I always return from my travels wanting to make my home life more like my travels. To integrate habits like giving myself time to read, explore unknown urban and wild places, and learn about different cultures, people, and places. Invariably, though, after a few weeks, I slip back into rushing through the day, trying to pack too much in, and not making time for the things I love. A life-long pattern.
I started writing about my travels in 2010 to humor my aunt. She had pestered me repeatedly about writing, saying that I was a good story teller (I used to make up stories to tell her kids) and should employ my writing skills in a creative way. Previously I’d used them to crank out dull reports for engineers, geologists, and computer programmers. I didn’t believe I had a story to tell, nor that my story was remarkable enough to write about. I still feel that way, which has definitely put a damper on making time for the endeavor. I decided to keep a travel log that would also serve to let friends and family know that I was still alive.
I started traveling as a 5 year old. My parents and I took an ambitious 4 month journey through Europe, driving a trusty 1968 VW bus.
Woman tried to kidnap me in Sarajevo when I went to the bathroom in a restaurant
Skopia was where we were held at gunpoint other time in n Yugoslavia and I fell in river Neckar in Germany
My first foray into international travel as an adult was in 2007, five years after a gut-wrenching diagnosis of diffuse systemic scleroderma, Raynaud’s, and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. It was the scleroderma that scared me the most, as the rheumatologist told me that many people die within the first 5 years. During the early years of the illness, I struggled with debilitating symptoms that made it hard to do simple things like sleep, swallow, type, or drive. I had always dreamt of taking a round-the-world or multi-month travel expedition, my wanderlust sparked in part by a four month family camping trip in 1968 throughout Europe. I had thought I would travel after college but started work and never got the chance.
It took a determined friend, Tom McCall, and his friend Baker, to get me off my butt and out into the wide world. They were heading to Croatia for 2 weeks to sail in the archipelago off the Dalmatian Coast. I’d planned to stay 7 weeks and hook up with my mom and stepdad for the last two in Italy. Sadly for Tom, the trip didn’t go as planned. Once in Dubrovnik, he got extremely sick and spent the entire two weeks in the hospital, attended by Baker. I decided to venture forth on my own with no pre-made plans. Needless to say, it was probably the only way to get me to out of my comfort zone.
After spending a few days in and around Dubrovnik, I took a ferry to the islands of Korcula and Hvar, then back to the mainland at Split and Zagreb. From Zagreb I took a train to Ljubliana, the capital of Slovenia, which I loved. From there I rented a car and explored the Julian Alps, Austria, and northern Italy. I then took a train across Italy to Sestri Levanti. Once there, I walked around asking people in my broken Italian if they knew which villa my mom and step dad had rented. I became the family translator for the next week or two.
But I digress. I wanted to share a bit about how this blog got started. Because I think I need to keep it going when I’m home. It’s become a grounding that anchors me when I feel alone, whether because I don’t understand the language being spoken or the culture around me. Which brings me to now.
Each time I’ve returned from my summer walkabout, I inevitably experience culture shock upon reentry into the good old US of A. Part of it is due to lifestyle change. On the road, I don’t have to clean the house, do yard work, mend fences, visit relatives and friends, keep abreast of the news, or tend to the myriad projects that invariably crop up during my absence. On the road, I walk for hours every day, following my own inner star to go wherever and do whatever I want. I camp under the stars, eat baguettes and cheese, and rarely check email or the news. A life akin to my favorite children’s story hero, Charlie the Tramp (from the same-named book), a beaver who decides that building dams is not for him. Instead he sets off with a bundle on a stick to do odd jobs and sleep under the stars. A while later, annoyed by the trickling of a nearby stream, he builds a dam to the astonishment of his father and grandfather, who had given up on him. He did it on his own time. I can relate.
I returned home after 5 1/2 months away on November 1, 2016. A week later, Trump got elected. My sense was (and is) that we are in the middle of a coup d’etat. I do not speak the same language as his supporters, nor the billionaires that funded him and are being rewarded by receiving cabinet posts. I had returned to a different country. I have woken up every morning since November 8 dreading the actions that I knew he would take. To turn back the clock on hard-won victories from over 50 years of work in the fields of scientific research, environmental protection, women’s rights, gay liberation, educational opportunities, social justice and social welfare, and access to health coverage, to name a few.
I didn’t know what to do. Still don’t. I’m in shock, despairing, depressed, and am kicking myself for not doing more to sway the electorate. I’d been hiding out in Europe in part to avoid the hate-mongering that Trump made his hallmark. I couldn’t stomach witnessing it, nor hearing about it for months in the press. Demoralizing and horrifying. Shades of fascism. My father had barely survived Nazi occupation of Poland in WW II. I’d experienced the ravages of war and brutality at his knee, and didn’t need additional reasons to avoid violence in all its forms.
How to proceed. Last week, through tears, I blubbered to Lin about the depression and despair that hangs over me like a cloud when I wake up in the morning. How I don’t want to get out of bed. And feel like I can’t do anything against this tyranny, like I will be ineffectual and shouldn’t even bother starting. Lin had been my landlord and a sort of house mother from 1981 to 1990 during and after my attendance at UCSC. Seeing her has always been a touch stone to my past and perhaps deeper self. She reminded me about the practices that can nourish me in this time of darkness: my writing, spirituality or meditation, walking in wild places, and taking time to just be. Doing these things might not only feed my soul, but perhaps help others as well. She has been a devout practitioner of the teachings of Thich Naht Hahn for many years, and I experienced in her the presence of Thay, her beloved teacher. I made a commitment to begin writing about my struggles at this time. And to give myself more time, to pay more attention to wild nature, and practice more mindfulness. And replace the image of Donald Trump, which I inevitably see upon waking, with that of Thich Naht Hahn. A much friendlier vision.