I'm a wanderer

How do I justify giving up security to bum around Europe?

By Cary Tennis
Published November 16, 2010 1:20AM (EST)

Dear Cary,

First, thanks for taking the time to read this letter. I hope it finds you well.

I am writing to you because I'm about to make a pretty drastic decision in my life. To me, it's not that big of a deal. Maybe because I'm dead set on doing it, I've got blinders on so I can't see the bad in my decision. Maybe it's because I love the thought of the unknown. But others seem to think I'm crazy.

I'm quitting my job and moving abroad to hopefully find a job teaching English in Europe.

No, most likely I won't find a job before I get there. And yes, the chances of my having to work under the table (read: illegally) are fairly high, depending on which country I choose. I know I have stars in my eyes. By nature, I'm a positive person. People see it as naive, but I think it's just easier for me to see the beauty and good in a situation. I also know I'm adaptable and so taking those two traits in mind, I think I'll be ready to move there. I'm not saying I won't run into obstacles. And I know there is a chance I won't find a job. (I know that the economic situation in a lot of European countries is just as bad, if not worse, than it is here.) But I just know I can make it work. And I am prepared to move back to my parents' house if it doesn't (I'm 26, by the way) and then figure out the next step in life. I don't intend to stay there long if I come back, just for a month or so until I can afford to move out.

I want to leave this country for a while, if not permanently, because I just feel that there is more out there in the world for me. There are a ton of reasons why I feel this way and to get into them would take too long. In a nutshell, though? I want to find life that is slower-paced. I want to live in a city or country where priorities are more about experiencing the good things in life -- good friends, good family and a sense of peace. Another thing that makes me happy in life is a more natural and less industrialized place to live. I like old towns where people walk everywhere or use public transportation. I don't like places like suburbs where you have to drive everywhere or huge cities where everything around you is steel. I also like people who are more open and share my view of life. Again, I'm sure that there are people and places like this all over the USA but I just don't find a lot of them living in Chicago. And I feel that if I can move anywhere, why not do it someplace like Europe or South America and have an adventure?

I'm Ecuadorian (born in the States), by the way, so moving to South America wouldn't even be that crazy. I've been there loads of times and love it. And I know people who've taught English there before and loved it.

See, I'm ready to go. I'm doing what I have to do to get there. I've picked up a part-time job on top of my full-time job so I have extra cash. I'm selling my car soon as well to help pay for the move. Basically, I'm going to be giving up a career here that I don't particularly like (I've been working in the same field for four years and could probably enter the next step in my career), a car that was almost paid for and my social life. I got certified to teach English abroad and am doing everything I can to be prepared to move to Europe. I'm networking as much as I can. I'm being positive while trying to be realistic. I'm saving money. I'm trying to look for jobs before I leave but I know that when it comes to getting a job in Europe, it's hard to do while you are in the USA. And I've done this all on my own dollar. I've paid for everything, have no credit-card debt and have leaned on my parents only six months by moving back into their house. I've paid for most of my own food, though, so what they are providing me is a rent-free place to live (which I understand is a huge luxury and I am appreciative of it).

I swear there is a problem here. My parents, particularly my dad, think I'm nuts. He thinks I'm giving up a great job to do something that is going to fail.

He doesn't understand that I'm more free-spirited than he is. He doesn't understand that I don't care about having lots of money. He thinks I'm stupid and that I'm going to fail. And now, getting closer to the move and realizing I could fail, I start to wonder: Am I crazy? Am I making a mistake?

I need the opinion of someone from the outside. Why? I don't know. Maybe I'm waiting for you to pat me on the back and tell me I'm brave and great for doing this. I'm just unfulfilled here in the States. I'll admit that part of that reason is because I haven't found a good relationship with anyone here and tend to find that the more foreign men I meet, the more I agree with their view of relationships and life. So going abroad and having the chance to meet men who are, what I feel are more ideal, is appealing to me. But I also want to have fun. I want to live somewhere else. I want to walk to work and enjoy nicer weather. I want people who believe in a three-hour dinner over wine. I want people who don't fist-pump and think "Jersey Shore" is the best thing to happen to television.

In a lot of ways, I want people who are both more relaxed yet more mature than the people I tend to come across in Chicago and the USA. I hope readers and you aren't thinking I'm anti-American. I'm not. My favorite people in the world are American. But I really feel that in general, American culture is different from my value system. Not bad, different.

So I want to know: At 26 years old, shouldn't I try? Shouldn't I give myself the chance? If I fail, I plan on coming back here and figuring out what direction to steer my life in (if my time abroad hasn't already answered that). I want life. I want adventure. I want to not work in the same career from the time I was 26 and kept living life in a straight line, just because my parents always made me feel that was best.

I want to be free and I think that this move is getting me closer to that feeling.

What do you think?

