Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Song of the Open Road.

This is my last entry for a while on After today you can find me at

(Sorry Blogger, but Travelpod sucked me in with that interactive map...and the "support my travels" feature) :)

I hope Walt doesn't mind that I hacked apart his poem:

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,
Strong and content I travel the open road.

The earth, that is sufficient,
I do not want the constellations any nearer,
I know they are very well where they are,
I know they suffice for those who belong to them.

I think heroic deeds were all conceiv'd in the open air, and all
free poems also,
I think I could stop here myself and do miracles,
I think whatever I shall meet on the road I shall like, and whoever
beholds me shall like me,
I think whoever I see must be happy.

From this hour I ordain myself loos'd of limits and imaginary lines,
Going where I list, my own master total and absolute,
Listening to others, considering well what they say,
Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating,
Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that
would hold me.

I inhale great draughts of space,
The east and the west are mine, and the north and the south are mine.

I am larger, better than I thought,
I did not know I held so much goodness.

Now I see the secret of the making of the best persons,
It is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth.

Allons! whoever you are come travel with me!
Traveling with me you find what never tires.

I swear to you there are divine things more beautiful than words can tell.


Monday, September 8, 2008


Whose bright idea was this, anyway?

"Travel without fear wherever you want to go - to China, Thailand, Indonesia, Turkey."
Francesco Frangialli

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Fear Factor.

What a powerful entity fear is. I was about to call it a demon instead of an entity, but I am starting to come to new understandings about fear and I don’t think “demon” provides a fair or accurate description.

Fear drives much of our daily lives. Fear does not move mountains; fear fuels inactivity and indecision. It stokes the ego and egoic actions. I have learned that many of us are hounded by two basic fears: the fear of not having enough, and the fear of not being enough.

The fear of not having enough keeps us in jobs, homes, or even entire lifestyles that don’t make us happy. Fear of not being enough keeps us in unhealthy relationships, forces us to react out of ego instead of out of good intent, keeps us from discovering our authentic selves...and that’s just the beginning. There’s fear of the unknown. Fear of being alone. Fear of not realizing our true potential. Fear of illness. Fear of coming to the end of our lives and realizing we have not yet lived. These are but a small fraction of the fears I have struggled with.

Fear has a whole closet-full of costumes it can don, to suit a huge variety of situations. I find it to be extremely versatile and accommodating, this fear. And it pops up often unannounced and unexpectedly...but always ready for action.

Still, I don’t view fear as the enemy. On the contrary, I’ve come to be quite curious about it and I want to get to know it better. More on that in a bit.

Someone’s at the door. Who is it? trip. Aren’t you here awfully early?

One week until I leave. One week! How did this happen? Time is a peculiar thing. It’s hard to believe I’ve been unemployed for over 4 months, out of my house for just over one month, and that a week from now I will be checking in to my very first hostel in Zagreb, Croatia. In MFL (My Former Life) I would be sitting at my desk right now, where I sat for almost 15 years, surveying the results of the back-to-school campaign and gearing up for Christmas and Boxing Day marketing strategies. For some reason this makes me giggle.

This trip has been months in the planning (albeit in fits and starts, in between the packing and the surviving); yet somehow it still feels like it’s here too soon. (Hello, Fear of Not Being are you?). I want to push the date away. I don’t want September 10th to be next week. Yet like an impending trip to the dentist, I can’t put it off any longer. It’s coming, whether I want it to or not, and whether I am prepared or not (I’m certain I’m not).

I’m scared. But that’s ok.

When one teeters at the edge of a precipice of change, between old and new, between the known and the unknown, the fear can be paralyzing. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a job, a relationship, a new school, a new tattoo, a different colour of paint for your bedroom, or a trip around the world. It’s all relative to one’s experience and they can all be equally terrifying in their own right.

The key is not to run from it.

Oh, I know, that sounds over-simplified, some quote you’d read in a pop psychology book or scrawled on a wall somewhere. But read it again with fresh eyes. The key is not to run from it.

Because, I’ve come to realize, fear is not a separate entity. It doesn’t have its own mind or soul or body. It is within each of us; it is part of us. The voice we hear inside our head is actually our own voice. Just today it reminded me how much easier it would be to stay here, in my old bed in my old room, in this city where I don’t have to look at the street names to know where I’m going; where everyone you pass in the street says hello. Where I know the score, every day. It’s as safe as a warm blanket.

But that blanket also acts as an insulator. And while that may feel safe and warm, it’s not healthy in a grander sense. I can’t live like this forever; with no job, no home, no responsibility. Mom taking care of me. It’s been a lovely respite, but it’s not the real world. And to face the real world after the havoc I have wreaked on my own life in the last few months, it’s going to take an extra dose of courage.

The trip is by far the hardest part of this journey. (I know I said in the previous entry that this trip IS the journey. In fact, the journey began the moment I walked out of my career. This trip is just the continuation of it.) This is harder than quitting (I have to confess that that was kind of fun, actually); harder than giving up my home (that was not fun). I was going to say this is harder than having my heart smashed in a million pieces by the one man that I ever loved, but, no. Nothing to date has been harder to overcome than that.

