Cake is for eating

You but arrive at the city to which you were destin’d — you hardly settle yourself to satisfaction

before you are call’d by an irresistible call to depart.

You shall be treated to the ironical smiles and mockings of those who remain behind you;

What beckonings of love you receive you shall only answer with passionate kisses of parting,

You shall not allow the hold of those who spread their reach’d hands towards you.

                                             Walt Whitman, Song of the Open Road, Verse 11

My job gets a lot of reactions – nobody ever hears what I do and then says something bland and polite. Not surprisingly, especially when I’m leaving for someplace exotic (and particularly if it’s during an Alaskan winter), I hear a lot of “you have my dream job – I’m so jealous.” I don’t necessarily correct people, because to be honest, I kind of like the ego boost. I don’t talk about economy class and overnight bus rides and food poisoning and bug bites and impossibly hard pillows. But the most thoughtful reactions are the ones from people who realize that travel writing is a job, and that there are drawbacks to what I do. Most obvious is the toll on personal relationships.

“You can’t have everything.” Someone said this to me in passing last night – a small piece of a larger conversation that was dropped nonchalantly. But it stayed with me and I heard it over and over again all night and this morning. “You can’t have everything.” I keep trying to make sense of that sentence: what does it mean? My first thought is to wonder what it is I want, and what I appear to want. In the context of the conversation, I wondered what it was the speaker thought I might be asking for that I couldn’t have. Outside the context, on a larger scale, it’s a sentiment that has been repeated to me in various forms over the past few years. Dating is interesting: many guys are enamored by my lifestyle, but I know they’ll make the same mistake my ex-husband did: assume that some day I’ll change. I know that these guys aren’t interested in me in the long haul, even though it might take them years to discover that. And when I mention this to my friends, there’s always the inevitable “have you thought about sticking around for a while? How do you expect to have a relationship when you’re always running off somewhere?” No one ever says, “have these dudes thought about dropping their careers and traveling with you? Have they considered changing jobs to make the relationship easier?” No, of course not.

“You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.” This sentiment also gets passed on to me, the assumption being that my work and my relationships are mutually exclusive, and that I can’t have one if I have the other. As though it is preposterous to even try on my part to maintain what I’m good at and passionate about. As though my career is frivolous.

I’ll never forget a conversation I had with my was-band early on in our relationship. He’s a super talented artist, and he told me that woodworking is what gets him out of bed in the morning. “It’s the one thing I’m really good at,” he said. I felt kind of sad for a while – I couldn’t think of anything like that in my life. And then I realized: travel is what I’m good at. This was long before I was a travel writer, and so the discovery that what got me out of bed in the morning was the anticipation of a new culture, new food, and even the smell and energy of an airport seemed a bit tragic and wasteful. Teaching seemed to be the only logical way to use my graduate degree. But then, with surprisingly little effort on my part it seemed, I was a Lonely Planet writer. And it was a job that made perfect sense – until my marriage deteriorated.

The thing is, I tried to change. I thought for sure that being in a quiet place would quiet my mind as well, that I would fall into the rhythm of a schedule and routine and appreciate my simple life in my small town. Instead I found that the lack of stimulation and variety drove me crazy, especially during winter. Anchorage — and its international airport, and Asian grocery stores, and movie theaters, and places where you could buy pants — was over two hours away on a road where I totaled my car my first winter living in Seward.

There are people who are good at managing people, good at being moms, in love with crafting, don’t enjoy travel. They’re finding their places in the world, doing what they love and what they are good at. They have successful relationships. My friends are incredibly successful people that amaze me at their abilities to grow. Their lives are relatable, tangible, and many fall into categories that our culture understands. Me not so much. I’ve wanted so much to be like them, to WANT consistency, and to be able to reap the benefits of stability. I’ve spent many lonely nights in buggy hotel rooms typing on a slow, tiny netbook, thinking about how if I had a regular job I could have money for a Mac, and a gym membership so that I could fit into (and afford) sexy jeans, and an awesome, successful boyfriend. In this daydream I drink a lot of wine and go out to eat a lot and take weekend trips, because isn’t that what you do?

