Posts categorized "Travel"

So what's it like when reality sets in?

One might think that absconding away to some new country is something that may ultimately bring only disillusionment or regret in time.  Perhaps under the surface of such a sentiment is the notion that, after all, since life is so much better in the United States...Americans living abroad would eventually realize the error of our ways and inevitably return to our lives of sanity and comfort. 

Let me rephrase that in a less sarcastic way: one might expect that, while an American living abroad would certainly enjoy the thrill of his new experiences for a time, eventually he will come to understand the problems inherent in his new country.  He might feel out-of-place and he might miss things about home enough to return.  But would one also expect that of immigrants coming into the USA?  No, in that case most Americans would fully expect the immigrant to fall in love with his or her new country, eventually try to fit in, and certainly to stay.  So, indeed, there is an ethnocentric double-standard involved.  But this isn't my point...I could care less.

My point is that the world has changed.  The notion that the American lifestyle is "the best" is being devalued as fast as the dollar.  I write on the topic of absconding partially to illuminate this new reality.  I will shed light on some of the ways my new life is better than my previous life, but not in this post.  I think there is something deeper and more interesting underlying the question posed in the title.

With any life change, some aspects of life will be worse than what you expected and others will be better.  I find that what is lost in life is usually replaced by something entirely different that is new (if a person is open to it).

But on the topic of expectations; if you expect to feel like an entirely new person, don't.  The old cliche "wherever you go, there you are" is true.  You will fall back on so many of those habits you already have.  You will think the same way about social relationships. You will sometimes get depressed.  You will still worry.  You will still feel like doing all those things you always felt like doing.  You will not be able to escape all those burdens in life, and in fact you will even add more.

So why bother?  Is there more to the experience than the honeymoon phase when a place feels new and exciting?  Well, to exist solely in one culture is to know only 2 dimensions.   To live as a citizen of the world is to slowly discover the third (as well as a few new colors to illuminate it).  While you don't change, possibilities around you do.  The way you are perceived, the opportunities suddenly available to you, the endless stories and perspectives which you will acquire, the wisdom that can only come from experience, and the contentment of knowing you have done everything possible to live a life that is uniquely yours..those kinds of things make it all worthwhile.

To not do something you want to do is to carry that idea with you until either you do it or you die.  If you end up carrying too many of your desires and living none of them, all of that becomes a burden that gets translated into fear, regret, self-loathing, and even feeling like a victim. 

In high school, my dream was to be an NBA basketball player.  I traveled that route the best way I knew how.  My abilities only got me to a division 2 university, and when I realized I had no potential to play big-time, professional basketball...I quit.   But basketball got me out of my small town and off to college.   

Then there was a time I wanted to be a writer.  Though I studied business and was following that track in life, I dreamed of writing a novel.  I wrote that novel for 18 months (after work and on weekends) by age 25 and, to be honest, it probably wasn't very good.   But I did learn to write and I learned to understand myself in a new way.  More importantly, I was able to shed that dream that went something like "what if I had chosen to be a writer?"  After the book was complete, I knew what it meant to be a writer.  I learned that there was never anything standing in my way.  I was either a good writer or I wasn't.  I either wanted it badly enough to work at it and give up something else, or I didn't.  The weight was lifted and the dilemma erased.

Then there's the music thing.  I learned that I am, indeed, a musician.  I plan on pursuing this music thing as far as my skills and inspiration will take me.  Through becoming a musician, I learned that I don't want to be part of the "music business."  I learned that I truly never was destined to be a famous musician because, for so many reasons, I wouldn't want it anyway.  I love my music and who I am as a musician, and I'm having a lot of fun with it.  How tragic it would have been to never learn this...to always wonder what my voice would sound like on an album and never hear it for myself...to wonder whether I might have been a successful musician.

My decision to move from Seattle to Slovakia was no different from any of these other decisions.  It is something I've wanted to do for at least a decade, and to not have done it would have been to live and die with the burden of not knowing.  I knew that the thought of carrying that burden was scarier than all of the difficulties and risks I would encounter. 

My wife is from Slovakia, and I felt the same way about her all those years ago.  I was far too young to get married, but I was so in love with her that the thought of not finding out what it meant to spend a life with her was far more terrifying than all that it involved to do so (starting a life together at age 18 against impossible odds without any family to help).

