Tag Archives: changing my life

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.

Going, Going…

Tonight I have a party thingie so people can come say goodbye to me.

Don’t I feel narcissistic. Holy cow.

I never throw parties for myself but I’m sure liking this “see everyone at once and LEAVE TOWN” deal. Do I get a horse and a cowboy hat? “Ah’ll be seein’ ya, pardners.”

Riding the ferry back from Victoria.

Clearly I was big on the Saturday afternoon westerns when I was a little girl.

Anyhow.

The big day cometh. I’m thinking there likely won’t be a lot of posts once I hit moving day/week, but I’m really looking forward to getting some of my thoughts on moving down on pape– err, down on the screen before I go. Posterity and all.

So, this weekend I’ll find some time for a reflective post.

One third of my life has been spent in this apartment. Somehow I fell into the world’s biggest rut. Whew.

This is the week where I slam the brakes and literally every single thing in my life is changing, except for my day job — but that’s changing in context too, since I won’t be working in offices any more.

I’ll be having dinner Friday night to hash out the plan with my fab friend about how we’re gonna put together my new blog. Like I say, The Cunt shall live and I’ll still be writing this blog. I suspect it’ll be my edgier work more exclusively. Lifestyle writing will go on the new blog.

I can’t wait to get that up and running too. Different writing, all my own photography. A record of the ways my life is changing and the places I’m exploring. Very fun.

It’s great. It’s the era of social media. I’ve got people lined up to meet over on the island, connections introducing me.  I don’t know a soul in Victoria in person, but social media’s opening all the doors.

When I moved to the Yukon in ’94, it took me 3-4 months to make friends. I highly doubt that’ll be the case this time, but I’m not in a rush to get there. First, a month of No Planning, Just Being, which I’m calling my “rat-race detox.”

I can’t wait to flip the tables on my life balance. Work from home. Walk for enjoyment and exploring. Ride buses 2-3 times a month, instead of 2-4 times a day. Be antisocial for the day job, and embrace people after hours. Feel like stopping work and visiting the beach? Sure, I can take an hour or two for that soul-break.

I can confidently tell you now that I’ve been doing EVERYTHING wrong for years. I shouldn’t have still been living in Vancouver. This place started getting too big after 2003, when the Olympics construction began. By 2007, I was losing my joy. After 2010, I lost all my joy. It was just not for me anymore.

Every time I’ve ever vacationed as an adult, it’s been coastal region roadtrips, small towns, remote locations. And I never want to return to the city at the end of the week. Methinks I’m tired of the masses.

Vancouver is an incredible city. World-class. Beeyootiful. But it’s changing too quickly. That nature everyone’s moving here for is getting chewed up by developments. Now it’s one city bleeding into another city, sprawling out with 2.3 million people.

I was born here, man. I grew up with this nature. I remember the quiet, the pristine place/pace. I remember when we were this little hick town no one really knew about.

I never asked for the world to find out about us, and wasn’t thrilled when everyone started moving here. You can’t beat the setting, but the endless crowds of grumpy people and the difficulty of enjoying the nature when it takes me 1.5 hours to bus to some beaches in city limits, etc, have just really made me feel like I don’t even live in Vancouver anymore. I never enjoy the ocean, I’m too tired to get out.

So, that’s all changing.

Leaving town means I take back 60 hours of my month from busing next week.

60 hours! Time’s money — and it’s joy and it’s recharge and it’s awesome. I like Time.

In fact, it’s possible I spend as much as 70-75 hours per month in transit, actually.

I’d like to repurpose that time. I want to do an extra 20 hours of walking, 20 more hours a month working for my bosses, and 20 hours a month writing.

Now that’s some fucking life balance, baby.

So, tonight, the goodbye party ensues, and, I think, it all starts getting Really Real.

I’ll miss stuff. People. But I won’t miss the price I paid for it.

Change is a good thing. Bring on the change.

Vancouver: I Love You, But I’m Leaving

This is my first piece on my decision to leave my hometown of Vancouver and head for Victoria, off the coast, the southernmost point of Vancouver Island. (Vancouver is on the Mainland, not on the island that bears its name. No, that’s not confusing at all. God.)

Because it’s the first time I’m letting the cat out of the bag, there’s a lot of simmering anger in me. I feel I’ve been forced to this decision by a city that has become a place where much of the 99% can barely get by. Like so often is the case, my anger’s finally making me act, and I’m picking up my first moving boxes this weekend.

As time evolves, I’ll look at this shift in my life with a more tempered, mellow view, but today I’m embracing the anger and the Dark Side for this posting.

The Breaking Point

It’s quittin’ time, Henry.

Gettin’ while the gettin’s good.

Hasta la sayonara. Change of address. Forwarding my mail.

All this and more, soon. Outta Vancouver, man. Into the fray. I’m a goner, Ma.

Some might think I’m crazy. “HEY, leaving the most liveable city in the WORLD? Are you NUTS?”

