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.