That fear is in no way rational is proved by the following: walking out of a high-paying, stable, 15-year career with no job to go to and a mortgage to pay seems like small potatoes in comparison to stepping out of the airport in Bangkok and having absolutely no idea which way to turn, who to trust (actually that’s easy: no one), or where to go.

We’ve been programmed to react to fear since the beginning of mankind. It’s one of the parts of the brain that has never evolved. Something is scary? Elementary! Just run the other way. So it takes a superhuman effort to jump that circuitry, to override it and to instead walk into the fear. Sidle up next to it, get to know it, even make friends with it. It’s a part of us. And it’s not such a bad guy after all. It’s sneaky and conniving and full of shenanigans, but it’s not evil.

Time waits for no one. September 10th isn’t getting any farther away; I’m not getting any younger, and my bank account balance certainly isn’t getting any bigger. It’s time to face the big scary monster. My plane ticket is bought and I’ve spent the equivalent of the GDP of some small country on travel gear, gadgets and guides. Might as well put it to good use.

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.”Ambrose Redmoon

Sunday, August 31, 2008

One is the Luckiest Number.

To what I’m certain will be the infinite relief of those closest to me, I finally understand why my personal situation is the way that it is. I was never sure how I felt about having children, but I have spent year upon lonely year lamenting my singledom, to which they all can unfortunately attest. I have lived most of my adult life in contention with the fact that this (not having a life partner) is one of the few things that I have minimal control over. It’s either in the cards or it’s not. Health is another one, but one that many of us take much more for granted, unfortunately.

But I get it now: the universe (the sneaky little guy) has conspired to bring me to this point. It cannot be dismissed as purely serendipitous that I am, at the age of 39, single with no dependents, no home, no job, no debt, a little money to travel with, health, a good chunk of free time, and the presence of mind to realize it all and do something with it.

True, some of these results are owed purely to (perhaps insane) choices that I have made. But others were granted to me by the powers that be, for which I must now be grateful. Were I attached and/or if I had children, I’m fairly confident that the decisions and choices of the last few months would have been much more complicated to make, if it had crossed my mind to make them at all. To that end, one may apply different lenses at will: quite likely if I were happily settled with the love of my life and had a fulfilling career, the entire epic of the last few months would have never unfolded and this blog would have no reason to exist.

Regardless, I am here, now, and I must believe that this is where I am supposed to be. Alone. It feels odd to take something that has been a source of heartbreak and pain for so long and suddenly regard it as precious; to now thank God for it. I saw the look in the eyes of my dental hygienist when I told her about my upcoming voyage. She said it was the one regret she had; that she had not taken the opportunity to travel before marrying and having children. (Of course, families also travel all the time: it just presents a few more logistical challenges and demands considerably more luggage.)

Still, while I accept that I am both alone and doing this alone, there are countless moments when I wish I had someone along to share the adventure, in all its ups and downs. Someone to turn to and say “Can you believe we’re actually doing all this?” or “We’re definintely being scammed by this tuk tuk driver,” or “Look over there, they’ve got salwar kameez on special, 2 for 600 rupees!” Having to rely on oneself, especially in the low times and at key photo opportunities, can be depressing and sad. But I know there will also be many times when I will be grateful for it.

So for at least a while, and hopefully forever, my friends and family will be spared my incessant “Why am I still single?” whining. I will try to regard my singledom as a gracious gift that has allowed me this incredible opportunity instead of as a cruel joke or undeserved punishment for an unknown crime. I will polish off the tarnished notion I have of being alone and I will do my best to relish it instead.

Oh, look at the time. I’ve got to run. It’s the world calling. We’ve got a blind date.

The man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready.” Henry David Thoreau

Saturday, August 23, 2008

"Come, and trip it, as ye go/ On the light fantastick toe"

Despite how it may seem, the decision to travel wasn’t made on a whim. I’ve been knocking around the idea of an extended trip (in various fashions) for a couple of years; although in earlier days the logistics were different (i.e. I’d be taking a 3-month leave of absence from my work and maybe renting out my house; not quitting altogether and selling my abode). Recently I’d been thinking about what would make a meaningful 40th birthday present to myself, and it always came back to travel.

Wanderlust has gripped me for quite some time. I may have even been born with it; the offspring of a father who, at 21, hopped on a ship in Austria and sailed to Canada in search of a new life. I have pictures of him on long motorcycle trips in the ‘50s through unrecognizable mountain ranges with unknown comrades. I have his worn passport, stamped with exotic destinations. He took me on my first international trip (to visit family in Austria) in 1975, when I was five. Were he here to witness this today, he would be cheering me on all the way.

My own adult relationship with travel began in Europe in 2001. The moment I first set foot in Florence, I wanted to live there. I had it all figured out. I would teach English and double as a tour guide around the Duomo on the weekends and live in a tiny flat on the other side of the Arno and have just enough money for bread and wine. Despite various (admittedly rather feeble) efforts, I never did make that happen.

But as far as travel was concerned I was bitten; and since then, the lure of travel has pulled me into all sorts of adventures. On that first trip to Italy, I wound up a passenger in a convertible Porsche as it glided through the picture-perfect hills of Tuscany. On the return trip a few months later, I perched shivering on a small balcony in the heart of Florence, surrounded by my raucous Italian friends, watching New Year’s Eve fireworks displays exploding across the city skyline at midnight. The third trip had me lounging on the cliffs and terraces of Capri,

defying death on the hairpin curves of the Amalfi Coast Highway and consuming vast amounts of homemade bread, cheese, sausage and wine at an idyllic farmhouse in the countryside. Even if I haven’t yet figured out how to live there, Italy is my dream.

