Archive for the 'Saying Goodbye' Category

I Ain’t Got No Home: Six Weeks Til Phnom Penh

Goodbye apartment.

So I’m gone. I’ve left. It’s done.

I had this vision of what leaving would be like: bittersweet and semi-heartbreaking, in that really annoying way, like a bad romantic movie, the great lost love or some shit. I thought I’d have a lot more profound things to say about it—poignant insights and such—and I thought I’d be blogging a ton, documenting the process.

But I just got really busy, ping-ponging around, and it felt just like I was running a ton of errands, rather than dismantling a life and saying goodbyes that will have to last a long fucking time. It didn’t even feel like I was leaving for a trip. It just felt really fucking surreal.

Giving hugs and saying goodbye, I had a version of that feeling you have as a kid, when you know that there’s something big going on that you can’t quite grasp. So you carry on with your playing—a Skipper doll in the corner of a San Franciscan Victorian—and you try to hide, and when the grown-ups notice you, you go through the motions, emulations and approximations of what the people around you are doing, what you thinking you’re supposed to do or feel. Because really, you don’t feel much of anything. But you know you should.

So basically, it’s a helluva a lot lonelier than I thought it’d feel. But otherwise it doesn’t feel like anything. I know it’s coming—it’s in the post, so to speak—but I don’t think any of this will hit me until I’ve been settled in Phnom Penh a few weeks.

But in the meantime, I’m roaming.

All I can say is that it struck me as a really good idea at the time: I had a shitton of frequent flier miles, did a little digging, and figured out that it would cost the same to a) fly directly to Phnom Penh, and b) take a meandering, round-the-world route. So of course, I opted for the latter.

And of course I can’t actually afford the round-the-world segment, but that’s beside the point. Here’s the plan: 5 days in New York; fly to Rome; 2 weeks in Italy, making my way up to Milan for a food festival a work buddy is in; fly to Tirana, AKA my soulmate city; 2 weeks in Albania; fly back to Rome and catch a flight to Cairo; party with Nick for 5 days; fly to Bangkok; stock up on Western products like thyroid medication and contact lens solution, then make my way over to Phnom Penh.

It’s kinda epic.

And it could all be a big distraction from what’s really going on—the fact that I’ve completely dismantled, sold off and left my life at home, and am embarking on this crazy-ass new life, where I don’t know where my next check will be coming from, or if I’ll even be able to do what I’ve set out to do—write this book on this uber-intense topic I barely have access to to begin with. So yeah, I’ll roam a little first.

But it’ll be different, I suspect. Already there’s a few things different: I’ve decided that it’d be a really good idea to haul half my life with me, so I’ve got two bulging bags full of tshirts and cardigans and patterned tights it’ll be too goddamn hot to wear in Cambodia anyway. I have no guidebooks and no real itinerary, just two nights booked in Rome and some mass FB messages sent out to friends in places where I’ll be.

But I think the biggest difference, which also hasn’t hit me yet, is that whenever I’ve traveled before, I’ve always had something to come back to. I’ve had this base I was operating from, a life poised and ready and waiting for me back home: a job, a car, gym memberships, a place to live. I’ve never set out with nothing behind me, nothing waiting, save a half-closet of boxes and the people I love, who I’ve all said goodbye to, without really feeling it.

I landed at JFK last night around 11:30, texted my friend I’m staying with. He’d just gotten home himself, after a week spent working on an art show in New Jersey—he apologized in advance for his apartment being in shambles.

“No worries!” I wrote back. “I don’t even have a home anymore.”

And then I started humming Woody Guthrie and haven’t been able to stop. But still, still—none of it feels real.

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A Totally Normal Pre-Departure Freak-Out

So. It was bound to happen: I had my first pre-departure freak-out today.

Actually, I’m kind of still having it, in the midst of it, as I’m writing this. I’m sitting here, on one of the most goddamn beautiful days we’ve had in a shitty/foggy anti-summer, surrounded by trash bags filled with the various components that compose my life. I’m nauseous and hazy feeling and I can’t really cry anymore and I don’t know what to do with myself. So I’m writing a blog post about how I had a freak-out, and I’m writing about it in the past tense, because it’s easier to pretend it’s over and done with, passed like a nasty little storm cloud on an otherwise perfect, Indian Summer day.

It started with money. It always starts with money. There isn’t enough of it. Not ever and especially now. Maybe if I had a trust fund or a nest egg or a looming inheritance, but I’ve got none of that. I’ve got about half the money I wanted to have, and it’s entirely possible that I’ll land in Phnom Penh with only a couple hundred bucks to my name.

Yes, far less capable people with far fewer skills than I have landed in a similar situation and done just fine. (This is what I keep telling myself at least.) But I’ve always had a job, always had a reliable source of income, and I’m about to give that up for a very long time.

I keep recounting, obsessively adding sums and subtracting costs, best-cases and worst-cases and most-probable projections. They’re all fucked, I decided this morning. And I’m fucked with them.

And then I got to thinking about all there is to do. It’s a lot. Moving out of an apartment, going to the dump, going to the Goodwill, dismantling a life. There’s tons of people to see, appointments to keep, loose ends to tie up—disputes over medical bills to resolve and a car to sell. There’s goodbyes to orchestrate, a wedding to go to.

I don’t want to do any of it.

I want to cancel everything and curl up on my soggy-soft mattress, thin old sheets over blood stains, and stare out the window and do fucking none of it. I want to be Vicodin-floaty, detached, numb, not here.

