The Plan, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Thought I’d share the basics of this sabbatical plan as it’s shaping up. This is going to be one of those indulgent self revelatory posts, but then again isn’t almost everything in the blogosphere?

The purpose of this trip is a year long meditation, living with less in order to free up some creative energy for this next phase of my life, the one where I’m not old but I’m not young.  Letting go of youth  for me means being less concerned with preparing for life and more concerned with the daily living of it.  My priorities for the trip are:

  • Slow, very very slow, travel.  Not so much travel as living in places for 1-3 months at a time.
  • Finishing my sci-fi novel.
  • Playing music.
  • Learning French & Portuguese.
  • Deepening (starting?) my meditation habit

Depending on the money situation and my health situation, I may take breaks back in America between legs of the trip, to work & to rest.  It’s likely to start the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, December 7th.   The whole sabbatical, including this prep time in October/November and any work breaks that may occur, should take anywhere from 9 to 15 months.

Here are the places in the world I think I will go:

  • Chiang Mai, Thailand – about 2 months.  Good for meditating and writing.
  • Kokrobite, Ghana – about 1 month.  Good for playing music & writing.
  • Montpellier, France – about 3 months.  Good for French & writing.
  • Salvador, Brazil – about 3 months.  Good for Portuguese, playing music & writing.

Medium sized places where I can settle in and live inexpensively but well, while I concentrate on doing creative things I did not make time for when I was working in corporate america.  The cost of living in all these places is half the price per month of my current lifestyle in New York, or less.

The hard part now is keeping it simple enough that these are the places and not many more, and not giving in to the one-city-a-day type of trip.  Those types of trips are fun as well and I want to do that at some point, but that’s not the purpose of this trip now. Besides, in NYC you can already be in Bangkok one day, Athens the day after, Saigon the next.  It’s called Queens, people.

The even harder part is pulling the trigger on the plane tickets.  That’s where I have to face myself.  It’s a profoundly selfish act, long term travel, a pure indulgence of modern times for some lucky modern Western people.  I didn’t think I would ever be one of those people.  After college I was too broke, had student loans & credit card debt, and no one to spot me $5k to backpack around Europe.  That was clearly something retarded that only white people did, anyway.  Similarly with study abroad.  I didn’t need to go to Africa to experience how poor blacks lived; that was just silly considering I had grown up in the projects.  I had to start working right away if I expected to live, and besides other people were going to need my help soon enough.  Same thing after grad school.  I literally started working 6 days after graduation.  Yeah, I had to do it that way.

But somewhere along the line I began to feel entitled, too.  I guess that means my education was a success; I was finally able to at least partially adopt the entitlement mentality of my upper middle class friends from school.  So, travel: I deserved it, I would save up the money and time for it, and I would actually do it, later in life.

But now that it is later in life and I’ve done all that, I’ve saved for it and I’ve arranged it all very responsibly yada yada yada; I still feel a gnawing sense of unease about doing this trip.  What is that feeling?  Is it guilt? Yeah, maybe that’s it. I should be attending to my responsibilities, adding to my 401(k), taking care of my parents better, trying to get married and have a baby before it’s too late, putting money on a down payment on a condo; and above all being grateful about my ability to do all those things when so many people I grew up with will never be able to.

Furthermore, I claim I am going on this trip to try and be more of a Buddhist, but there is nothing Buddhist about burning fossil fuel to travel around the world, living simple by choice when others have to do so because of bad luck or fate.  All this centering I’m looking for I can get at home; no fancy trip necessary.  And I know that.  So why I am I still going?

Fundamentally, I’m going ahead with this trip because I don’t think I’m primarily feeling guilt right now, I’m primarily feeling fear and I want to beat that.  Specifically, I want to divorce myself from my fear based habits of saving & planning.  Saving, planning, preparing have helped me tremendously in life but have become bad for me.   I’ve spent my whole life planning, saving, waiting, plotting, outlining.  At work, I get paid to do that as well.  And I’m pretty good at it now, too.  I like the video games best where you can do that, the RPGs.  I spent 30 hours in Mass Effect II probing planets for minerals so that I could upgrade my team.  This was completely boring and it hurt my thumb.  Then, I spent less than 5 hours actually putting that maxed out, super upgraded squad to work. Now that’s good planning.

But it’s not good living.  I’m beginning to feel my real life is kinda like that video game. Not that it occurs in space (although it does!), but that it occurs in plans and not in reality.   I’ve spent 35 careful years preparing, saving, planning for the next step.  All good things.  The problem with that, though, is you end up living this fearful life that is always happening in the future.   But here is the deal: life is actually happening right now.  Right dammit now.  You can’t save ANY of it up.  I just now heard about this.

Furthermore, sometimes your plans go to shit.  Sometimes stuff happens and you just have to react and deal.  Sometimes you get things you didn’t plan for and therefore don’t deserve.  Good things and bad things.  Sometimes everything works out despite your plan.  In any case, you can’t know,  so being ready is a bit of an illusion. It all happens live.  In the now.  Ready or not.  Over planning then is just a crutch for scaredy cats like me.  I’ve been planning so long for so many things, I forgot eventually you are supposed to act on that shit, in the real world and in the present.  I didn’t forget to act, actually.  I was just afraid to.

So, as embarrassingly indulgent as it may be now, I’m going on this trip to teach myself to be less responsible(?), to stop striving and scheming and instead live in the now; and to stop being so afraid.  I’m taking some cherished plans off the shelf and now I’m going to actually do.   For the next year at least, no new items are going on my to do list.  I’m going to spend my days crossing items off by actually DOING them, frivolous items that are fun to do right now and that won’t gain me cash or status, all the while daring things to go wrong or right in real life.  And I will do so in a series random foreign countries where I’m less likey to be distracted by the grinding middle class project of accumulation and self betterment going on all around us, whose only purpose really is to shield us from living in the now, because the shit happening right now is always so terrifying.

Leaving your nice job and living in the third world is a tough way to learn to plan less and do more (I’m not worried about France, France will be lovely), but I’ve been exceptionally hard headed on this.  As a college buddy of mine (also from “the ghetto”) was fond of saying, “Experience is a dear teacher, but fools will learn no other way”.  I have been that kind of fool with regards to living in the now, a basic Buddhist teaching and frankly the only way to live once you realize you really are going to die (like, for realz); so I’m going to give myself one hell of long, hard (& hopefully not too dear) lesson.

Oh, and it’s going to be fun.  So that’s the plan.

Have you ever been to any of these places? Comments & tips welcome!

If you have time off, come join me for a week or two!

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