Lines in the Sand: Brought to You By YOLO

lines in the sandAs I sit alone in the Newark airport, halfway through my three hour layover before I fly directly to Peru, I have a lot of time to think (and one of those thoughts is that I could have just come here to learn Spanish from the plethora of its speakers who are currently having lunch all around me).

But, more strongly than that, I think about the lines of safety we draw for ourselves. They are different for everyone—some willingly jump out of planes so long as they have a working parachute, while others enjoy shopping at big box stores so long as they don’t have to drive over county lines.

Wherever you scrape them out in the sand, the existence of those imaginary boundaries helps you to feel safe, while you take whatever small or large risks you think you need for a robust life.

I have never been particular attached to the phrase “YOLO” (You Only Live Once), perhaps because it typically comes attached to drunken wuhoos and other general thoughtlessness, but most people use it frequently these days. It’s an excuse to take big-time gambles. You only live once, so why not, right?

But the concept of YOLO could just as easily serve as a caution against such risk.  You only live once, so why wouldn’t you protect that fragile opportunity, since you don’t get a do-over? (Well, as far as we know, anyway)

When I tell people that I am heading to Lima, Peru to study Spanish for two weeks people usually respond in one of two ways. “Wow, that’s amazing!” and “Please be careful.” Usually, they say both.

It’s then that I can almost see the internal struggle going on in their heads. It sounds like the path to an adventure of a lifetime—one that could be filled with so many potholes to disaster. Especially when they hear that I am going alone.

But that wasn’t the original plan. Actually, scratch that. It was the original plan. I have long been dreaming of solidifying my university Spanish by submerging myself into a country steeped in the language and culture I fell in love with in my early twenties. There is something about the rhythm and flow of Spanish words that just connected to the erratic beating of my own heart and made smooth waves out of the erratic waters. I have never been particularly good at speaking it, but I always believed in the possibility of reversing the language’s unrequited love for my tongue. Translation: I want to be fluent.

I came up with the Peru Plan almost two years ago and was planning on escaping down there in May of 2012. But then it happened. “It” being love. Puke. I changed my plans to include a later date, when we could go together.

We wove our stories together for a while, before tearing the threads apart. At this point, the plane tickets were already booked. He cancelled his without hesitation and encouraged me to do the same, citing worry for my safety.

I suppose it did cross my mind that I could postpone, find another time to go with a friend, which would make everything so much easier. To have a travel companion, someone who could get excited with me about heading into an unknown land; someone who could help navigate the foreign roads and collaborate on sign translations; someone who, years later, could laugh with me as we remember that time when our words weren’t quite right and landed us with barbequed guinea pig instead of chicken. Someone to share in the risk and add to the safety.

But, I thought, to hell with it (sorry, Mom).  YOLO, and all that. If I didn’t go through with the trip as planned (with of course, modifications for my now party of one), who knows when I would get the opportunity to go again. Not only was it something I made a New Years resolution about, but it was on my freaking bucket list. And no failed relationship was going to set-up a roadblock to reaching my goals.

So, I made all the final arrangements—airport transfers, additional flight to Cusco, hotel in the mountains, excursion to Machu Picchu—and set my sights on the original dream.

My parents expressed concern. My friends spurred me on. And though my resolve never really waivered, my brain did let in moments of doubt. Yet, I couldn’t help but recall the words of a famous poem that have been stuck in my head for the past few months: “What are you going to do with this one wild and precious life?”

I have asked myself that one question repeatedly, trying to encourage the constant reminder that 1) it is my decision (how freaking great is that?!), and 2) life holds within it the dichotomy of being both wild and precious—worth living to the height of our ability and protecting to the best of it. One ought to, in fact, observe both meanings of YOLO. The why and the why not.

Perhaps Peru is not the safest destination on the planet (although it is certainly not the most dangerous). But I will be safe. Toronto is different, yes, but from living there for many years, I have learned to carefully traverse a large urban landscape. And our mayor does crack in his drunken stupors, so I at least have some bad-ass points, right?

But I will also be bold. I will seek out new experiences, friends and, of course, food (they do actually serve guinea pig there).

I will draw my lines in the sand, weigh adventure against common sense and find my balance between heart and head.

If you want to read about my Peru adventures, I plan on including some highlights here.


Thanks for reading. Pura vida.

