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Tag: home

Figuring it out. Or not.

The summer sky at home

A view I won’t easily give up

It’s sometimes hard to feel like you’re progressing in any way when the few things that are really important to you are the ones you cannot, and will not ever be able to, control.

I often feel like I am living out a spectacular comedy of errors. A hilarious, shifting, personal disaster in which I think I know what I want and what is going on right in front of me, but the universe, like clockwork, reminds me that it’s not so and never will be.

Humbling as that may be, it’s hard to learn it. It’s hard to digest that you are not the only one feeling this way, or being awkward, or not understanding what you might actually want all the time. Even if, as I’ve been trying to do more, you consciously remind yourself that the people sitting in the room with you are probably feeling as conflicted and chaotic and drained and ecstatic and turned-around as you are – in their own world, it’s just as weird.

You can read books or listen to songs or watch movies that feel like they are speaking directly to you about your current state of mind on love, life, politics, animals, technology, whatever. And those things come from actual humans and you know that. You can have a conversation with one of your friends in which you feel he may as well be speaking off a record made of your own brain tissue because he’s perfectly articulating how you feel about work at the moment, even though he’s telling you how HE feels about HIS work. You can have a discussion with another friend about travelling alone as a woman that reminds you why you’re doing what you’re doing, and why other people are bold enough to do it too, and what The Point Of It All is.

These things can happen and you can recognise that you’re all in it together – one big boat of humanity (I’m on a boat!) – and everyone is doing their best with it. But despite all the evidence, you just can’t get inside it, so it’s sometimes hard to make yourself believe you aren’t slowly going mad in your own little bubble.

I know everyone has their own personal internal battles with what they hell they should be doing and where they should be going. Sometimes knowing that helps me with my own. But it’s a lot like having a certainty that there are countless parallel universes that you can’t even fathom – it’s comforting to imagine, but none of them will ever beam you the answers.

I don’t know where I want to be most of the time. I can’t pick a side. I exist on this spectrum in between things. In work I can’t define what it is I’m best at, aside from connecting the things other people are best at and hopefully making them better. (Hey hey, liberal arts education at its finest!) But it’s pretty hard to articulate that. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to have picked a track, like doctor or lawyer or something, and know that that’s me for life. Mostly. I know that’s not how it usually plays out forever and ever, and I know most people are actually like me in that there’s not one thing they’re just MADE to do. And that’s fine. This isn’t really a complaint – it’s standard human frustration.

I like the idea of job security, but I have absolutely no desire to be on any kind of career track and I get restless pretty easily. (I feel like that should dovetail pretty well with my wanderlust.) I just want to learn. Make stuff. Make stuff work. Fix stuff. Figure stuff out. But it doesn’t always particularly matter what kind of stuff. I don’t need to be in charge or get any kind of grand recognition, I just need to see things happen. Results. Ticking things off the Big List. Even tiny ones no one else particularly cares about.

My motivation to plan or DO shit has a slow-motion, tsunami-sized ebb and flow. When things are moving, they are moving big and fast, but when they’re not, it’s hard to fight the drain. And then it’s easy to start questioning the work I’m meant to be doing or the thing I’m trying to make work.

It’s the same with all these travel goals I have. Sometimes I’m all over the planning, and sometimes I just think: WHAT. This list is getting out of hand and I would like a nap now because I am too exhausted to picture the end result.

The idea of going of on some never-ending trip is appealing in a sort of romantic sense, and some days I think it would be amazing. But I also really love home. I love my flat. I love Edinburgh. I love feeling like I am where I belong. Finally. Which is slightly ridiculous because I can’t even stick with just one nationality, but then that is the pull of the world on me.

I have been looking at the year ahead, the finite amount of money and time ticking away, and I’ve been having trouble placing definitions on what it is I want to do. I know I’m not alone in this, but when you have the conviction to start an entire blog about shifting your life to accommodate a particular travel goal, it seems somehow more important to keep public track of your continuous internal dialogue on the matter.

(And if you’ve got this far, it’s an awful lot of dialogue, eh? So, I salute you. We’re nearly there.)

I have a personal absolute minimum goal of spending at least a month on this trans-Siberian adventure. Life shifts, goals and budgets and all manner of other things change, but that much I know, and I suppose that’s a lot more than I can say for any other area of my life. Beyond that, I’ve been trying to come up with the maximum I’d like to shoot for. Or even that I can handle. (On my own at least.)

