Experienced, Or Just Plain Lucky?

I’m trying very hard to break out of the stereotypical picture of what ageing and retirement should look like. I travel and I try to keep pushing the boundaries of that comfort zone that keep me wanting to stay home. It isn’t always easy.

My latest struggle involved a road trip. Not a particularly long one – about eight hours driving – but it was in unfamiliar territory. The little insecurities had made their presence felt in the weeks before when I was trying to talk myself out of going, but I just kept moving forward until the day of the planned departure. I lacked the sense of adventure and excitement that I used to have when setting off on a long trip, but as usual, once I got on the road I was fine, except for the nagging voice of the Sat Nav. With all the advancements in technology, why can’t we get a Sat Nav that directs us the right way, every time?

I had programmed in my sister’s new address and as usual, the Sat Nav gave me three options but no explanation, except for a tiny coloured bar beside each one. I’ve since figured out the green one means the most economical trip, and the red one should be a warning: ‘Stop – don’t choose this one!’, but I have no idea what the orange one is for. I chose the green one. As usual, Bertha directed me to turn right shortly after leaving home. I ignored her, as I usually do because it’s just a different route through town and I’m more comfortable with my own way. But Bertha kept insisting, so I turned right at the next street, made a U-Turn, then turned left, then left again to put me back on Berth’s course. The next turn was a right turn. I’m geographically challenged at the best of times, but I seemed to be heading north when my sister’s place is south. In that same instance, I remembered something fairly important as I meandered along the back roads through the sugarcane farms. I needed fuel! Lots of fuel. I knew there were no service stations in this neck of the woods, so another U-Turn and back through town to the service station. With a full tank of fuel, I decided to take another look at the Sat Nav and discovered a course that was more in keeping with my comfort zone, on a road I knew and heading south, so off I went again.

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Sunset over the farm was worth the effort of getting there

But in true Sat Nav style, it wasn’t long before Bertha was telling me to make a right turn, in a place where there wasn’t an option to make a right turn. There was a street, but it just wasn’t feasible to cut across traffic to go that way. So when a left turn presented itself, I took it. I was still very much in country territory and this was more a lane than a road, so another U-Turn, and back I went. A right turn put me back on the road I’d been on when I couldn’t make the right turn. But now I was coming at it from the left side which meant it was easy to turn. All this reconfirms my decision not to get one of those little cameras that sits on the dashboard and faithfully records every move you make. It’s bad enough that I know how silly it must look to see me turning and doubling-back so often, without it being preserved digitally for the rest of the world to see.

Luckily, the rest of the journey was uneventful, well, almost. I made it to my sister’s house, which was only meant to be a quick visit anyway because my ultimate destination was to my friend’s place. Somehow I thought the last leg of the trip, from my sister’s to my friend’s house, was a thirty-minute drive.
Wrong!

It was another two hours away, and by now the evening was closing in on me and daylight was fading fast. I wasn’t too worried, thinking, as only I could, that there would be a well-lit, major road right up to my friend’s front door.
Wrong again!

I’m usually an optimistic person, but I sometimes need to temper my optimism with an ounce of reality. My friend lives on a farm and farms aren’t usually right there on major roads, or if they are, the front door is usually a long way from the road. The last farm they had, the front door was a two-hour, bull-dust drive from the main road. So what made me think this would be any different?

Faithfully following Bertha’s guidance I ended up on a dirt road for about twenty kilometres, with the only sign of life being the driver of a huge tractor heading towards me. I must admit he looked both surprised, and a little amused, when I stopped him to ask if I was on the only road into the tiny little town I was heading for. “Yep”, he said, “this is it”.

I arrived.
Safely, stressed (a little), and very glad to be at my journey’s end. Sleep came easily that night.

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The peaceful life on the farm…

And that’s where the predictable, slight stretch of the comfort zone ends. The journey home a few days later was a very different story.

The journey home made the forward journey look like a walk in the park! My comfort zone was about to lose all boundaries.

