Tag Archives: simplicity

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.

Finding My Words

I’ve been enjoying the reclusive life and doing a lot of solo exploring in small chunks since I’ve moved. It can’t, and won’t, continue for much longer but it’s been a brilliant choice on my end.

It’s only now, clearly, that my desire to write is returning. I was sure this would happen sooner, and part of the Being Antisocial Plan was so that I’d reconnect with my words. Well, yeah. It’s taken time but it’s happening.

Sunset off Clover Point in Victoria. Par moi.

I’ll embrace antisocial behaviour for a little longer — a week, maybe two — to let my wordy seeds grow. Then, I’d like to start meeting people and think it will be easy to do so. Optimism helps, kids!

If I’m in the right mood, people generally like me. Or, people I like tend to like me. That’s not cockiness or anything, because being liked just isn’t hard — be nice, be interested, be interesting, be kind, be authentic. It’s much easier, of course, when you actually talk to people and make an effort. So, until I do that, I shall remain anonymous and lifeless. Yay?

As we both might know, I’m no dummy. I’m the thinky-thinky type, like all geeky writer girls tend to be, and all my cerebral wheels have spun something fierce in the months leading to this moment.

See, I know what small towns are like, and at 1/9th the size of Vancouver and my living in a very small neighbourhood within that, I know anonymity evaporates in a hurry once you start fitting into the community. And that’s great, it’s nice to feel noticed and like you belong, but once you have THAT, you never have THIS again.

I talk to people, I’m chatty, I smile a lot, and most people enjoy bantering with me, so I expect to start knowing more people than I don’t. One day, I’ll be able to recall this 8- or 10-week period where I saw no one but strangers, did nothing beyond shop browsing, and never got greeted by name.

Kinda awesome. For a while. Life and its contrasts are fantastic. People should enjoy their weird life phases a bit more. The start of a relationship, the awkwardness of being new… Newness is fantastic and fleeting. Everything gets old so quickly.

It’s common that we get so caught up in wanting the future to happen now that we forget we can never come back, we’ll never have THIS moment again. We’re the impatient fast-food, flash-cooking society, and it shows in our lifestyles.

I don’t own a microwave. I am in no hurry, friends. Anymore, anyhow. Namaste.

There’s nothing to regret about holding off on joining the Locals Club. I know I’ll get there, and when I do, I’ll absolutely adore being a part of this community. It’ll be great living in a place where I can walk all the way home after 2 or 3 drinks, where I can casually go meet people at the city’s most popular parks and beaches, since they’re all a short walk away. I’m under no illusions of a) what my life can be like here, and b) what it’ll take for me to connect with others.

But, for now, I’ve more literary aspirations in mind.

For that, it’s nice, this anonymous wanderer schtick of mine. A rewarding way to burn off the rat race hangover I’ve had since I escaped the faster, bustling drone of big city life.

I’m still in the headspace where I feel like I have so much I need to do, and that’s all part of the necessary efforts in transition. It’s catching up on work, finishing projects around my home, and other little things. But now I’ve found time for writing (and even blogging) each day for a week.

The change I’ve sought is officially afoot, it seems. Oh, writing, how I’ve missed wanting to do you.

Longtime readers know I’m a big believer in writing being a muscle. The more one does it, the more one taps into the rhythm and grind of what makes writing great.

But if you’re living a life where nothing inspires you, nothing sets you free, it’s hard to tap into that. In fact, it’s damned near impossible. I should know, because that’s how I was feeling for much of the last two years. Trapped and frustrated.

That’s changing, quickly. I’m becoming fascinated and intrigued often. I’m becoming inspired and recharged from time to time. I need more. More, more, more!

Creativity requires much in life but it mostly requires focus and awareness. Stimulation, too. And we can trick ourselves into thinking the city is what we need for stimulation, but, for some, cities are built for distraction, not stimulation.

I’ve been so distracted so long that this silence and quietude in my new life is overwhelming at times. I’m so undistracted I’m confused.

And that too is part of the life transition. Slowing down. It’s the emotional and mental equivalent to the way solid ground feels after an afternoon of being at sea or a day spent 4x4ing. The sudden stop is jarring to our equilibrium.