The more I think about it, the more it creeps in around the 3-month mark. Somehow this is disappointing to me. Perhaps because I feel like I should want to be away for longer. But I’m finding that I just don’t think I do.

Starting over is hard. So. Fucking. Hard. I have lived in the same flat for nearly 8 years and I love it to bits. It is practically a part of me. I moved around so much when I was little and I’ve lived in a lot of places that never felt like they were somewhere I or my family truly belonged. The places I have the strongest attachments to are the places where people have installed themselves. The places my grandmothers still live in, and maybe my favourite house in the world, my parents’ friends’ house, which I recently got to see again after over a decade. They still live there and it still feels like the homiest home I have ever been in.

I really want to own a place. Eventually. But the place I am now has evolved with me and the minute I go start over and buy somewhere, I start that nesting period over again. That’s a different kind of adventure, and a worthy one, but a sense of home is a hard thing to let go of when you have it for yourself for the first time. I do also think when you have a partner, another person can be home, but right now it’s just me, so it becomes about a physical place because making it about just you – being complete and sane AND being your own home – is too much of a burden to put on yourself.

If you’re travelling indefinitely, you have the option to not think about permanence for a while. But I want to think about it. I want the best of both worlds like I always do. I want to skip off to another country for a month or two and be able to settle right back into my own space when I’m tired of that.

There is nothing impossible about that particular lifestyle. It just requires a whole lot of money that I don’t and won’t have.

So as with so many things, this becomes about compromise. And I don’t even have another person to compromise with, it’s just the two sides of me. It’s pretty hard to reason with yourself. I’d much prefer having to sort it out with another human with their own muddle of views and reasons. There might be an argument or two but it somehow seems a cleaner, more defined process when there’s a separate entity involved.

For now, I think being home will tell me why I want to travel, and being away will remind me why it’s so important not to stay away. I just have to figure out how to make that work. In my head and in real life.


…and that was pretty heavy, so, yaknow, I’m gonna go eat a cookie or something. I suggest you do the same.

Ducks on the wall

Wonderful Copenhagen poster

You best make way for ducklings.

So, ten whole years ago when I was on my first backpacking adventure, I saw this poster in the hostel in Copenhagen and absolutely loved it. Of course I did. Because: DUCKS!

For years it was one of the things I always wanted to find for my own wall. And 2 or 3 Christmases ago, I went a-Googling and found it online from an actual Danish poster shop. Apparently it’s a pretty famous poster in Denmark. Not too surprising because it’s awesome. But I love that it got even more famous because it accidentally won an international competition.

In any case, it’s kind of big, and it doesn’t fit a standard frame size. I’ve held onto it for ages without actually putting it up because I couldn’t afford to get it professionally framed (it would have cost about £100) and I am past the point of putting up posters with tacks unless they’re in my closet.

So there’s this giant Ribba frame at IKEA that’s alllmost right, which I know because I’ve got another poster in one. It’s just a bit too wide. But I was recently looking at my pictures from that first trip (yes, I totally took a picture of this poster on the wall) and noticed that the frame the hostel used to hang the poster as I originally saw it was ALSO a bit wide. And, IKEA being as wonderfully ubiquitous as it is, I can only assume they just decided to go with the cheap, easy option so they could get the thing up.

This motivated me to do the same, style and class be damned. Now the imperfection of the frame reminds me of that trip just as much as the poster does. And it is FINALLY on my wall after a whole decade.

Flying home

Edinburgh just before landing

Hey, I can see my house!

When you fly into Edinburgh, the plane always comes in the same way. From the south, you pop out of the clouds somewhere over Dunbar and turn left over the Forth, slingshotting around Bass Rock like it’s some kind of waterfowl-covered moon. You then continue to drop, more or less parallel to shore from North Berwick, sloping in over the coast just before Cramond and skimming over the rail line just before touching down.

This sometimes makes for a bumpy ride, as there is often WEATHER over the Forth. The time I came in from Orkney in a very small plane, I was pretty sure we were going to be tossed unceremoniously from the sky, and had visions of my unsecured backpack conking me out before I knew what was happening as it flew off the seat adjacent (the flight attendants get very laid back about luggage the smaller and more rural the flight).

