I’m sitting in a cafe in Manchester, UK. It’s familiar, this cafe. The music, the people, the coffee. I think this is the key to traveling… everything at one point becomes familiar, even if only because we’re sitting on the same globe under the same sky.
My family rings me daily, the video turning morning in to silly faces and kisses from across the pond. I marvel at the technology compared to my first trip to the UK in 2001 when I punched in a 400 digit number to reach a calling card and the country code and finally the home phone in hopes to reach my husband. Now I wake the children up on video phone, ala Jeston’s like, rousing sleeping heads just before my dinner time.
I’ve been asked “how do you do it? How can you travel and leave your children?” It is only because of this technology and the patience of Mr. Flinger that I have this opportunity. As often as I miss and yearn for them, I also try to encourage them to ask the questions “what is it like there?” It’s a small and simple task to encourage the children’s curiosity. I show them the weather, the money, the photos. I introduce them to my friends and their young daughter, who greets them with a very adorably Northern English, “hallo!” My young son blushes at the little girl in glasses smiling at him over the screen. “They have children in England, Mommy?” “Yes, Buddy, they do. See?”
This curiosity grows like a seedling. As we listen to Ingrid Michaelson’s “You and I,” I hear a small voice in the back seat of the car, “Let’s go to France and Germany, Mommy!”
In an effort to continue this curiosity, we recently tried out the Little Passports. The children received a small suitcase, a map, a “passport”, an intro letter, and a craft from Japan. “You’ve been to Japan, Mommy!” They marveled at the map. We read about children in Japan. We worked on the Origami. They approved.
Every month a new package will arrive with a letter from “children” traveling the globe. They get a note, an activity, and a passcode to find more online. It’s giving them the gift of wanderlust without leaving the country. It helps us talk about new places and things we might like to do one day.
It’s such a simple thing: Getting Something In The Mail. But it’s so fascinating to see this old technology: MAIL! light up the children’s faces. We plan to have a real pen pal with the little girl in Manchester. In a way I have a real pen pal with her mother and father, my friends from a community of ExpressionEngine Geeks. The world now is so much smaller with twitter, facebook, and The Internet. But to see something tangible, to hold a gift from another country, to see a map with your eyes and hold the pin to mark the spot travelled: Tactile Learning is still very much alive.
I know for myself, as much as the video and technology helps, there is nothing like going home to hold, physically, the people I adore. As often as I crave the new places and old friends from everywhere, the coming home is what keeps me going.
And now, excuse me, but it’s time for me to wake up my children again. Possibly using questionable song choice.
I wrote this super cheesy post back in 2003 about how I thought I had the “Dog Spirit.” You know the one where a pregnant 28 year old fanes poetic about her free spirit that is about to be leashed to years of diapers and saying, “Do Not Take Off Your Clothes In Public.” (I assume this includes the teenage and college years.)
It’s not a new theme in my life: Traveling. It’s not something that just sort of showed up one day in my head where I said, “HEY! Let’s go somewhere!” No, the more I analyze (and by god I analyze) my desire, nay, need to get off the continent as frequently as possible, I realize it started early in my childhood, right down to how poorly I do travel and how often I crave it.
I remember my first solo plane ride. I was seven? Eight? (Mom, help me out here.) I went to Dallas (from Houston Hobby) to visit some family friends. I was going to see a girl of my dad’s best friend, someone that I got along well with. I remember being freaked out, NOT that I was traveling on a plane alone or hundreds of miles from my family, but that I might be seated NEXT TO A MAN.
No, seriously, I bugged my host family with this information. “PLEASE do not make me sit next to A MAN on the way back. PLEASE.”
I dunno, y’all. Analyze at your will. I’ll be bringing this up in therapy.
Anyway, my mom sent me some mail that arrived during my stay. I remember starting to miss her and I remember getting the letter. Judy handed me something and said, “This is from your mom. Arrived in the mail today.” I have no idea what the note said, something of insignificance, but at the end my Mom signed it, “Love ya, Mom.”
I remember that sign off. THAT is the thing I remember from that letter. The casual “Love Ya” after a note that smelled like home. I remember crying at that note and I remember Judy (and her daughter Heather, my friend) wondering why I kept reading it if I was just going to cry. But clearly they didn’t really know me yet.
This is what I think of now when I travel. There are two truths to my travels: 1. I am the mother now and send the “love ya’s” to my children to their email boxes which utterly blows my seven year old mind and 2. I’ve been traveling for a very very very long time.