No, man. I’m just real fuckin’ broke, and real fuckin’ tired. File me under “Can’t give a shit anymore.”

For two years, I’ve been growing weary of Vancouver life. I’ll always love this town. It’s my home, but it’s now become my burden.

I didn’t come on some vacation, fall in love, and move. I’m not some foreign investor who’s decided to throw his wad at the town. I’m not some keenie who thought the Vancouver future was so bright, they came packin’ shades for life in a rainforest.

No. I was BORN here. This is my HOME.

Urban Undone

Most “born” Vancouverites I know — they’re really, really chill, down-to-earth people. The transplants? Depends. Many, not so much. It’s messing up the mix, and what was once a really laidback city often feels pretentious, overpriced, and pretty shallow. Maybe I work downtown too much.

I’ve been employed in the heart of Yaletown off and on for 12 years. Love the office I work in, hate the neighbourhood.

Every day, I show up to a job where I barely scrape by because it’s not a lucrative industry but it’s a great office, and I work in a neighbourhood where I find Ferraris parked, toy dogs, and plenty of ridiculously plastic people. Seriously, I think a Yaletown shop should open offering the service of extracting people’s heads from their asses. If one more asshole with an umbrella walks under an awning hugging the building in a rainstorm, I’m gonna slap someone.

After work a couple weeks ago, I went out for a BEER in the hood and had to pay $9.50. Before tip. For a SLEEVE, not a PINT. Metric THIS, baby. I don’t know what fairy godparent pays your tab, but I can’t do $10 not-a-pints. I buy a bottle of wine for that, for crying out loud, and at least that can put me out of my misery if I drink it fast enough. Let’s get real here. I fuckin’ hate Yaletown.

The class divide? I WORK inside it. While I’m so over it, I’m totally not, because it’s in my face daily.

But not for long.

When I grew up, Vancouver had under a half-million people. It was some quaint pint-sized version of Seattle-meets-San Francisco, but we liked it.

Now? It’s some gleaming pearl in the world and everyone wants to live here. Thanks, Hollywood people.

The average Vancouver-city home now sells for 11x the average family’s income. Compared to that income, Vancouver’s property values are a ridiculous 56% higher than NYC, & even stacks up 31% higher than the great city of London, England. It’s a bitch-slap to renters, too, because we have to absorb both land and tax costs, but we’re also the people least likely to afford to do so, leading to people having roommates as they’re pushing 40 and beyond now. Then there’s the lack of new rental opportunities because developers only care to sell, not rent. No one has a long-game in the providing-homes-business anymore.

Add to that the fucking ongoing three-plus-year recession and that most small biz has frozen wages for most of that time, if not longer, and renting in Vancouver is a real conundrum.

LIVEABLE? SURELY YOU JEST.

Where the 30% Can Afford to Play

Like this brilliant Vancouver Magazine article reports, I know more and more people in their 30s and 40s looking for second jobs, but most of them are secretly thinking there’s got to be a better life where we don’t need to work 60-hour weeks to be stuck in traffic only to pay exorbitant prices as premiums for the location — be it in dining, rent, clothing, or whatever. (Or $10 draught sleeves of local beer.)

This will always be my home, but I wish to hell so many people hadn’t found out about it, because I’m REALLY not digging the company.

Every day, I’m tired, I’m annoyed, I’m broke, and I’m left wondering when I’m gonna bloody stop feeling like this.

And then I realized: I’m not. It won’t stop.

It’s not me, Vancouver. It’s you.

For all your positives, there’s all these downsides that no one wants to talk about.

You’ve got a lot of people who don’t smile on streets, who look like they’ve been slapped if you say “hello” (if they look at you at all). You’re expensive. Your traffic is often at a crawl. You’re filled with “scenes.” And, because you’re so expensive, everyone’s so primed to get by and get ahead that socializing seems more about business than making friends.

God, you’re SO expensive.

I just can’t pay the price anymore, not literally or figuratively. It’s eating at my soul.

I have a Virginia Woolf quote on a memento at home. It says: “If you are losing your leisure, look out, for you may be losing your soul.” One day recently, I dusted it, read it, and I realized I’m absolutely losing my soul.

While I love Vancouver’s setting and its diversity, the truth is, I’ve seen far too much of the same for 37 years. The newness here all looks the same — glass and concrete. I need a more soulful newness, and Victoria’s close yet far… and looking to me very much like what Vancouver was 30 years ago.

Making the Working-from-Home Switch

In this town, I’m an unlucky girl who landed a serious back injury and is struggling to get by. On top of my full-time week, I’m rehabbing an injury, and even though I live inside of city limits, the 10km I travel to downtown takes me about 40 minutes each way, and when you factor in all my appointments, getting around, and more, it’s adding up to a crazy 15-20 hours a week I’m spending on transit. It’s soul-sucking.

