An Update and a Thank You

“I thought maybe I got off your e-mail list somehow,” my former piano teacher told me today. “But then I went on your blog and saw you just haven’t written anything in a while. ”

This is true. I’m not sure why I haven’t written. Not for lack of adventures–that’s for sure. So here’s a little taste of what we’ve been up to:

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Bastille Day in Vannes

Since leaving our respective homes back in May, Michael and I have shared five apartments, two houses, one cruise ship cabin, and three hotel rooms–in six countries, three US states, and on one body of water:

 

Our Saturday view in Ceret

  • We hung our underwear out to dry over the streets of Aix-en-Provence (that’s where the drying rack was).
  • Michael stuck his trumpet out our window to play for the tourists in Vannes (but as we were on the third floor, no one saw where it was coming from, which suited him just fine).
  • We peered down from our windows in Ceret every Saturday to see the market being set up (and of course ventured out into it).
  • We learned to keep a closer eye on our bags in Barcelona (you read about that one).
  • We hosted a dinner party in Asheville (in a lovely house bigger than any I ever hope to own).
  • And just last weekend we watched my brother (finally) marry the wonderful woman he’s been dating for a very long time.
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My niece and my new sister-in-law.

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The view from the porch at my writing retreat

For those of you thinking that my days of solo travel are over, I beg to differ. Over the last four months, Michael and I have spent six weeks apart. To the aforementioned tallies, I can personally add ten different hostels, one hotel, one house, and one farm–and an additional two countries.

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On the Camino . . . Again

  • Just two weeks after we arrived in France, I flew to Portugal to spend ten days on the Portuguese Camino to Santiago.
  • I spent a couple days in Paris to meet a friend from NY whose travels happened to coincide with mine.
  • I left Michael in Vannes and hopped a boat to a goat farm on an island for a week of volunteer work.
  • Less than twenty-four hours after returning to the US, I drove up to New York for some family time. Four days in New York turned into ten. Because I was enjoying it. And because I can.
  • I spent a few days with Michael before leaving him again for two weeks on my twice-yearly writing retreat.
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Michael and I on Schroon Lake

So what’s next? This month, Michael will be in Asheville and California. I’ll be in New York and Montreal. And we’ll meet again in a house that stands just thirty seconds away from the shores of Schroon Lake–whose waters will be frozen over by the time we leave there in December.

Summing it all up like this, I’m a bit speechless–and I’m a writer, so that’s saying a lot.

During these times–when I look in awe at the wonderful life I am blessed with–all I can think to do is give thanks.

I’d like to thank you all, dear readers. You who have said, “Go!”. You who have read this blog–some for many years. Thank you for subscribing. For telling your friends about this blog, or about me, in hopes of inspiring someone else. Thank you to those who have posted a comment or contacted me personally. Thank you for asking me to speak to you, your friends, your students. Thank you to those of you who have made a change in your life and shared your fears and excitement with me. If you’re one of those people, stop right now and be damn proud of yourself. I’m sure proud of you.

My first public reading–John C. Campbell Folk School, March, 2008

I don’t know if or how my life would be different if I didn’t start this blog. But I can tell you this: my life is so much better for having done so. And for that I thank my first writing class: our teacher, Glenda Beall, who gently coaxed our stories out of us, my classmates who listened to those stories and laughed or cried and told me to keep writing, the classmate who showed me what a blog was when I had no intention of ever starting one, the classmates who started the on-line writing group and eventually our twice-yearly retreats, and to all my successive writing teachers and classmates.

And to all of you. I now know I like to write for an audience, and I thank you for showing up to my performance.

And For Her Next Stunt . . .

The book was called First Time Around the World. As if there might be a second or third time I embarked on such a journey. I could barely fathom planning a year of travels, let alone actually making it happen, so once would definitely be enough for me.

Having lived with myself for thirty-six years now, I don’t think my love of “big” trips is a fad. “Maybe one day you’ll travel for a week at a time, like most people,” my mother said after I returned from my most recent travels. “Mmmm,” I responded, wondering if one week in a place would ever be enough.

