Dateline: Birky, Ukraine
I’ve been quiet lately, I know. Since I last wrote, I’ve been to Karde, Estonia; Riga, Latvia; and a little town called Nida on the coast of Lithuania. I spent two weeks immersed in Russian language classes in Kiev, and I’m currently nestled into my DIY writer’s retreat in the countryside of western Ukraine, near Lviv. I have a lot of writing to catch up on.
I go dark when my thoughts are in flux and I fear committing myself to the published word. It’s been a little over six months since I started this nomadic lifestyle, and during this time I’ve been peeling away layers of myself like an onion. Or, perhaps a better analogy is the statue of David, which Michelangelo carved out of a single block of marble by “cutting away everything that was not David.” But Michelangelo had a clear vision of what the end result should look like; I, on the other hand, do not.
Each destination is like an outfit that I’m trying on to see how it fits. I’ve seen that while I enjoy cities, my entire being lights up when I’m immersed in nature and silence (apparently it’s a scientifically proven thing!). I’ve confirmed that my initial gut reaction to a place – even as early as my arrival at the airport or train station — is spot-on and rarely changes. And I’ve learned that I will need to go deeper: skating along the surface of each place in tourist mode is deeply unfulfilling. After visiting a couple charming towns with cobblestone streets, I feel like I’ve seen them all and don’t even bother to pull out my camera. I don’t want to be yet another travel blogger.
How to go deeper? For what purpose? I’ve known that I want to write a book, but choosing one of a thousand possible angles felt impossible… slippery somehow, with nothing firm or obvious to grab as a foothold. So this past week I came out of my self-induced hibernation to chat with two dear and brilliant friends, each of whom sparked ideas and trains of thought.
A sense of place
I don’t even remember how this topic came up with my friend in real-estate development, but mid-conversation I had the “holy crap yes!” realization that a sense of place is the intersection point for travel and identity. I know I’m onto something when initial ideas lead endlessly deeper into the cave of possibility: place also means community, which is linked to belonging and home, two ideas that are highly resonant with me as a military brat and lifelong nomad… and of course belonging is a universal human need and frequent topic of conversation in the nomad forums on Facebook.
I now have an entry point into a hearty topic that I can use to give some direction and purpose to my travels and writing. And you may notice, dear reader, that I’ve changed the title of my blog to Where I Find Myself. I love the double meaning of travel and identity, and I feel like this phrase captures what the heck I’m doing with this nomadic adventure I’m on.
It’s the question that drives us
The book-idea problem is subsumed by a larger issue that is profoundly existential. Sometimes I wake up and wonder what the hell I’m doing and why. A couple months ago I thought I knew the answer: “Because I’ve always wanted to live overseas. Because I prize freedom and want to liberate myself from the shackles of should.” More recently I’ve come to realize that this nomad leap is also the equivalent of pulling the emergency brake for the whole world; I wanted off this damned never-ending ride called Life to catch my breath. I’ll write more about this in my Lithuania post. But now it’s time to climb back on, and I’ve been in a bit of analysis paralysis on the best way to do that.
My creative-writing friend prodded me to figure out the question I’m trying to answer; not just for the book, but for my life. She explained that when we find the right question, the answers appear and writing can flow endlessly. Knowing the question can give purpose to my journey instead of aimlessly wandering around waiting for inspiration to strike. I first wrote down some questions along lines of…
- Can I be more successful doing what I love rather than the typical corporate path? Like a Russian doll, within this question lies more questions: can I be more successful where and how I want to work? What does success really mean to me, anyway? And will changing my career actually make me happier and more fulfilled?
- By stepping out of the world as I know it, how much can I grow as a human being? What happens when I venture solo into the unknown and embrace solitude? This is the archetypal hero’s journey that I’m enacting physically, not just metaphorically.
- How significantly are our identities influenced by place? Is it true that people are the same anywhere and everywhere, or is there a “right” place for each of us that we need to find in order to thrive?
- What is the Matrix? Just kidding. Sort of.
I pushed “publish.” I thought I was done.
But when I woke up this morning I knew the question. It’s a question that’s hard for me to write because I’ve been searching for an answer my entire life.
Where do I belong?
I’m afraid of this question, because I fear that I won’t find an answer. That I’ll search the entire world and come up empty. And then what? I suppose I’ll have the small comfort of knowing for sure. The good news is that the past six months have given me a realization that I can feel at home anywhere… that I’ve grown confident and settled in my own skin. And I’m also discovering that belonging is a recipe of place plus people like me, and I’ve found these ingredients separately before. Perhaps the answer to this question will come from deeply understanding who I really am so that I can find my tribe.
Now that I’m gaining a bit more clarity, I’ll be a bit more honest with myself and with you, dear reader, about what I’m really looking for.
I’m curious, dear reader, whether you’ve asked any of these questions yourself. Or are there other questions in this same vein that keep you up at night? If so, please share. Or simply click “like” below if you liked this article and are interested in more. I always appreciate the feedback!