine of the dayjob, and sigh wistfully about a future I’m not sure I can wait 11 months to begin.

As that day draws near, I’ll begin issuing ebooks of all kinds on my travels — the days leading up to it, the dreams I have for it, the plans and logistics of it, and more. If you’d like to be on the mailing list for when I begin issuing those books, that’s here.

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