Tag Archives: living abroad

Travelling: The Writer’s Master Class

I wrote this late last Friday night and have only gotten around to editing it now. As of today, the numbers below are right — 90 days until I’m homeless and a world traveller. If you’re not following my travel blog, you should.

It’s hard to find great movies on writers. Funny, that.

But I guess it’s such an internal experience that it’s very hard to relay that visually or in any other way. It’s why a movie like Eat Pray Love can suck so hard while the book is a delight to read.

So it’s with great enjoyment that I’m watching Jane Campion’s biopic on New Zealand author Janet Frame, who I’d never even heard about, despite read. Don’t let my ignorance dissuade you of her import; her list of writing awards spans nearly six decades and would be intimidating to nearly any writer. An Angel At My Table is the name of both the film and the corresponding books.

Frame was unique, to put it lightly, and suffered mental illness in varying (but it turns out manageable) degrees. She was due for a lobotomy when word came that her first book of poems was an award-winning publication, and some wise doctor realized her malaise was also the source of her brilliance.

I’m at the point where she’s coming into her own as a writer but is still troubled by the demons of anxiety and other illnesses, and like any proper writer, she is only her complete self when writing.

 

London, England, by Unsplash on Pixabay. Creative Commons. My first stop in my travels.

London, England, by Unsplash on Pixabay. Creative Commons.

Doing what a writer’s born to do

It makes me think that a writer who isn’t writing is a person who can never be happy. Without writing, we’re haunted. If we can’t do what we are, then what are we to be, if not cursed?

I write. Boy, do I write. I can’t say I don’t write. Know how many words I’ve written since April 1st, about 90 days? Over 70,000. Maybe over 80K. Until this quarter, I never knew how much a writer I am. I set a goal, then I blew way past it, so much so that I’ll be the writer anomaly when I travel, as I’ll be completely debt-free.

Strangely though, with all that production going into paid blogging and other professional endeavours, plus some unpaid personal blogging, I have to tell you… I really wish I had some time to write.

There’s writing for the dollars, then there’s writing for the soul, and there’s very little of the latter I’ve been able to execute, only because I’m so riddled by the chase of the almighty buck that I’m too full of emotional holes to really write what I wanna.

Zagreb_1_Ilica

Creative Commons image from Sobrecroacia.com. Ilica Street, Zagreb, my second stop on my travels, and near where I’ll live for three weeks, except for a short stint in the next town — which is… see the next picture!

 

Stealing back my time

In the movie, Janet Frame has just launched herself on her first international voyage. She’s told, to be a better writer, she needs to travel and expand her horizons.

It calls to mind what I wrote about how my travels are, even if others don’t say it, essentially most writers’ dream life. Go abroad. Travel slow. Soak in the world. Record it. Process it. Love it.

That’s writing for you, it’s a writer’s master class — travel.

I’m 90 days away from that life. Travel. No appointments, no obligations, no friends, no family, nothing but a schedule to meet for work, the ability to be in some exotic place for a month or so, and enough time in the day to write for an hour or two EVERY SINGLE DAY. Maybe more! Tee-hee-hee!

Ask me if I’m more excited about the distraction-free time to chase a writing-first life or the opportunity to see the world for five years, and I would honestly struggle to choose. I love the idea of both so completely that it blows my mind I’m getting both at the same time.

Ljubljana, Slovenia, from PopSugar.com's list of 23 places to visit. And stop number three for me!

Ljubljana, Slovenia, from PopSugar.com’s list of 23 places to visit. And stop number three for me!

Writing is not a “hobby”

I’ve been through a lot in my life. It’s all gone whizzing past in a blur of survival and perseverance. Seldom have I had a chance to percolate and absorb it. I haven’t processed half the emotions I’ve felt over the years.

To some, they might say I need therapy. But the writers, they know. They know I need silence, a phone that doesn’t ring and a door that doesn’t knock. They know I need a window with a view, a desk at a good height, and fingers that won’t weary from a day or a year or a life of pounding out the truth.

It’s better than therapy, writing. It’s more honest, and it’s less selfish, in a way.* Put it down, push it into the world, and watch it resonate with others. When one taps into how fucked up they are, shares it with the world, resulting in a cacophony of voices rising to say how much it resonated with them — that’s the original therapy group session.

Something tells me, though, that landing on the far shores of the Atlantic isn’t going to be when and where I realize what a mess I am — it’ll be where I realize how together I’ve got it.

Motovun, Istria, in Croatia, where I'll be spending 4 weeks this fall -- stop number 4. And this photo's from Sobrecroacia.com.

Motovun, Istria, in Croatia, where I’ll be spending 4 weeks this fall — stop number 4. And this photo’s from Sobrecroacia.com.