I’ve flown via private jet to Mexico; driven a car on the Champs-Elysees in Paris, where I took myself to celebrate my 38th birthday, and navigated a tiny scooter through the insane traffic of Taiwan
and on to the Oceanside at sunrise.

Fortunate I have been.

My point is this: these were all fantastical, often-unbelievable experiences. I couldn’t ask for more. But they were also all safe, controlled and measured. There was little, if any, risk involved (except maybe for the driving in Paris and Taiwan and Amalfi Coast Highway parts). For each destination I knew where I was going, when I was arriving, where I would sleep each night and precisely what date I would be back home in my own bed. And with the exclusion of the Paris trip, I never went alone.

This is not that.

This is not a 10-day escape from my everyday life, where I view bits of the outside world from the comfort of my perfectly planned itinerary, only to return home to find that not much in my own world has changed except perhaps the tightness in my shoulders for a few days.

This trip is not a vacation.

I don’t really know anything about backpacking. I’ve never even seen the inside of a hostel, let alone slept in one or taken a shower in one of their communal bathrooms or cooked a meal with strangers in their communal kitchen.

I am an almost-40 woman, heading out into the world with a 30-odd-pound backpack as my only companion and a rather loosey-goosey itinerary to follow. I’m taking the same amount of clothing with me for 4-5 months (or longer?) that I would normally pack for 4-5 days. I will wash said clothing in a bathroom sink and hang it between the bunk beds to dry. I will make teenytiny tubes of toothpaste last as long as I possibly can. Don’t even get me started on what I’m going to do about hair products, because I don’t know.

I will fall in and out with others along the route who are embarking on the same adventure, but at half my age (which, I might add, many seem to consider a more “appropriate” age for this type of thing. This mystifies me.)

Bottom line: the logistics of this voyage could not be more foreign to me.

But thanks to my parents I’m a great camper, and am often rather innovative in puzzling situations. I figure this is kind of like camping, except with lots of places that require passports and visas and phrasebooks and bone-jarring 13-hour overland over-air-conditioned bus rides and sleeping with a gaggle of strangers in my tent.

Again: this is not a vacation.

This is a voyage. A journey. An adventure.

“Journeys, like artists, are born and not made. A thousand differing circumstances contribute to them, few of them willed or determined by the will – whatever we may think.”
Lawrence Durrell

Thursday, August 21, 2008

No Man's Land.

Each of these changes and phases rocks me to the core. It’s not like turning a new leaf or closing a chapter. It’s like abruptly reaching the end of an entire encyclopaedic volume and starting another one, every time. For reasons yet undiscovered to me, I don’t seem to want to allow myself the feelings. I am unable to give myself permission to feel the full range of emotions, in all its terrifying glory. I tell myself it’s no big deal; get over it, move on. I am generally quite a pro at listening to my body – except in this instance. I try to find reasons and excuses for the laziness and fatigue, rather than just chalking it up to what it so blatantly is - emotional overload. I am overwhelmed.

Then, to add to the pile, I worry that I should not be worrying. That by stressing and getting wiggy, and then telling myself it’s no big deal, I am gypping myself out of fully experiencing all the nuances of what should be the most exciting time in my life. That years from now I will look back, like so many wives that I know, on my “wedding day” that was supposed to be the happiest day of my life but that was actually a complete blur of trying to coordinate photographers, bridesmaids, dinners and speeches, and discover that I missed it.

I worry that I am not wholly present.

But it’s difficult to live in the moment at the moment. I feel awkward and gawky. Out of place. I am in the home where I spent several years of my life, in my old room, with my old familiar things and with my parents. It should feel as comforting as a favourite sweatshirt. But it does not. And I need to accept that there is no “should” when it comes to feelings. In reference to my upcoming world tour, people often say to me, “You must be so happy and excited!” But just like there is no “should”, there is no “must”. I feel how I feel and that needs to be ok. I have left my job, my home, my possessions and now my city and my friends, and it’s ok for that to feel foreign and scary and weird. It would be alarming if it didn’t, in fact.

It’s a true rollercoaster ride. I’m nervous. I’m scared. I watch a movie that features images from Greece and I do get excited. While silently supportive, I know my parents are terrified about my trip so I’m trying extra hard to be cool in front of them, which just makes me more stressed. I want to try to relax, but as my dear friend and lifeline L so wisely said to me today, “You can’t ‘try’ to relax. You will relax when you’re ready to relax.” Yoda gets it, too: “Do or not do. There is no try.”

So for now, I am balancing some down time hanging with the folks with frantic guide book reading, hostel research, deciphering the rainbow of Bangkok buses and which ones pull the least tourist scams, getting my IDP, endless hours on the phone trying to unravel all the red tape that goes with having no fixed address, paying off last bills, researching cheap flights, and the occasional jaunt to the gym. I’ve re-entered the cycle of broken sleep patterns, after quite a few weeks of sleeping rather soundly. I am starting to panic.