So when I consider the question "what's it like when reality sets in", I realize that the question doesn't even make sense.  Every major life change takes you to a place that you couldn't have imagined prior to living it.  You become a person that you never otherwise could have been.  So, for this reason, there is absolutely no room for regret.

Every risk I've taken has brought me to a place that is far different from where I first intended to go.  In every case, the "place" I, in fact, ended up was better then where I started..at least in that it was right and inevitable for me.  So to suggest that one ought not to chase a dream for fear that it might not be what he or she expects...I guess that sentiment is completely opposing all I have witnessed and experienced in my life.

In the true spirit of Carpe Diem, the original question posed is also irrelevant because nothing need be forever.  You will follow future impulses just as you have learned to follow this one.  If a life abroad isn't working, change it.  The question remaining is this:

What are your dreams and why are you not chasing them?

Posted by Abscondo

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Landing

In the past six weeks I have experienced Barcelona, Slovakia, Wisconsin, Boston, Slovakia again, Budapest, and Crete.  My head is full of so many places, beautiful people I've known forever and some I've just met, different demands, pleasures, food, challenges, and worries.  Nothing is linear.  I won't say that I haven't found some sense of normalcy in it; I have.  But time has become a swirl.  I can't organize my thoughts and memories so well.  I've been so part of the world around me that I haven't been able to lose myself in the simplicity of self.

Now as the afternoon Autumn sun shines through my window, at home, in peace...things will now begin to change.  My external focus will be turned inward.  My work, my music, my relationships, and my ideas will now be allowed room to breath.

Posted by Abscondo

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The smile from the girl on the grass

On my fourth and final week in Barcelona, I've yet to write anything about it.  The reason for this is two-fold: 1) Sincere doubt that anybody out there should actually care about my personal travel adventures, 2) too much to say combined with a profound difficulty in choosing that which is worthy of mention.

After all, the experience of travel is a profoundly personal one.  Travel affects our lives, but ultimately in unpredictable and quirky ways: the food that we cook upon returning home, the way we might choose to structure our days differently, the way one walks into a bar differently, and the way we miss that which was never ours to miss.

What finally inspired me to write?  I was walking back from the beach today alone, wearing my flip-flops, a white t-shirt, my new sunglasses, and listening to the song "In the Waiting Line" by Zero 7.  What an amazing chill-out tune that is.  I never listened to it before, and only discovered it in this moment because I noticed that I have the Garden State Soundtrack on my iPod.  So just before I reached the Metro station, I noticed two young girls laying on their backs in the grass on a small hill just off the sidewalk.  It isn't that the girls were attractive or anything -- it wasn't about that -- but one of them looked at me gently with the wind flowing through her blond hair.  I must have smiled slightly at her, because she gave me a big smile...a smile that acknowledged the beauty of the scene she had created.  We shared a clear moment of understanding that life can be filled with simple beauty.

I guess Barcelona is about lots of hot Metro walks and cool Metro rides (the only air-conditioned subway system I've yet to experience).  It is about simply dressed people living their lives in public: greeting friends with a kiss on the beach, jamming or dancing or tumbling with friends in the park, drinking in a stylish restaurant if one can afford it or outside by a fountain if not.  In Barcelona, I have lived comfortably close to others...where communication is subtle and sometimes only imaginary, where nobody speaks English (and sometimes not even Spanish...mostly Catalan), but it's all OK.  It isn't that people are overly friendly.  In fact, locals seem rather tired and serious at times...close to tears at others.  But beneath the surface they seem to be beautiful, if perhaps rather simple people.  Maybe its a gentle, educated simplicity, as opposed to a loud, obnoxious one.

I guess it is appropriate that the smile from the girl in the grass inspired my first (only?) Barcelona post.  Because amidst the expensive food, the clean palm-tree lined beaches, the designer shops, and the extravagant architecture, Barcelona is really about a subtle, understanding glance from a stranger.

Posted by Abscondo

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Fucking airports and how we are all knobby twats who put up with it

I fly at least 6 times a year, and any romantic notions of air travel which I might have had years ago are now only desperately trying in vain to reason with those inner voices which easily shout down any such thing.

