Soaring Away (Happily)

My soul is tethered to a sail, I think. I feel a tug to follow the wind wherever it may go. There are times of course where that sail is rolled away and stowed, when I need to focus on people or life at home but that connection never severs; waiting, hibernating. And when my soul’s sail unfurls and that rush catches me I can’t help but want to seek out every edge of the earth.

Right now I’m in the Philippines on the island of Palawan, a place that easily lives up to its reputation as The Most Beautiful Island in the World. To say that I’m happy right now is such an obvious understatement it’s almost silly, but there you have it. I’m happy here.

I’ve been anticipating this trip for a long time, as months ago I’d found an incredible deal on flights and bought two tickets on the spot before my brain could tell me not to. I wasn’t sure who my travel companion would be but I was willing to bet I could talk someone into going with me; either that or I’d go alone again since the cost of two tickets was still less than I’d been expecting to spend on only one. And, again, I’m happy with how it’s worked out now that my boyfriend, Mike, decided to leap into travelling with me. He might not have been certain at first on the idea of being on the other side of the world with me but he’s been great – always up for adventure and willing to look for the positives in any situation.

It’s early morning as I write this post, and I’ve been sitting at a small table in the sunny courtyard of the hostel. A few minutes ago a little boy walked up to me to show me something. I smiled at him and was expecting to have to try to kindly tell him I wasn’t buying anything, but he just wanted to show me his toys. In a moment he was sitting down and playing beside me. Happiness personified in a sweet little face, even though he was more interested in playing with the camera than smiling for it. My new buddy, Zander

Yesterday Mike and I were able to see a little more of Palawan when we joined a day trip tour to an underground river. The scenery was spectacular, and while I sat in the canoe marvelling at the mangroves surrounding us the guide would point out something new to notice every few minutes. I loved how proud he was to show us a bit of his world. In fact, I was impressed all around with how well the community of Puerto Princesa has worked to develop sustainable tourism. I don’t know with any certainty but it feels like this area has tried to learn from its other SE Asia neighbours and avoid some of the problems that have plagued other top destinations. I think it’ll be successful, and I hope more people are able to come experience Palawan.Monitor Lizard crossing

How lucky am I that I’m able to soar away with the wind like this? To see the kinds of places filled with a kind-hearted population like this? This wind in my sails is calm and steady again as I contentedly coast along here in the Philippines.

The man I was married to

The man I was married to was a good man.  He was kind, so handsome, talented, and full of a charisma that drew in everyone who met him.  Descriptions of him list like a thesaurus of “good”; admirable, attractive, commendable, estimable, laudable, rare.  He was good to me.

But not good for me.

It’s difficult to draw that distinction properly, in a way that captures all the subtle nuances of an eight-year marriage without minimizing or ‘monsterising’ either one of us.   And I want to be careful, as despite it all, his feelings and pride still matter to me.  I know how much he would hate to be a public topic, but this is my story and I’ve decided it’s important for me to tell even if it makes him uncomfortable.  There could be other people hurting in the same way and may need to see that life can be better even after the broken hearts.

I am a sunny optimist by nature; a bright-eyed, blue skies, glass-almost-full kind of person; and generally it’s been easy for me to dismiss negatives in my life.  Overall I’m thankful for this, but there are some drawbacks with this aptitude.  The man I was married to thought that I was disingenuous and somehow putting on a show with my smiles instead of being honest about how I really felt.  I think early on he may have admired the way I saw the best in any situation, but the years eroded that to a sharp resentment.  He viewed me as falsely sugary and insipid, and every time he snapped at me when I said something silly it stung.  So I would try to be less somehow – I learned he hated it when I would add some comment about the ‘bright side’ of whatever he was talking about as it made him feel like I wasn’t on his side.  In all our years together I was never, ever, able to cheer him up out of a bad mood.  We just had to wait until he’d had enough alone time to work through whatever he was feeling.   Then the next hour /or day/ or week/ or whenever he was ready, he’d give me a kiss and be all smiles and the tension I’d tiptoed around with would melt away.   I believed everything was ok after each time and he believed he was doing what he had to by acting like it was ok.  We were both wrong.