My flight leaves September 10th. First destination: Zagreb, Croatia.

Maybe then I will relax.

"Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow". Proverb quotes

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Chapter Two.

This isn’t writer’s block. This is everything block. Mental, physical, emotional exhaustion. I’ve felt like a rag doll since the morning after the move and I can’t seem to kick it. I have very few concrete thoughts. I nap a lot. I move slowly. After so many weeks and months of planning and packing, anticipation and fear, it’s the big comedown. If I must confess, it feels kind of nice.

Perhaps it’s actually everything unblock.

It was odd, seeing all of my life’s possessions, stacked like so many cubes of Habitat ‘67,

in one 20 x 10 space. It was strange to pull down the rolling metal door and walk away. Curiously, this proved to be a more profound moment to me than that of closing the door and walking away from my former home for the last time. I would have expected it to be the reverse.

I found the storage facility itself to be a rather interesting place for some perspective: Row upon very neat row of locked boxes of various configurations, each withholding a different story of a different person’s life. Lives in transition. I found myself wanting to know what secrets were contained behind these other doors; to know something of the people who were attached to what lay tucked away safely behind them. Happy stories, sad stories, strange stories. Forgotten stories. Boring stories. In a way it brought me comfort to know that I was very far from being the only person who had a certain piece of her life in limbo, however important or insignificant. And this was only one storage facility on one street in one part of a city of a province of a country of a continent of a world. There are millions like me, everywhere, each with possessions to stash away for safekeeping; things we drag around with us from place to place, city to city, home to home. We pay someone to watch over it all for us, even if at the end of the day it’s little more than a hopeless jumble of rummage sale rejects that we don’t know what else to do with yet somehow can’t quite bring ourselves to part with.

We are funny.

The cycle begins early (what kid doesn’t have “mine” as part of their earliest vocabulary?), and commonly continues on for the rest of our lives.

And so it is that I temporarily break away from a hefty chunk of my creature comforts for the first time in my life. No more Montauk ABC chair. No more closet full of clothes. No more chipped bust of David that I stole from the Sir Frederick Banting Secondary School Library in 1987. No more Tempur-Pedic mattress (this I will dearly miss).

All of the possessions I will interact with for the next few months fit (I use the term loosely) into two suitcases. This will all be edited down to one backpack-full before I leave on my world tour.

It is a delicate blend of apprehension and relief. Part of me looked at that mountain of stuff in the storage space; the flotsam and jetsam produced by the ebb and tide of years of accumulation, and never wanted to see it again. Part of me wanted to dive into the middle of it all and never leave. We build our nests, line them with bits and pieces of whatever we can gather in order to feel safe and protected. It is against our nature to then leave it all behind. In the end, disappointingly, I didn’t get rid of nearly as much as I thought I had.

I went back to the storage facility the very next day and precariously picked my way through the maze, playing Rubik’s cube with the boxes and furniture until, sweating and tired, I located the box containing my dollar store Santa coffee mug (thanks mum – this made the cut). I fished out the mug and brought it to D’s house where I am staying, for my daily morning coffee. It is my favourite mug. It is a small piece of familiarity and comfort in my otherwise foreign surroundings (it’s also really funny because D and her family are Jewish, so the mug is very clearly “mine” and not “theirs”).

I may have flown the nest, but I apparently feel the need to keep a few twigs close at hand.

It’s all a process.

(Thanks to M and L for the quote below from the bible. I’ve never read the bible, but this is actually pretty cool):

/ 25 “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? /26 Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? /27 Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? / 28 “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, /29 yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. /30 And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

Friday, August 1, 2008

Heartbreak Hotel.

Bye, home.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Simply Solo.

Still got nothin’. Less than nothing, actually. No space or time for pontification or creativity this week...three days left ‘til the move. Just a quick and embarrassingly feeble little entry today.

I realize through some comments that have been made recently - some worthy and some truly asinine - by strangers, friends and yes, even family members, that there are a few things I should perhaps elaborate on in the near future: why I am taking this trip, HOW I am taking this trip, what it means to me, etc. I live at times with a smouldering frustration that makes me want to scream, “DOESN’T ANYBODY GET IT???” But truly – why should they? This is nobody’s journey but my own. Everyone has their own bag to deal with; marriages, divorces, unpaid bills, triumphs, failures, vacations, mortgages, births, parties, and illnesses. Not to say that nobody cares about my journey – I know that some do. But my choices and ultimate path are frankly of little consequence to the vast majority (all?) of the people I am connected to (and definitely of zero consequence to all those I’m not connected to). There is only me. It is a stark, humbling and all-important realization along a surprisingly solitary and lonely road. I have to constantly remind myself that I chose this, and, time and time again, that it’s not supposed to be easy. Now I have to add to that the understanding and acceptance that nobody can (or even should) help me.

I figure if swashbuckling dudes could get into wooden ships in the 1600’s and sail off to parts unknown in hopes of discovering new worlds – no GPS system, complete isolation, storms with gigantic waves, scurvy, no people or distractions around for thousands of miles save for the occasional pirate attack, and no guarantee of ever unearthing anything of true consequence – then surely I can do this.

