Friday, June 12, 2015

"Shit just got real."

I’m going to start off this entry with a disclaimer.
The following is going to be a somewhat long, serious read and a companion and expansion to Reason #8 on a previous entry titled "Top 12 Reasons You Should Never Travel". There may or may not be a lot of choice words (I don't know if you know this, but I don't trust people that don't swear. True story). Don't worry though, the next entry will balance it all out with the usual stories involving toilets, ants in pants, or equally ridiculous tales of adventure and woe.

Another word of caution: extremely blind optimism ahead and a whole lot of (sometimes) disconnected rambling. I don't regret a single ounce of any of it.

That all being said, I don’t like writing things that are boring (I really do try my best to make these things entertaining in one way or another), so this is going to require just a little active participation of the reader (read: you) for full effect. Yep, that's right, if you decide to read further, I hope that you go along with me and ask yourself the same questions, challenge yourself, and maybe, oh-please-just-maybe!, find a little inspiration along the way. If not, uh, I'll at least add some killer jokes/travel-pickup lines on the way to substitute.

Yeah? Sound like a plan? Sorta kinda? Okay, good enough, let's get to it.

Writing this has been challenging for me. In fact, it has taken me exactly 29 years to get the courage (remember this word for later) to answer some of these questions that have always stuck to the back of my mind, and that's only because traveling has forced me to finally face them.

Now, I’ve mentioned numerous times that I am no longer the me I was before traveling. That's a great philosophical concept, right? But, uh, what does that really mean? It's taken me way too long to figure it out, but it boils down to something pretty simple. What it means is that the me I am now (opposed to the me a year ago) believes he is unstoppable and that nothing is impossible. In fact, taking it a step further, I believe this is true for most people. I apologize if that sounds overly rainbows-and-unicorns optimistic and part of some new age theory bullshit, but it's 100%, honest to God, the truth.

And I am dead serious when I say I apologize about how preachy this may all sound. But it has to be said and that's the last apology I'll ever give for it (what do all the cool kids say now? #sorrynotsorry?).

When I returned from traveling through Asia ("Are you heading to India? 'Cause I'd Goa anywhere with you!"), Africa ("I know we just met, but I Cairo lot about you"), and Europe ("You must be from Prague, because I can't help but Czech you out."), I came back dazed and impractical and a dreamer so lost that he didn't know which way was up any more. The
 first few weeks back drove me mad, because my heart knew I couldn't return to this point in my life. I've loved my life here in Washington State, especially my friends and family and wonderful jobs I've had over the years, but my home has changed now, or at least it has for the time being at this point in my life. I have this fire in me to see and travel and change the world and this feeling has taken over my waking life. I don't even have words to explain it to friends and family. It has not gone away since returning, and I highly doubt it will leave me if I stay. It's as though I free-based cocaine 8 months ago and the high simply never went away, and in fact, it just kept getting stronger with each tick of the clock hand. It may or may not in fact kill me one day.

Without further adieu:

Assignment #1

1) Close your eyes.

2) Imagine your “happy place”. You know, that perfect place that soothes your soul when the world around you is loud and un-mutable.
3) Imagine what you would be doing in that place (I guess, very loosely, think about what you would be doing "career" wise).
4) Imagine who would be around you.
5) Stay in that moment for a minute.
6) Open your eyes.

I’ll start with my example. If I were to close my eyes and imagine myself anywhere, doing anything, it would currently be a tie between the following things:

1) I would be in a warm ocean, with barely a cloud overhead, with distant Jurassic Park-style islands in the distance, surrounded by a staggering amount of early morning mist. I would be in the water up to my stomach, and the water would be crystal clear. Behind me, would be a gorgeous beach with bungalows and bars and laughing people from all around the world. I would be swimming and listening to the wind. I would go back to the beach bar and I would write on my laptop stories of adventure and mystery while the sun set and blazed the sky with soaking colors. I would make enough money from my writings to do all this. This would be Goa, India, or Shianookville, Cambodia, or A Random Island, Thailand.

2) I would be a travel writer, with this blog successful enough that it made enough money to search the world with. I’d be sitting on a balcony overlooking the Himalayas in the Dalai Lama’s current place of residence, drinking Chai tea, smoking a fine cigar, and listening to punk rock music from a nearby portable speaker. This would be Dharamsala, India.

Those are my picks. Now, if you’re going to keep reading, I need you to try this for me, too. Seriously, at least give it a go. Close your eyes and think about it. I mean really, honestly think about it. Think about it so hard you can taste the air around you.

Now, open your eyes.