The man I was married to seemed like the most social person in any room.  His big laugh would echo and his stories would draw in a crowd.  I loved being by his side when we were out.  For me, being in a group is energizing and I would want to be with friends or meet new people every possible chance, so at first his magnetism worked in my favour.  But it was exhausting for him.  He wasn’t gregarious in a crowd because he loved it; he acted that way as a coping skill to handle his anxiety.  He felt if he were the one always in control of the conversation, then there was less chance for him to be embarrassed or for an awkward situation to catch him off guard.  But I was the wild card for him and my interpretations and way of interacting with others never made sense to him, so I would be quietly shushed.  I know now that he wasn’t trying to be cruel to me, it was more a symptom of his own internal struggle, but despite his intentions this was incredibly damaging to me.  Each time he would shoot me that look to stop talking, each fight in the car home after an outing where he felt I had done some unforgivable social blunder, every time he spoke over me so I couldn’t have my own voice in the crowd, I took to heart.  I would stay quieter and second-guess every comment I would make and be too nervous to add to the conversation.   So you can see how this could be a vicious cycle.  I think that in our later years together this man who was supposed to know me better than anyone genuinely believed that I wasn’t interested in conversation.  He told me I was a snob and that I embarrassed him by being so unfriendly to everyone.

The man I was married to did his best to treat me well.  He always opened every door for me, started my car in the winter, and would often hold my hand or touch my back while we were out together.  I was so encouraged by the tiny little gestures he would do for me and believed they were to show me I was loved.  Maybe they were.  Maybe they were actions born from an intense fear of what people thought of him, so in case anyone was watching he better treat ‘his wife’ in a manner they would approve of.  And that’s the crux of it as I’ve learned after the marriage fell apart.  It was so important to him to “Be A Good Husband” as a personal checklist that it didn’t even matter to him he no longer knew me or loved me.  I was a placeholder rather than a person.  We married young and very fast, before we really had a chance to get to know each other, and for years we then thought that we just needed to make the best of it because it was too late.  I remember saying to friends years ago about how if we had only been dating still in that first year we would have broken up for sure.  Said in a flippant and smiley ‘good thing we’re married so we’re still together and working it out’ kind of way.  Ugh.

Steve and Alison Larsen Wedding
2007

The man I was married to used to tell me that he didn’t want to hear my insecurities.  He would say that he was attracted to me so I shouldn’t tell him when I hated my hair or felt like I didn’t fit into my clothes because then those comments might get in his head and possibly change the way he saw me.  And these were said in our good days, so I believed him and would do my best to hide my self-doubt from my husband.  It takes years to catch and change those patterns but I really worked hard at it.   Over the years he gradually he stopped complimenting me.  I couldn’t post photos that I looked good in because he didn’t like that I might not seem modest.  And then he said to me:  “You are so vain you make me sick.”  He may have regretted the comment because I was so hurt by it, but I know those were words he meant and not just said in anger.   It’s too bad he was so wrong.  Or, along the same lines:  He would tell me at various times how it bugged him that I was not content; why couldn’t I just be happy with life as it was and not always want to be somewhere else?  Or then he’d say he didn’t like my lack of ambition and why couldn’t I just try harder to find something to excel at?   There were a few times in our eight years (3 to be exact) that I was offered an incredible ‘dream job’ and he would start off happy for me and supportive, but then abruptly pull his support and say that my choice would end our marriage if I accepted the job.  I asked him after the fact about those times, and he admitted that he never believed I would actually be hired so he wanted to try to seem supportive, until he couldn’t.

I know that last paragraph seems negative, but I look at it as a symptom of his own struggles.  He wanted so badly to genuinely be good to me and to everyone else but there was more going on in his head than he was able to handle.  And this has all been from my side of the story – I know he has his side.  I didn’t understand him, and likely brought out the worst in him.  I hope that the man I was married to has found the help he needed, in whatever form that may be, and that now he may stop torturing himself with an unnecessary and unobtainable goal of being perfection to everyone else.  I hope he has good people around him who bring out the best in him.

I allowed a hurting man to erase my own self confidence, but I’m lucky that I have people around me now who are helping me to believe that I’m worth talking to.  With each tiny affirmation from family, friends, and even fellow travellers I’ve met, I feel my own personality returning and the confidence to own who I am, flaws and all.   I thank God for healing broken hearts.   I learned a lot from the man I was married to and am starting to be able to see the good I can keep from the memories of him, hopefully it’s made me a more empathetic person.  There’s a new boyfriend now, one who is good FOR me as well as good to me.