A completely disjointed but important comment: I apologize if I have given away, sold (at a ridiculously low price) or tossed out something that you at one time gave me (I surely -100% - have done one of the three). Please realize that it does not mean I don’t love, respect or appreciate you or your kind gesture and thoughtfulness; it is simply part of freeing myself of the “stuffocation” (thanks for the new term, A) that I have been living with. It is not a statement on your bad taste or that you don’t comprehend my tastes (ahem...ok, admittedly in some cases, it is). But please don’t be insulted or hurt. It isn’t personal.

“The trouble with simple living is that, though it can be joyful, rich, and creative, it isn’t simple.” Doris Janzen Longacre

Sunday, July 13, 2008

I Got Nothin'.


With the impending move date / travel date looming ever closer, I’m in a bit of a tailspin. Creativity is blocked. (Ironically, I’ve had a rush of writing contracts for others in the last week or so, which seem to be clipping along just fine...). The days and weeks are a frantic and unorganized mix of packing, researching (destinations, visa requirements, hostels, lending out my car), appointments (travel clinic, bank, garage), and, here is where I should say “reservations” (movers, storage space), but neither of those are booked yet. I also can’t say “purchases” (backpack, trail shoes, travel clothes, travel gadgets), as I haven’t begun any of that either. I hesitate to get too deep into the purchasing part until I actually have money in my hands from the sale of the house (notaries July 31). Until then, everything goes on credit, and that makes me nervous.

I have done a grand total of 4 things for my trip: 1) booked a one-way ticket to Croatia (on credit); 2) bought travel insurance (on credit); 3) purchased a week of unemployment-pays’-worth of travel guides (on credit); and 4) purchased a day pack (using a gift certificate I had still hanging around from my last birthday) and a cute wrinkle-free travel skirt (it was too functional and perfect to pass up....on credit.) Did I mention that credit makes me nervous?

As far as my move is concerned, I have packed about 10 boxes, given away 5 times that much, and completed my third and final garage sale attempt. The house is pretty lean and mean now, which should make packing faster and easier (but strangely hasn’t done either. I am trying not to blame the house.) To top it all off, I am heading out to Calgary on Friday for a week to see my family (feeling smug about using up the Aeroplan points before they expire in October). Getting away from these four walls and into Big Sky country will probably do me some good. I am trying not to panic (more) about losing a weeks' worth of packing / planning time. I will take all 900 of the travel guides with me that I've purchased and hope to get some reading done while in the presence of the magestic Rockies. And of course It will be great to see everyone before I head out.

So, in the complete absence of creativity, in an attempt to keep you, loyal reader, entertained, I will defer to some others who have so kindly (and unknowingly) stepped in at my time of need to provide some insightful and philosophical fodder for my blog. Until the next time.....

“Millions of [people] have become so used to not being happy that they barely even notice it. For them, it’s like living next to a railroad track – after a while, you don’t even hear the trains.” Dan Baker, Ph.D. from “What Happy People Know”

“Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings.” Elizabeth Gilbert, from “Eat, Pray, Love”

“How can you get very far,
If you don’t know Who You Are?
How can you do what you ought,
If you don’t know What You’ve Got?
And if you don’t know Which to Do
Of all the things in front of you,
Then what you’ll have when you are through
Is just a mess without a clue
Of all the best that can come true
If you know What and Which and Who."
The Tao of Pooh

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Letting Go of Holding On.

One month left in my home. I am enjoying it differently now that I know I will be gone from it soon. I realize now that I took it and its blessings for granted (an uncanny parallel to how I previously approached life in general). I now sit in the backyard almost every day, listening to the nothingness punctuated by birdsong. I open all of the windows and doors and let the cross breeze scatter papers through the rooms. I study how the light changes as the sun glides kitty-corner across my property. Perhaps this is simply a function of now having more time in my home to actually witness and observe these simple delights. Or maybe it signifies a more significant, overall awakening that is taking place in my being. Whatever it is, I will miss my home. It’s a really good one.

“It’s just a house; four walls, bricks and mortar,” my friends chime supportively. “You’ll find another one someday.” And I know they’re right. But letting go is harder than I thought. Letting go of my career was oddly easy in comparison.

It doesn’t help matters that the whole “home” issue is steeped in the alarming reality that I still don’t know where I’ll be living in 30 days (options: either renting an apartment (that will sit largely unoccupied, save for my things) or tossing everything into storage and couch surfing for a few weeks until I leave on my trip). Preventing me from continuing to skim along on the healthy dose of denial I have been enjoying recently is the fact that mail is already coming to the house addressed to the new owners.

The new owners!

Nothing is an accident. I’ve always believed this; now more so than ever in reviewing the events that have led up to this turning point in my life. (Can it really be brushed off as a mere coincidence when this week I found a book staring at me from the window of a used bookstore (which I never, ever go to) entitled “The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times“?) (I bought it.)

As Max Ehrmann so eloquently penned, “Whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.” Last Sunday evening the universe unfolded M and L directly into my path. M and L are the delightful people who in 30 days’ time will be taking over my role in the enjoyment of the nothingness and birdsong of this backyard. I had the immense pleasure of spending some unexpected time with them. Unexpected, but certainly not accidental.

