Tag Archives: living

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.

photo

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.

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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.

Is Happiness a Place?

photo 1I’ve watched three episodes of Bourdain’s Parts Unknown since last night and now my thoughts are consumed by food and culture.

It surprises me how much I’ve been thinking about food, culture, and the next phase of my life — in which I sell most everything I own and take up the wanderer’s lifestyle for hopefully the next five years.

I had to write a foreword for my cookbook last week and it made me more contemplative than I expected. What did I value in life? Why? What did I want more of? And I found myself echoing in the words I was writing. I too was lost “in the whizz-whizz/whoosh-whoosh pace of city life” I’d been writing about. I work too much, live too little. But I have a goal in mind: Five years abroad, and a year to go before I want it underway. The clock is ticking. The end is in sight. The race is on. Yada, yada.

Watching Bourdain wax poetic about the timeless lifestyles of Granada, Spain, or Ecuador, or Peru, or Croatia, or… It all makes me realize how far off the mark life is here in North America, or where I’ve been living. Or how I’ve been living. Life here, though, is all about the Benjamins. Or would be, if we had American currency.

With one of the most costly lifestyles in the English-speaking world, Vancouver (and therefore Victoria, where it’s only marginally cheaper) has suddenly become a struggle to live on a budget. A lot of people I know, if they can work from home and aren’t tied down, are taking the risk of living abroad. Some have made permanent ventures of it. And why not? If one can tap into a different lifestyle in a place that, after so long hamstrung in Vancouver, where life feels like a vacation because everything feels new and shiny for a year or more — well, why not? And if it’s 30-60% cheaper? Fuck, yeah.

I understand that we have it pretty good in Canada, and that’s where our money goes, but I also think it’s pretty ethnocentric to make bold claims like “best place on Earth.” After all, there’s a lifestyle in places like Spain and Ecuador and other fantastic places where they do have long vacations every year, and they focus on life first/work last, and they celebrate real food and wine and nature, and they do it all for cheaper than we do here, while still having a nice social safety net for the citizens.

We don’t have a monopoly on lifestyles. In many places, living really is pretty good, and they’re honestly too busy living life to bother trying to sell an image of it. Here, it feels like it’s so fast-paced and distracted that we’re constantly being reminded of just how GREAT everything is and how WOW SPIFFY our world is so we don’t start questioning how ridiculous it is that we have among the least amount of vacation time in the world, with the longest hours.

It’s like that time a friend read The Secret and told me what a powerful thing it was, and I should read it, blah blah blah. And I said, “Dude. You’re not happy with your job, where you live, and your relationship is in tatters. Prove to me that The Secret works by fixing your fucked-up life and oozing happy-happy/joy-joy, and then maybe I’ll buy the book.”

If life here was so sensational and happiness was the natural byproduct of it, do you think we’d be selling Xanax and Prozac like it was going out of style? Do you think self-help books would be so endemic? If life’s so amazing here, why do we need to keep being reminded about it?

When I was living in Vancouver, I kept telling people I wasn’t happy there anymore. Everyone said I was nuts, it’s the best place on the planet. Well, I can tell you wholeheartedly that selling the dream ain’t the same as delivering the dream, and for me, Lotusland just wasn’t delivering.

photo 2But maybe I’ve just got a restless heart. This time and place, it’s not right for me. I don’t know where is, but it ain’t here, not now. Not today. I think, for me, the joy will come from looking. From going to one place and being blown away and thinking “Nothing can ever top this,” and then, boom, next town, next country — “Nothing can ever top this.”

What if there is no place better than where I am today? What if, for the rest of my life I remember about the magical two years I lived in a magical neighbourhood?

Well, that could happen. Sure. But it’s a pretty big planet packed with a lot of wow, and I’m pretty sure things get amazing anywhere there’s mountains, trees, ocean, good wine, beautiful food, and kind people.

