This time tomorrow where will we be
On a spaceship somewhere, sailing across an empty sea
This time tomorrow what will we know
Will we still be here, watching an in-flight movie show
I'll leave the sun behind me and I'll watch the clouds as they sadly pass me by
Seven miles below me I can see the world and it ain't so big at all
Well, this time tomorrow what will we see
Fields full of houses, endless rows of crowded streets
I don't know where I'm going, I don't want to see
I feel the world below me looking up at me
-The Kinks, "This Time Tomorrow" (1970)
When I think about my life in 2017, what memories do I take into the new year? I'll take the amazing ones, like riding a cargo bike in the Netherlands, exploring mysterious Angkor Wat, and clearing Pripyat's radiation checkpoints. And I'll hold on to the memories that fill my heart with a calm, warm glow, like visiting Croatia's lost places and spending a summer in Malasaña, Madrid. But... but the nomadic life isn't all about stunning train rides and exotic fare, so I also carry into the new year not-so-cheery memories I'd like to forget, but can't and shouldn't, from challenges and disappointments I dealt with along the way. As grateful as I am for so many incredible experiences in 2017, and at the risk of sounding too Bell Jar-y, I look back on the year and feel bittersweet about it all.
A year and a half ago, before I picked up my comfortable life and threw it out the window like a dusty rug in need of a good beating, I had a vision: I was ready to have children, but I wanted to raise them car-free and I didn't feel Raleigh, NC, was a good place for this. So I set my eyes on establishing a life abroad in gloriously bike- and family-friendly Sweden, flying into Gothenburg and thinking if I worked hard enough and tried to build a life there, everything would fall into place. But the land of meatballs and Dala horses was not in the stars, and when my ninety days was up, I bounced in and out of the Schengen area while brainstorming Plan B. During that time, when the UK’s Border Force arrested me and refused my entry for the crime of being a tourist, it cost me thousands of dollars in lost travel plans and whatever semblance of control I felt while traveling. Once I recovered from the initial shock of what happened, my anxiety worsened and I starting having panic attacks (tightening of the chest, increased heart rate, trembling hands, an overwhelming sense of doom, you know).
I felt like a hot mess but I continued on with my journey, not knowing where I was going but pulled along by invisible forces. I landed in Spain, brushed off the old español, and was prepared to apply for a visa that would allow me to settle down for a bit and focus on building a freelance career. When I arrived, though, I quickly learned that applying for a residence visa was an arduous process that entailed returning to the US and waiting ninety days for approval. Hmm. However delicious Spanish olives and cerveza may be, I decided I didn’t want to live in Spain enough to deal with those complications; back to the drawing board.
While in Spain, I was dealing with more than the constant stress of wandering around the world aimlessly with a medium-sized dog and over-sized ambitions: earlier in the year, I decided to start on my goal of having children. (Blame it on that fortune cookie that told me there’s no time like the present, I see nothing wrong with living by such pearls of wisdom.) Anyway, I won’t get too into this apart from saying I put myself through physical, emotional, and financial stress with fertility treatments in different countries, countries where I wasn't brusquely turned away by doctors legally barred from treating single females. After too many torturous months of this to count and no support system to lean on, I decided I didn’t have it in me to continue (can I please just lay down on this sidewalk here and bawl like a toddler?). But hope springs eternal, and I came up with a plan to go to Germany where I could apply for residency in-country, create a stable life, and pursue adoption. I spent months reaching out to agencies and the German government trying to get straight answers on if my plan was realistic, and came away with nothing definitive. My energy was sapped, I felt hopeless, violent crying spells left me dead inside, and by the time Mango and I got to Budapest, Hungary, I felt my gypsy lifestyle was keeping me away from my personal goals. I didn’t have it in me to go to a new country and invest time and energy building a life only to have it slip through my fingers again, I needed a break to take my mind off a difficult year and feel less lost. So, in a shocking turn of events, I booked a flight to the US.
The principle of Occam's razor is "the simplest answer is most often correct", and taking a break in my home country will allow me to better focus on my goals and build a supportive network as I work towards them. I arrived in Portland, Oregon, a few weeks ago and already feel refreshed; I'm ready to make 2018 an incredible year. Before landing on the west coast, I signed a lease on a beautiful apartment in a downtown row house built in 1905 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s a massive place filled with natural light and historic details, and although it feels empty now, it is ready to be filled with my hopes and dreams for the near future.
Personal development is a big deal to me, so I enjoy reflecting on the goals I set last year and setting ones for the new year. I invested a lot of time and energy working towards my 2017 goals, and while I didn't reach them all per se, I learned a hell of a lot along the way. I learned about my strengths, weaknesses, and, of course, breaking points. I learned that I'm uncurably obsessed with old buildings and iced gingerbread. I learned how fiercely independent I am, how I'll do anything if I want something enough, how bad I can be with personal relationships. I learned that I love writing, photography, and exploring lost places, and I feel most happy and balanced when I work on them (preferably all at once!). Most importantly, I learned that I can't subsist entirely on doing the things that me happy because I need something more meaningful and tangible in my life. My goals for 2018 are the same as my 2017 ones, and I'm putting together an "18 for 2018" list that I heard about on the podcast Happier (my list of 18 things to do in 2018 includes exploring Portland's coffee shops and visiting New Zealand).
So, cheers to a happy, rewarding new year full of surprises and magical experiences. Who knows what 2018 will bring or where it will take me, but I'm right here and ready. Goodbye 2017, hello 2018.