Run Away Home

There’s a line in a song by the band Fun that asks, “Why am I the one always packing up my stuff?” I had an immediate connection with those lyrics the moment they touched my ears. Perhaps because I am, in fact, always packing.

"Why am I the one always packing up my stuff?"My sister says moving is “my thing.” I laughed depressingly the first time she said this. I’m starting to think she’s right. Over the past six years, I have moved eleven times. Eleven. As a result of all these moves, I have precious few material possessions. Clothes and books, mostly. But, I do have a heavy collection of both—the latter of which got many groans from my father as he heaved box after box (that’s what you get for teaching your kids the joy of reading; parents beware).

I am okay with not owning much beyond the items my body wears and the ones my eyes feast on. We come into this world with nothing and will leave with the same, so why accumulate too many dust-collectors along the way? My problem arises from the question of “home,” because, for me, the term keeps morphing.

Last week, I packed up my meagre belongings, said goodbye to my former apartment in the Financial District of Toronto and moved out to the west end. I stood with my parents, amongst boxes and packing tape and let the tears fall.

The sadness came not from leaving the actual structure. Though I will miss the convenient location, it’s not the 600 square foot space that I was upset about. It was the thought that, once again, I had lost a home.

When I was a kid, this idea of home was encapsulated in our Orangeville house, a place that I can still see down to the last detail when I close my eyes—which way each door opened, where the furniture was placed, the pictures on the wall, nail polish stains on the carpet, even the smell of each particular room. I knew every inch of it. But that’s not what made it home. That came from the feeling that washed over me when I punched in the garage code and walked inside. It was sanctuary. It was safety.

As a teen, I moved with my mom and siblings to Waterloo, and my home got smaller. It was a long time before I felt comfortable in this new city—the girls wore pastel ribbons in their hair and seemed to shop exclusively at The Gap, both foreign ideas to me—so I spent a lot of time in my bedroom, with the door closed. I read books. I wrote short stories. I scribbled out poetry. I escaped from my paralyzing fear over not fitting in by making these four walls my new home. Again, I was safe.

Even after I made friends—life-long ones at that, so lucky for me that I did decide to venture out—that zone still remained where I felt the most at ease. Even just knowing it was there to come back to buoyed me up when the outside world seemed too much to take.

It wasn’t until university, when I started my perpetual moving habits, that I started to think of home not as a place—because that was always changing—but as a person. When I got married, one of my best friends sang Chantal Kreviazuk’s hit ballad “Home” in her beautiful, melodic voice. Home was what I sought after, what I longed for. I wanted to belong.

I don’t think it’s a unique feeling, that search for a place to belong, but issues arise when you identify home as a specific person. When the walls you thought you knew so well shift and reveal an ugly truth behind the mirage, you have two choices: make peace with a new reality or step out into the cold, on your own.

You see, if home is another person, then the common phrase “I’m home” because fairly problematic. You are that other person? Or they are you? A loss of identity or a projection of your identity onto someone else can’t possibly be a healthy mindset. Can it?

No matter what Justin Timberlake is crooning about these days, I refuse to believe that true love is a mirror, a chance to admire the qualities you like most about yourself as they manifest in someone else.

But as my mom held onto me while my shoulders shook in the middle of a mostly empty living room, one that used to hold happy memories of unconstrained laughter, random Friday night dance parties and frantic cake decorating fiascos, I realized I might have done just that: confused my own identity with that of a coupledom. When home is a person and you lose that person, you can longer utter the words, “I’m home.” Does that mean you become nothing?

For moments during that day, it felt like it. But then, as I settled into my new residence, I started to understand that I had it wrong all along. If I kept making home another person, I would always feel transient, my sense of comfort and security completely reliant on the state of another individual. Home couldn’t be another person, or a physical location; it needed to be me.

When I was little, someone told me that turtles travel around with their homes on their backs. I used to picture the tortoise shell as a kind of portable tent that they could crawl inside, put their turtle feet up on a chaise lounger, turn on the TV and relax (I blame Franklin books and an over-active imagination for this false image).

Obviously, I know now that the turtle shell is more defence mechanism than homey escape with an area rug. But the concept stays with me when I think about when I will next feel like I’m home. When I will feel safe.

I have a healthy body, an energetic mind, a searching spirit. Seems like I should have everything I need with me, at all times.

No four walls of a building, nor two arms of another, can ever compete with that.