I have a question that I have been asking of myself when I open my eyes to this little exercise. It’s a question I’ve asked myself since my return. It’s a haunting question, one that has wormed into my brain and left me feeling horribly and wonderfully insane. I am still on fire, because the question is that strong, that powerful, and that soul-searching for me (a part of me wishes I never traveled, because then I would have never been exposed to this question).

When I open my eyes, if I'm not in the EXACT place I was thinking about, doing EXACTLY what I was imagining, I need to ask myself this question: 

“Why am I not there, doing that thing, with those people?”

-More specific to me: why am I not in Cambodia or India or Thailand living the life of a traveling writer or working in some international nonprofit?

I know the answer. I came back home, and to quote my favorite (horrible) movie line of all time from Bad Boys 2 (watch the clip if you get a chance, it's so ridiculous):
“Shit just got real.”

Or, it other words, reality hit me, like a rather painful sucker punch to the face. The kind of hit that ends the last round of the championship fight.

One of my literary heroes, Ray Bradbury, nailed it on the head when he said that 
“[y]ou must stay drunk on writing so that reality doesn’t destroy you.” (Side-note, this quote is from my favorite book on writing, Zen and the Art of Writing. If you're a creative type of any sort, do yourself a favor and check this book out).

Because, that’s what reality can do. It can and will destroy you. If you let it, that is.

The reason I’m not at those places is because reality told me it’s not possible. If you've been keeping up with this blog, I have babbled on about living life to the fullest, following your dreams, and all that inspirational crap that is so over the top happy that it's sickening and, sadly, unrealistic. I said I wasn't going to apologize anymore, but hey, I'm sorry. When I was traveling, that was all fine and dandy to have my head in the clouds. I thought that I would come back to the States and reality could suck it!

I'm learning a hard lesson that that's not how life goes.

I’m back home and I have bills to pay. I have a $106,000 USD loan hanging over my head in addition to regular, everyday debt. I’m getting dangerously close to thirty. I have no savings or career. In fact, I don't even have an apartment to my name anymore.

Part of the reason I've been feeling so off since coming back is the struggle of coming to terms with the reality of my reality: I can’t just get on a plane and leave again, no matter how much I want to. Reality is hanging too much weight on my shoulders now.

When I open my eyes, the fire that lit my soul in Beijing dies a bit when I hear that I need to pay $1,200 dollars next month so I don’t default.

Reality can come in many different forms:

  • mortgages 
  • house payments 
  • student loans
  • debt
  • children 
  • family 
  • careers
  • age
  • health
With all of that though, I still can't accept the word impossible. I often hear that one has to often choose one life over another: the "responsible" family life or the follow-your-dreams "live-life-on-the-edge" life. Dreams take sacrifice, right? 

True, but since coming back home, I've been unhappy because I've let reality win. I've let it make me believe that impossible really is impossible.

Thanks reality, but I'm going to take a page from Bradbury and stay utterly drunk with my words from this point on. So to reality, I say this!

(And I’m going to put this is the gentlest, more professional manner that a sensitive and vastly articulate writer/social worker can muster).


I will not let reality make me believe what is possible and what is not.

So if anything is possible, then why can't I be that famous writer on a beach? I think it comes down to not that I'm in debt (really, I can pay off a debt from anywhere in the world), but that I'm scared of taking the leap.

I'm scared of taking the leap and failing. I’m sick and tired of just dreaming. Of being a writer who doesn’t write and a traveler who doesn’t travel. Life requires active participation to function. But I'm terrified of it - life that is. Crippled and held down by it. I am scared to death not that I'll necessarily fail myself, but others. It's why I've never really been good at relationships, or committing, or why that fucking 2nd book I've been writing has sat on my computer (it's actually open in another screen right this second and it's taunting me) for years. I tell people that writing takes courage. That writing is the easy part and it’s getting the courage to get that pencil out and begin. That's it okay to fail.

I say all that, but I'm a hypocrite. I'm still paralyzed by the fear of failure.

But...I traveled the world! With a single backpack! I jumped a van running from protesters in South Africa and hitch-hiked through Zimbabwe jungles! I didn't just dream, I participated. I was forced to face my fear of failure because I had no other choice. I succeeded in making life an adventure. In writing terms, I finally got the courage to get out that pencil and begin.

I found out that I could do it, it being absolutely anything, and that it's never as scary as I thought and failure is just part of the ride. What I've also found out is that I'm just as scared as success as I am of failure.

So, problem. I know what I want but I can't just drop all my responsibilities and go for it.