If you recognize yourself in any part of this story, please seek out help.  Don’t wait.  Talk to a therapist or find counselling.  If medication is needed for anxiety or any other mental health struggle please know there is no shame in accepting a prescription.  If you are hurting, or being hurt, there are people who can help.  Mental and emotional health are an important part of the equation along with physical…. don’t forget that.

– Ali

 

 

 

Moving Forward

Forget Your Past.  I hear well meaning people say things like this a lot, and it’s generally really good advice, in the context it’s meant.  Or, it’s hard to spend 10 minutes online without seeing some variation of this as an inspirational poster:   Don’t Look Back.    Yes, yes. By all means, do not get so tangled worrying about your past mistakes that you tie up today.

I’ve been thinking a lot about moving forward again lately, so of course I’ve heard heaps of this.  I appreciate the advice, I do.  I’m just feeling contrary right now.  There’s so much still that I want to be able to remember with a smile, or tears when they come; and I think I may even be in a phase where I need to look to my personal history in order to figure out my best next moves.  Some of this I mean tongue-in-cheek, too, like how I need to look back at my past travels in order to sustain me through this current flightfamine I’m in.  Travel is my personal nourishment, and I’m fading away – my malnourished sense of adventure dwindling daily while I drudge to my desk.

So my next few posts will be all about looking back in order to move forward.  First step: Get deliciously lost in my memories and daydreams of previous trips while I look to start writing here again.  Second step: Gain back some momentum with my travel blog, thus inspiring myself enough again to find a way to convince my employer I’m due for a week (at least) off.  Third: Pounce on that time off and zip away to explore some more of this big beautiful world, camera and laptop in tow for the blog!     And in that happy frame of mind again, I fully expect to be able to sort out all these other life details I need to get to.

So that’s what I’m going to do.  I can’t wait to tell you about my time in the Democratic Republic of the Congo!

 

 

Crabby Cabbies

This post starts off with a disclaimer: the following may not be as nice as the usual tone of my average posts.  But I am sitting in the backseat of a taxi right now, hoping I’m on my way to the airport, still trying to quell my tense unease.
It started about 10 minutes ago when I walked out of my very fancy hotel room, in a major American city and right downtown, into the misty rainy night.   I saw three taxi cabs at the curb right in front of me, and I hesitated for a moment in case there was a queue. I tried to make eye contact with the drivers of each to see if there was an order, and when none seemed to move I took another step forward. The driver of the cab directly in front of me smiled, so I started towards that car. He opened the trunk and just as he was lifting my bag there was a furious blare of a horn behind us. For a split second I instinctively thought a car crash was happening in the intersection, but as my eyes registered the angry arms and clenched fists I saw it was clearly no accident. Into our stunned immobility started walking a sight that added another layer to my disbelief of the current events. Long white hair, stringy, uneven and matted, topped a faded black denim coat layered open over a green plaid flannel jacket and dirty t-shirt. The most nightmarish Santa-in-opposite you could imagine.  This was the other driver, coming out of a branded and licensed city taxi cab, livid over an accidental slight. The first driver set down my bag and started backing away with apologies in an attempt to appease.  I stopped him and said I didn’t want to ride in a car with such a furious driver.  By this time the doorman of the hotel appeared and tried to diffuse the situation.    The angry driver was placated and I was informed he had been in line and was the next due for a passenger. I shrank back, and said again I wasn’t comfortable getting into that car now on my own and I would like take another ride. To which the doorman asked “hey, you spooked her. Are you ok to drive?” as he Placed.My.Bag.In.The.Trunk!  I still didn’t move and was protesting again when I realized that I seemed to be the only one fazed by this outburst.   I suddenly noticed a uniformed security guard standing about a metre away, eyes down, and many other people at the hotel entrance and on the sidewalk. The doorman’s voice pulled back at my attention and I heard him say softly “it’s ok now, he’ll be alright. Get in, you’ll be fine.”

So I did. 

And my stomach clenched with unease the entire time. 