Thus, and so, in conclusion, and such, I can picture myself at seven, or twenty-seven, going somewhere, anywhere, with my head out the window and my spirit soaring. My dog spirit, as I wrote, is still very much alive; Two puppies later.
Hello! Salutations! How are you, anyhow?
It’s been a while and I’ve missed you all.
I’m in England this week. It’s funny, in a “I guess you had to be there” sort of way, but I spoke up to the Taxi Driver this morning in a British accent without realizing it. In fact, I accidentally spelled REALISING it just now until spell check let me know I’m a bloody american.
Acclimation is my middle name.
(Look, I’m already using words with more than two syllables! And correctly pronouncing my adverbs! And spelling favourite with a flamboyant ‘u’! And over-using exclamations! Right, I said Acclimation, not Exclamation.)
I’m sitting in an office with people whos’ faces I recognize from business meetings. I’m getting IMs from my colleagues in Germany. I’m down right full of myself with near-accomplished-pride until I cry at breakfast because MYGODIAMSOBLOODYTIRED.
In truth, I do not travel well, although I love it more than a fabulous cup’o'tea or a chocolate eclair. Or even french wine.
There are at least 501 places I want to visit before I am too old to sleep on cruddy hotel pillows or navigate the tube or sit on long flights without getting an embolism. Five-hundred-and-one, y’all. I’m not even kidding: I’ve counted.
The truth is, while I write love notes about countries or experiences or amazing-technologically-advanced-doors, there is not at least one time I do not break down in tears over something as ridiculous as rubbery eggs, because my heavens a girl can only travel so much in three days on no sleep without some sort of nervous breakdown….. Over eggs.
At least the palace was especially lovely yesterday. As was that English beer. And the bridge. And that lovely meal.. and the people .. and …….
See? I’m doing it already.
(I’ll post some photos later as I am on a tight deadline and I’ve already taken an entire FOUR AND A HALF MINUTES to write this post and I’m fairly sure it will take another thirty seconds or so to hit publish.)
(Once I stop typing.)
(I heard the quote, “Live in the pause” on a podcast just now and decided I should take five and a half minutes to write down something about my day. And I picked the rubbery eggs story? I swear I’ll do better tomorrow.)
(But seriously, y’all. Rubber bloody scrambled eggs. Seriously! I should write a letter.)
Some kids collect stamps. I don’t know who these kids are but I think they’re all about 102 nowadays. When I was a kid, way back in the early eighties, I collected cabbage patch kids.
Somewhere around puberty I switched from wrinkly-butt dolls to postcards. I think this is where the first parts of who I am today began to show. This was the very beginning of a small fire that would grow steadily over the years.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” ― Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad/Roughing It
My Uncle travelled a lot for work. He went to exotic places like: Turkey! and Istanbul! and Egypt! I asked him to send me a postcard from every place he visited. I hold these postcards sacredly in a book marked, “Places I Will Go.”
I have made it to, possibly, two fistfuls of those places.
“I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” ― Mary Anne Radmacher
In college I sat on the floor in the house of girls I lived with reading the Atlas. Some college kids read the paper, others read their text-books. Back before the Internet was in every house, we used to read things on paper. PAPER, y’all. Remember paper? Anyway, we would be gathered in the living room, the four of us, each doing something different. Nearly always I would be the one spread on the floor with some sort of map, planning a lifetime’s worth of travels.
My roommate was also a traveling soul. She braved Europe just after college in the traditional “Backpack Across Europe” tour that every 22 year old should go on. I did not join her, though I ached to do so. I made a vow to myself that I would travel all of Europe when I had the money. The money was always the next corner away. “When I get this job.. when I pay off this debt.. when I own my car.. when the baby is older…” In essence, Life got in the way of Living.
The summer I did not take the Europe trip, I made a necklace of hemp (GO GO HIPPIE!) and placed a single charm on it: A globe. I wore this necklace until it frayed. Six years it stayed around my neck cultivating a nervous habit of spinning the globe subconsciously. I remember someone asking me once at my third summer beyond “that one that was not Europe” what my globe meant. “It’s a reminder,” I said twisting it in a circle, “that I will travel the world.”
We’ve talked about this “giving up of yourself for the good of now.” It’s been the topic of conversation for many years. I know Laura Ingram would say this. I know Billy Graham would. I know someone might write a song about it. Maybe they did.