M and L have been married for 30 years. In that 30 years, they have raised four children and moved 16 times. At the age of 35, L abandoned his fast-paced corporate marketing career and went back to school to pursue his true calling in a vastly different field (sound vaguely familiar?). Like I’ll be doing shortly, M and L once held a garage sale – except not like me, they did it to sell off their own personal and in some cases beloved belongings, in order to have enough money to rent a U-Haul to drive to Oklahoma (at night, in a snowstorm) to start a new life (with two toddlers and a newborn in tow). M and L understand letting go.

And they make what I’m doing look like a trip to the corner store.

They are a gentle, funny, sage, insightful, light-hearted and relaxed couple. They dispense the wisdom of their years and experiences with a grace that leaves me with a sense of calm and centeredness. In the brief interaction we shared, without even trying, they somehow managed to make me believe that everything will be ok. Not just the house situation, but everything. Knowing them makes letting go a little easier.

I like that they will be living in this house. I like knowing that they will call it home.

For the 17th time.

“There are things that we never want to let go of, people we never want to leave behind. But keep in mind that letting go isn’t the end of the world, it’s the beginning of a new life.” Unknown

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Have I at any point given the impression that this is easy?

It’s not.

It’s really, really not.

To sum it up for you in un-poetic, un-minced words: I’m homeless, semi-broke and unemployed. And while that’s tough for anyone to swallow (and I’m sure rather unattractive-sounding to you, loyal reader), it’s even tougher to wrap your head around when it’s something that you chose. Especially when you’re coming from a more-successful –than-average background. “Overwhelming” is not really an apt description of the level of uncertainty I’m living with right now.

So why would anyone choose this - especially someone who “had it made”? Some may even think I owe it to society to be out there working if I’m so able-bodied and –minded, rather than collecting EI. Besides – who chooses to be overwhelmed by uncertainty?

Despite said uncertainty (about everything from where I’m going to be living in 6 weeks to how I’m going to make my mortgage payment this week to what kind of backpack to buy for my trip), this is the first time in my adult life that I know in my gut where I am right now is where I’m supposed to be.

The first time?

Yeah, the first time. At the age of 39 (and a half, as of the 23rd of June). Hey – some people never get that feeling in their gut – or at least never heed it. I’m tryin’, here...

The career treadmill I was on, that so many are on, doesn’t allow time and space for reflection or self-assessment. I knew if I didn’t step off when I did it would suddenly be October again and then 2011 and then my 20th anniversary at work and then my 50th birthday, and, and, and. It was terrifying. Yes, more terrifying then what I’m doing now.

So I stopped.

I still wake up in the middle of the night with panic attacks, but it’s such a better quality of panic than before.

No amount of money or success was worth sacrificing the path of discovery to what makes me happy. That’s why I haven’t pursued any of the career leads that have come my way in recent weeks. One assumes that because my experience is in fashion and PR, that this is what I want to continue to do. It’s not. If I did, I would have never left my cushy job in the first place. (Lest I sound an ingrate, a heartfelt thank you to all. Why would you have assumed any differently?)

I am using this time and this wild ride through the jungles of What the Hell am I Doing to find what it is that makes me happy, so that I can get back to work and resume repaying my debt to society. Happily.

As my friend R told me, “Cara, it’s not supposed to be easy.”

The way I figure it, if it were easy, it wouldn’t be brave. And if it weren’t brave, then a lot more people would be doing it.

Brave = scary. And this is flat-out scary. But it's the right thing. It is. It is. It is.

“Sorrow happens, hardship happens, the hell with it, who never knew the price of happiness, will not be happy.”


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

What I'm Doing With My Summer Vacation.


I received an email from my friend “S” the other day that caught me by surprise. In it, she expressed that she wished she had the guts to do what I’m doing, yet that she also couldn’t imagine “sitting around home alone all day with nothing to do.” Hooyah! It suddenly occurred to me that if she thinks that this is what I’ve been up to (or more accurately, not up to), others more than likely think the same. Not that I care what anyone thinks, (ok maybe a little sometimes), but this is my space, so why not take a moment to set the record straight?

So for today, no pontificating and no sweeping insights. It’s meat and potatoes time. Here’s what I’ve been up to since I fired myself 50 days ago.

The day after the firing, I went to work construction. “D” is renovating his cottage north of Ottawa and graciously offered me the opportunity to jump in and make myself useful. He even got me a tool belt and work gloves so I’d kind of look the part.

I escaped into the birdsong-laden woods near a quiet lake, picked up a shovel and learned to make cement. I nailed and drilled things. I hit things with a sledgehammer. I moved heavy piles of stuff from one place to another. I burned refuse - including the incessant mind chatter that normally dogs me – in a massive bonfire. I whistled. I got dirty, scraped, sweaty and bruised. (Then I bought steel-toed boots at Wal-Mart. Better late than never.)

There is nothing like manual labour to tax the body, clear the mind and free the spirit. When I went to bed each night, every part of my physical being was exhausted. I was using my body in the way it was designed to be used. More, after years spent sitting at an office desk spinning my wheels wondering what the point of it all was, to engage myself in something that quickly produced tangible and measurable results was supremely gratifying. It was a glorious experience which I repeated often over the next several weeks. It was my yoga.