The fact that humans can fly about the world in structures larger than most buildings, structures that last for dozens of years and hardly ever fail, is of course fascinating.  One cannot overlook or discount the advantages; the opportunity for freedom and experience.  But does it have to be so fucking miserable?

Why must we be trapped inside an enormous structure (airport) for hours?  Why aren't there terraces where passengers can get some fresh air after traveling for hours?  The fascist "security" rules, the way we allow ourselves to be lined up as cattle at passport control lines, the way we allow strangers to touch the most intimate parts of our bodies in search of...metal.  Are we to accept the fact that now we can't even carry our own water onto the plane?  What. The. Fuck.  What about the rigid schedule and penalties for being human for a moment and missing a flight?  The reality of a stranger digging through our underwear, handling your dildo, diary, communist literature, porno magazines, in search of whatever they think they are in search of? 

Forget the bullshit threat of "terrorism."  How exactly is the air travel potential threat more serious than a London or New York metro?  A mall?  A city street?  Why is air travel some sort of distinct reality where no other rules of what it means to be a free human being is to be relevant?  Because of 9/11?  Anybody who gives 9/11 a few minutes of critical thought knows that it wasn't carried out by a few guys with box-cutters.  Come on.

Air travel has become a psychological experiment perpetuated on the populace by the elites...a way to train us to be fearful, to comply, to prepare us to be good sheep and line up for our slaughter when they decide the time has come.  And we continue to line up like good, fearful, and obedient.

Why do we have to sacrifice our humanity to be able to move about the planet as only humans have the ability to do?  Can anybody explain to me why this is acceptable?

OK...I'll see you in line one of these days in Kosice, Prague, Paris, London, New York, Chicago, Miami...it will be me...I'll be in full, fearful compliance just like you...with one thought on my mind...getting to my destination. 

Posted by Abscondo

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Americans don't know anything about having fun

It occurs to me, as I finish my "working day" from my temporary flat in Cannes...as I reflect upon my last year in Slovakia, my travels in Europe and Mexico, my friendships with wonderful people from countries other than the US...Americans just don't know how to have fun.

The band just got started outside my balcony.  It is the first day of summer, and the French know how to welcome the season in style.  There are concerts all around the Europe, people will stay up all night and dance.  We'll be going out soon.

To prove my point, one needs to look no further than the American wedding.  What better occasion to celebrate life?  But in planning for a wedding, the American mind anticipates fun, talks about it, and ends up with pictures to prove that fun actually did occur.  But the wedding reception usually only lasts a few hours!  The whole event is practically staged for the photos!  If Americans do have fun, it is confined and fleeting at best.

We are too worried, too practical, too guilty, too repressed, too...well...not fun.  We are afraid of losing ourselves in too good of a time!

In Eastern Europe, the wedding lasts at least 24 hours!  Everybody dances like they mean it.  They sing, they talk, they become lost in, and actually transcend, the moment.  The same can be said about 50th birthday parties and many other events throughout the year.  On any summer evening in Kosice, Slovakia, for example, lovers can be seen strolling downtown with ice cream cones...kissing by the fountain...just soaking life in.  Italians take this to an entirely different level.

When Europeans drink, they sing together!  They play instruments!  They dance!  I'm not just talking about young people...typically grandpa is the center of the family's entertainment.  People cook feasts (without too many complaints).  People kiss on the cheek when greeting.  People savor conversation like it is a fine wine.  People sit outside by the fire drinking fine wine.  People go to the spa or the beach.  People take vacation for weeks at a time!

Americans live repressed lives of fear and shame.  Europeans live more full lives of celebration...celebration of culture, of beauty, and of each other.  so I don't really feel like going back.