Thankfully, Thailand has offered me a new crop of girlfriends, ones who are more like me (and here I am not discounting my incredible lady friends back home). These ladies are single, smart, savvy, and successful (apologies for that horrible alliteration). Independent and motivated, they lead lives that I can understand. One of these friends pointed out recently that our lives are flexible to a degree that makes most of our back-home friends uncomfortable. I realized how true this was when my bank account went into the negatives yesterday. But that flexibility allows us a freedom that most people can’t understand, and I think that that freedom is the reason behind what we do.

I understand that by eating the cake, it means you can’t have it — it’s gone. So you truly can’t have your cake and eat it, too. But I can’t just sit and stare at it. I’m going to fucking devour it.

49 Responses to “Cake is for eating”

  1. Awesome post, Catherine! You’re right that “you can’t have your cake and eat it too” is a less than useful sentiment. Because, well, duh … every time you make a choice, you are by definition choosing against something else. But that doesn’t mean we’re faced with a succession of binary choices. Often when it seems like we can only have A or B, we can consider our options from a different angle and find a way to get both. Or that C would actually be better, anyway.

  2. I’m glad you found something you are good at. It’s not an easy one to find, or admit to. Brava to your post.

  3. This is awesome. I can’t imagine my life without traveling and it worries me sometimes how this will work out in the future. After reading this post I’m not so worried anymore. Freedom beats everything else.

    • ilikemountains Says:

      Thanks, Kyley. We never know about the future anyway, right? And we are very lucky to be able to choose freedom!

    • Agreed @Kyley!

      I often sit here and think about the “other side”, those people that are living with more than I have and probably require additional financial protection to be comfortable. But then I ask, are they truly happier? Are they having the same experiences as we are or growing from the same (mostly self imposed) struggles that we go through?

      Yes, they may have more cake sitting around their house, office or in their vaults, but many of them must be wondering what it tastes like. Us, my wife & I, we know exactly how each cake that we make tastes. I guess the goal should remain to be eating it slowly, enjoy every bite (taking it all in) and being okay with the fact that sometimes we will happen upon an egg shell or two because of our hurry to put that last cake together!

      Thanks for the post @ilikemountains! It’s beautiful.

  4. Do not EVER make of yourself something you are not in order to make someone else happy with you. All you will win is a sham of a relationship. There are a lot of people out there whose highest aspiration is, deep down, to be normal and average. It makes it challenging for those of us who are not only unwilling but unable to be either, but we are what we are.

    Stick with what you love. If you give it up, you’ll win nothing worth loving for your effort anyway.

    And be aware that a lot of men (yeah yeah, women too, fine, whatever) praise adventurous, independent women — but what they really like is the ego-boost of getting that adventurous woman to give it all up and make their sandwiches. They don’t like Amazons as much as they like getting Amazons to knuckle under. To men like this, “I love you” means, “I want to hold you back.” Don’t let them — if you want a relationship, you’ll fine a decent one even if it’s a long wait.

  5. It seems to me that the “having your cake and eating it too” advice is badly misplaced anyway; that saying is surely advice about timeframes – you can eat the cake now, or you can have it later.

    To apply it to relationships seems like faulty, if well-intentioned advice.

    But then again, I left New Zealand to follow my (eventual) wife overseas to the Netherlands. So perhaps that puts me in a small group?

    I enjoyed this post a lot; enjoy the cake(s).

  6. One of my dreams is to live in as many different cities as I can. I want to feel and understand what life is like in these places. Unfortunately, the idea repels my partner and I’d have to choose between travel and her. Oh my, what am I to do?

  7. Reblogged this on chaos is beautiful and commented:
    An honest post from my friend Catherine Bodry about having an outside-the-box career (travel writing) and on relationships.

  8. I feel like you just spoke about my life. I am also “good at traveling”, a you put it and my day job allows me to do a lot of it. It’s strange how men, and people in general, are very enamoured by how “glamorous” it seems. I think people who are good at travel are sort of a force of nature and a lot of people think they can deal but can’t.

    Have your cake. Devour it. You deserve it 🙂

    Congrats on FP!

    • ilikemountains Says:

      Thanks! I like the idea that I might be a force of nature, but really I just like people and I’m curious about the world, and I don’t have a lot of money so I often travel the “hard way.” It’s not glamorous by any stretch but I do love my life.

  9. This post has made me happy. And also a little sad. Travel writing is my dream job.

    Also, was-band is a great word.