How Bertha got the directions so totally wrong in terms of economy and safety is beyond belief!

 

 

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Even sheep on the road was nothing compared to what was ahead

Mistake No 1 – setting off at 3.30pm instead of waiting until early next day

Mistake No 2 – using the Sat Nav for direction – and choosing the ‘red’ option

Mistake No 3 – believing that a local would know the way out of town

I was on an inland road and needed to get across to the coast, so, common sense should have told me that I’d have to cross some kind of mountain range. And there I was as darkness fell, winding my way up, across and down a mountain. I’m not sure if Bertha deliberately led me along the road less travelled, or if everyone with any sense just wasn’t on the road at that time of day, but I saw very few cars, in fact, hardly any, and none going the same way as me. Unless you are driving in a major city in Australia, most people know that sunrise and sunset are the most dangerous times to be on the road because that’s when the native wildlife are most likely to be out and about. And since moving back to the coast and swapping the country car for the city car, I no longer have a Nudge Bar or Shoo Roo for protection. So as well as watching out for traffic on that winding road I also had to watch out for rabbits, kangaroos, koalas (according to one sign), and even a very low-flying owl that I almost collected on the windscreen. My concentration on everything that moved in the bush beside the road (mostly rabbits), as well as oncoming headlights (a total of three), took its toll. After five hours of the white knuckle grip I had on the steering wheel, I needed to get out of the car, stretch my legs, and eat! Even the big Golden Arches looked good.

Fed and stretched, the worst of the trip behind me and armed with verbal directions from a local (sorry Bertha, but I just couldn’t trust you after the last effort), I headed to the next exit which would take me to the highway. This was going to be easy – straight up the highway and onto familiar territory.

Wrong – again!

According to the local, the highway was just beyond the next little town – just up the road a bit, he said. I’m beginning to wonder how often that local actually ventures out of town? Having followed the road towards the town he’d indicated, I ended up on another very winding, very narrow road, climbing yet another mountain, and with no sign of the highway. In fact, it was thirty-seven kilometres of winding, narrow, dark and very eerie road. I eventually had to swallow my pride and consult Bertha in the hope of getting off the mountain. In true form, the map showed that the road I was on was pretty much the only way out. And just when I thought I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, the magic moment when I would connect with the highway, there was a roadblock. There in front of me was a ‘Road Closed’ sign. There was no alternative but to turn around and head back the way I’d come. The thought of having to drive the thirty-seven kilometres back was daunting, to say the least. But luckily, a few kilometres down the road, I discovered a ‘Detour’ sign. I turned right and followed it for about ten kilometres and finally came across a major road. Still not the Highway I’d been aiming for, but at least it was sealed, reasonably flat, and wide enough for two cars to pass each other comfortably; but still no street lights. I was still heading north but it was still just me and the moon in that desolate darkness. I wondered why I was the only one silly enough to be out on the road at this time of night?

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Just me and the moon and the very dark road

Eventually, the sign to a familiar town loomed large in the distance ahead. There was no indication of how far away it was, but at least I knew if I kept going I’d be okay. Tired, desperate for a coffee, with the full moon watching over me and the time fast approaching midnight, I powered on.

I had no idea that the mountains that surround Murwillumbah extend that far because, in order to reach that familiar town, I had to climb yet another mountain range. Again, no traffic in either direction, just me and the moon. Time seemed to pass in slow motion, which it probably was because of how slow I had to drive. Not only was I negotiating very sharp bends in the road but I also had to watch out for wildlife. Luckily it seems that the kangaroos were content to stay behind the bushes – I often wonder if it has anything to do with the music I play while driving? Perhaps they don’t like ABBA? Anyway, I was very glad they didn’t make their presence felt on my watch that night.  I finally reached the town I had been so longingly wanting to see. I was never so glad to see those big wide streets and the shops I’d wandered through only a few weeks earlier on a trip of local discovery. No Golden Arch here with a 24-hour drive-through; not even a service station that might have offered a window of opportunity for a cup of sludgy coffee. By then, anything that even remotely resembled caffeine would have been a bonus – but nothing. No sign of life. So I drove on. From here I willingly bid Bertha goodnight and turned her off. Fat lot of good she’d been anyway.

