Posts Tagged 'recovery'

Expatification: My First Week Goes Live

So remember what I was saying a few weeks back about y’all having to follow more links? I wasn’t lying.

I had two pieces about my first-week adjustments go live this week on Matador. The first, “How To Rock in Phnom Penh,” is about tromping off to the Dengue Fever show while I was recovering from a stomach flu, and sussing out the very peculiar social scene here. It’s also about realizing, “Holy shit, I’m here.”

The second, “How 12-Step Slogans Helped Me in Phnom Penh,” is a far dorkier account of using program tools to keep myself from totally using losing my cool. (Don’t mention specific programs, so Tradition 11 is safe and sound!)

It was weird to practice restraint and not post my first-week experiences immediately on my blog (sucker for the instant gratification). But it’s something I’ll be getting used to.

It’s also nice to have these go up this week, as I’ve been feeling monumentally frustrated with the freelance process. You know—you pour all this time and energy into pitches and submissions, and you think they’re pretty good, and at least half the ones you send never even earn responses. So it’s not even like you can figure out what you did poorly or how to improve. It can get really demoralizing.

But it’s all part of the game, part of the hustle, and besides—this is the path I chose. And I can always unchoose it, go back to waiting tables in the States. (Or not.) So, yeah, just nice to feel a little gratification is what’s otherwise been a dismal month in the life of a freelancer.

So read away, friends.

Pulling a Geographic In My Mind: Travel as Escapism

Tim was restless. You could feel it, not necessarily in the way his eyes darted off to the side sometimes, in the way he played with a beer can when he talked. It was more in the way he called, texted, went out every night—in the way he told long stories of hapless nights in China, Uzbekistan—suddenly animated, alive, like something in him had sparked.

“So,” I leaned back, running my fingers over the frayed straw matting we sat on at the Phnom Penh night market, “when you gonna put your notice in at work?”

He grinned. “Maybe another month.” He’d been hoping to hold out a year, but after one month, he’d confided, he’d known he wouldn’t last. He’d missed the open road, having traveled for a year and a half prior; he’d only stopped because he’d run out of money.

I smiled slyly. “You just can’t sit still, huh?”

“I guess not.” He leaned in. “You know how they say some people are scared of making changes, of leaving their jobs and their houses—how they get stuck? I think I’m the opposite of that.”

I laughed. “Like fight or flight?”

His eyes flashed and he slapped my shoulder. “Yeah! That’s me!”

It’s a topic that’s been blogged about a hundred times over—“Is long-term travel escapism?” There’s invariably a lede that includes some anecdote of a well-meaning but hopelessly untraveled relative asking, “You’ve traveled for so long—what are you running from?” The blogger insists “Nothing!” and usually go on to assert, in some form or another, that they’re doing to opposite of running—they’re finding themselves, living a fuller, richer and more challenging lives than their working stiffs back home.

Which is all well and good. And which I used to totally agree with. I’d nod into the glow of my MacBook and think, “Yes, yes.”

But somewhere, lurking behind the self-satisfied surety, was an uneasiness, a dim awareness of something I couldn’t quite name. Over the years I’d watch myself, my mind buzzing in the busyness of planning for a trip, saving for a trip, going on a trip, fantasizing about the next trip before I was back from the trip I was on. In this way, I did most of my traveling in my mind, and at the end of all the trips was ultimate fantasy: moving to Buenos Aires. It became a kind of barometer: I could measure how unhappy I was in my life by how much time I spent, not just fantasizing, but organizing potential logistics—checking flight prices and researching apartments, projecting how much I’d need to save.

And it served a great purpose for me—it was a way to escape, to not really be present, to always be saying, in the back of my mind, “I’ll be leaving this soon.” Hell, it’s a lot better than smoking rocks.

We’ve got this phrase in 12-step recovery; it’s called “pulling a geographic.” It usually refers to moving—the idea that the drinking/using/gambling/whatever isn’t the problem, it’s the place. “I just need to get out of this city, start fresh, make new friends.” We’ve burned through jobs and people, or we’ve burned through ourselves, and we convince ourselves that a change of scenery is just what we need to kick-start a new, healthier life.

Maybe it works for some people, I don’t know. But we’re addicts, and so it fails. Invariably, we follow ourselves to our new locations, our addictions packed into our souls like over-stuffed luggage. The same patterns ensue, and we find ourselves living the same lives, being the same people, against a different weather pattern and slightly altered skyscape. We call this “pulling a geographic,” and in recovery we get to laugh about it, because we don’t have to live like that anymore.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot as it relates to travel, as it relates to Phnom Penh, to home, to my What Next’s and What Now’s. I’ve been thinking about it as I’ve done it in my life, the way I’ve done most things in my life—in my head. I never actually moved to Buenos Aires, and my longest trips have been around 3 months. But there was always the fantasy, the obsession, the longing—the not being present.

“Do you think anyone really finds themselves traveling?” I asked Anna one night. We were talking about, of all goddamn things, Eat, Pray, Love. She laughed a noncommittal laugh.

“I think it’s a myth,” I decided. “Not that I haven’t learned valuable things about myself traveling, and not that I don’t love traveling—”

“Obviously,” she interjected.

I grinned. “Obviously. But, I dunno—” which was a lie, cause really I did know “—I think all the real work I’ve done has been done sitting still.”

Which isn’t to say I think all voracious travelers are actually escaping, or even that I think all addicts travel or move to “pull a geographic.” It’s just to say that, as the years have gone by, I’ve watched myself, sometimes out of the corner of my own eye, and if I’m really being honest, I’ve often used travel as a way to escape, and a way to isolate from people, from real relationships.

Being home, I’ve realized how immensely difficult my time in Phnom Penh was. A lot was coming up, and I was doing a lot of sitting still—sitting on my hands, it felt like sometimes. So I could laugh that night, at the Night Market, the last night I saw Tim and very well could ever see Tim—because I could understand the restlessness, the itch. I could understand the Flight.


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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