I’ve said before that once you become a mother, your own personal aspirations need to be set aside. And I’ve done this. I’m proud to have done so. But a new way of thinking is bubbling and I’m wondering if maybe, maybe maybe, children can grow and flourish in my own happiness. That maybe, maybe maybe, the children can be just as excited about going to Germany as I am, or to England or Holland or Bhutan. And maybe, maybe maybe, if I’m in a place of happiness and not feeling like I’ve placed my own self on a shelf, maybe (maybe? maybe?) the children will grow in to that happiness. Perhaps, even, if I dare to say so, the children will cultivate an appreciation for how hard it is to find that happiness and when you find it, and I hope they find it, how necessary it is to grasp it with both hands and never let it go. My hope for them, if I can dare to dream, is to never have the need to spin the globe of wishes.
“Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it. You must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it.” ― Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love
Kids, I’m going to tell you a story*. This is a story about how I ended up sitting in an office outside of Nuremberg in a tiny town called Erlangen, Germany, which happens to be less than an hour’s drive from where I was made. It’s a true story.
I get this question a lot lately, “What do you DO now, exactly,” and I can not answer in full. I work on demos for automotive software companies. I create websites, mostly front-end now, for larger companies that know more than I do. I help organize strategies for content management, marketing communications, branding and messaging. I travel to a lot of amazing places and I meet a lot of amazing people. My job does not suck. I can tell you that.
This particular story happens in Las Vegas, Nevada, where I was working with two automotive software companies. For one, I was finishing a demo on a mobile device, let’s call it the iPad, for their sales and marketing team to show Ford, Audi, VW and Toyota. And the other, let’s call it Big Awesome German Company, I was helping out with branding and messaging and content strategy. That is to say, I was at CES for work and I got to party with some really awesome companies.
Like Microsoft, for example.
I ended up, not so much on accident, at the Microsoft party at CES. I asked a co-worker there to watch my drink: A gray goose and diet. She promised to do so as I went to the toilets. However, since I ended up meeting four people on my return, when I arrived back to the bar I looked at her quizzically. “Um, where’s my drink?” She glanced over her shoulder, “I gave it to This Guy since you took so long to get back.” “Uh,” I stammered, “Who is This Guy? HE owes me a drink.”
This Guy smiled and said Hallo.
A German! Oh but I love the Germans!
“Hallo!I” I said. “You owe me a drink!” “Ah, sorry, yes, I will get you one. Gray Goose and Coke?” “Ya,” I replied using my third word in German. He ordered and turned back to me. “Who do you work for?” I asked. He told me EB. I said, “AH! I am going to work with EB! She” I pointed to the girl I worked with, “is going to hire me to do your website!” “Ah,” he said smiling, “I am her boss.”
I recounted this story the first night I was in town at dinner with my boss, her boss, and a few others of our team.
HIs response? “Did I get you a drink?” “Yes,” I laughed as the team went red on my behalf. “Would you like another?” he asked.
And so it is that I sit, right now, next door to This Guy. It’s funny, in a way, how life works. The more myself, the more awkward and ridiculously open I can be, the more in line with my destiny I feel I become.
Let me tell you about the time I met my ex-boss on the Internet. That’s a good story, too. But for now, I will say this: If everything happens for a reason, and god we have to hope it does, then even a gray goose and coke can seem trivial, but it’s not.
*Sorry, I’ve been watching a lot of “how I met your mother” lately.
** Updated photos from my day trip to Munich. More on this later.
Because this is exactly what I’d expect to see while looking for the train station in Munich. The Man In The Mirror.
I saw a guy get off his bike and head in to this “Thai Massage” place. Totally know what he’s getting in there.
You know those days where you forget to eat for about six hours and by the time you realize it you swear your pants are already a size bigger and you must surely look anorexic or vitally ill or, say, like Angelina Jolie but without all those kids or Brad Pitt? And then when you’re in the REWE supermarket you catch a glance of yourself from the side in the fridge isle and realize you could probably stand to go another ten days plus six more hours without eating but damn those sausages look tasty.
I’m not too proud to tell you I stood for about ten minutes in the Suppe isle today. Or that I happened to get about ten packets of soup mix because HOLYLOVEOFGOD the Germans have a lot of packages of soup mixes. I think I purchased a lovely mushroom spice for which to make mushroom rosetta with if I get get the ingredient right (I have the rosetta, mix, and vassa so I think I’m covered?) and a few others for making sauces (for the aforementioned sausages). I also found some Muesli (which in German means ‘Health Nut’) with chocolate and seeds. I’m so all over this.