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The thirty-minute drive to home was both exciting and exhausting. It was hard work to be that close to home but still have so far to go. When I finally parked the car in the garage at home at 12.30am, I sat there for a few minutes, motionless, wondering if I could muster the strength to get out and walk inside. The big comfy bed that I had been dreaming about an hour earlier somewhere on that last mountain, was waiting, and I needed to be in it. I made a quick calculation that I could get by without my luggage until morning and dragged myself, wearily, inside.

Was it past experience, or just plain luck that got me home?

I’d like to think the five years spent in the country, driving a lot of miles with my job, got me through the ordeal. The scariest moment was when I reflected on the trip and thought about what could have happened while lost on the mountain. Close to forty kilometres of nothingness; a few houses dotted along the way with lights burning, but no guarantee of a safe haven had I needed it. No service stations – and no phone coverage. All this and the memory of having had a flat tyre while at my friend’s place. Her husband had put some sort of additive in it and reinflated it and I left with a reminder to check the tyre along the way. I didn’t. Only stopping five hours after fuelling up for the trip home, the thought of the tyre got lost somewhere between thoughts of navigation and coffee.  That trip over the mountain could have ended very differently. But it didn’t. The tyre held up – in fact, it’s still fully inflated a few weeks later. And yes, I know I have to get it checked; it’s on my list of things to do, next week.

The Bounds Of My Comfort Zone Have Been Stretched To Almost Breaking Point!

And now there’s no going back to how it used to be. Those nagging little insecurities that had started to whisper in my ear ‘Don’t Do It!’ have been pushed back where they belong – out of hearing.

Now I know I can do it.

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Coffee Therapy

If we were having coffee right now, like we used to in the old days, we’d be wondering where the years have gone. Wasn’t it just yesterday we’d head to town right after work, order our coffee, and sit and dissect the day? What worked, what didn’t, and whose day was more stressful? By the time we’d finished our coffee the stress would have dissipated, leaving us with just the paperwork, to be completed before the dawn of another day. We’d talk about the planning and marking, printing and cutting. Extra work for those who finished early. Extra scaffolding for those who found tasks more difficult. And just enough for those labelled ‘average students’. And every piece of work marked, not just with a tick but with a comment or explanation – this is right because…; have you thought about….?; great example of ….

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But here we are, living thousands of miles apart. Our lives have taken different paths over the years and although we’ve kept in touch, it just isn’t the same as sitting in that cafe, sharing our thoughts, our joys, our sorrows, over a steaming hot coffee.

If we were having coffee right now, we’d be talking about those missing years. We’d talk about why I moved away to follow a dream, and why you stayed to follow yours. We’d talk about why you eventually moved as far south, as I had north, putting more miles between us. We’d talk about the good times and the bad, the funny, the sad.

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If we were having coffee right now the lost years would melt away and it would be as if we had never been apart, because that’s how it is with us. And that’s how it will always be. Our dreams may have changed, but we haven’t. The bonds of friendship are stronger than the ravages of time and distance.

If we were having coffee right now, we would be what we have always been – best friends – forever.

This is the response from my best friend, Kathie, who summed up our friendship more eloquently than I ever could:

If we were sharing a coffee right now the lump in my throat would not be. We shared, we cared and we laughed and we cried, but most of all we supported each other throughout.

Our friendship is bound by love, trust and forgiveness and only grew in strength no matter the distance between us. If we were sharing a coffee right now we would remember and speak fondly of our childhood and aspirations. Our dreams of travelling fulfilled, but sadly never together – CIRCUMSTANCES.