Choosing passion

It doesn’t matter how I think I’ll do. My expectations don’t matter either. In about 105 days, after I’ve whirlwinded through Vancouver and London, UK, it’ll be my chance to see exactly how it unfolds. But there are no doubts in my mind about travelling improving me as a writer.

There haven’t been many opportunities in my life to spend 10 or 20 hours a week just writing for myself, let lone more, but the few times I’ve had that, my writing has been top-notch and I’ve been enormously proud of it. It’s a whole ‘nother writing level when you’ve got the time, focus, and dedication to achieve consistency.

This is what I hope to experience again. A chance to become more plugged into words and flow. I want the noise and distraction of life to evaporate, and the cadence of something exciting and new to fuel what I write.

What’s that they say about asking and receiving? 100 days.

*But therapy is awesome if you can afford it. For real.

(Almost) Every Writer’s Dreams

Tick. Tock. The countdown continues. 5 months and 1 week, I jam from these digs. Off to Vancouver for The Grand Farewells, and zipping to Croatia, as my uber-nomadic adventure begins, setting the stage for what’s to be the wildest five years of my life.

I’m relaxing as a homeowner does. Fat pants, juicy red wine, and some Netflix. Billy Crudup flick. Which naturally reminds me of the movie Jesus’ Son. And that led me back to my writing lessons with novelist Maureen Medved (The Tracy Fragments). I wrote this story I kinda fell into my first hardcore “writing trance” with, and it was a two-page short story I hope foreshadows the fiction writer I wanna be. She said it evoked Denis Johnson to her, who had already written Jesus’ Son by then.

And I don’t know, man. Am I that writer? I sure hope so. It’s the dream, right? Tell you one thing, once I’m gone, it won’t be for lack of trying.

The goal is a novel, for which I already know the story in a loose gist, and which I’ll not tell you. But a serious “published by the big boys” kinda novel, not screwing-around-with-ebooks novel. Nothing against ebooks, because I mean to write a lot of them, but I’d just like to know something I dreamed up made it to a trade paper or even hardcover. Publishing non-fiction wouldn’t mean as much. Fiction, that’s the hard stuff. From nothing comes everything.

So, I know what I want. Writing. And the freedom to do it.

And here’s the thing: My trip will be to writing what petri dishes are to lab cultures.

There is no better environment or setting for a writer than getting stimulation of new cultures and landscapes all the time, immersed in old towns, living for 30-50% less money, never mired by silly things like house cleaning (think about it! 5 years, no cleaning!) or home maintenance, no friends or family or obligations to screw up the writing mojo. It’s every writer’s dream life. I’ll have more time, more money, more newness around me, more inspiration, and no “real life” distractions outside of what I can resolve on the web, thanks to appointing a legal representative back home.

To keep reading, please do so at my travel blog, The Full Nomad — click here.

Imagining Where In The World I Am: En Route to Morocco?

Every few days, I think of a new possible combination of places to go in my first year abroad. Overnight, I had a nine-hour sleep but awoke with a headache as the forces of weather good and evil battle it out and days of sun establish themselves off the coast here.

This headache and the dread with which I approach work also makes it possible for me to daydream about the life I might be leading one year from now.

I’m pretty firm on where I’ll be in my first three months. It’s Croatia. After that, that’s when matters change. Will I do Northern Spain and Portugal, then France, then Prague, as I first thought? I don’t know.

This week I’m imagining a different route. Pack up around now in January, 2016, spend a couple days in Venice, then make my way down through Spain, staying here and there, exploring Andalusia a bit before spending a bit in Tarifa, especially with a car rental. (If you’ve ever read the wonderful tale about following your dreams, The Alchemist, it largely takes place around there.)

I found a 330-year-old building I want to stay in for a bit in Tarifa. Amazing architecture, and to live inside a building that predates the first German settlers arriving in North America, where someone might have sat reading the first edition of the just-published in 1684 Principia by Sir Isaac Newton… I mean, this is mind-boggling stuff to someone still impressed her apartment is from 1931.

Then a ferry to Morocco, specifically Tangier, where I’ve found a B&B decorated to 1800s Moroccan glory. It’s jaw-droppingly beautiful and would be a real splurge, but Morocco is my dream trip. Like, dream trip.

I have a little town on the coast of Morocco I’d like to stay in, possibly for up to a month, just writing, relaxing, photographing the water, eating Berber food, and planning my future.

This would take me to about April or May, avoiding the hottest part of North Africa’s year. Then, off to who knows where? Perhaps Prague, Georgia, and other less-scorchy places for the summer months.

The best part of not committing to a plan is being able to dream of the endless opportunities I might have to explore and wander. All of them are good. All of them are enticing.

Dreaming is a lovely thing.

For now, time to work.

Photo by Odolphie, looking toward Spain from Tangier's ports.

Photo by Odolphie, looking toward Spain from Tangier’s ports.

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.