However, it also makes for one of the loveliest returns home I have ever known. Despite being an aisle seat lady, this view ensures I pick seat A on the last leg of any trip whenever I can. Preferably somewhere just behind the wing. I can stand to be cramped up for an hour or so if it means seeing Edinburgh from this angle. In any light or weather, it’s just the best. To visitors and natives, I highly recommend it. (If you end up on the right side of the plane instead, you’ll get a cracking view of the bridges.)

To top it off, there’s this fantastic truth when you come ambling out of the airport, which I also love fiercely and look forward to every time. It’s great to see when you’re at the start of an adventure too. I seriously hope this ad campaign runs forever.

RBS 'This is home' campaign at Edinburgh Airport

Yes it is.


Forth bridges

Bridges! Those are good metaphors for getting citizenship, right? Right.

My plan, for a while now, has been to sort out my British citizenship as a Christmas present to myself this year. That’s a very shiny present, considering the cost. I would have loved to have done it earlier, so I could have cast a real vote in the Referendum, but Indefinite Leave to Remain put a hit on my bank account, and I’m still paying for Africa, so in the interest of financially sound decision making, citizenship had to maintain its later position on the List Of Things To Do Next.

This is important to do before heading off on any big adventure, for logistical reasons, and also because dammit, it’s been a long time coming and I want to make my home as official as it possibly can be. I am COMMITTED.

The logistics bit is mainly about time. When you apply for citizenship, you can only have been out of the country for a certain number of days in the year leading up to your application (and a larger number covering the 5 leading years). Any multi-month gallivanting I may want to do will probably scream past that number, so for me, it’s out of the question to take any such trip without a British passport firmly in hand.

I think it’s really weird, by the way, that I’m going to be the kind of person who has two passports in the very near future. It’s so fancy.

Getting that passport and the status that comes with it is about more than convenience though. For one thing, it allows me to vote. I vote in major US elections, but I’ve always done it by absentee ballot. And obviously I’ve never voted HERE. It’s kind of weird to make it to 30 without ever voting IN the country that claims you. So that’s pretty important to me. Citizenship also means I have the full rights of, well, a citizen, which means access to public funds should I ever need them and the full protection of the state in general. I’ll also be a citizen of the European Union, which means I can live and work anywhere in it. I don’t intend to move to the continent, but permission to do so is a nice thing to have in your arsenal.

Outside of all the practical stuff, it is actually important to me that I’m a citizen of my own home. I’ve been here 8 years now and I feel like I’ve proven my dedication to this place. I’ve lived in Edinburgh longer than any other place I’ve ever lived, and for all my post-college life. If I had to move back to the US, I’d be lost. It’s a different world. Not a bad one, but a little foreign to me in the bizarre way that only expats probably experience.

I’m also ready to be done with the visa process. I am WELL acquainted with the UKBA (now UK Visas and Immigration, actually). I’ve had many, many different visas. Some that don’t even exist anymore because of how often the rules change. I’ve done mountains of paperwork, spent tons of money, and had an awful lot of stress on my plate. And I’m just a white girl from America so it’s been relatively straightforward for me.

It’s easy for me to forget that most people don’t have to think about these things. When someone asks me how I got to stay or what one has to do to get a particular flavour of visa, I start reeling of info like it’s the most common of knowledge. Like my brain can’t compute that this is not just how everyone experiences the world. Lucky for them, it’s not. It does prove though, that you’ll pretty much do anything for something important to you. The visa stuff over the years has been a hassle, but I never once considered giving up on it, even in the most grim moments. (I even had a lawyer for the most recent round! A great one at that. Helping me learn that, no, you can’t ALWAYS do everything on your own, and you don’t have to. Experts exist for a reason.)

Anyway. Fighting for my place here has never been an option. And it’s not something I’d let go of easily.

My current visa is Indefinite Leave to Remain (One Visa To Rule Them All), so I don’t really need to get another one. I could stay on it forever. But I’m not interested in that kind of limbo. I’ve taken my Life in the UK test, I’ve poured a significant chunk of money into the system, and I’m ready to make it official. All that’s left is one more form, a few character references, some new (bad) passport photos, and about £1000. (And let’s be honest, probably a fairly significant waiting period. My ILR took 3 months.)

Once I’ve got it, I’ll do a bit of searching through my records and try to figure out exactly how much money I’ve spent on the process in the past decade. Facts and figures! I’ve not kept track so it’ll be an enlightening exercise. But whatever the number is, I will feel it was worth it.