Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Above the Fray

Montreal: Parc des Rapides, Lachine: St-Jean-Baptiste Day. I am nestled precariously amidst the tumble of rocks beside the rapids; the sound of hurried water against stoic stone filling my ears, lulling me with its unrelenting, aggressive rumble. I want to nap, but not on a rock. I want to string a hammock up between the trees like back in Thailand or Laos, next to the Mekong; or like in Indonesia, next to the ocean. Back then. When time had no meaning; when there was no outside world – only the world I experienced every day.

Happy blue-and-white day.

Blue and white: like the flags and the houses of Greece; like my white skin against the icy turquoise waters of the lagoons in Laos; like the white clouds against the cobalt sky against the white sands of Gili Air.

Blue and white.

I feel little attachment to this place now, this province I called home for so long. Perhaps I do need a fresh start. Maybe Toronto, maybe somewhere else. Choice is mine. I am a child of the world, and it is truly my oyster. I live somewhere just above the fray of daily life, breathing in the realization that material things do not define me, do not affect my state of grace. I need a job, so, I’ll get one. But it has nothing to do with who I am. It’s not my life; it’s only my life situation.

My friends – my dear, loving, generous and caring friends – are here. But that’s just geography. Our love melts miles and banishes borders. Never before have my blessings of friendship been so evident to me. These days I am truly a product of their charity. They open their homes and hearts to me; we sit and talk and share and nobody cares that I, who was once gainfully employed and swathed in material success, am now homeless and jobless and broke. They humble me with their generosity and kindness in uncountable ways.

All I truly need is already upon me. This is astounding and it makes me feel at peace.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Life, 2.0


I admit it. Facebook actually is good for more than just playing Lexulous and making drive-by comments on high-school-era photos posted by long-lost peers. Recently I used it to connect with a friend-of-a-friend acquaintance who had something I wanted - a life as a writer. As fate would have it, through our exchanges I found out we have something unforeseen in common: a love of travel. Mine is relatively newfound; hers is quite established. She travelled around the world all through her twenties and continues to do so today, into her thirties. Except that now I think magazine and newspaper people pay her to do it.

She writes. Extremely well. She travels. A lot. Wait – so aside from loving travel and our mutual friends, what exactly do I have in common with this person? Umm.....we’re both female? We both have two “a”s in our first name? We’re both on Facebook? That’s a lot....right?

I am unspeakably envious of her. If I was very psychotic and had evil superpowers I could suggest a movie remake, starring me as the villain and the Writer-Traveler as the hapless victim, and call it “Invasion of the Lifestyle Snatchers”.

All jealousy aside (ahem), it’s therapeutic and comforting to be in touch with someone who understands what I’m going through. We discussed culture shock and social and professional reintegration. In her truly insightful style, she offered me this sage(and, naturally, well-worded) tidbit: “The biggest challenge of all for people like you and I is not the time that we spent traveling and learning about each other, it's the post-travel world that we now have to navigate. We are changed, but the society we have to fit into is not.

Surprisingly, I’m discovering that this part of my journey is demanding the most courage yet. What compounds the issue and makes it extra-challenging for me is that I am not returning to the same life or lifestyle that I left behind. Many people I met traveling were on a leave-of-absence from work (i.e. a secure job to go back to) and/or had rented out their homes (i.e. a home to go back to) whilst on the road. Post-travel, many of them would return to their former life, or at the very least, to their former address. My old career is gone, and so is my old home. I haven’t had a place to call my own in almost a year now. I haven’t listened to my own music, slept in my own bed, or cooked myself a meal in just as long. And it’s been even longer than that since I last worked and had an income.

Nothing is as it was.

I’m back. I’m still Cara, but I’m Cara 2.0, trying to find my place in the 1.0 version of the world that I left behind so many months ago. I’m a free agent. I don’t know where I belong, or what to do. Frankly, I’m worried. Which is just a less-scary word for “scared”.

Reading through some of my pre-travel blog posts, I came across this from just before I left (chopped up and edited for the purpose of this entry):

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 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.

Just today my fear 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.

Time waits for no one. 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.

I may as well have written that post today. I’m astonished to find myself grappling with these exact same feelings, so many months and so many adventures and experiences later (except back then it was about travel, and now it’s about going back to work, forging a new life).

I might be Cara 2.0, but some parts of the old operating system are clearly hardwired and extremely resistant to upgrades.

My soul sister Shauna, who has boldly reinvented herself and re-written the rules of her life not once but twice already (and is still traveling the world, currently eating sardines off a fishing dock somewhere in Morocco), knows what she’s talking about: “Recreating yourself is the most painful thing you will ever do. The beauty is that you will come out on the other side better that ever. But it’s frightfully scary, it’s painful, it’s stressful, and you are without an identity for awhile. That’s the worst part...you don’t really know where you fit in, where you’re going, or how to get there. You are without an identity”.

I am without an identity, yet in some strange way, I also feel as though I know myself better than ever.

When I quit my job, I was a Quitter (and a Freedom Fighter, and a Truth Seeker, and a bunch of other cool names that I could capitalize). Then I added to that: a Seller (my home), and eventually, a Traveler. Now I am back and I don’t know what I am. Aside from “Cara 2.0”, there’s no label for this. I don’t know what to ask of myself or to expect of myself. I am disappointed in the “shoulds” that I have allowed to creep back into my daily thoughts and self-talk. There are no “shoulds” when one is re-writing one’s own life rules, but like weeds, they are stubborn buggers. They weave an intricate dance; intertwine themselves with my imagined social pressures – to work, to succeed, to be something great, to not be hiding out at my parents’ place. They threaten to choke out the courage and adventurous spirit that have fueled my actions for more than a year now.

Despite all of this self-piteous waffling, there is hope and there is faith. I still know somewhere way, way down deep inside that this is the right path. I chose this, and while it might not be clear to me right now, I must have chosen it for a very good reason. My best friend B, who’s going through a major life-revamp of his own, reminds me regularly of how fortunate we are to be in positions where we are even able to make such sweeping choices and changes. So very many people are not; or if they are, simply choose instead to keep busied with day to day life so that they are not forced to look inside themselves and face the really tough stuff. Timothy Ferriss, author of the gutsy book “The Four Hour Work Week”, sums this up perfectly: “What on earth do you do when you no longer have work as an excuse to be hyperactive and avoid the big questions? Be terrified and hold on to your ass with both hands, apparently.”

I don’t know where I’m going or how many more times I’m going to stumble and fall along the way,(oh, so very many), but I will keep exploring. I will grasp on to my dreams, like my little patch of island paradise in Southeast Asia, and protect them with might. I will hold close the words of my amazing, brave friends who have been there and done that and survived and thrived. I will remember the words of French writer Andre Gide each night when I go to bed: “One doesn't discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.”

Now I’ll go post this on Facebook.