Though both our lives are successful and happy, if we were sharing a coffee right now we could be tempted to discuss regrets, but I don’t think either of us regret our choices, or in any way the choices of each other, because we share a contentment only found in true friendship.

If we were sharing a coffee right now we would have already hugged and relaxed into a familiar pattern as if no time or distance has gone before.

 

Twitter-Ville For Writers

I have a Twitter account but I don’t use it. The day I set it up and used it for the first time, I was at a conference and had the help of our trusty technician to show me what to do.

But back in the real world, Twitter just faded back into cyberspace and I had no need to interact with it, until now. There haven’t been too many days in the last few months when Twitter comments haven’t featured highly in the news. In fact, it seems that checking Twitter is the best way to stay informed of the latest political news in the US, with the most prolific Tweeter being the newly elected President.

As well as keeping up with politics, Twitter can be a source of inspiration for writing projects, which is why the following tweet provided plenty of food for thought.

Do regular tweeters stare at a blank screen, waiting for the Inspiration Fairy Godmother to whisper in their ear before tweeting their 140 character limit of words? Judging by some of the tweets I’ve read, I think not. It seems that spontaneity rules in Twitter Land.

So the featured tweet, above, must surely relate to writers who write beyond the 140 character limit of Twitter-ville, and who, at times, suffer from what is commonly known as Writer’s Block.

Writer’s Block is the barricade that stands between you and the deadline. It’s the moment when every thought on the topic you’re writing about escapes you, and you and the blank screen stare back at each other, wondering which one will blink first.

That list of jobs that has been stuck on the refrigerator door for the past two weeks suddenly becomes important. There, right at the top is –  wash the car! Armed with bucket, sponge and detergent, you make your way to the garage. And it’s in the process of applying the suds that your mind wanders back to the writing task. The more suds you apply, the more ideas emerge. By the time the car is all-suds-up, the story is there, laid out before you in every detail. But now you have a car covered in soap and if you don’t hose it off quickly, you’ll be driving around in a spotty car for the rest of the week. But, if you don’t get back to the computer right now, those ideas are at risk of evaporating, leaving you sitting in front of a blank screen, again.

It seems that procrastination could be both the stimulus and demise of creativity, leaving a writer caught on a ledge between common sense and meeting the deadline.

Perhaps the moral of the featured tweet should be:

Be careful how you choose your procrastination. Do something that can be easily abandoned once the creative juices start flowing.

Fortunately, for me, the following quote is closer to the mark.

For me, most of the anxiety and difficulty of writing takes place in the act of not writing. It’s the procrastination, the thinking about writing that’s difficult. Adam Mansbach

So the list of important things to do stays securely fastened to the fridge door while I write. When I find myself staring at a blank screen, the act of writing can push me past the barrier and send me hurtling towards the finish line. The hurdles along the way are easily overcome with the delete key. As the inspiration flows, the delete key erases the uninspired text. And so the writing progresses. And the car waits another day, or two, for a wash.

Dear Karma,

The other day a friend and I were chatting, and your name came up in conversation. My friend was telling me about a relative who had been mean to her and how bad it made her feel. I assured my friend that if she waits long enough, she’ll see how you turn things around and the things that happened to her will happen to her relative. Because that’s the way you operate, right? I mean, your motto is ‘what goes around, comes around’, isn’t it?

I’ve consoled myself with the thought that you will eventually catch up with people that appear to have escaped their Karmic consequences, but I know how busy you are and you don’t always get around to dealing with the good and the bad in this lifetime, and that’s okay; after all, that’s life. But I’m not sure my friend has as much patience as I have, so I was just wondering if you had any immediate plans for her relative so I could let her know. No pressure – just asking.

My friend said she’s made a list of people you might have missed, but I suggested you probably won’t need it as I’m sure you’ve got it all under control.

So we’ll leave it in your capable hands,

Regards,

#YourFanClub

PS – We love your work!