So, where does that leave me?

Assignment #2

1) Get a piece of paper. I want you to write down ten things you want to accomplish in life. Make them wild. Make them crazy. Make a list that is completely impractical.

Here's a sample of some of mine:
- Take a flight in a hot air balloon.
- Visit an Egyptian temple.
- Finish that 2nd book.
- Make money off this blog.
- Start a nonprofit.

2) Put it somewhere prominent. Pin it up on a door. Put it as a background of your computer. Make it so visible that your soul’s stomach rumbles and quakes each time it's seen.

Start Scene
Reality: Oh, Nick, you crazy. You can't just do whatever you want! You have to stay here and pay off these bills! They're not going to pay themselves!
Nick: Well, you sure are grumpy today, Mr. Reality!
Reality: Why shouldn't I be! You're running away from your responsibilities!
Nick: Well, silly, can't I just pay off my loans from a beach in a foreign country? And can't I work realities into my dreams?
Reality: Well, by golly you're right! I've been just a big meanie!
Nick: Ah, come here and bring it on in!
-Reality and Nick hug. A rainbow shoots off over them and angels sing. It's all pretty majestic-
End Scene

So. I’ve made a plan. I'm not running away from reality (because I'm not saying that reality is a bad thing, as it's a very subjective thing), but instead 
I'm compromising with it.

I’m going to get a job here and bunker down for a bit and take on some of those heavy responsibilities. I gave myself a pretty strict time limit. And then, I’m going to be back on the road, writing, and chasing after that list from Assignment #2. I want and will do it all. I'll pay my bills, yeah, but I'm going to change my reality to what I want it to be.

This blog will continue. It will become something more, I'm sure of it. It has to be and it needs to be. I mean, I even just bought a real, legit domain as well! Progress.

I want to convince people to do the impossible. It took courage to trust that I can. It took courage to believe in myself and my talents. I am a good writer, a damn good one. I’ve seen it myself that my talent has grown over the past eight months of written exercises. 

This blog is about me, yet, I need to make it more than just that. I need for it to grant a better response than “oh, that was nice. I feel good after reading that.”

No, no, no! I want to make this a blog where people read it and say, "Fuck yeah! I’m doing this right now! I’m getting up out of this chair and I’m going to write that novel! I’m going to be an international crisis worker! I’m going to join the Peace Corps! I’m going to take my kids with me to Thailand and do home decorating! I'm going to save whales off the coast of Japan! I'm going to roadtrip around the US and complete my retirement bucketlist!" And on and on and on. Always floating on. (These are all professions I met on the road from people who wanted to carve their own path in life).

I want to fuel the fire in readers so that they in turn can lend their fires to others.

Take a look at the list. What can you do TODAY to start moving toward that goal? Be it checking flight prices or simply closing your eyes and dreaming about it some more. The key is to keep it there. To keep it close even when reality can be a brutal beast.

I want to be Vincent from Gattaca, a man born with a bad heart who was destined not to do great things because of this setback. He said, "Nope!" and instead, rose to the top because he didn't give up, and more importantly, put everything into Plan A and didn't worry about Plan B.

Extra credit assignment:

You have vacation days. You have sick days. Cash them in. Go online and look here:

1. Flights: Expedia, Skyscanner

2. Booking: HostelworldAirbnb
3. Planning: Trip Adviser
4. Jobs/Volunteering: Idealist, VolunteerMatch (US destinations)

Take a week, a month, however long you can and go to the place in your dream. Make it real.

And, I’m not saying to stop that life you’ve built. I’m saying to start a plan and then actively work on it so that you can make life work around your dreams. It's possible even when it doesn’t feel like it. It could be you won't open your eyes and be there for another ten years, or you need to wait until the mortgage is payed off, or you need to wait until you retire. Whatever, as long as you're planning it and living in it, I think that's what matters. Be active in pursuing it, no matter how long it takes to get there.

So you do that and I’ll continue doing the job search. I’ll continue writing the cover letters. I'll continue tackling my responsibilities here, but I will also
 continue writing, saving my pennies, and coming up with insane ideas while bargaining with reality. 

I'm actively planning so that one day, and one day soon, I will open my eyes and I will be exactly where I want to be. Will I be a broke writer by the end of it? Probably, but I've come to see that it doesn't so much matter what the end destination will be, but the evolving journey along the way that defines a good life. 

In regards to this brilliant meme, today is Thursday and I still have a lot of realities and responsibilities to face.

But come Friday...

Friday is going to be a very bright day indeed. And I finally think I'm ready for it.

Are you?