When I wasn’t building a cottage, I was back in Montreal organizing the next phase of my life. I reinforced my network of contacts and let everyone know my current whereabouts. I filed for Employment Insurance. (I now receive a grand total of $750 every two weeks. This covers my monthly mortgage payment and nothing else. More on this in another entry.) I put my house up for sale. (It sold in two weeks. I’ve no idea where I’ll be living come August 1. But that takes care of those mortgage payments, now, doesn’t it....) I’ve been giving things away (see previous entry) and selling things. I’ve started developing ideas for my own copy writing business. I get up at 5:30 am and return emails. I go to networking meetings. I meet people. I go to job interviews, even though I have no intention of taking a full-time job at this point. I blog. I have two agendas; one online version and one hard copy. (Admission: I do miss having a Blackberry. It truly kept me organized and in touch. If anyone out there is feeling particularly charitable....)

This is not a vacation, nor was it ever intended to be. I quite honestly am busier now than when I was working.

When one frees one’s mind of oppression it’s amazing how much space and energy becomes available for innovation and creativity. And it’s true what they say: necessity is the motherhood of invention. I have to rely on my street smarts now. Survival instincts.

And lo and behold, a realization: this is actually how we’ve been hardwired to operate since the dawn of time. We just forget, as our minds become numbed by the micro management of the minutiae of our daily lives over months, years and decades.

Ok so there was a little pontificating and a sweeping insight or two. I can’t help it.

Did I mention I’m taking a trip around the world?

People love chopping wood. In this activity one immediately sees results.
Albert Einstein

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Life Edit.


Just part of the mountain of clothing I'm getting rid of. Most of it is going to the Centre des Femmes for their Professional Clothing Kiosk. There, disadvantaged women can outfit themselves for job interviews.

I don't need any of this stuff. And someone else does.

I encourage you all to do the same.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

You Have to Want to Need it.


Grand Prix weekend in Montreal: The unofficial launch of summer, and my favourite weekend of the year here. I’ve been working a little PR gig for a restaurant/night club this week and have found it to be a fascinating human study. My presence in Montreal’s infamous restaurants and night clubs is not newsworthy; but it’s interesting how one’s perspective changes (on anything, really), when one observes through a different lens. Lens one: I was working, so remained on the fringe of the festivities for the most part (save a fairly serious breakaway last night that suddenly had me hip-hopping in the VIP lounge with Nick Cannon and his crew...What can I can take the girl out of PR...). This (mostly) non-participatory stance afforded me a wonderful perch from which to observe. Lens two: I have no income and have been spending the last 39 days deconstructing my notions of what money is, what it means, what it does and what it doesn’t do. More on this later.

So there I was and there they were. North American and European glitterati pulling up to the valet parking in their hi-gloss Ferraris and Maseratis, sashaying to the front of the line in their designer wear; on the guest list, no waiting. The best tables, the best service, the best-looking women. I am curious about them and would like to follow a group of them around for a week and see what their everyday lives are like. I mean this in a very non-stalking way, of course.

“Bottle service” is de rigueur in Montreal’s hot spots. On the menu at this particular club is a 6-litre bottle of vodka, with a price tag of $2,000. I noted at least a dozen of them scattered on tables throughout the restaurant at any given time. When the server portages one of these frosted-glass monstrosities through the throngs of partiers to its destination, she (they are all 8-foot-tall, impossibly gorgeous, 20-year-old she’s) sticks a sparkler in the top of the bottle to draw attention (to it and to herself, I imagine).

For $2k, I’d personally expect at least two sparklers.

What does it mean to be able to spend $2,000 on a bottle of vodka? What does money represent? (Don’t get bored here. Ask yourself anew. Put a new lens on it and really ask. It only hurts a little, I promise). What does it afford us? What does it take away from us? I would love to sweep you all off your feet and further secure your loyal readership with some fantastically articulate insights I’ve gained on my journey thus far. They’re coming, but I’m not ready to share them just yet.

What I can tell you is this: between what we want and what we need there exists a huge chasm, as old as commerce itself. The chasm houses a turbulent, rushing river where many of us live out our daily lives; caught in the currents and whirlpools that spin us ‘round, dizzy us and confuse our minds about the difference between want and need. We all know that nobody needs a $2,000 jug of spirits. But I am in the the enviable position of having to apply this same evaluation to every single thing in my life now – things that many of us take for granted on any given day, to varying extremes. And it is refreshing, and eye-opening, and frustrating, and humbling, and inspiring. It makes me giddy to discover how little one truly needs.

I am not bitter. I am not holier-than-thou. There is no soap box here. I am not railing against the haves because I’ve joined the ranks of the have-nots. (And let’s do a quick reality check here. A have-not is the family in Bangladesh who now has to exist on one bowl of rice a day instead of two, due to the worldwide rice crisis. A have-not is the woman still searching for her child in a pile of rubble in China. A have-not is any of the 8,000 Canadians who filed for bankruptcy in the month of April.) I am thankfully not any of these.

I chose this. And I feel that I have more now than perhaps ever before in my life. And when I am done editing, everything that I have will be everything that I need.

It's only after we've lost everything that we're free to do anything. Chuck Palahniuk

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

In the off chance there’s a soul or two out there who might be wondering what I’ve been doing with myself since that fateful day....