I can also share with you that today I had to use google translate to see what the message on my German phone was from Telekom. I felt so “Christmas Story” with the Ovaltine Decoder. I couldn’t wait to see what my message was only to find out it was an advertisement for getting more minutes with the SIM.
Like it would be a secret admirer or something. heh.
I stood at the bakery this morning stuttering out my order for a “Große Cappuccino und Ei Sandwich bitte,” when a lovely lady next to me says, “LESLIE! Oh hi!” I am still amazed I would know anyone here and even more so when they start the conversation for me. I said hello, it happened to be the gal in charge of getting me here and home, an admin at work, and we had a nice chat as I stammered in my broken german just enough to get a receipt and laugh, “Thank you for breakfast,” to her. I then biked in to work holding my cappuccino in my take-away cup and my bagel in my backpack.
But even still, with all of these experiences that I adore, places I get to see, people I run in to, there’s an emptiness that only a working parent can feel. I’m unaccustomed to coming home to silence. I’m lost without small articles of clothing to wash. I can’t stand to go a full day without seeing their small faces and hear their goofy voices. Even today, when my 7 year old was having a bad morning, I took comfort in helping her shake out of it by laughing and playing with her on Skype. I can’t imagine traveling before the Internet and Skype and FaceTime and video Chats. It is how I’ve survived.
People at work ask me about my family and if I’m homesick. “Yes,” I say honestly, “Of course. But I think day 10 was the most difficult and now I know every day is closer to me going home and I have only five days to see this site and get my work finished and write during sunset with white wine and a chocolate mouse.” The children tell me not to leave for this long again and I remember my life is not my own. It is theirs, too. I promise them to take them with me next time and show them all I’ve seen. Every corner I bike I take note to remember to tell them all they will explore. I plan on their return and I know it will happen. I will share this with them and they are beyond fortunate to get to Germany before they are 35, before their childhood dreams are long past due before it is proper to try so hard to pursue them. I don’t tell them this, instead I play with them, with a moose, on Skype, and we giggle and laugh and we find the harmony we need to make it another 22 hours before we do this again.
Then we count the days.
The days are disappearing. As excited as I am to get home I’m just as excited to get back. It’s a strange feeling to have such a belonging in more than one place. Riding my bike to the bakery, to work, to the shop: I’m learning secrets about living here. I’ve learned that it cost one Euro to get a cart at the shop so don’t bother, to always bring your own bag because there isn’t such a thing as “paper or plastic”, how to get my bra to dry in one day by air. These are important facets of life here and you only know them by experience.
It’s not that it’s all rosy, mind you. I work 15-17 hour days. I get up early, I peddle to the bakery, I peddle to work and lose time until I’m forced to leave because the market will close and I won’t eat if I don’t leave RIGHT NOW to get some salad so I can keep working at home. I say this because I focus on the positive. I love it. I thrive on it. I am using it to keep me going. I ignore the loss of hair, the extra wrinkles, the stress and pressure. I’m not writing about that because you don’t want to know about it. It’s hard. It’s tough. I’m pushed and pulled and ultimately, at times, breakable. But at the end of the day, I sit and think about how thankful I am for it all.
As much as I want to share this with my children, for now I will wait. Instead I will have a dancing moose “Ebert Baüsen” or “EB” for short, to help them cope with this long separation, one I know they’ll forget before next month. For now, this is ok. We can be silly. We can share our morning dance. I hope they will be here to see the Suppe isle, the beer gardens with playgrounds. For my six year old self, for my thirty-six year old self, for my seven year old daughter, I hope we all return soon. Because ultimately, in some strange strange way, this will be part of me. Forever.
Today I biked 15km to town and 15km back. It was sunny most of the way, lovely really, if we don’t discuss that bitch of a hill on the north side of town. I had a lot of time while peddling to think about life. I’m sure it’s what most people would do while cycling past farms and horses and old men with bread in their baskets.
There is a discipline to being alone. I understand now how monks taking a vow of silence have a strong will. To not communicate with people around you, to be shut off verbally, to be emotionally isolated even while surrounded by people, is difficult at best. I think this as I peddle to Der Beck near work. It is closed and I’m unable to ask when it opens again. I read the sign but I’m fairly sure it says it’s open Sunday through Saturday. Or Monday through Friday. Or maybe it’s Friday through the third week of the month on odd years. I have no idea. It is, obviously, closed now so however much I am craving a cappuccino I’m basically screwed.
