Something that often keeps me from sitting down and writing is opportunity. Living abroad, there’s always something new I can experience, even the little things: trying out a new restaurant, soaking in the local bathhouse, practicing my Korean on a stranger. Even when I’m trapped in my apartment due to rain or circumstance, the Internet provides a continuing source of distractions, whether it be Facebook, Twitter, or just linking from page to page; I often open so many windows it takes me days to finally finish the reading or research I started, and, by that time, new windows have been opened.
Social networking and all its addictiveness aside, I have felt like I’ve been declawed and released into the wild lately. I just don’t know what’s wrong with me. Two years ago I would have been able to pitch article after article to the MatadorNetwork, while doing countless searches on new websites, places off the beaten path in Japan, and seeing what I could do to further my “career” as a travel writer. It’s not even about pitching articles or making money, it’s about wanting to do so, and wanting more out of one’s life. This year, I just haven’t felt much of a drive to do anything.
I looked at all my pictures of my years in the land of the rising sun, and I couldn’t help but feel a certain disconnect with that aspect of my life, as though I had forgotten I was and am a traveler. Even being aware of my recent days in New Zealand, I stared and wondered…
When was I ever in such a state of mind to travel every week, every day? What was it about these countries that compelled me to take photos of everything, and why don’t I have the same inclination to do so here, now? Am I really such a different person now? Where have my traveler’s instincts gone?
Maybe it was the fact that, in Japan, there were so few options available to traveling foreigners. If I wanted to go somewhere off the beaten path, I could be sure there would only be 1-2 websites, few others who had preceded me, and limited sources of information. As such, when I wrote up the blogs for my Japanese adventures listing the best ryokan, onsen, and transportation, I was stating the obvious: there were next to none in the way of other choices. I may have been parroting that which others could find with a little elbow grease, but it was the only information for the areas I traveled.
Maybe time is my enemy now. I’m essentially doing what some more notable writers have done in reverse. Rolf Potts traveled Asia after working in South Korea for two years saving money. I may have worked in Japan, but I spent every last yen on ferry and train tickets, while letting my credit card debt slowly grow from interest rates. In New Zealand, I earned enough to get by, but continued to charge for fancy meals and unnecessary items. Nowadays, I wire the majority of my paycheck to the states, and when friends invite me to go bungee jumping or to Taebaek for the casino, I simply say I’m trying to save… and spend the weekend in front of my computer, wondering why.
What would I rather be doing? Ah, there’s the rub. The whole “grass is always greener” argument. I think I’m finally ready to call it quits, whatever that means. I sound like such a hypocrite saying such a thing, but I’m tired. I’m tired of being comfortable, because long-term travel, living abroad, teaching English, indulging in nothing but travel and superficial relationships, and waking up in unfamiliar surroundings have become comfortable to me. Even when I don’t know the area or the language, I know how things work; I know how to live comfortably. I didn’t think it was possible either, but if the purpose of travel, why we travel, is to stretch our minds with the unfamiliar, I think I’ve numbed myself up too often for it to have any effect. Maybe I’m wrong. I certainly don’t like this development, but I don’t see a cure. A new country? New city? Same places with a significant other? Go back to the states to recuperate, then hit the road? When I was living at Vimutti Buddhist Monastery in New Zealand, I asked the abbot whether he had ever known a monk to disrobe (leave the tradition). In fact, he had, and went into detail about how some, even after decades of service, get tired of everything: early morning chants, celibacy, physical labor… The way he explained it, you don’t have to be ordained to achieve enlightenment (though it does help with the lack of distraction), and people have to follow their own path. Some get tired, and need a change.
I’m tired. I need a change.
I started writing for the MatadorNetwork not long after they really started to take off in the online community. Yet I remain a freelance writer, while others I’ve known have become editors and influential members of the team. It’s my own fault, of course, because I didn’t ask for any more responsibility. I was comfortable writing freelance, only submitting articles when I wanted to, and nothing more. It’s always nothing more with me. These nights I spend browsing travel websites only leads to envy and frustration; I like what I read, I know I can write that well, but all I see is someone getting more glory. It’s petty, but I just keep thinking why I’m not in their positions after this long a time, and now, it’s clear to me: because I didn’t focus my efforts there. I always spread myself too thin, knowing a little about a lot, and I’ve come to realize this isn’t beneficial to me or to the world I should be helping. I need to just pick a path, go with it, right or wrong, and see where it leads me. Hopefully it will lead to some stability, situations in which I can still travel, and someone with whom to share my life.