Well, I feel the same these days. It’s almost panic-inducing at times, because I’m still waiting for that day when I don’t wake up thinking my vacation’s over and I need to return to the city soon. Because I don’t. I live here now.

That’s something I have to remind myself of, daily. There is no rush, there’s no return, there’s just me, here, now.

So, that’s where I am today. Still anonymous, still wandering, still transitioning… but a writer once again.

On The Quieting of the Self

I don’t think I’ve blogged regularly in months, but that’s the nature of lifechange for me.

I don’t deal well with change, and it’s possibly why I resist it so hard for so long.

That said, there’s a book on ADHD called The Unquiet Mind, and that phrase aptly describes my mental state of the last several weeks/months.

In asking how I was acclimatizing to my new life/world/routine over here in Victoria, a friend replied to my flustered response with “Change is good, and often overdue.”

I began thinking how overdue my change has been, and it’s too far back to get into, but a couple years anyhow, if not longer. But the delays in undertaking the change resulted in my descending further and further into my funk before I got out. I suppose that makes me more ordinary than I’d like to admit, since most of us don’t adopt change particularly well before it becomes mandatory.

Photo by me. Shot on Victoria's Clover Point.

As the days bleed one into another over here and I slowly become A Local, it occurs to me that just making the choice to move here was only the start of my change, and many of the things I hope to introduce in my life will take a long time to make a reality. It harkens to the cliche “Rome was not built in a day.”

No. I guess it wasn’t. Nor will be my new life.

It’s been seven weeks, and I’m only now reaching the point where my apartment is beginning to feel like a home. Just a week or so ago, I had my first instance of being late for an appointment, missing my bus, and solving it like a local would — via another bus on a nearby route. I felt smart and shiny, like I’d inherited some pretty new Big-Girl Pants.

But, in those seven passing weeks came a lot of problems with my body — one adjustment after another causing upheaval for my fucked-up skeleton, and it’s also only now that these things are settling.

It got scary for a bit as New Badness kept occurring, since my back and body are big reasons I’ve moved to Victoria — where it seemed easier to get around, geared to the walking lifestyle, and more fitness-oriented in a ways I would be able to incorporate into my days. But when you make that move and things go in the opposite direction from what you’d hoped, yeah, it’s a hair-raising segment of change that isn’t what you’re ready to receive.

For weeks, people kept asking if I was “loving” my new life, and I tried to put the Smiley Face on, but the truth was, I was scared, hurting, and hoping I hadn’t made a Big Scary Mistake.

But transition takes time, both mentally and physically. Knowing that, I just kept my head down, kept my goals ahead of me, and tried to keep my head in the game.

That worked, and my transition’s easing into a better normal now, with a mo’ better normal yet to come.

With my home nearing completion, it’s time to turn the transitional focus onto me — my body, my health, my mind — and really reap the rewards of making this big change in my world.

Last fall, when I would imagine life in Victoria, I was off on a number of points, but that includes underestimating the amazing surroundings, the quiet, and the pace of life around me. I know now that it’s a place I belong.

When I imagine my future today, I see myself embracing more walks on the ocean, finding a better sense of balance time-wise, learning to meditate regularly, photographing/writing daily, and falling back in love with reading.

Because, the thing is, this Unquiet Mind conundrum of mine, it’s been the status quo for me since about 2009 or so. Seldom have I found peace or quiet in a way that resonates for me. I think I’ve found it here. I think I’m learning now that, while I was born and raised in Vancouver, and love it on some level that’ll never change, I think I’m not built for life in the big city. I suspect one day this place, too, will outgrow my soul.

It’s funny how much I can surprise myself, how much I still have to learn about who I am and where my place is in the world, but I suppose it’s all part of the EverBecoming of being human. If you stop growing, you may as well push up daisies.

I know that, by delaying the needed change in my life, I fell further into a horrible rut, and undid much good I’d struggled to accomplish in life, but something tells me the grief of my relocation, the bodily aches and pains that came with, and the turmoil I’d felt during it all will result in some amazing days to come.

It’s good to be on the other side. Now, where will I be in a few months? I don’t know, but I think I’m gonna love getting there.