Travelling and Writing

I always knew I wanted to travel.

I boarded my first International flight alone at the age of fifteen to go to Italy on a two month student exchange program. It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, though I was so nervous that I imagined leaving the gate and sprinting to find my mother, then apologising profusely but I just can’t go. Instead, I held back the tears – except for the first two which had fallen rebelliously – and boarded the plane.

This was the start of my father’s grey hair. It was also the start of my life as a Solo Traveller. I join the odd group, tag along on day trips, and occasionally find a friend who helps balance out the cost of travel (which tends to have extra charges when you’re Alone).

Forbidden City, China

Forbidden City, China – Photo by Stef Thompson

I always knew I wanted to travel. It’s one of my “forgotten loves” because I do it so often that it has simply become a part of my life. Some people move countries for their careers. Some people move countries because they have no choice. Some people move countries for love. In a way, that’s what I did. I moved to another country purely for the purpose of travel. I have travelled with a backpack on a budget and I have travelled with a suitcase and private car. I spend time and money travelling because it’s one of the things I love.

It is often said that it takes courage to do what you love. Travel is one of my loves, and some days I am surprised to realise that it took great courage not to run back to my mother when I was fifteen, just as it still takes courage to arrive in a new country Alone and not spend the entire time hiding in the hotel for fear of getting lost. I have been told that I have a life others want. I am often asked how I do it, but sometimes this is a question that isn’t about money or time but strength and confidence. My mother once told me I am brave. I didn’t feel brave when I stepped off a cliff in Turkey and spent the entire time I was paragliding screaming “Put me down!”

waiting for the wind - paragliding in Kas, Turkey

Waiting for the wind in Kas, Turkey –
Photo by Stef Thompson

I’ve never had a job I’ve really loved. When I get caught up in the boring details of the job I have but do not enjoy, I am told – usually by my mother, because she is my mother and she tells me a lot of things in a way that only mothers can – to do what I love. She means I should write. And I should. But not yet. Why? I’m still travelling. I write, certainly, but not as often or as consistently as I should. And I’ve been hard on myself for that, but now I realise that I’ve been working to fund my travels, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. One day I’ll give Writing the time and money I have given Travel. First, I have to collect stories. Soon, I’ll write them. Really write them.

Sometimes I forget that I am already doing what I love. I always knew I wanted to travel. I always knew I wanted to write. I’m already doing what I love, I just forget that sometimes. Travel has become such a significant part of my life that it simply is. One day, writing will be like that, too.

Are you doing what you love?

The best laid plans …

Part of my Zombie Apocalypse Survival Plan involves hard copies of the longitude and latitude details for locating my family’s property in case satellites fail and the Internet goes down before I can use Google maps. Yes, I have a Zombie Apocalypse Survival Plan. It has a three-part process:

  1. get a pilot and a plane
  2. fly to the family property
  3. hope my Dad isn’t zombified and can make everything better

Despite being (somewhat) prepared for the Zombie Apocalypse (I’m aware there are some flaws in this plan), I am little prepared for anything else. Examples where my preparation is lacking include:

  • My pending trip to India (as is a common chant of my gender, “I have nothing to wear!”)
  • My pending trip to Australia (I recently ate all of the presents I had bought to take with me – in fairness, I was home sick and my fridge contained milk past its use-by date and some really old bok choy … we’ll discuss my grocery shopping issues later in this post)
  • NaNoWriMo (I just spent a week and a half in a dazed and confused state of blegh – I’m still super fatigued but I’m breathing better, which is a start, but my novel is … not)
  • Life (this is an ongoing issue)

As the Zombie Apocalypse Survival Plan may indicate, I’m not the best “preparer”. I used to be. I used to get caught up in lists and details and even schedules of the days leading up to X event and what needed to be accomplished in preparation. I even had run sheets for the day-of. Seriously. What I needed to do at each time slot so everything would run smoothly was carefully planned out.

Then I realised I hate details. While I got caught up in details, life was taking place at an alarming pace.

Now … I write lists, sure. Sometimes I even cross things off. But generally, I’m less of a planner and more of a roller. I just roll with it. I don’t have any clothes to take to India? Whatever. Take a credit card and buy stuff when you get there. Roll with it. (You will notice, however, that sometimes I indicate I am planner of the most prepared kind. This is explained next.)

The problem is, when I get stressed I revert to being a control freak. I need to know what the five-year-plan is, and I need a run sheet for each year. I need a schedule for every month and I need all of my lists and details to be accurate and neatly crossed out, in order of appearance.

With beginnings and ends swirling around each other at this time of the year, I’m plagued with anxiety-ridden dreams and panic attacks over word counts, t-shirt collections, empty present shelves, and all of the things I haven’t done with my life that I probably should be sorting out and getting done (this is a vicious cycle – frequent readers will know this). I get so overwhelmed that no list can compensate.

Used under Creative Commons, credit: Bruce Turner

Here’s an analogy involving grocery shopping to further demonstrate my point:

Every time I go grocery shopping, I write a list. So after spending two days asleep and recovering from whatever virus plagued my system (fortunately, despite my predictions, I was not Patient Zero), I ventured out into the world yesterday with a list: milk, cheese, yogurt, chocolate, wrapping paper, pasta.

