And Then He Asked Me If I Had A “Plan”

Today I’m guesting a new friend and blogger, Julian Easterly, who is a travel writer who lives and works abroad and whose blog Between the Breaths you’ll want to check out after you’ve heard from him here. Like me, Julian is interested in why we travel as well as how travel affects us. Because he’s also a writer, he addresses the more complex aspects of travel that most people don’t typically think of, like: how does my travel affect others around me? I love the way he thinks and I’m pretty sure you’re going to appreciate it too. Here’s a snatch of “flash fiction” that combines the authenticity of true-life dialogue with that emotional powder keg that can be found only in a father and son going head-to-head. Enjoy!

And Then He Asked Me If I Had A “Plan”
The play by play for how I told my Dad I wanted to live abroad.

“You’ll fall behind in the job market!” Boom!
“How’d you plan to make live?” Smack!
“You graduated at the top of the class. Get grad school paid for!” Bam!
And finally the coup de grace: “Do you even have a plan?” Wham!
Even with a phone hot against my ear, I feel like Sugar Ray Robinson trying to parry and counter these punches.
I would like to hang up on the guy, but it’s my dad. It’s been about a month or two since we’ve last talked. I calm down.
I tell him again about my decision to wait for graduate school and proceed to recount reasons: youth; languages; the immediate shortage of cushy positions and lucrative tenured tracks.
Rushing of into a 6+ year Doctorate program could potentially waste a vital portion of my life that I will never get back.
Two years, I tell him. Two years to see if it’s what I want to do.
“Ok. But it sounds like you don’t have a plan.”
I take a breath, and admit “Okay dad. You’ve got me. I don’t have a full proof plan.” I explain to him that I have a little job teaching English, and a job as a cook in a restaurant I frequent, and that of course continuing coaching football helps.
“Sounds like minimum wage, son.”
Yea dad, I say, the pay won’t be the best.
“Where are you going to live?”
The conversation continues in this fashion: He asks a logical question, I answer with what information I’ve gathered. He sighs and tells me that I could do better financially back home. As this conversation continues, the validity of his words becomes clearer.
Listen to the words of people who love and care about you.
He’s right. Aside from rudimentary notes in an old notebook and pages I’ve filled with connections and promises from people I’ve met, I don’t have a concrete plan. Admitting that I did not deny the argument was my first step.
It’s necessary to admit the reality, yet despite it all, go through with it all. Work. School. Live. Discover how to avoid the goldfish bowl.
Demonstrate that you’ve put an effort to research.
I talked to Dr. Carino, Brennan, and Bates, I say.
“Your professors?”
Yea.
At the hour mark fatigue starts to set. I decide tell him that I sought advice from people with seats at those lucrative tenured jobs. Of course, they wished that I would go to graduate school, a year or so break for self-discovery wasn’t a bad idea. Dr. Brennan had even been taken a year off between the transition himself to travel and experience.
It’s hard to convince a man of experience with one sole voice, after all sometimes the harmony of a symphony mores more than the solo.
Find a common ground.
We discuss my dreams and my goals for some time. I can tell he can hear the excitement in my voice as I talk about the possibilities: graduate school abroad, teaching in Korea, farming in Thailand. All those connections with new cultures. I remind him of that trip to Cancun he and my mom had almost paid off and never left for. I tell him I’ve paid in work, and that I want to enjoy the opportunity.
Silence.
In concession, or rather a momentary retreat, he tells me softly, “No matter what you do, I will always support you son. I love you boy. Goodbye.”
Love you too, I reply. Peace.
We hang up the phone, and I sit on the bed, emotionally drained. I lie on my bed and wonder why my dad didn’t take that first trip abroad. What made him stop his payment? If he hadn’t, maybe he would understand why I was so passio—
I call him back immediately with so much I want to say, but I settle for a simple, Thank You that he accepts with explanation.
I promised myself I would get him to make that trip to Cancun one day soon. I had to. Because a simple Thank You doesn’t quite suffice for parents who exchange cruise payments for cribs and diapers.

Time Travel Made Easy

When you think about some of the reasons we read, I believe that being transported to another world must rank pretty highly. For me, anyway. I don’t dislike my life but I do love to escape to  places very different from it. This visit to a different world  coincides with my interest in time travel—something I  can’t easily do with a Delta Airline ticket but I can do with, say, any of Diana Gabaldon’s titles!

On the other hand, there have been a few counties in my life that were awesomely exotic to visit and also, in a small way, offered a taste of the experience of a different time, too. No offense to France or New Zealand—two of my most favorite countries in the world and two through which I’ve traveled extensively, but, at least in the sixties and the eighties, travel to either country could  easily make you feel as if you’d traveled back in time about twenty years. Depending on where you travel in France or NZ, you still can. (I have Kiwi friends who tell me today (with some annoyance) that times have changed and they have all the same GAP stores that I do in Atlanta.)

But my point is that there was a time, when I lived in New Zealand in the mid-eighties where I felt like I’d been dropped into an episode of Masterpiece Theatre. And we’re talking one of their Victorian period piece set dramas, not Inspector Lewis. While it’s true I’d spent the last five years living in a shopping mecca with easy access to Nordstroms, Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and the like, when I moved to Auckland there was only one department store (called Farmers) in the whole of the largest city of the country, and that looked like it’d been plucked from Macon, Georgia. In the mid 1950’s.

For me, it was charming. It was delightful. (Besides, you could always mail off “back home” for stuff you really needed.) And it was an opportunity to live in a time that my parents had lived in, to experience life in a slower pace.

The view from my rental house in Murray's Bay, 1986. The rise on the horizon is Rangitoto, an active volcano that served as a visual focal point no matter where in Auckland you lived.

Once, when I was having lunch with some colleagues in Wellington (I worked at Ted Bates advertising agency in Auckland) one of the men told a story about a rustic inn he’d stayed at on his honeymoon somewhere in Greece. He talked about how the little bar-restaurant he and his bride frequented kept serving them cold dinners. When I asked why the proprietors didn’t just pop the meals in a microwave, he looked at his pals at the lunch table and said: “God, I love Americans.” (Said in a way to mean NOT.) Then he  said: “I make $82,000NZ a year and I don’t have a microwave oven. Does anyone at this table have a microwave?” He then looked at me. “Do you have a microwave?” (Naturally a microwave was one of the first things I’d acquired after moving to NZ but I did think he was making a super BFD of the whole microwave thing and so took the opportunity to switch the subject as soon as was feasible.)

I admit it. I am a slave to my silly American conveniences!

My deduction was that possibly it was easier for Americans to experience time travel than those from some other countries. (Which, now that I think about it, might logically mean that people from other countries who visit the States would be able to experience travel to the future! Which would also be quite nice, I’m sure. ) (Okay, please hold all hate mail, I’m KIDDING.)

Has anyone else had the feeling that they were going back into time (or into the future) when they visited a foreign country? Was that something that added to the experience for you? If so, I’d love to hear any stories you’ve got!