But that’s the addict in me, who always wants to escape. And I don’t think that addict will ever go away, just kind of live inside me, flare up sometimes—times like this—but usually just more subdued, in the corner, a quiet but insistent whisper.

Of course, I know I’m going to do it all, take care of it. And of course I won’t be dropped on my ass and of course I’ll find a way to scrape together enough money and be okay. Of course it’s normal, I suppose, to freak out a bit before a huge transition—I’d be a little suspect if I didn’t freak out. Of course the sadness and the anxiety and the feeling, not of panic but of monumental, mind-wracking, gut-wrenching worry, in the face of a big blank unknown—of course all this is totally normal, right?

Right?

The Final Countdown

I fly out one month from today. So I’ve been running around my apartment doing Gob-like magic moves, singing this song:

But, to be real, it’s funny how the imminent move has shifted my perspective. It’s changed my focus on what’s important, and how I want to spend my time. There’s lots I should be doing—sending pitches and queries, putting my furniture up on Craigslist, working six days a week and stockpiling money. There’s plenty of What Ifs I should be stressing on, that I really ought to be stressing on.

But having a tangible ending in sight has done the opposite: it’s zapped me into the present. It’s made me think about what’s important, forced me to think about how I want to spend this time—this precious, short time—before I leave.

And my main focus isn’t on all the shit I have to do (which is a lot) or trying to manage all the unknowns (which are a lot), but on how I can best enjoy this last month, how I can best soak in this little life I’ve had here. Today, it was by sleeping late, eating an enormous Fenton’s sundae with friends, rereading a book I love. And by dancing around to this ridiculous song…

Expatifying: Becoming Real and Not Having to Justify

So now that it’s all out in the open—now that I’ve told my roommates, my parents, my managers at work and you all—my move to Cambodia has become a helluva a lot more real.

You know, it’s one thing to think it, to talk hushedly about it to your close friends, your confidantes. It’s even one thing to have one-way tickets (yes, plural, more on that later). But when it becomes known, brought up in casual conversation—when I run into people and they say, “Oh, when are you leaving?” or “I heard…”—well, that’s when it feels real.

And the thing I’m most struck by is how damn supportive everyone is.

Part of me wonders if it’s some hair-brained, quick-fix scheme, like applying a shock jumpers to your life: “Now I have purpose; I’m moving to Cambodia!” Part of me wonders if I’m not just isolating, running away, distancing myself from Real Life. (Part of me wonders what the fuck Real Life is anyway.)

It all very well could be. But, as I’ve explained to people, I’ve got a few tangibles to go on…

1. A project
So I went to Phnom Penh to do the Glimpse thing. And now I’ve got the overwhelming feeling that my work there isn’t done. (Imagine me saying that in a super hero cape, it helps.) I want to write a book/memoir/collection of essays, and I’ll have more than enough material to do it. I just need the time, and the immersion.

2. It’s cheap and easy, AKA: I could support myself writing
In Phnom Penh, I could live a comfortably modest lifestyle on $500-600 a month. Which means that, if I hustle and step up my game, I could potentially support myself writing. Which, by the most generous estimates, I’m 5-10 years away from in the Bay Area. If ever.

I’ve wanted to move abroad since my first trip—almost always, I must admit now, in an escapist way, in a way that was a diversion from my life instead of an extension of it. This actually feels like the most realistic manifestation of that fantasy I’ve carried with me.

3. It’s cheap and easy, AKA: Not the Schengen Zone
Them: “Oh, so you really must have fallen in love with Cambodia…”

Me: “Ah, well, I wouldn’t say that exactly…”

We’d all love to live in Paris in the 20s. (See the new Woody Allen movie.) But those days are gone. And the beautiful thing about Cambodia is that there’s no such thing as residency visas, work permits, nada. You show up, get a business visa, pay someone enough money, get a year-long extension. (There’s a bit more to it, but in a nutshell…) I personally haven’t been to other countries where it’s that simple to just show up and live.

4. This Period Is Ending
I’m old enough now that I can view my adult life in little chunks, 2-5 year periods characterized by where I living/working, who I was dating, how I spent my time. This last little chunk has been really good—living at G, working at B/P, getting my freelancing going (being single). But it’s ending. Like that first crisp autumn breeze, or like that scene in that William Carlos Williams poem when the roots of the flowers buckle down against the icy earth, I can feel the change a’coming.

5. The Calm Certainty
More than anything else, more than any other good reason/justification, the thing I keep coming back to is this feeling I’ve got in my gut. “It just seems like the right move,” I keep hearing myself say.

And goddamn if it’s not the truth.

And goddamn if there aren’t a hundred blogs out there by people who “packed up, sold everything, quit the corporate job, left to travel the world.” In most of them there’s this edge that’s always turned me off—self-congratulatory, which seems like a thin veil for justification. As though they’re trying to explain to all the nay-sayers why they did it.

Which I haven’t had to do at all.

Maybe the nay-sayers are just keeping their mouths shut (which I thank them for). But everyone, everyone, I’ve talked to has been massively supportive. No one’s given me the crazy eye, the you’re-going-WHAT?!?!? eye, nor have they waxed romantic about how exotic and brave it is.

“Congratulations!” “That’s great!” “We’ll miss you, but we’re happy for you.” Or, the one that made me tear up, from my manager, “I have total confidence in your ability to go out there and make it with your writing.” (Jesus.)

I guess you could say I’ve surrounded myself with some quality fucking people, who might know me better and have more confidence in me than I do.

It makes it more bittersweet, but a lot less scary.


Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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