"All the time I'm not writing I feel like a criminal." -Fran Lebowitz

Monday, September 15, 2014


“How long you been here?” the waitress repeated.

I answered her, but I wasn’t really paying attention. I’ve long ago gotten used to every question-and-answer exchange in southeast Asia needing at least two laps to accomplish understanding. Besides, the bar on Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok was crowded and noisy, and I was too busy watching the band onstage absolutely butcher a rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”. The lead singer, the only white guy in a seven-piece band (two members of which seemed to have no job responsibility other than standing and occasionally snapping their fingers) was doing his impersonation of Robert Plant, perfect if Plant was wearing a bald pate, a turquoise Greg Norman golf shirt, and forty extra pounds - and if Plant sang like he was gargling a blender. The singer gesticulated, thrust out his pelvis, shook loose the excess energy off his shoulders. It was a truly offensive performance, but I loved it. “This is one of those moments,” I thought. “A unique image, a chance to be where you are. Just enjoy it.”

The waitress repeated my answer. “Ten weeks?” she asked. I nodded. She nodded too, and frowned, impressed. 

And that’s when I realized. Shit, I’ve been traveling for ten weeks now. That’s kind of a long time, huh? I’ve spent so much mental energy focusing on the theoretical length of this trip - forty weeks - that I don’t think I’m giving enough credence to the time that’s already passed. Most math majors can tell you that 40 > 10. Slightly fewer math majors can tell you that 40 - 10 = 30. Now, thirty weeks is a long time. Theoretically, there’s a long ways to go. But in hearing myself tell that waitress (well, hearing myself repeat it to that waitress) “Ten weeks,” it hit me.

That’s a healthy chunk of time, isn’t it?

I’ve seen a lot in those ten weeks. I’ve traveled over 18,000 miles, seen five countries, stayed in fifteen cities, seen a lot of things. I’ve climbed the steps at the Batu Caves in Kuala Lampur, swam in the Andaman Sea, and started a new novel. I've heard the worst rendition of “Stairway to Heaven” possible in Bangkok.

You’ll notice I use the word “theoretical” earlier. I’m not going to lie. There are moments when I don’t know if I’ll be able to make the entire time I’ve mapped out for this. There are moments - plenty of moments - when I want to stop the trip and return home. I don’t know what will happen, I don’t know how I’ll feel tomorrow or next week, how my money will last, how the holidays will hit me.

Those thoughts give me a lot of inner turmoil. I worry that if I come home before the forty weeks I planned out, people will consider it a disappointment, term the trip a failure.

This feeds into one of my problems with this entire effort, indeed, something I wanted this trip to address - my concern with other people’s expectations. When I started telling people about my plans, more than one friend became very concerned that I would be doing things that other people wanted me to do. When I told people about this blog, more than one friend advised me to not worry about what others wanted me to do with this site. These concerns were echoed by enough people, and with enough concerned vehemence that I realized, there must be something to it. Other people's expectations are something I’m too concerned with. Part of what I want this trip to accomplish was helping me give myself permission to do what I wanted to do, each and every day. I want to take this journey and allow myself to live it as it comes, not worry if I don’t hit a dozen tourist attractions per day, not be concerned if I stay in a city one more day, or one less day.

“Do you want to sing?” the waitress asked me.

I reared back slightly. “What?”

She indicated the stage. "Karaoke,” she said.

Suddenly it made a lot more sense. “No,” I said. “No thanks.”

This is my trip. I need to do what I want to do with it. And if that means it doesn’t last forty weeks, then that’s my decision.

Not that I’ve made that decision yet. But in always focusing on what I’m not doing, what I’m not going to finish, what I’m not accomplishing, I too rarely focus on what I have already accomplished. I may not last forty weeks. But I’ve already lasted ten. 

Maybe I should give myself credit for it, huh?