So I continue to peddle.
I go the same route to Nuremberg that I’ve travelled before. I am thinking of how lucky I am, even as my stomach growls, to know this route. How every experience adds upon itself and stacks up to a new attitude of living. I am thinking this as I fly past a young man running on the trail. I recognize him, laugh softly, and as I pass I wave and yell, “HALLO!” to the intern that sits in my office. He laughs, waves back and says, “oh! HA! you!” I smile, continue to peddle, and think how random the universe is that I’d find a single person I actually know in this entire place of words I don’t.
I end up eating at a cafe I see randomly connected to a car dealership. It is halfway to town and I’m famished. I order in broken german, pathetic at best, and smile and nod and try to be as polite as possible when I get something correct. “Ya! Vassa! Ya!” I am excited to actually end up with the food I was wanting and sit quietly with my Kindle to read. It is almost a relief to see English words that I don’t have to translate on the screen. My mind eats up the structure of the language.
I pull in to town a half hour later and find it bustling. People are everywhere, eating ice cream, shopping in the market, dragging children to this place or that. I spend the afternoon among strangers. I hear exactly seven Americans and smile as I listen to a language I understand. It is so easy to speak this way, I think. I wonder if one day German will come as naturally and I vow to make that happen.
It is easier in a tourist place to be an English speaking person. I find a few people who understand me and offer kindly the proper words in German as I struggle. They speak English back to me and we both try on the other’s mother tongue. I find a seat outside and drink a latte in the sun. A German couple sits at the table with me as there are very few seats. It’s what you do in Europe: You share your table. There is not as much space here as there is back home. There are a lot of cultures, languages, people all in a small area and they accommodate each other by offering up chairs, the other side of the table, or a menu. I am happy to have them sitting with me even if I do not understand them or know them. It is comforting to be at a table with other people although I’m not sure why this is.
After purchasing a few gifts for family, I grab my bike and take the 15km back. I stop at the store near my work to get a few things for the weekend: food, dish soap, laundry soap. I know tomorrow I will wash my clothes in the sink and lay them on the radiator to dry. I will go to the bakery before 11 when they close on Sunday. I will take photos of the Easter trees in Erlangen. I will speak to no one. I will be lucky to find anyone who would understand me. I think of this as I sit in my quiet tiny apartment alone. I am not a monk but I rarely talk. It is something I take for granted at home and it’s teaching me the value of language. Of being emotionally available. Of connecting to people close to you or strangers you will never see again. I am learning the discipline of being present. Of not escaping to some place comforting. Of doing the difficult thing. There is no other choice here so I can not take the easy way out. I am forced in to a space I am not comfortable with and as hard as it seems at the moment, I am thankful for this time. My legs are aching with happiness as I sit and sip a glass of white wine and watch the sun set over this tiny German village. I have so much to say. And yet, in silence, I sit and sip and appreciate.
I’m a native Texan. That is to say, my mother went through 48 hellish hours of labor (thanks, Mom!) so that I could be born in to this world, and the place she endured said pain is Texas City, Texas. She told me, when I was little, she choose that particular place for me to be born because it was easy to remember. Also because she had flown from a town very difficult to say correctly (Bayrouth, Germany) and it made a lot more sense, what with my dad loving Texas and all. I’m sure the truth lies somewhere in between those tall tales and the one where my Grandmother happened to live near a hospital in Texas City, Texas, at the time and my mother and father needed a place to stay after returning to the states from many years over seas. I come from a long line of story tellers
I am sitting now under the starry night looking directly at Orion’s belt. I am drinking German beer, not because I found it at the local World Market, but because it came from the (supermarket) two blocks from where I sit. There is a church tower around the corner that dates from 1591. I am in Nuremberg. Or Nürnberg, if you’re a local. I hear the Germans on the street below and I am surrounded by the fresh smell of my laundry, the only hint of home that wafts in the dark in the breeze.
I am oddly home.
I have a sense of nostalgia here. It’s as if I’ve lived this life here, or one very similar, in other times. I am lost, in present day, unable to fully communicate except with broken pieces of German. It’s comical, really, when someone walks up to me and I say, “Hallo!” and they say, “Hallo,” and I exchange light talk, “Gruße Grote!” They begin to ask a question and I shake my head, “um.. uh.. er… uh, do you know English?” They laugh kindly, either nodding yes or no, and we smile awkwardly as I admit I am not really from here however much I sometimes forget that fact.