    • ilikemountains Says:

      My life makes me happy, and also a little sad, so I guess I communicated effectively! Thanks for reading and commenting.

  10. Isn’t it more like a choice between an exotic patisserie or a packaged teacake with a label just so you know what flavour it is? I know which choice I’d make!

  11. Good for you! You should enjoy every bite of that scrumptious cake, and one day the one who is worth your time will make a relationship work.

    I wrote a post a while back about a new take on the saying “having my cake and eating it too.” A fellow traveler from Israel told me, “You can’t have a piece of cake and expect it to remain whole.” This makes much more sense to me, because I want my cake. And I want to eat the whole damn thing.

    You might enjoy it:

  12. Read to the end and then reread the poem -so perfect – really nice to read your reflection on where life has taken you.

  13. What a thought provoking post. While I haven’t faced the same career and life choices, I made the decision to live in different cities from my partner for a couple of years while I followed interesting work. We are now back in the same city, but I think I would have been less happy simply following him around (as some assumed I would).

  14. Wow. I don’t think you understand how much I connect with you! I used to travel like crazy for work though it was only to get to the actual site where I would complete my work at. Regardless, I took every opportunity to explore and experience new adventures because really…why the hell not?!

    A lot of people (just like in your situation) didn’t understand how I could love that constant moving around. And I’ll be completely honest, I can handle it in small doses but after 6 months of moderate traveling, I was burned out. The one thing that killed me: laundry.

    Still, I’ve caught the travel bug so if I’m not traveling for work, I’m bouncing from one city to the next whether it be for weekend trips or random drives to get delicious food. I get told constantly that I’ll never find a boyfriend and that I’m intimidating. I tell them that I’m glad I don’t have to end up with some dimwit of a boyfriend who can’t keep up. I don’t need someone to follow me around at every instant, in fact that would probably drive me crazy. I just need someone who understands, supports it, and wants to join in on the crazy fun for the most part 🙂

    You like how your post suddenly got invaded by my influx of words? Haha, hope you don’t mind, this just really struck a chord with me! 😀

    And I have to admit, I love your title because I freaking love cake. I work 40+ hours a week, dedicate a lot of my free time to blogging, and travel like crazy on the weekends just to appease my restlessness, that cake is already resting in my belly 😛

  15. really nicely put!!! eye opening as well as inspiring!! 🙂

  16. I love this post! Although I lead a typical life (most of the time), I understand your side and where you are coming from. (You also remind me of one of my best friends!) There are times when what I do, or how I go about things don’t make sense to other people and trying to get them to understand where I am coming from is an uphill battle. I sincerely believe that every person should do what they are passionate about in life, what makes them want to get up every morning and what gives them purpose. Some people spend years trying to find it. Others (like you) already know. To not then do what makes your life seem worth living would be a disservice and would be something that you would most likely regret later on in your life…..That is not to say our choices in life don’t have consequences—they do. But at the end of they day, we make a decision about what’s important to us and what’s not, and what we can do without in our lives and what we can’t. It is OUR life after all, and we should live it as we want to–not as others think we should (although this can be very difficult to do sometimes).

    Congrats on being FP! 🙂

  17. This is absolutely wonderful! I love your honesty. You definitely have my “dream job”, but I haven’t put it on such a high pedestal that I know that job wouldn’t be without sacrifices. We all make sacrifices no matter what occupation we find ourselves in. I have willingly chosen to be a Domestic Goddess (AKA stay-at-home mom), and although I sometimes fantasize about doing other things, I know that I am here by choice, at least for this season in my life. I always say, “In my next life, I’m going to be a _____” Where would we be without our dreams?
    P.S. Savor every bite, girl!!!

  18. Very inspiring post – great job 🙂 I followed my partner to London and have a very “conventional” life at the moment. My dream is to take a sabbatical year to travel and write about it. I love writing. I love travelling. I don’t my partner understands that it makes me happy. Probably one day I will have to choose between my dreams and my partner :-/

  19. payalskitchen Says:

    Nice post!

  20. Good closing.

  21. lydiagscarlett Says:

    From: a 30-something woman hiding out in France from her life and just discovering her writing gene…
    You are my new hero!

  22. Yes, please, devour it!!!! and why not?!? I mean, you’re doing what you love (ain’t a lot of people who can actually say the same thing, in spite of everything) and that’s how you can define yourself. As long as you find in it what you’re looking for and what you are, well, there’s no reason for you to change. And why would you? you wouldn’t be you anymore!!!

