Alone, alone, alone.

I arrived to Sydney on a cloud of optimism. I chatted with my taxi driver, telling him excitedly that this was my first experience driving on the left side of the road. He listened with as much excitement as a photographer being asked to do some free work “for your portfolio.” I arrived to my Airbnb and chose to ignore the fact that the room was not the one depicted in the glossy photos. In any case, it still had a lovely view overlooking the private, flower-filled courtyard. I texted photos of said lovely courtyard to everyone in my contact list with the caption ‘The view from my room!’ I might have more accurately captioned, “I am fabulous!”

 View from the window of my Airbnb room. I'm walking on sunshine! For now. 

View from the window of my Airbnb room. I'm walking on sunshine! For now. 



After a quick shower, I set off to explore the neighborhood. I marveled at all the tanned, blonde and absurdly good looking Australians I walked among. They were so…smooth. I was for some reason surprised by how well-dressed these Sydneysiders are. Like J. Crew, but better. The fabrics are light and the hems are of short enough length to show off tanned limbs, yet remain tasteful and chic. The first glimmer of discomfiture flashed in my chest. My fabrics weren’t right, I was mid-winter pale, and the weeks of goodbye toasts and dinners in Austin had caught up to my thighs. I tried to wave off the feeling.

I wrapped up my first day in paradise with a yin yoga class mostly to keep myself awake until my self-imposed anti-jetlag bedtime of 9pm. More lithe Australians poured into the yoga studio around me, men and women alike. My head was buzzing with exhaustion at this point, having only been asleep for a few jaunty hours in an Economy Plus seat 30,000 feet up.  I’m certain I dozed off during the class at one point. I woke up a crumple of American body who was probably moments ago lightly snoring among the Aussie yoga gods stretching and flexing. I stumbled home afterward and fell immediately asleep.

Around 5am, I became conscious to a high-pitched buzzing in both of my ears. I swatted and dozed off. Minutes later, more buzzing, and then more…I alternately dozed and swatted until the sun came up. Good morning! I remembered, I’m in Australia! I stretched out lazily and began to notice red marks all over my legs. A rash? Chicken pox? I remembered the constant buzzing the previous night: mosquito bites. At least thirty just on my legs. In the mirror I marveled in horror: I was covered in bites. My arms, legs, back...even my ass. As if I hadn’t felt enough like a leper already.

At work, I worked on both US and Brazil time zones, which meant 6am meetings with California and 11pm meetings with Brazil. In between, I played hour-plus long games of Lord of the Rings and Batman pinball at the office, and found cubbies to nap in (thank you, Google).  The women at the office were more of the well-tanned, well-tailored and toned Aussies I was now annoyed to see. I realized I’ve enjoyed being a blonde who stands out. Here in Australia, I’m a slightly fatter, much paler blonde with clothes that don’t fit in and what probably looks like a highly concerning contagious skin disease. I felt like I did when I started sixth grade in a new school in Iowa: grossly out of place, and wanting desperately to fit in. I was mad I didn’t fit in and madder I even cared about it.

 Tigrona was the best! Until he shunned me when I needed him most. Ah, cats. 

Tigrona was the best! Until he shunned me when I needed him most. Ah, cats. 



Two weeks in, I realized that the first leg of my Soul Vacation world tour so far was a bit…sucky. Work is work, even when you lunch overlooking Sydney Harbor. I hadn’t seen much of the city due to long days at work. I spent more than a couple sad evenings trapped in my hot, AC-less bedroom eating packaged snack food and hoping my hosts didn’t think think I was as much of a loser as I felt. My only Australian friend so far was a stray cat who, in true cat form, ran away from me when I tried to greet him the day after he’d laid out with me on my bed. I was lonely.

When friends and family inquired about my (nonexistent) social life here, I lied and told them I was using this time to recharge after a crazy busy last few weeks in Austin saying goodbye and moving. I wasn’t alone for a lack of friends, gosh, I was choosing to be alone.

The weird thing is, I started to believe that white lie, and that attitude shift changed everything. Maybe being alone was exactly what I needed. After those two weeks of feeling foul, I actually did begin to recharge. I took advantage of my Classpass subscription and tried everything from HIIT training to aerial yoga. I owned my solo dinners and ate alone right on the front patio of restaurants like a badass. I set up a few coffees with Googlers.

A few days later, I met my first friend. Then I went on my first Tinder date ever with a nice guy I spent an hour researching before our date. He took me on his motorcycle and as the wind whipped my hair and I held on, I finally felt like I thought I’d feel as a woman traveling the world. Free. And awesome.

A few weeks ago I read something online that said, “Be patient with yourself. Nothing in nature blooms all year.” Dude, I gotta give myself a break. Beating myself up for, essentially, not being Australian? And for not having a social calendar immediately upon arrival in a country I knew literally no one? I think I just learned my Travel Lesson #1: Be patient. And cat friends are more than okay.

 

nothing-blooms-all-year

Living your dream feels like...