Posted by Abscondo

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Versailles and the time-traveling tour guide

    On a guided tour through Versailles, I was lucky enough to have an actual King, I think it was Lois XVI, show us around his home for only 5 Euros.
     Of course, he knows it would sound ridiculous, so he couldn't actually tell us this...but several clues led me to the conclusion that this mystery king had experienced the advantages of time travel and was undercover as a tour guide to escape persecution in his own era.   The first clue was that he kept referring to French Royalty as "we".  I also found it strange that, when showing us pictures of some king-to-be at the age of nine, we tourists inquired as to why said king-to-be was wearing a girl's dress.  Our mystery king was shocked, "Of course we wear dresses when we are young...I wore a dress like that...it's all a matter of social standing of coarse!"
    "See, I told you he's Royalty." I whispered to Sofia.
    Then there was the hair.  It was remarkably similar to the styles in the paintings all around....though quite a bit shorter in order to keep his cover.  And later, when he was telling us how the Royals would put arsenic and other poisons on their faces to achieve that sought-after sickly look...well, he had that same sickly look he was describing!
    But, most of all, it was his obsession with the French Revolution...those terrible mobs who stormed Versailles and took everything and auctioned it off for very cheap prices...and how it was a matter of great urgency to get back the remaining 93 percent of the original items that were still missing from their rightful home.  He spoke of this with great passion as he secretly hoped to be restored to the throne.
    He must have narrowly escaped the mobs in 1789, and perhaps then was coaxed into a time machine for his own safety.  And here he was, unwilling to live anywhere other than Versailles...and with no ability to live there without playing the role of a tour guide.  He was ridiculously disguised as a commoner...wearing jeans that were much too short (after all, what do Kings know about jeans), carrying on about his customs.  He pined so eloquently about Marie Antoinette as we sat in the Opera house, just as anyone would speak of their long-lost love...swiftly dismissing anyone who would speak ill of her and heart-achingly describing her grace and beauty.  "If only it weren't for those terrible mobs," he sighed.
    I wasn't the only one who was on to him.  Another American asked, as the last question our group was permitted, "You obviously have some connection to the Royal bloodline, can you share that with us?"
    "Now that is a personal matter!" he snapped, and led us out swiftly...intentionally avoiding the prospect of being insulted with a tip from commoners.

Posted by Abscondo

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Leaving for Paris and leaving people in Paris

    Upon our arrival at Charles de Gualle airport, we boarded a van that would take us to the Latin Quarter, where we would be staying.  Our driver was a cocky young Frenchman with dark, round sunglasses to prevent anyone from seeing his eyes.  He was unfriendly and short with us. 
    A shy young woman also jumped in the van with us, and she sat in the front seat.  I noticed that she kept peeking back at Sofia and I.  I smiled, and Sofia finally asked her where she was from. 
    "Mexico," she replied.  "Student."
    "How many semesters are you here for?" I asked. 
    "Semester."
    The conversation went nowhere, so we all left it at that.  She did seem a little evasive, dreamy, and difficult to talk to, though she seemed to understand English.  We eventually picked up four other folks who spoke English to each other in a accent I couldn't figure out.
    The driver asked us all where we were going.  Of course Sofia and I had the specifics for him, as did the others, but the Mexican girl said only, "Rue Hermel."  The driver, probably expecting more details later, accepted the answer and we continued on.
    Finally turning off to a side street in Mont Martr, our driver stopped the van and asked the young Mexican woman, "OK, this is Rue Hermel.  What is address?"  She looked at him for a minute, then asked me to pass her briefcase.  The six of us waited patiently as she slowly and aimlessly paged through her documents. 
    The driver finally broke the silence, "You don't know the address?"  No answer.  We waited another minute or two.
    "What or who were you expecting when you arrived?" I finally asked.  "Are you meeting someone?"
    "Yes," she said quietly.
    "Do you have a phone number?" asked the driver.  No answer.  We waited, all a bit stunned and confused.
    "Ya don know where ya goin' dear?" asked the older lady behind me.  No response. 
    It went on like this until she mentioned that she had a phone number.  Sofia even offered to let her use our phone, but we later found out that the only number she had was to her parents in Mexico, so she would need a phone card to dial it.
    By this time, I assumed the cocky young driver would say that there is nothing we can do and drop her off.  But he surprised all of us by agreeing to go with her to the store, around the block, to buy a phone card so that she could call Mexico and subsequently find out where she was going. 
    "May as well get out and pollute me lungs," announced the more vocal of the passengers behind us as she went outside the van for a smoke. 
    It turned out that they were all from Dublin, working-class...tough folks into pubs and the whole bit.  After the woman had assumed I was Canadian, we told them our story about living in Kosice for three months now.
    "What'r yous academics?" she asked.
    "No, no...our story is kind of complicated," was all we wanted to offer up.
    We all chatted and laughed with the Irish folks and before we knew it 45 minutes had passed.  As soon as the Mexican young woman got the phone card, she seemed to lose interest in using it, and the plan shifted to finding her a hotel where she could at least leave her bags until she could figure things out.
    "Have any of you seen the film Maria, Full of Grace?" asked Sofia.  This young Colombian woman smuggle drugs in their stomach." 
    I thought it a bit insensitive, but perhaps she was onto something.  Indeed, how odd and evasive this woman was becoming.
    At one point, when she was supposed to be using our cell phone to call the phone card and dial Mexico, she and the driver wandered off to a hotel...with the phone.  Sofia announced that she definitely wanted her phone back, so I jumped out of the van to go get it.  As I took the phone from her and was trying to dial the phone card for her, she asked, "Is there anywhere you have to go?  I mean, can't you stay with me?"
    "Well, sorry, I don't think so," I said.
    It must have been another 15 minutes, I had returned to the van, and there was still no sign of our driver.  We were losing patience and started thinking about calling another van.  I mean, we all wanted the girl to be OK...but this was going nowhere and there really wasn't much we could do.  It's one thing if she was asking for something specific, but she wasn't.  I went to the hotel where her bags were being kept, and the concierge showed me around the block to an Internet cafe they had gone to.  When I walked in, it was apparent that she still was no closer to finding her address.
    "You stay here with her, but I think we might call for another van," I said gently to the driver.
    "No, no, I have to get back too!" He responded without a second thought.
    "Can't you stay with me," the woman pleaded with me.
    "Sorry," I said firmly.
    We all felt somber and selfish as we continued on our way.  We spent a patient hour trying to help this lost girl, and were unable to help.  That was our brief role in the film of her life.