My Writing Space

When I lived in a much bigger house I had a room where my desktop computer sat and gathered dust. I rarely went into that room, and even more rarely turned the computer on. My writing was usually undertaken while stretched out on the lounge, with the TV on, and my laptop precariously balanced on my lap. I say precariously because it was usually stable at the beginning of the process, but as the night wore on, the risk of the laptop sliding to the floor increased as my tired eyes struggled to stay open.

But with those days safely behind me, my time is now devoted to learning new skills through the day which are then practiced on my blogs at night.

During the day, I write while sitting in my favourite chair, pounding away on my old laptop, with the sun streaming in through the window behind me. It’s here that inspiration flows. Most of the time writing is easy, but there are times when it isn’t. That’s when I take a break and do something else. A painting or sewing project usually gives my head a chance to clear the cobwebs, before settling down in the old chair and starting again.

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My writing space probably isn’t too different to anyone else’s, but I think the challenge is to find the place that works. And for me, it’s right here at home.

 

 

 

Breaking Out Of The Comfort Zone

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone   

– Neale Donald Walsch

 

When we’ve found that peaceful spot in our lives where everything is predictable and calm, we tend to avoid anything that is likely to disrupt the equilibrium.

Retiring from a busy professional life to the solitude of a quiet little village, with no pressures, deadlines or stresses, creates a very wide comfort zone. A zone that keeps me safe within its boundary.

But beyond that boundary is the world, and in that world are opportunities. And in those opportunities are learning and growth, both of which sustain my life.

After years of long days and nights filled with lesson planning, report writing and meetings, it was just too easy to slip into a much quieter existence.

A Cruise to Singapore Marked Retirement

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I needed a tangible barrier to mark the end of work and the start of retirement, and a cruise was the perfect choice. Balmy days on deck by the pool, entertainment at night and an endless supply of food. The shore excursions were a bonus. The thought of going alone wasn’t an option, so I arranged for a friend to join me – her first cruise – and we sailed out of Sydney, destined for an exciting two weeks.

Our arrival back in Australia sealed the door on my working life securely shut. 

But waking up back in the place I now call home left a gap somewhere deep within me. If I read about a country on my list of ‘must visit places’, I could imagine myself there. The thought of planning and packing were daunting enough, but the thought of meandering through unfamiliar cities and streets – alone – was unthinkable. The bands of my comfort zone were pulling tighter, with no apparent means of escape.

Then an opportunity arose to visit China with a group of like-minded people – all retired – and all around my age. It was the first organised tour I had ever done, and it turned out to be very successful – except that there were places I would have liked to have seen that were not included in the itinerary. But it was safe. The guides knew the country and the culture, but especially, they knew the language. It worked. But the places I didn’t see are sitting on the back-burner, just beyond my comfort zone.

My life has been a series of ‘just happened’ moments, and before leaving for the China trip, one of those moments emerged. While on the retirement cruise I had pre-booked a cruise for the following year and my travel buddy was going to join me. The best-made plans have a way of going awry, and true to form, they did. My travel buddy pulled out of the trip a few months later. Because we had booked together, I needed to change the booking, or pay the single supplement and face a very long cruise on my own. Without too much thought I swapped to a shorter cruise that would take me back to familiar territory, North America. Instead of sailing the next year, the new cruise was to leave a week after my return from China. I did it! Alone! And it worked. But it worked because I was on a cruise – everything was planned by someone else – I just had to show up and enjoy. Being a one-way cruise the destination landed me in a position to take a flight from Miami to San Francisco, my second home, and then Vancouver, my other second home, having spent almost a year in each place ten years ago. Familiar territory. Nothing much could go wrong. There were no cultural or language barriers and I knew my way around. A very successful trip, but something was still missing. The familiarity was a step back in time rather than a leap forward into the unknown. The bands of the comfort zone still held tight. And are still holding tight, but have stretched a little.