Foreign American

Dear Foreign American,

I think that it is time for you to wander. The essence of wandering is that the exact outcome of it cannot be known.

Though the geographic destination is not clear, the purpose of wandering is very clear. Bill Plotkin in his book "Nature and the Human Soul" puts it like this:

"In mainstream America, there are virtually no remaining traditions of a genuine adolescent withdrawal from familiar social life. We have the junior year abroad, or the post-high-school departure to join the military or attend a distant college but all too often these are merely geographical relocations with little psychological or spiritual benefit."

Plotkin believes that to pass from one stage of life to another, you must be "separated -- psychologically if not physically -- from the ordinary life of your community so that you might cease to define yourself according to the familiar rules and norms."

Plotkin actually has a whole view of human development, which he sums up like this:

"This is precisely the way human development proceeds -- by periodic leaps into distinctive stages of being, each stage characterized by a unique psychospiritual center of gravity and worldview. You begin life with no consciousness of anything, and then, in what seems a sudden opening, you are vibrantly aware of this immense world and all its wonders, and you are sure life will forever remain an uncomplicated exploration of the world. And then puberty alters you at your core, and your social and sexual standing comes to mean everything to you. Several years later (at the earliest), just when you're finally getting used to society life, the world shifts again and terrifying mysteries beckon that were previously unsuspected and on which your life now depends. This sequence of periodic tectonic lurches is the way it has always been, and this is the way it will continue throughout the remainder of your life. Your center of gravity and your fundamental understanding of what the world is, keep shifting -- if, that is, you keep maturing."

He has it all worked out. There's an elaborate wheel with the four cardinal directions and everything. You could check it out.

But suffice it to say there are stages. That's why you have to go to Europe and bum around. Because life happens in stages.

I'll bet your dad wandered. Yet he does not want you to wander!

That's how dads get. They get settled and protective and forget how crucial it is to brush up against the world and get pollinated by mystery.

To bum around. To hitchhike, ride freighters, do odd jobs, wash pots and pans, pick fruit, clean fish, be a deck hand, work on the railroad, all the time watching the world and observing the rootedness of others, watching the backyards with their laundry on the lines drying in the sun, walking the aisles of the train, waiting to meet a stranger.

What do you know of your father's life? Is there a period that he sometimes refers to, a period of restlessness or trouble, when he did not know where he was going? Does he sometimes get this look in his eye, like whatever it was he set out to do is not completely finished, like there are things he's not telling you? Maybe there are mysteries of pain he wants to protect you from. Doesn't he know that's not possible or even desirable? Perhaps he himself did not complete his wandering, and is protecting himself against the truths that emerge when we wander and give ourselves over to the forces of soul.

Some people look back on such times as dark times. And they may be dark. But they are also essential. It is not by accident that we get into trouble, that our lives are not beautifully ordered.

It doesn't seem very grown-up, this wandering business. And yet it is essential to full maturity.

I remember when the idea of "the road" arose in my heart. "The road." Bob Dylan and the road. A man on a highway with a guitar. Highway 61 Revisited. Highway 61. Somehow in my adolescence I became aware that there was a road and I had to be on it, and the fact that I had no idea where the road led was part of the fascination. And this was a distinct change. This was not childhood. This was not a childish wish for ice cream. This was the call of the wild. As a child, I wanted to explore the world I was in, but I had no notion of leaving. Leaving was boring. Exploring was fun.

But then along when I was 15 or 16, it became important to find a road and travel it. There was Bob Dylan with his guitar on the road, discovering poetic mysteries in the clubs of New York; there was Bob Dylan who'd come from Minnesota, a nowhere place, as Hollywood, Fla., was a nowhere place, in fact an imitation place, an imitation of yet another imitation place, its West Coast twin, a "tinseltown," an imaginary place founded on imagination and hype and dreams. This place, Hollywood, Fla., was just a name, a container for a place, not even a place, just a notion of a possible imitation of a place. The founder thought if he named it Hollywood the film industry would come there. What an idiot.

But anyway, OK, so I have some lingering frustration around growing up in a nowhere place, which is why I had to set out for San Francisco, which seemed at the time to be some kind of a place but which increasingly itself seems to be artificial.

So there was this urge to find something real. To be real, this thing had to be unknown; it had to be discovered. It could not come easily or as a gift. It could not be bought. We had to go on the road to find it.

I remember a banquet. It was like we were in Beowulf. We had a banquet at Tracy Wald's house in Miramar. Mike Sirola and I were like kings and brothers, going out into the world in his Dodge van. We were going to discover what was there. We were going on the road.

The road was quiet then. There were no cellphones. When you were gone you were gone.

So we got gone. We made it maybe 75 miles and blew the head gasket.

That's another story.

It all fits. It's so clear. I know when you read this you will realize that what you are feeling is natural and good. You can't know everything that you have to do. You just have to go.

Write Your Truth.

Want more?


Cary Tennis

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