Except that I can never forget that fact.
The cashier at the cantina at work asks me in German what I want to eat. I make weird faces and motions with my hands saying something about Salad and Veggies and No More Bread For The Love Of God and she hands me a lovely sandwich on a thick roll with meat and cheese. I smile, say “Danke” and offer her my cash. She smiles back, say Bitte, and I am on my way to another ten pounds.
This same conversation happens fourteen times a day.
I manage around town on my bike, a borrowed vehicle from a local friend. I am thankful, a thousand times thankful, for my local friend who not only speaks English but also four other languages and has a love of pasta. This means we eat a lot of Italian at real Italian places most of which the cooks speak only Italian and hit on women like a dog on salami.
I marvel at how far I can bike. I breathe heavily as I bike the 12km from Nürnburg to Erlangen where the office is. I arrive breathless and sweaty and I smile as I enter the building, like this is a normal day for me: Just another commute to the office via bike in the villages of Germany. I mean completely nothing special. At all.
Except oh, even the horses here speak German.
I breathe deeply the air, the coveted Nuremberg air, the German-ness (if I may) of the whole experience. How I rarely understand a conversation, how lost I am daily, how nothing is open on a Sunday except two cafes, non of which serve alcohol or protein. But it has been a week now, an entire week of my living here, and I already appreciate what I heard my father saying to me so many years ago. “Oh, Leslie,” he would reflect when I was old enough to listen, “the Germans. GOD BLESS ‘EM. I love the Germans.” The hundreds, or thousands, of stories I’ve heard as a child bring me to this balcony on this day thirty years later, smelling my clean laundry on the line, listening to the Germans below, watching lights in the village flicker on or off. In a way I hardly understand, I am home. Tomorrow I walk the valley of a monastery who serves beer with my boss and her boss. We will walk the woods, drink amazing beer, reflect on work and life in the States. And again I will say to you: I am home. Oddly enough, foreign as I am, I am home.
We are over Deluth. We are leaving the Big Apple behind in sunset lights and long shadows. I ponder the past few days, how a few days can be such a grand event, how every group of few days provides alternate versions of life. Carrying my camera down the streets of Brooklyn, watching with the eye of an observer, I pictured myself walking to the cafe to meet a friend on this sunny morning. I would know the cafe barista because this is what we do most Saturdays. I’m not sure if I own a dog, a small one, in this alternate life, but if I do, he walks with me as the kids run ahead. I can see this all through my lens, and my eyes tear up for a brief second with the thought of my children, how wonderfully in love I am with them, how deeply I miss them every single trip, and how desperate I am to show them these lives, even if we do not live them.
*I should always wear a Jenn Lukas as an accessory.*
It is not that I have such a wide array of worldly experience that these new places are becoming familiar. No, though I never travelled to Brooklyn or NY City before, there is an air of comfort to it. The subway is a strangely wonderful experience. The buildings are twice as tall as they seem on TV. The shops are so crowded, a way I only experience at holidays, I squeeze and bump body parts with several strangers in a stretch of three minutes. But they speak English, and for some reason this catches me off guard. The city, this experience, the bustle and tousle of humans in small spaces, the colors, the bricks, the small shops with outside seating: these qualities feel so European to me, my only experience in this environment having happened thousands of miles across an ocean or two.
*A Robert Eerhart and Louis sandwich, the founders of EECI.
No, I’m not sure if Brooklyn and New York feel familiar because of my traveling experiences or if they feel like home because of the people I see within moments of arriving. There is a band of brothers waiting for me at the nearest pub, ordering beer and waiting up well past the appropriate hour of dinner. There is greeting, smiling, hugging and limbs flying around necks. They are people I know beyond work, they are part of a bigger picture I can not possibly explain without bringing you with me. It is impossible.
*A few of the odd boys
As the MC of the conference, I take stage early on the first speaker day of the conference. I am nervous there, but in the crowd I see familiar faces. I remember something I read from Scott Burken, “Everyone in the audience actually wants you to succeed. They are breathlessly waiting for you to kick ass.” I’m not sure if those are his actual words, but those are the words that repeat in my mind as I introduce myself, welcome the crowd, and kick off the first speaker.