It surely doesn’t help that I have a proclivity toward travel-based memoirs. And people don’t tend to write about their week-long sojourns. My heart speeds up when I head into the travel writing section of the bookstore. Tales of a Female Nomad, Vagabonding, One Year Off. On this balmy Saturday I spent more than an hour on a beach towel with my nose tucked into An Embarrassment of Mangoesa couple’s tale of their two year hiatus sailing the Caribbean. I read with great interest the money part–how they figured out what it would cost. But then I realized they took this trip nearly twenty years ago.

Speaking of outdated numbers, my copy of First Time Around the World is seven years old. Yes, me, the girl who loves getting rid of stuff, has actually held onto a book for seven years. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, though, I can now find more accurate figures for this supposed trip. And just today it hit me: the money my father has saved for my wedding could fund an entire year of traveling. One day versus an entire year. Need I say more? Yes. I probably need to say, “Oh Daddy dearest . . . about that wedding money . . . ”

I called him just now. “That would be a little drastic,” he told me.

But here’s the thing: I’ve got three years. I’m thinking a year around the world will be my fortieth birthday gift to myself–not from Dad, but from me. So my plan is to save that chunk of money.

Or I can look at it this way: I’ve got three years to convince my father that visiting places he’s probably never heard of is going to make his first-born a lot happier than spending all that money on a one day event that, most brides say, goes by so fast they don’t remember much of it at all.

A Toast: To Not Drinking My Way to Happiness

“I called to say I love you,” I told my father.

“Have you been drinking?” he asked.

“No.”

“Oh–you sound really happy.” I was, but his surprise at my happiness stopped me cold. Was it really that unusual that I sound happy?

Perhaps it was because calls to Dad always had a purpose, and–like him–I didn’t waste time on formalities like “How are you?” and “I love you.” “Goodbye” was even optional. Phoning my father was often for logistical reasons. “If I fly into Westchester at noon for Meg’s wedding, can you guys pick me up?” Or I called in search of someone else. “Where’s Mom? I called the house and her cell phone but she doesn’t answer.” Or I called for shock value. “So I walked into work after being away for a week, and they moved me into an office.”

“You’re own office?” he said incredulously. “They really like you over there.” He thinks this is a good thing.  I just think it will make it harder for me to resign.  Not that I’m going to resign anytime soon.  But it is inevitable. I haven’t held a full-time job longer than eighteen months.  By choice. And now that I think about it, I’ve only ever had four full-time jobs in the fourteen years since I graduated from college. You do the math.

Two of those jobs had definitive end dates: Americorps was a one-year program and my National Park Service job was just seasonal. The other two–like the one I have now–had no expiration. I still remember the utter fear I felt when I first made that realization as I sat in the cubicle in my first corporate job.

I’m going to pause here as some of you are thinking, “Whoa. Wait. Back up. Did you just say you took a full-time job?” Yes. Yes, I did. I’ll wait while those of you that know me pick yourselves up off the floor.

My explanation (or the story I tell myself) is this: It’s a means to an end. At first, the end was to save some money. Then I floated this idea of doing the Camino again next year sometime. Then I started thinking bigger and thought of buying an around-the-world plane ticket for my 40th birthday.

Then I reconsidered.  Because I really like Asheville. And I’m not sure I want to leave for eight months. I remember a few years ago telling my youngest sister she should join me in an around-the-world trip. “For how long? How much time would I need to take off?”

“Take-off? Oh, no. You’d need to quit your job.” The look on her face told me she would not be joining me.  Not for the whole trip, at least.

“Maybe one day you’ll be like other people, and just take your vacations a week at a time,” said my mother to me one day. “You know, instead of thinking you have to quit your job and do something big.” But we both know that’s not likely.

I’ve run some numbers. For those of you that don’t know, it’s cheaper to travel than it is to live in your home for a year. Part of that is because my trip is due to include visits to South America and Southeast Asia. Cost is also less for me because I don’t require that my place of rest be a hotel. Or even a room to myself. But those details can all be figured out later.