Right now, I can’t work from home because I hate my home, since my landlord has dreams of achieving “slumlord” status. To rent a new place in a better neighbourhood, I’m looking at a 50-60% rent increase, and nothing in this city remains for what I pay now. There’s co-op housing, which would be affordable, but it needs a 5-year commitment, and the idea of committing to this city another five years has churned my stomach of late.

I have no interest in being in this craptastic apartment all day every day. My at-home workstation sucks, and I’ve fallen out of love with my apartment since the cockroach episode of ’08-’10. My desk is too high. At the real office, I’m simply at my desk too long. I hate leaving work and returning because my days are long enough as-is, given my back-injury needs, so I generally work straight through my days. It’s not ideal, but it gets my day over faster, and me home sooner.

In the end, I spend lots of weekends keeping to myself to recharge and house-clean, because I’m too weary after work with my wonky body to be doing that crap on work nights. It’s an unsatisfying and even depressing balance that’s the only thing I can make work for city-life these days. It keeps me antisocial, and I hate that my life has become this. I don’t hate people, I’d like to see them, but I also need a certain amount of time to myself, and that’s how it’s achieved in long-term injury rehab when one’s stuck in the urban rat-race.

Moving to Victoria, my rent’ll be about the same price but my home and neighbourhood should be better, and possibly with utilities included, lowering my expenses. I’ll be close to the downtown core AND the ocean, less than 20 blocks from each, and could ditch a bus-pass in favour of walking 80% of the time — great for my body. I can work from home and keep my antisocialness to a practical level, then escape to see the world because I’ll be living in the mix, not stuck on the inconvenient busing-to-every-place outskirts like I am now. I could write in cafes with my soon-to-be Boxing-Day-Special laptop, work out more regularly, keep my work-seated hours to smaller chunks for better back health, and maybe, just maybe, have more fun.

The discipline required to work from home will be hard, but the soul-suckingness required to work in the heart of Vancouver is a far higher price to pay than the task of making myself become disciplined.

Quality of Life

Vancouver Island is almost self-contained. As a foodie, this is kind of awesome, because so much is grown and produced there, and the profit margin is much higher for vendors to use sustainable practices and sell close to home. I’ve been checking out grocery prices, and finding that locally-raised unmedicated chicken sells at prices lower than mass market meats here on the Mainland do.

All things considered, for me, moving for “quality of life” makes a lot of sense. I’ll be able to balance the demands of working for a living along with the living I’ve not seemed to get around to doing a lot of over the last couple of years. I’m imagining a Steff who likes to walk and explore, who feels relaxed enough to finally focus on reading and writing again, who’s out rediscovering her love for photography, eating less processed food and taking the time to cook healthily at home. I’m imagining a Steff I used to be, a Steff whose soul got lost a while ago.

And then there are the pubs. Real British pubs. Fan-fucking-tastic. Maybe they don’t charge $9.50 a sleeve. (Motherfuckers!)

Being the heart of a ferry system for both the province of BC and an outcropping of the Washington State ferries, Victoria offers far different weekend-traveller options that include crazy rainforests, other islands, and Canada’s only surfing spots, and other great haunts, all for far cheaper than Mainland travel spots.

Will I stay there forever? Unlikely. Stay for five years? I think so.

The Last Word (For Now)

Sure, it’s a drastic — and considering I have to pay to move my belongings by weight on the ferries, expensive — move. And it seems surreal to be so excited (yet still sad) to be leaving, knowing all these organizations claim Vancouver is the most liveable city in the world, something that makes my jaw drop every time I hear it.

Vancouver Island in the distance, from UBC's Fraser Outlook.

Maybe it used to be, but with bad civic policies leading to exorbitant and insane real estate prices, the day-to-day here remains out-of-reach for most of the 99%.

A lot of us single folk in our 30s and 40s, who are tired of barely getting by, let alone not getting ahead, can assure you these ranking folk are misreading their data. Very unscientifically, about one in three people I talk to who are in my age range have considered leaving Vancouver, and their options are still open. Most people I know dine out less, have less time for leisure activities, and are feeling more stress than ever. At this rate, soon, this town will only consist of white-collar workers and upper-management, unless expensive rental conundrums are solved, and fast.

I can either cough up the 50-60% more for rent now for the delusion of living the good life while killing myself to make my ends meet, or I can admit I’ve lost the battle, but that the battle’s no longer worth the fight, pick up, and leave. And leaving brings a quieter, simpler, closer, more convenient, healthier lifestyle, for the same price as I pay now, or maybe less.

Hmm. Yeah. Doesn’t sound like such a tough choice now, huh? So, 10 more weeks, then.

It’s a drastic change, but my gut says a great one. Buckle up. This’ll be a fun ride.

***

I’ll definitely be blogging about everything coming down my pipes — from moving ideas, planning, to the simmering excitement of not knowing where I’ll be or what’s gonna happen, for the next three months of my life. Yep. 2012’s gonna be a good’un. I just need to remember to stop and breathe a few times between now and March.