In the time it took me to write the above paragraphs I arrived at my destination but the story isn’t finished yet.  At least now you know I’m safe.  The ride was anything but fine, though, with my internal monologue churning; asking myself if this guy was drunk (probably not) or homeless (so what if he is? It’s good he’s working, right!?) to wondering if I should worry about being kidnapped (doubtful) or not arriving at the airport on time (much more likely).  The first five or so minutes of the drive passed with the car giving the little chime warning of a seatbelt undone.  I watched as he spent a few minutes reaching behind him and fussing with the seatbelt he had fastened behind him, then suddenly he tells me “I’m not going anywhere” as he stops the car in the middle of a residential street. My fight-or-flight response revved high again as he opens his door and got out; and I’m not sure it was actually relief when I saw he was only getting up to stretch the still-buckled shoulder harness across him.  As we drove off again he explained to me that “this seatbelt was the trickiest one he’d ever seen.”  We lurched on in the darkness, the car constantly changing speed as he see-sawed his foot on the gas pedal with sporadic regularity.  Any time I would look up at him or our surroundings I would imagine myself peeping through my fingers, though of course I was much too polite to actually let him know I was terrified, other than a quiet frightened gasp that escaped my lips once.  He cursed to himself after veering for an exit and missing it, which prompted me to stop writing and look again at my google maps. “Did we make a wrong turn?” I asked him sweetly when I saw we were not where we should be and he grumbled he missed the North Access road in a manner suggesting someone else was at fault. I watched him as he hunched forward over the steering wheel to peer out past the windshield wipers and rain and I spent the rest of the drive simultaneously in silent prayer, writing the beginning of this post, AND watching my map to help guide him. 
An eternity later, I finally stepped out of the car and collected my suitcase, nearly 45 minutes after I walked out of the hotel. It seemed exponentially longer than the 30-35 minutes I had expected! I asked the driver his name, and made a mental note of the car number and company with the full intention of writing a complaint to the company and also the hotel…. maybe I still will, but by now I’m not so sure. As I sit safely in my cozy airplane seat, writing out the rest of this, my main emotion is sadness for this driver.  I feel bad for him, because as I spoke to him briefly he seemed to brighten, giving me a glimpse that he’s probably had a very hard life and I worry how my complaint may affect him. Then I think that even though he may need the job, should he really be driving the public?? I don’t know yet what I’ll do…. 

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The ironic part of me writing out this story (Entirely True Story!) is that I had been mulling a bit about crabby cabbies already before this happened. Last week I was on the other side of the USA in a small city with a decidedly back-woods vibe. (I’m choosing to withhold names, obviously)  Again, as it was tonight, that morning I was alone leaving a hotel and on my way to an airplane.  When the taxi finally pulled up, my first thought was to giggle and look around if I was being pranked.  The car was an ancient rust bucket painted lime green.  I could smell old cigarettes before I even got in, and as the driver opened his door to stow my suitcase he drawled “I hope you haven’t been waiting too long… I had to stop and make sure my Momma ate her lunch.”  This was going to be my most crazy cab story – until tonight!  During our short drive he proceeded to tell me all about his family squabbles; a nephew that stole his mother’s car, a good-for-nothin’ brother, and his sweet momma with her dementia.  All this and much more I learned over the blast of his old classic rock radio, while I did my best to nod and not look too shocked.  When I handed him my visa to pay he launched into a tirade against big banks, and how he gets charged for each credit purchase… At least he was sweet in his complaining.  He spoke to me as if I were a trusted co-conspirator with him, us against my the world, and the grin he gave me when I was able to find enough cash to pay with instead of my card made me glad I was able to.

I feel like I should wrap up with saying that this is not my normal transportation experience.  I haven’t run the stats, but for effect I’d say 95% of the taxi and Uber drivers I’ve had have been great, 4.9% have just been fine, and only 0.1% make me worry.     But a good driver isn’t likely to make a good blog story! 

Angkor Wat Again

It’s -26 degrees celsius where I live right now, and as if that isn’t horrific enough we have the distinct displeasure of a windchill bringing the feel of the temperature to -33.   Yes that’s actually true and not a typo.  I have a cup of tea, a big cozy blanket, and blinds over the window so I don’t have to see the wintery misery outside; I’m directing my focus solely to happier memories of warmer climates!  And my first trip down memory lane brought me back to Cambodia, which I remember being more along the lines of 30 degrees celsius above zero instead of below.   Ahhhhh, feeling warmer already….

But I don’t think I’m going to write much tonight since I’m feeling much more visual than verbal.  Instead how about a few more of my pictures from Angkor Wat out of the 250 or so I took that day?