I have no income, so I’m not shopping, going out for breakfasts, lunches, or dinners, buying lattes at Second Cup, getting pedicures, or doing any of the other things that typically made up the everyday and kept the money flowing out of MFL (My Former Life). I’m also not clock-watching from 9 am to 5 pm (or more recently, 8 am to 8 pm), Monday to Friday, living for my weekends. What I AM doing is something that I’ve desperately wanted and needed to do for years: taking time to stop and think.

It’s all such a romantic notion, pushing the envelope of life; throwing all caution to the wind, going for broke, chasing one’s dreams. You could spend a lifetime reading greeting cards and wall plaques about it. There’s a tiny swelling in our hearts whenever we read Helen Keller’s famous quote, “Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing”...a flash of poignancy dashes through our subconscious as we momentarily imagine that this is us. That’s me! My life is a daring adventure! It isn’t nothing! We all want to conduct ourselves in accordance with the insight that life is short. This ain’t no dress rehearsal. We only go around once. Etc Etc Etc. But in the harsh reality of day, for many people the truth is this: We only cheer it on as long as it doesn’t in any way threaten our own safe, insulated, predictable, somewhat financially stable lives. I should know: I lived that way for more years than I am comfortable admitting.

And the truth is, it’s not so romantic. I just went to visit my chequing account on line and it has a balance of $13.90. I’m sure Thelma and Louise drove off that cliff so that at least in part they would not have to go home to bank balances of $13.90. I went to Canadian Tire and made the cashier put my transaction on hold while I ran across the parking lot to fish $7.75 in Canadian Tire money out of my car glove box. There is not a smidge of romance in this.

Yet, dire financial situation aside, I can say this: I am acutely, uncannily, unprecedentedly, incredibly aware of every single moment, action and thought, every minute of every day.
And that, my friend, is living.

I think these difficult times have helped me to understand better than before how infinitely rich and beautiful life is in every way and that so many things that one goes around worrying about are of no importance whatsoever. — Isak Dinesen

Thursday, May 29, 2008

I'm Fired.

My name is Cara.

One month ago today, I fired myself.

It was a typical day lifted from any week in my agenda: a plain Tuesday. I’d faithfully attended my 6 am fitness class that morning. I’d had a balanced breakfast. I’d dressed kind of cute. I arrived with annoying punctuality at my impeccably furnished, naturally-lit office in a hoity-toity section of downtown Montreal. My usual non-fat latte was surgically attached to my hand as I poised myself behind my sparkling glass-topped desk and fired up my sleek laptop. Here I was: fabulously ready for another day of career purgatory.

Then it arrived like a bolt out of the blue. As that song about sunscreen goes, “The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday.” Except it was 11 am. But it really was Tuesday, I swear.

Looking back now, I should have seen it coming. I’d been acting strangely around myself for days (not giving myself full answers; going out of my way to avoid myself) and on the day of the actual event, I couldn’t even look myself in the eye. All the signs were there. I was just too scared to see them.

I was altogether professional about it, to my credit. I kept it short and to the point, and as the perhaps unwritten Golden Rule of Firing Someone suggests, I got it out within the first 2 sentences. It Just Isn’t Working Out. I’m Fired.

I didn’t cry. I packed my belongings in a file box, turned in my beloved Blackberry, and walked out the door.

For those of you who have bothered to read this far, no doubt you’ve already said it a couple of times: “Enough already. What’s she talking about. You can’t fire yourself. You can only quit.”

Here is where I beg to differ. Actually, I don’t even have to beg. I’m just going to differ.

A bunch of times in your professional career, someone you’ve known (or perhaps even you yourself) has said, “I wish they’d just fire me, already. Then I’d be FORCED to make some changes.” To which you might have replied, “Well, then, why don’t you quit?”, only to garner a response of, “I could never do that! I don’t have the guts.” And so said person toils away, year after year in mediocrity, or perhaps even all-out despair. Because whatever else, at least it pays the bills. It is what many of our parents and grandparents taught us is right.

I didn’t have the guts to do it either. I’d been a successful, executive-level professional for years. I made decent money. I have a mortgage. I have a car. I have expensive gym memberships and the outfits to match. I travel. I built a lifestyle that fit my income. 

But I wasn’t happy. 

It was like one of those romantic relationships most of us have had at one time where nothing’s really great, but nothing’s really wrong, either. Nobody wants to go through the icky phase after a breakup, and nobody wants to be alone. It’s just easier to stay.

Eventually I managed to scrounge up enough courage to leave a 15-year career at a great company for a new endeavour, just to scare myself a bit and shake things up (career rebound?) I even took a hefty salary cut in the process. And oh, the excitement of change! Leaving the old behind! Discovering new and fascinating things about myself; finding new strengths I never knew I had! Yay, me! Change is good!

It was not good.

It was so not good that three months into it, I needed to leave. I mean, I had to. And I couldn’t quit. No way. Quitting without another job to go to meant I’d be giving up, I’d be irresponsible, and more importantly, it meant risking having my friends (and worst of all, my parents) think I am reckless and insane. (It quite possibly also meant moving into a cardboard box.) At least, in my mind it meant all of these things.

So I fired myself and made all of those foolish notions vanish in an instant. It was not as hard as I thought it would be. Things are easier when you have no choice.

And here I am, one month on the edge. Thelma and Louise had it right all along.
I hope you’ll follow along on my adventure.