I walked into the supermarket and picked up a basket. I made my way through the supermarket and exited with my shopping bag. When I got home I discovered: milk, chips.

How did this happen? I had a perfectly logical list, I was armed with a basket to carry my goods, and yet … what happened?

I got overwhelmed. Despite living in Singapore for a year now, I still get confused in my local shopping centres and supermarkets. I still can’t find all the brands and products I want, and I usually get so confused and frustrated that I grab what I can – and believe me, it makes perfect sense at the time – and exit before I scream.

And in life, I get overwhelmed. Despite living this life for twenty something years now, I still get confused … with everything. I still haven’t found my purpose, I still don’t know where I’m going or what I’m doing, and I am so confused and frustrated that I’m just … making my way through it and hoping I remember the milk.

Here’s something to laugh at so you stop laughing at my grocery shopping attempts.

Keeping this in mind, I wrote a list of the four things that are most plaguing me at the moment (and, just now, added a little motivational sentence to each task):

  • Finish NaNoWriMo – you’re close. Stop looking at someecards and finish the damn novel.
  • Pack for India – and take your credit card so you can buy more clothes when you get there. And for goodness sake, take out the four books and pack your damn Kindle – it’s why you got it, remember?
  • Pack for Australia – no one has to know you ate their presents (except … now they do … but don’t worry about it)
  • Your life is already sorting itself out. You’ve done pretty well so far, right?

See? It’s easier than I thought. Now I just have to roll with it.

Used under Creative Commons, credit: Kevin Dooley

What delightful chaos is plaguing you this time of year? How are you managing it? Am I the only one who can’t stick to a shopping list?

A Spoonful of Confidence

I have let myself sink into silence, into a state of apathy and listlessness. Sometimes I feel like my life just goes around in circles; like a dog chasing its tail, I’m chasing something that is just out of reach, something I don’t quite understand, but I have this hollow feeling that I desperately need it.

So I’ve let myself forget what makes me happy and, instead, given in to the usual excuses.

Too much work.

Too many people to see.

Too much of a social life.

Too many things to do.

You know the ones.

Last night I had a conversation with a young writer. I babbled, partly because there was Shiraz involved, and partly because the conversation made me nervous.

“Priorities,” I advised. “Get your priorities straight and don’t lose sight of what you need to do. Everything else exists to support what you want to achieve.”

Meanwhile, the little voice in the back of my head was rolling its eyes and remaining silent because it knew full well that I knew what it wanted to say.

I had a bright idea when I was in Bangkok and madly scribbled it out, and haven’t looked at it since then. My priorities didn’t change, I just forgot to remember what they were. It’s very hard to explain to people that you don’t want to see them because you want to write. To many, it is not a valid excuse to be “anti-social”. But the thing is, I’m really struggling to focus on my writing. I’m easily distracted by lolcats and Facebook, and there is a general feeling of restlessness that plagues me. I cannot settle, I cannot focus, and I certainly cannot write.

My priorities. They remain the same. Write. Travel. Learn. They overlap and twirl around one another, though other aspects of my life try to trip them up, at times.

I’ve got my priorities, but I don’t have confidence. I am unfulfilled because when I sit down to write I start questioning myself, my ideas, my writing. My confidence took a hit and I don’t know when or how it happened, but it was shattered and I haven’t been the same since.

I have my goals, but goals are nothing if you don’t have the confidence to achieve them, the confidence to look someone in the eye and say “I won’t make it, I have to write” … they’re nothing if you don’t have the confidence to just write.

I let a day slip by. A week. A month. Several months. I have ideas, but I’m not executing them. Why? That’s no longer important. What is important is that no more days are going to pass me by.

With a spoonful of confidence, I’m going to squeeze every word out of every day.

Because I have to write.

Image credit: Eva the Weaver

Inspire Me

Another of my favourite poems.


We are the music-makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams.
World-losers and world-forsakers,
Upon whom the pale moon gleams;
Yet we are the movers and shakers,
Of the world forever, it seems.

With wonderful deathless ditties
We build up the world’s great cities,
And out of a fabulous story
We fashion an empire’s glory:
One man with a dream, at pleasure,
Shall go forth and conquer a crown;
And three with a new song’s measure
Can trample an empire down.

We, in the ages lying
In the buried past of the earth,
Built Nineveh with our sighing,
And Babel itself with our mirth;
And o’erthrew them with prophesying
To the old of the new world’s worth;
For each age is a dream that is dying,
Or one that is coming to birth.

Arthur William Edgar O’Shaughnessy

Inspire Me

Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are (among many other beautiful books), passed away this week. In this clip, he muses on life, death, and his work …

Doing books, doing pictures … it is the only true happiness I have ever, ever enjoyed in my life. It’s sublime.

You’re doing the one thing you want to do and you do it well and you know you do it well, and … you’re happy.

May you find your ‘one thing’.