*Look! That’s me on stage! (I did that a lot)
It is this way for two days. The mic, the speakers, the people. It is a blur of puns and friends taking the stage next to me. We manage to make it to the second day, the very last speaker, a good friend of mine, and wrap up the event. It is a feeling of camaraderie, of faith in a community, of strengthening friendships and working relationships. Few conferences can compete.
*Brits who live in Canada still love to drink beer. This teaches us two things. 1. Brits who live in Canada like to drink beer and 2. So does everyone else.
So it is that I think of them as I fly over Deluth. My European friends. My colleagues on twitter. My peers from states and countries and time zones. We gather once a year, in different cities over the world. But we bring with us a sense of home, a sense of comfort, a sense of family. Because of this I know the next city I go to I will think fondly of taking the wrong subway or ordering the wrong menu item. I will laugh to myself quietly unable to explain an inside joke I share with a community thousands of miles wide. I will struggle to explain this to my children when they ask where I was. “I was at a conference, sweetie,” I will reply, “and I missed you very much.” It is that second part where they will hug me, waiting up past their dinner hour, with arms flying around necks. And I will know I am home again.
Bird by Bird - A business plan
“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’ -Anne Lamott
I’m overwhelmed to a ridiculous state. Somewhere along the path of amazing, whilst traveling and producing and speaking, my cart became full of expectations, deadlines and impossibility.
“If you say no too often, Leslie, they won’t ask you back to babysit. Be careful when you turn down a job opportunity.” -Oma Flinger
I was 7 when I started my first business. A friend from down the street and I ran in to the woods beyond our houses and collected rocks, interesting twigs and other “potentially beautiful” items. We ran home, painted each carefully, and set out knocking on every door asking if they wanted to purchase our art for ten cents each. I made about a dollar that day peddling my work amongst the neighborhood.
At 10 I decided to run an in-home daycare for an hour a day at my parent’s house. My mother wasn’t a fan of having 12 children in our small home, so I set up the garage as a small “school” setting and offered to take children who lived near by at a small fee to teach them a play that we would perform at the end of the week. It was a cabbage patch kid reenactment set to the tunes of a record I owned. At the end of the week, parents came to watch the play and praised the sweaty mess of children I directed in the two car garage in Houston.
Having recently decided to take life by the unicorn horn (if you will) and start a new, more amazing, better freelance business than I’d ever had before, I opened up my contacts to accept new work. Happily, Joyfully, Thankfully work flew in the front door, even more than I knew I could take. My mother’s words bubbled to the surface and her years of an incredibly strong work ethic and high expectations of her own life replicated in my own. I took the work, even when the deadlines were smashed together, with travel booking both ends, and said yes to it all.
I said YES to it all.
A good businesswoman can handle this, I decided. I’ll sub-contract out what I can’t do, I’ll do what I want to focus on in the future, and I’ll continue to grow because clients will be happy and my role will change to project manager slash mobile web prototype dev. This seemed the perfect plan.
I’m sure every tiny business owner thinks this at the start. But starting a business is like bringing home your new baby to an empty house that first day and suddenly it wakes up pissed. The invoices aren’t paid, the subcontractor fails to do their work and the client is calling hourly asking where said work is.
I’m not foolish enough to think those who last beyond the first year of business did not work 80 hours a week at some points. I have great friends who succeed regularly and work diligently in their business that I model my own after. I know they, too, stay up nights in a row working, laboring, building because they are passionate in their lives and their futures.
“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
It is this one fact, this one reason, I am still walking ahead, one foot at a time, producing code one tag at a time, writing this lesson one bird at a time. I’ve been drinking tea at midnight across friends who also care deeply of their work, listening to music and slamming furiously away at our keyboards. We share a goal, I their contractor, they my biggest fans, and we stay late, rise early, work diligently. I am away from my family but I am not alone. I am aching but it is not in vein. I am wary but it is not forever.
“Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.” -Robert Collier
The solace I find in those who overcome is immeasurable. Each of those people who inspire me to be greater than that I am now, who achieve what I long to achieve, who share in honesty their own struggles and triumphs, who are transparent in their joys and failures, and who believe in me beyond what I think I am capable of, remind me that seeing the dawn again from this side of my laptop is worth this small sacrifice of time. One day my daughter will ask me about my work and I will tell her with absolute certainty, I love what I do, I love you more, but I love, absolutely love, my life. I hope she finds a passion worth staying up for. There is no other way to live.
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