I’m on a transpacific jet hurtling from reality to dream. In just a few months I’ve dismantled a perfectly lovely life in favor of a feeling that there is something better for me. Something I’ve got to do. 

 My bright and cheery apartment pre-move out.

My bright and cheery apartment pre-move out.

 

I’ve now closed the door to my downtown Austin apartment, toasted goodbye to my Austin friends, and hugged my family and puppy for the last time for awhile. On one of my final days in town, I walked through the now-vacant apartment that used to be mine and thought about where I started when I rented it. The apartment is all white - floors, walls, ceiling - exactly how I felt when I rented it: a blank page ready for a new story. My story over the past year and a half has been exciting, and unexpected, and pivotal. I found myself with a broken heart at one point, I hosted fabulous parties for dear friends, I sewed myself deeper into the fabric of Austin through volunteer work and leadership, I lost a role model to tragedy, and I was exposed to the idea of living life differently. If you’re looking for a recipe for Big Change, that one proved effective for me. 

 

Over this past year, I contemplated my fragile existence a lot. You could die tomorrow, I thought. I surveyed my life and imagined how I’d feel at the end, looking back. I wanted more. I want to live. I want to die free from regret. 

 

For me, embarking on this Big Trip and sharing my perspective via this blog fulfils that right now. So I made a plan of action, and followed it step by step: Arrange finances (AKA don't buy shit). Move out of apartment. Sell car. Book a one-way ticket. 

sunrise

 

As I closed the door on that empty white apartment, I was struck with this odd feeling that, cognitively, I know I have taken all these steps to make this dream happen…but in practice it feels so fucking surreal. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that when you are living your dream it feels like, well, a dream. Right? So now the sun is rising over both Australia and my new reality. In a couple of hours I'll touch down into this dreamland and feel it firmly beneath my feet. It’s very, very real, and I am ecstatic. 

"Today I choose life. Every morning when I wake up I can choose joy, happiness, negativity, pain...To feel the freedom that comes from being able to continue to make mistakes and choices - today I choose to feel life, not to deny my humanity but embrace it."

-Kevyn Aucoin

     

 

 

"Today I choose life. Every morning when I wake up I can choose joy, happiness, negativity, pain...To feel the freedom that comes from being able to continue to make mistakes and choices - today I choose to feel life, not to deny my humanity but embrace it."

-Kevyn Aucoin

Live immediately.

 

“The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today. You are arranging what lies in Fortune’s control, and abandoning what lies in yours. What are you looking at? To what goal are you straining? The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.” 
― Seneca, On the Shortness of Life

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6/4/2015 Journal Entry

6/4/2015

I’m just so fucking happy to be alive.

I’m happy for it all. I’m happy to hear the sounds of the traffic outside my window. I’m happy to eat the dinner I made myself. I’m happy to have beautiful people in my life. I’m happy to send them cards and maybe brighten their day just a little bit. I’m happy to hug my dog and feel her incredible energy. I’m happy to meet new people in ordinary places. I’m happy to fall in love with half of the people I meet. I’m happy to work in a job in which people are passionate about what they do. I’m happy to feel the energy of people I know and meet. I’m happy to have a little bit of struggle. I’m happy to have endured some struggle so far, and everyday, and still feel grateful to feel things and happy to be in this life.

I made a decision recently to quit my job and leave everything that I know. I made this decision knowing people would think I’m crazy and tell me it’s a bad idea. But I’m grateful to be powerful enough in my own life to say “Fuck all y’all, I don’t care. I know this is what’s best for me.”

I am so happy today because I experienced a difficult time in my life. I didn’t survive cancer, and I wasn’t destitute or hungry. My life wasn’t in danger. But even the small, insignificant period of sadness and hopelessness in my life was enough to provide perspective. In order to feel this incredible feeling of happiness and gratitude, all I had to go through was losing several friends and loved ones and the depression of losing a marriage to a person I loved. That’s it. It felt really hard. I felt depressed, I gained weight, and retreated within myself to a place of pain.

But today, to feel how I feel today...it was nothing. The pain was worth it. I feel so strong, so capable, so ready to take on the world.


In some ways I feel bad. I feel that I’m a person of strength, of confidence, of common sense. If anyone could survive tragic death and divorce, I could. But even so, as a result of that pain and sadness, the power I feel today made it all worth it. Could I have seen that in the moment of hopelessness? No. I didn’t feel it, and I certainly didn’t know it was around the corner.

But life goes on. If one possesses the strength to persevere, there is an incredible gift on the other side.

I do understand that this happiness that I feel now is transient. I may not always feel this happy, this powerful, this connected. But I do feel that I appreciate it. I appreciate it in a way that I never could had I not experienced the pain.

 

Steve Jobs Might Die Tomorrow

From Steve Jobs' 2005 Stanford commencement address:

"When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn't even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor's code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you'd have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I'm fine now.

This was the closest I've been to facing death, and I hope it's the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."


On a boat in Tahiti my life changed course.

In May, I traveled to French Polynesia to shack up on my dear friends Melissa and Scott's boat, Kaimana. When I arrived, I had no idea what was to come: my life was going to change course. 

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