A plan is formulating for me to step outside the barrier and explore somewhere new and very different, with just a hint of the familiar. A friend has opened a Guest House in Laos and I have promised myself a trip to reconnect and see the award-winning venture of the Apple Guest House. But moving out of the comfort zone isn’t easy. It isn’t a matter of just flying to Laos and back. You can’t go that far without adding side trips to the other places on your list, like Vietnam and Penang. Every time I think I’ll just make the decision, plan the trip and actually book the flights, something grips me. Obviously, it’s the boundary of the comfort zone reigning me back in. While part of the trip will be familiar, like Penang where I spent two wonderful years a very long time ago, the unfamiliar will be in travelling alone, and I know how much the familiar places will have changed; being there as a tourist today will be very different to being there as a local back then.

Stretching the bands of the comfort zone are not easy. How do you get from the thinking stage to the going stage? And even if you do, how do you allay the fears building inside you, that you are stepping out over the edge? I skimmed through a book once called ‘Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway’ – too busy to read every word back then, but the title has acted as a springboard on many occasions since then. And in leaping into the unknown, despite the fears, I’ve usually come out the other side thinking ‘that wasn’t such a big deal’. The fears have a way of dissipating once you’ve made the decision, and once you’re immersed in the activity. One of the ways I’ve managed this is by remembering that breaking things down into smaller chunks makes the task more manageable. While the whole idea might seem overwhelming, starting with one aspect of it makes it seem a little more do-able.

It’s through planning that the big plan becomes more manageable.

By planning the different steps, a degree of confidence can emerge where there was only doubt and fear before, making a more tangible shape of the travel plans gelling in my mind.

Step 1: Make a list of the countries you want to see

Step 2: Gather as much information as possible on each place – feed the imagination and the passion – both of which will take another chunk out of the comfort zone boundaries.

Step 3: How many countries/cities can you adequately cover in one trip – e.g. Asia, or Europe, as separate trips? One long destination – several shorter ones.

Step 4: What options for accommodation exist in each country/city? Hotels/B&B/AirBnB/. Having the accommodation pre-booked takes a lot of angst out of the equation.

Step 5: What options for travel are there between countries? Instead of flying, consider a train or boat trip, providing a much more scenic option.

Step 6: Make the bookings, one at a time; pre-book each segment allowing extra time between flights etc. to avoid the stress of having to rush to get there. Extra time between flights can be used to catch up on journaling or organising photos.

Step 7: Pack… Pack light – travelling solo is easier if you’re not struggling with too much luggage. Pack less – being solo means you can wash and hang items in the bathroom at night. Roll the washing in a towel to squeeze out as much water as you can and chances are it will be dry by morning. You might need to pack a coat-hanger or invest in a travel clothesline, available at some discount or luggage stores. You might even consider a microfibre towel – super light and compact – depending on the accommodation you’ll be using.

Step 8: Take photos and keep a journal. The trials and tribulations, the highs and lows will inspire and motivate future trips, chipping away at the comfort zone with each picture and word.

And the real value of pushing the boundaries of our comfort zones is in the places we’ll see and the people we’ll meet.

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes

And we will never be the same.

The Morning Rush

 

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A busy station. If it were not for the American Flag flying high, this could be a station anywhere in the world. The scene depicts a routine that is played out every day, in every city. A mixture of happiness and sadness. Journeys of pleasure and pain, optimism and hopelessness. Travellers excited about their destination; workers dreading theirs.

Most of us have been both. We’ve navigated our way through the maze, day in and day out so we can escape, even if only for a short time, to join the people on the other side. With a destination locked securely in the travel guide tucked away in our back pocket, we become the happy, the optimistic, the traveller.

And if we notice the robotic maze of the worker, it is but for a fleeting second. Too painful to think about the time when the traveller becomes the worker and the tedious work-life journey resumes. For now, the traveller revels in the optimism of exploring the new city and doesn’t think of anything else.

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.
– Neale Donald Walsch

Perhaps it’s time to break out of the mould, stretch beyond your comfort zone, and let the traveller rule.