“Alarmingly dull. As dreary in real life as he was on his blog. Leaves to mourn only his hosting company, who although did not know him personally, grew quite fond of his timely payments.”
That’s what my tombstone would read if I croaked today. At least, if the engravers were post-morteming my last year of blogging activity. It’s been a year of cobwebs and tumbleweeds, a few half-hearted attempts to get things off the ground, all punctuated by a sprinkling of embarrassing sponsored posts to up the mortified ante.
In short, it’s been a train wreck. Luckily they were few looky-loos craning their necks to witness the derailment. Readership down means reader don’t-give-a-fuck level is way up. (Sorry, I usually don’t curse on the blog. But the times, they are a changin’. Also sorry for saying “sorry” but I’m Canadian, so that sort of behaviour is a condition of my passport.)
I remember it wasn’t so long ago that people actually read the stuff I was writing, and sometimes, yes sometimes, they even commented. I wrote sagas about border crossings and run-ins with ladyboys and even witnessing a woman die in Vietnam.
Mostly I wrote about my love of travel. It wasn’t all roses and flowery prose. But it was mine. I loved what I was doing, and I was proud of the content I was churning out.
I haven’t written a lot lately, not only because I didn’t believe I had anything worthwhile to say, but also because I haven’t done a heckuva lot of interesting travel recently.
Over 4 years ago I wrote a post titled The Year of Living Deliriously in which I fawned giddily over what a spectacular time I was having. And I was. This past year though, I haven’t been having much of a great time at all.
The Downside to Slow Travel
You see, I had myself convinced that slow travel was the answer. Spend a month or two in one place. Work on a business plan, grow the blog readership, all the while chumming up with the locals and really immersing myself in my surroundings. You know the drill.
So yeah, that didn’t happen. I’ve come to realize that that sort of travel just makes me want to Netflix my nights, and extended-nap my days.
You can only travel so slowly before you realize you’re standing still.
I spent a month holed up in an Airbnb rental in Bangkok. It was comfortable and easy and safe and I basically lived off of microwaveable concoctions from 7/11 and green curry from the restaurant about 100 metres down the road. Not really the intrepid world traveller now am I?
It’s one thing to mope around at home in your pyjamas, but to mope around in places like Bangkok or Manila adds a whole new dimension. The truth is, I was in a rut. And I have only myself to blame.
There’s a bit of a tale involved, so grab yourself a cup of tea and pull up a chair. I’m glad to have the company.
The Unexpected Bookending
On November 11, 2011 I attended a festival in Chiang Mai, Thailand called Loy Krathong. “Loy” means to float, and a “krathong” is a round vessel crafted from banana leaves, adorned with flowers, and topped with candles and incense. While the main object of Loy Krathong is to honour Buddha, many believe floating the vessel down the Mekong River carries away with it all the sins, grievances and angst of the person at the helm — a symbolic cleansing of the soul, and with it, new opportunities and a chance at a better life.
A week after the festival, I moved in with the person I would spend the next 4 years with.
Now, I’m not saying that whole sailing-my-krathong-down-the-Mekong shit works, but I’m not saying it doesn’t either.
We lived in Oman for two years and Portugal for a year and it was fantastic. The best of both worlds really — I still travelled heaps for work, but it was good to have a home to come back to. It was exciting and exotic, while still providing a blanket of comfort and familiarity that a shared routine affords.
Then came Australia. And for both of us, it was the end of the line. Sometimes the best of both worlds means you start to compromise too much on the one that means the most to you. The one that started you on your path to begin with. Our lives were taking markedly separate directions, and no amount of concession-making could remedy that.
I read somewhere once that when you’ve got to choose between your love or your life, well you’ve got to choose your life now haven’t you? At the time what struck me was the raw extremism of the words. But now I get it. At some point in your life, if you’re not happy with the direction things are taking, it’s time for an about-face. Head back to where your road diverged, and maybe even attempt a do-over.
I got lost somewhere along that road. I did some things that left me scratching my head, wondering if I had gotten myself in too deep, wondering if I’d even come out of it alive. It wasn’t only a year of living dismally, it was a year of living hazily.
This past August I went back home to Newfoundland to sort things through. It was the best decision I’ve made in a while. I went fishing with my brothers and visited friends on the West coast and even spent a week on the island where my Dad was born (population 110.) Familiarity, and family, can act as cough syrup for the soul.
Things didn’t go to plan quite as I expected though. Days before I was scheduled to fly out, I ended up in the hospital. (I’m fine by the way!) I spent a full two weeks confined to a hospital bed with one of those weird ailments that I could never have anticipated. In retrospect, I think it was my body’s way of saying, “Wait. Stop. You need more of this.” Family can indeed be cough syrup for the soul, but apparently, you also need to run the full course.
I left Newfoundland with the full intent of setting up a home in Bangkok for a year or so. But the month I spent there made me realize that I’m not ready for that yet. The travel bug has resurfaced. And my time in that hospital bed made me realize I am not getting any younger.
Fast forward 5 years from that day in November, and I’m “loying” my “krathong” down the Mekong again. This time from Luang Prabang in Laos. While it’s technically not Loy Krathong (it’s a boat racing festival), the spirit of it is similar.
Same river, same me, just both of us a lot further downstream.
It’s not quite back to where my road diverged 5 years ago, but it is appropriate closure to the past 5 years — 4 of them well-spent, and 1 of them lost searching for that “about-face” road. In my estimation, that gives me a grade of 80%, and an 80 is a solid “B” in my books. And I’ll take that over the “F” road I’ve been on this past year any day.
After so much time spent “aww-shucks’ing” and “woe-is-me’ing,” this past month in Laos was just what I needed. I’m feeling rejuvenated, relaxed, and ready to take on the road again.
An unlikely bookending, but a bookending nonetheless.
What’s Next for Me and Man On The Lam?
Right now, I need to travel. Replacing moping with moving is the only way out of a rut. Standing still for a time certainly gives you pause to be sure, but isn’t pause just the stop button without the commitment? And I’m not quite ready to stop this life of travel just yet.
I’m in Laos for a few more days, then Bangkok for a week, then another new country is on the horizon — Myanmar. I’ll spend close to a month exploring before heading back to Canada for Christmas. In January, I’m heading to South America for only the second time in my life. I found an error fare from Calgary to Santiago, Chile for only $329 USD return. The rough plan at the moment is to spend a month travelling, then a month staying put to do some work.
I also plan on doing a lot more writing. I take a long time to write anything, but it’s proving to be quite therapeutic. And this renewed travel bug has supplied me plenty of fodder. So might as well roll with that, wouldn’t you say?
As for Man On The Lam, I need to find the right balance for the blog. I need to infuse some more personality into this thing for certain, so you’ll (regrettably) be seeing more photos of my ugly mug on here (I say regrettably because I’m one of those folks who HATES having his photo taken.) I’ll also be featuring more personal stories. I feel it’s time to finally shed some of my layers.
I also need to make a viable living from this thing, so there’s that aspect to consider as well. I’d like to follow the “One for the heart, one for the head, one for the wallet” philosophy.
- One for the heart — something inspiring or funny or just something I feel passionate about writing.
- One for the head — an informative post or guide that does well in Google search. (Gotta get new eyeballs on here from somewhere. And when was the last time you Yahooed or Binged anything?)
- One for the wallet — a post that somehow makes me money. How that’s gonna happen is still TBD.
They may not all be funny, and they may not all be good, but at least they will “be” — and that’s more than I can say for this past year’s effort.
For those of you that have stuck around, from the bottom of my heart (and at the top of my lungs) I’d like to shout: “THANK-YOU!!!”
Now, time to get back to work.