Posted by Abscondo

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Misadventures at Charles Darwin's grave

This morning, after a spin on the London Eye (which, in my opinion, wasn't really worth the time or money), we strolled past Parliament and into Westminster Abbey.  For me, the primary draw of this historic cathedral in central London was the grave of Charles Darwin.  How surprising it was that he, someone who's discoveries have become such a threat to Christian belief, is buried among the likes of 13th century Kings.

I've been inside a few major European Cathedrals, but the grandiose nature of Westminster Abbey takes it into an entirely different realm.  It may be surprising to know that I'm actually turned off by individual self-importance and vanity...perhaps because I often see these tendencies in myself.  Still, in my opinion, the plaques and statues of Westminster Abbey are nothing more than monuments to the cathedral-sized ego of their subjects.  In this sense, I found my visit fascinating...the absurd lengths to which the rich and powerful go to immortalize their importance.

So as I made my way through this spectacle, my mind never wandered far from the idea of paying my respects to Charles Darwin.  I've come to believe that his discoveries about the nature of life are the only universal truth.  There are ideologies, there are theories, but the laws of evolution are fact.  These laws govern everything life is and life does.

So as we passed through the "Temple of Faith" section of the cathedral, amidst a mass in progress, I spotted the blue gate near which I knew to look for Darwin.  And there it was.  A simple white block on the floor that simply read:   “CHARLES ROBERT DARWIN BORN 12 FEBRUARY 1809. DIED 19 APRIL 1882”.

Absolutely no photography was allowed, and this rule appeared to be strictly enforced.  But, come on, how difficult can it be to snap a photo of the floor.  I couldn't resist.  I reached into my pocket for my digital camera, switched it on, looked around to make sure nobody was watching, angled the camera toward the grave marker, and...FLASH. 

Oh shit!  I just took a picture with flash...and it was directed squarely toward the somber Christian mass in progress.  Eva and I snuck past the blue gate and attempted to blend into the crowd.  But in just seconds, a vicar or whatever peaked into the corner in which we were hiding.  Shit.  He saw us. 

"Did you just take a picture!!!?" he asked forcefully.

"Sorry!"

"Absolutely no photography is allowed!"  he sternly reminded us.

It isn't often that a grown man feels like a schoolboy, but after a stern scolding by a vicar or whatever in Westminster Abbey, I felt about 2 inches tall to be honest.  I tried to shrug it off and laugh.  But, in fact, my mind was so preoccupied that I stupidly stepped right on top of Charles Darwin's grave!  "Don't walk on it!" my wife correctly reminded me, knowing how much this was supposed to mean to me.

