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.

Living Your Dream at the Worst Possible Time

Ten years ago I  wrote a book called “Quit Your Job, Move to Paris.” I wrote it after a young dewy-eyed college grad interviewed with me at the bank where I was working in the advertising department. (Dear God, I’m depressing myself just writing the words.) She’d recently graduated with a degree in advertising and wanted to know what she should do to, basically, get my job. I looked at her and asked: “Are you married?” She blushed prettily and shook her head. I said: “So no kids?” She reddened not so prettily and frowned at me. “Of course not,” she said. “Do you own your own home?” “I’m only 21,” she replied, as if speaking to a seriously mentally impaired individual. (Kind of like how my teenager speaks to me all the time but that’s another blog.) I said: “So, no ties, no mortgage, no private school tuition. My advice to you is…” She poised her little pen over her little steno pad.

Well, you can probably guess what I said (see above title of aforementioned book) and she did not appreciate being led on as she put it. In addition to being a new college graduate, she also happened to be the daughter of the bank’s vice president so I’m not sure why she even bothered to get my take on anything. She should’ve just gone to her Dad and said: “I want her job, please, Daddy.”

But see, I had a mortgage and a kid (plus two step-kids, but again, another time, another blog) and the idea of “living my passion” or waking up and smelling the croissants on the Rue de la Paix or spending a year writing a novel was about as possible as starring in a Broadway musical. She was young. She had her whole life ahead of her. Her choices hadn’t been made yet. From my perspective, I thought she should take advantage of her freedom while she had it, as if passion—for writing or travel or acting or anything—would dry up or run out like sand in an hourglass.

When I wrote the “Quit Your Job” book, I ended up researching various chapters on different life situations to suggest ways and ideas of how moving to Paris for a period of time might be possible: married with kids, single with kids, etc. During the course of my research, I discovered how it would be possible for me to go, too. The  information I came up with for my own situation was good and bad. The good news was: I learned I could go! I learned how I could make it happen! The bad news was: I chose not to. Yeah, I know. That part sucked. But it still helped to know I had a choice. I didn’t pack up the kid and the husband and shoot off to France in 2001 because when I sat down and thought about it, I realized I wanted other things more. Things that couldn’t happen if I took the Paris option at that time.

Funny thing about passion, though. If it’s real, it tends to stay with you. I don’t work in a corporate advertising department any more. I write full time. As for the Paris thing, well, my son is sifting through his college acceptances even as we speak which means, next year, he’s launched into his grand adventure. And guess what? Turns out, Paris is still there!

Seems that silly college girl was right about one thing: there really isn’t a time limit on passions after all.