So yes, I have a full-time job. And as I search my mind to figure out why my father thought it was unusual that I sounded happy I thought it could be that he recalls how miserable I usually become when confined to the same space for forty hours of my week. My mother says I’m like a “caged animal” when I have a full time job: you look in the cage and think the animal has a pretty good life, but he’s pacing and really he’s thinking of how to get out. Then one day he snaps.  He attacks a visitor or just disappears.  I usually do the latter. In the form of a resignation.

But yes, I’m happy.  I can’t say I absolutely love my job and look forward to going to it every day.  But I love that it’s providing me what I need right now. It’s just another stepping stone. One day I’ll hop to another stone, or venture out into the water. But for now, today, in this moment, I am content.

The Map

So if you could write on your walls (and you know from my last post that this is entirely possible), what would you write?  Or draw?  Or brainstorm? Or create?

Well, I want a place to keep track of all the places I want to visit.  And the world is kind of big.  So a notebook just doesn’t cut it.

I took the first step the other night and bought some paint that turns your wall into a dry erase board (how cool is that?!).

As I was fretting over the next step –  moving a piece of furniture that’s currently blocking the wall on which I want to write – my sister Meg was already three steps ahead of me.

“Why not put a map of the world on your wall?” she asked.  Now that was interesting.   I was saying how I didn’t want just a plain white box in the middle of my beige wall.  We brainstormed different border ideas, then she came out with this one.  Hmm…this could work.

“But what if I go outside the white and mistakenly write on the actual wall?”  Meg had a perfectly good answer for this, but I can’t remember it.  She then offered another option: What if you do a white box, but then trace a map of the world in permanent marker on it?  Meg assures me permanent marker can get wiped from a dry erase board with enough elbow grease.  She also has a projector at work that could hook up to my computer to get the image on the wall for me to trace.  And did I mention her friend with an artistic hand?  She offered his services as well.  You want a job done?  You get Meg on it.

“Your assignment” she said to me “is to find an outline of the world that you want to project onto the wall.”  Yes ma’am.  I’m on it.  Turns out it takes all of two seconds to find such an image.  Just type “outline of world” into google images.  Plenty to choose from.  So I’ll e-mail my image off to Meg, my new life manager, and will keep you posted:)

On Living Vicariously

“I mean, don’t get me wrong,” she said.  “I love my kids.”  Then she lowered her voice: “But if I had to do it all over again…”  She stopped and looked at me – frowning, her slightly parted lips showing her clenched teeth.  I knew what she was saying.

I had just told a group of women I hadn’t known for more than an hour about my latest plan to travel the world.  “Oh, do it!  And write about it, so we can live vicariously through you!”

Upon reflecting on their words, I thought about how many times I had heard them.  There are quite a few people out there who live vicariously through me.  Thankfully, I don’t feel any pressure from this.  But I do sometimes wonder – why live vicariously through me?  Why not just go out there and live the life you want to live?

I’ve heard all the excuses.  “Oh, but I have kids.”  Um…yeah.  So do a lot of people.  It’s entirely possible to move to India with kids.  Easy? No.  But possible? Totally.  “And the mortgage.”  I wonder how many people would buy houses if they knew how many times they would let their dreams float by because of a looming mortgage payment.  And by the way: people rent out their houses.  Even sell them.  Easy?  No.  Possible?  Yes.

But most people don’t want to hear that it’s possible.  Because then they’d feel worse that they’re not doing it.  Safer to hold on to the excuse.  I know – I do the same thing.  How long have I been talking about living in Europe?  Traveling the world?  Starting a business?  But I’m worse – I don’t have the excuses, yet still I don’t go.

Before I beat myself up too much, let me clarify.  I don’t have their excuses.  But I have my own.  Lack of preparation, lack of knowledge about how to do it, four jobs – three of which I technically committed to until June.  Blah, blah, blah. Hogwash.  All of it.  Lack of preparation?  I’ve been preparing for a trip like this most of my life.  How to do it?  It’s not rocket science.  I’m sure I could figure it out.  Jobs?  I get more job offers in a year than I know what to do with…leaving one or two or three is entirely possible.  People do it all the time.

So go ahead.  Live vicariously through someone else.  But just for a few minutes, realize your excuses are just that – excuses.  And entertain the idea that anything is possible.