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These women came to Angkor Wat to celebrate a Buddhist Holy day.
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Temples hidden in the Jungle
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Ta Prohm temple ruins
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Gentle Guardians
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Ancient Hindu carvings on a temple wall
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216 faces of Buddha carved at Bayon, Angkor Thom
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This sweet Buddhist monk
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Serenity
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Just past a “Beware of Monkey Attack” sign, this cutie appeared
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A tourist (me) with a shot of another tourist taking photos of other tourists
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Angkor Wat

In the air & alliteration 

I’m back in my natural habitat again – on an airplane at 37,000 feet above ground.  It’s a red eye flight, overnight across the country, and despite the loss of sleep I love these flights when the cabin is all dark and cozy and quiet.  Out the window on my left I have the most spectacular view of the Northern Lights, and I’ve been watching them dance across the sky parallel to this plane for more than an hour now.  I wish I could show you the vibrant green lights bending and weaving through the glow and the tiny orange lights from the towns below glittering up. I tried to get some photos, but I only have my iPhone and not my real camera so the shots just ended up a blank black blur of nothing.  It’s breathtaking, but you’ll just have to take my word for it…. So instead I took a selfie. I needed something to show!

The lady sitting beside me has a book of crossword puzzles and I’ve never witnessed anyone whiz through a crossword so quickly!  I’m a little awestruck.  This is going to sound pretty nerdy, but I’m an eensy-bit envious and wish I had my own book of crossword puzzles…. Back in my days as a full-time flight attendant I loved the moments after service was complete when I could sit with the newspaper and work on a crossword puzzle, between jumping back up to refill a coffee cup (generally a pilot’s).   Not that it happened too often, but the times I was able to complete the crossword everyone would hear me crowing about it!  And other days those spare moments after service were spent just gossiping over trashy tabloids; I liked to keep myself well rounded!! Ha…. 

My flight will be landing soon so I’m going to wrap this up.  Short and sweet this time!  I’ll have more from Ontario coming up next time.

Travel Light

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If you wish to travel far and fast, travel light.  Take off all your envies, jealousies, unforgiveness, selfishness and fears.”   Glenn Clark

Have you ever sat back and just marvelled at the power of words?  At how something you hear or read can halt you in your tracks as it grabs your subconscious and forces you to pay attention?   Tonight I had another one of these moments with the quote above.  And I can’t believe I’m going to write about it publicly since those are qualities I would prefer to keep locked away, out of reach of my own attention and certainly anyone else’s.

This quote from Glenn Clark first found its way to me about 6 months ago, I don’t remember where I saw it but I added it to my little notebook list.  I liked it then, and also the other times I’ve seen it when I open that page to add another quote or thought.  Somehow though, I didn’t need those words until right now.  I sometimes passively wonder when the others I have jotted down will spring to life….

I’ve been travelling for the past 12 or so weeks, and as I absorbed these words tonight I had a flash of recognition.  A vision of myself and the backpack I’ve had with me, smiling for the camera in front of some far-flung location.  That smile is genuine, by the way, full of hope, the excitement of adventure and pride of accomplishment in equal measure.  But my pack is too big and becoming more unwieldy as I pose and I realize I’ve brought along too much with me – those negative emotions I’d stuffed in with the rest of my dirty laundry.

In just this past week I can easily list off the times I harboured envy, nursed petty jealousy, felt unwilling to forgive and thought selfishly.  It has been a significantly harder week than my usual, but I don’t want to allow that any foothold in my life nor do I wish to get used to the idea that my circumstances control me.  I still get to choose my reactions.  So I choose now to ‘unpack’ and leave these behind.  I know this won’t be the last time I’ll allow negatives and fear to burden me, but for now I’m repeating this quote as my mantra until I can travel lightly enough to fly far and fast to the great things ahead.

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P.S.    I did say in my very first post (Introducing: aimlessly + anywhere) that my blog may end up with a bit of everything.  This one certainly fell under the ‘therapeutic diary’ category rather than travel journal….  But I’ll be back on the road before long and hopefully have some good stories to tell soon!

If you’re as inspired by the quote as I was, and would like to keep it with my picture you are welcome to save the image at the top of the post.  In case you’re curious, I took that photo from the Citadel at the top of the Gellert Hill in Budapest.