    Lots of people have a tendency to say “I’m jealous of your lifestyle” but they actually wouldn’t be able to take the first step to do the same; because it’s not their life. and who are the naysayers who always think that we can’t have both?!? finding the person who understand your needs as much as you understand theirs is a quest but the trip is definitely worth it (and the cake too!)

    I left comfort, home and a steady job that I loved and could only have in France, 2 and 1/2 years ago to go travelling. Couldn’t stop. Until I met The guy! I’m now living with him, but made it clear that if the travel bug bites, I’ll be gone (not long, a few… weeks, maybe! 😉 but that if I stay in spite of the urge, I’m not me. he understands and supports me even if the thought of me being away hurts.

    Never let someone else tell you what you should be doing or not. you know better, always. even when you think you don’t! ha!

    Have a delicious cake! and relish in the after-taste!
    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed too!

  23. Sounds like you need to get another cake to me! What do you think?

  24. I don’t like to travel but I don’t want to stay still in my life either. I don’t have to leave to be what I am supposed to be. Too many people settle for trying to be like everyone else . We all make sacrifices, but some are worth more than others. Eat the cake if you do not mind the results.

  25. I am the lone one not settled into a relationship, but I can do whatever I want and they are chained. The pity looks are brushed off as I plan my next trip.

  26. So well said. And like all these other comment authors, I can relate. Also, the other day I heard that this insatiable wanderlust may be actually be related to genetics. If you Google “wanderlust gene” you will mostly find, in fact, WordPress blogs all quoting the same articles and books. It doesn’t seem that a LOT of research has been done, but it is certainly an interesting idea. In any case I’m glad you’re making peace with your nature.

  27. incredible post! each to their own

  28. The most trustworthy guide is your heart, and if you’re listening to your heart and following its directions, you can’t go wrong. It sure sounds like your heart is your compass – this is the journey you’re meant to take. And I’m sure you’ll be very successful (however you want to define success) on this path. I wish you the very best!

    I’m definitely following your blog. 🙂

  29. Do what you love and love will follow you.
    I’ve spent my whole life trying to survive, support myself and dreaming of the things I’d wished I’d have done or want to do.
    You are where you’re supposed to be. Live.

  30. Great post! Congratulations and Thanks!

  31. You can have your cake and eat it too!

    How? You may ask… By practicing meditation… Meditation gives the stillness you seek and increases your capacity to enjoy life, in addition to many things… You can do it on your travels too…

    Love you! Jyo

  32. letscriticize Says:

    Interesting post . Thanks!

  33. Reblogged this on Nomad by Nature and commented:
    It’s good to see the downsides of what I consider a dream job. I love the idea of constant adventure. Consistency–I think boredom. But I consider financial and romantic stability necessities.

    Who knows if I will ever travel for a career? The one think I do know… I will travel.

  34. We certainly don’t have parallel stories, but there’s a lot that resonates with me in your post. Recently, my husband and I moved from Northern California to Seoul. He’s an academic, and opportunities are limited, so we just picked up and moved. While my life is stabilized by having him with me, I’m definitely on an adventure that has forced me to make some not insignificant sacrifices. It’s impossible to perfectly balance family and career and friends and adventure and mental wellbeing, so difficult choices have to be made. I’m totally happy with where my life is now, but I would be foolish to dismiss the negatives as though everything’s a bowl of peaches all the time. It’s all a negotiation, painful at times but ultimately incredibly exhilarating. Thanks for the post. As a fellow expat, I appreciate the perspective.

  35. grass is always greener…..although, in this case….being a travel writer does sound better than most jobs….unless you don’t like writing or traveling. Like having the cake, but not liking the taste?

  36. Awesome . Love this!

  37. Hmmm…you have a dream job, but I guess the question for most is to determine the difference between a dream job and your dream job. It’s often not as easy as you think. I love traveling, but I do love consistency and home life. I realise that I’m no backpacker. I prefer month long, once a year holidays. Whatever makes you feel replenished and alive is what you should do. If it kills your relationships, you just need to find kindred spirits.

  38. Well written and true. I think we all luster at the other person’s job or hobby. Keep writing and live life to be happy.

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