Happiness, for me, is a state of being. Having the time to be in the moment, not distracted, not paying a ton of money for an experience. A quiet place, a few kind people, the ability to speak my mind (or stay silent), a great glass of wine or a tall lemonade or strong coffee, some nature near me or surrounding me. Usually many of these criteria get met when I get to feel “happy”. It’s the recipe for happiness we hear so much about. Or my recipe, anyhow.

But to get there, to have that, I need to spend another year working like a dog to set my plan in play. Taking moments like this to think about the what-ifs of living abroad, the potential that life might hold, it makes knowing I’m working through another Saturday and Sunday all worthwhile.

That balance will come. For a little while, it means I have to prove how much I want it. And so I shall. With that, it’s time to do some work.

Fakin’ It, Baby

[I’ve had a strange week. I bought some wine Tuesday, finished in Wednesday night, and wrote this while under the influence. It’s long, rambling, but it’s also a good dose of in vino veritas.]

This year of mine will require tremendous courage and a willingness to fail on my part, because I’ll need to push through a whole lot of existential and emotional roadblocks that have always kept me from a few places I’ve needed to be.

It’s not like I’m not a confident person. I am. I’ve got a great personality. I can sell anything, argue anyone. I’m smart as hell. I like my writing. I’m funny. I’m kind. I’m generous. I’m creative. I’m dogged. I may even be invincible. I know these things. I know these things.

The trouble is believing them. Because I wasn’t always this way, and, before that, I wasn’t always that way. Continue reading

RANT: God’s Asked Me to Whale On Yo Ass, MoFo!

There’s a lot of attention being paid to polygamy and bigamy at the present, thanks to the arrest of that uberFucker, Warren Steed Jeffs. I know there are a lot of polyamorists in my audience, so I’m going avoid starting a war of words just because I disagree with the lifestyle.

(Disagreement does not equal judgment, so spare me the sanctimony, thanks! Do what thou wilt; just don’t invite me to the party.)

I want to say one thing, and one thing only.

CNN’s been showing these slighted polygamists who feel the world is up against them. (I may not agree with it, but I don’t think it should be outright outlawed, but that’s another argument for another time.) Naturally, the butthead I saw was excusing or justifying his lifestyle because he believes he lives that lifestyle in praise of God or as a means of being closer to God, or even because God wills it as such. Insert the justification you like best.

I am sick and fucking tired of everyone justifying their actions because it’s “God’s will.” No, people, it’s not God’s will. If you are religious, then you understand the simple premise of the belief that God gave free will to man so that man may choose and thus ultimately secure his own fate. You have chosen your lifestyle — whether it be that of a polygamist or that of a bake-sale/PTA mom. Don’t fucking tell me you’re doing it for God. Do it because you choose to, and have the balls to own up to choice, public opinion be damned.

I could turn around tomorrow and buy stakes in the best Belgian chocolate company in this city and scarf cocoa up my fucking wazoo, turning myself into some 400-lb ball of flab and say, “But God made the beautiful cocoa bean and I am simply choosing to respect the beauty of his creation by indulging in it! I’m doing it for God! My rolls of fat are a testimony to his greatness!”

Nuh-uh, sweetums. I’m doing it ‘cos it tastes so fucking good and I’m not getting laid so if that means I indulge, then I indulge. But it’s my choice, and that’s enough justification. “Because I want to!”

I’m really goddamned tired of people not taking responsibility for their actions. You’ve chosen. You live it. Be proud of it. Don’t tell me it’s for a God you’ve never had the privilege of sharing a beer with. You don’t fucking know what He wants, if in fact He even exists, so don’t presume to excuse your actions through Him.

A nation of pansies, that’s what this is. Fuck, man. God wills it, therefore it must be so. If that’s the case, then know this: God gave you a spine, but you CHOOSE not to use it, you fucking amoebas. Get with the program or check the fuck out, but spare me more of this bullshit.

(This goes for anyone on any side of the “God wants it” argument, whether Poly or PTA or Pro-Life or whatever. I’m just sick of the argument. Personal responsibility’s like some distant figment of the land over yonder or something. I, for one, think it’s time we remember what the hell it once meant.)