"Oh yeah, sorry Charles...and thanks for everything you did for humanity," I thought to myself.

But the vicar or whatever wasn't finished with us.  We still had to pass bye him to exit the building and escape to freedom, but he stood squarely in the way.  It was already 3 or 4 minutes after the incident, but he couldn't let it go.  "Did you take a picture?" he still wanted to confirm.  I was certain that he was about to confiscate my expensive camera!  I was seconds away from a sprint to the door, and hopefully Eva was prepared to follow!

I said the first thing that came to mind.  "I'm sorry, I was holding my camera and it mistakenly went off."

He pretended to believe my lie and said, "Well, any pictures you've taken must be deleted immediately!"

I agreed and we walked briskly to the door and out into the rainy afternoon.  So I just lied to a vicar or whatever in a British national treasure.  Great.  If I were a religious man, I'd be bothered.  At any rate, I'm glad I was able to pay my respects to Charles.

Posted by Abscondo

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Darth Vader in the elevator

During this last week before the move, Sofia and I are renting a crappy studio apartment in downtown Seattle.  I was warned about these places.  Rented by the week or by the month, these furnished apartments are cheap.  But, I am told, you don't necessarily want to get to know your neighbors.

Last Sunday, I walked past the reception counter on my way to the elevator and noticed a large man dressed all in black, with a 8 or 9 year-old boy.  I overheard him telling the man at the counter, "You know what they say...that insults only hurt if you think that they're true."

Being an articulate, yet odd thing to say while checking into a room, I looked up and noticed that his child was barefoot and the man wearing a black cape. 

The elevator took a while, and by the time the doors had opened, they entered with me.  I boorishly attempted to mind my own business.  But the young child decided to make conversation.

"I like your shoes," he said.

"Thank you," I responded.

He then replied, "They kind of look like alligators from the front."

"Ha ha, I guess they do," I agreed. 

I was wearing a pair of funky Diesel shoes.  About these shoes...after reading Adbusters one day, I decided to fight corporate cool by black spotting the branding on my clothing.  So I took a marker to the Nike swoosh on my running shoes.  Then I thought it a little hypocritical to only go after Nike, so I turned to my Diesel shoes. 

I noticed the word "Diesel" on the tongue of each shoe.  Hmm...Diesel...by coloring over some of these letters...I turned it into..."Lies" on one foot and "sell" on the other.  I was satisfied.  Back to my story.

So the poor kid didn't have shoes on and I was desperately seeking something to compliment in turn, or something to say at all.  That's when I noticed that the large, caped man had a Darth Vader helmet tucked beneath his right arm.

"Ah, Darth Vader," I said, nooticing that he was missing all of his front teeth. 

In a self-congratulatory way, he responded, "Yes, I've been walking around the Cinerama.  I'm hoping that they will invite me to greet people on the opening day of Star Wars."

"Ah, good idea," I said with a friendly smile.

"Yes, but unfortunately it hasn't happened yet."

Funny how most of our pipe dreams never do.  No matter, it is the unintentional stuff that makese life worth living...like talking to people in an elevator with a Darth Vader costume.

Posted by Abscondo

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Choosing Life

Passing through the clouds as our flight finally descended into Seattle yesterday, I must have breathed in too deeply because, today, my head is still full of clouds.  I'm physically back in the States, but the voices and images still alive in my head are back in Slovakia. 

After 9 visits over the past 11 years, perhaps what I appreciate most about my experiences in Slovakia is that I am truly able to live two entirely different lives.  For 3 weeks at a time, I somehow manage to pack my bags while leaving my baggage behind.  I enter an entirely different social and psychological landscape and become a different me. 

Here I'm a dreamer fighting the numbing effects of life spent in a gray cube.  There I'm a human being living a vibrant and authentic life.  My head is still filled with bright colors, the now-familiar Slovak language, the click-clacking sound of women strolling down a quiet city street, and the absurdity of awaking to my sister-in-law's dog fighting with her caged parrot at seven o'clock in the morning.

I also see myself moving there in the not-too-distant future.  I see myself choosing life over security. 

Posted by Abscondo

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