Morning reflections and plans unplanned

If until three months ago, uncertainty was that feeling that we knew existed but were able to trick ourselves into believing we could control, well, we can’t any longer.

Since we can’t, what can we learn from it, what can we do to reduce the uneasiness that we’ve been feeling when we look back at our plans for the summer holidays, for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s; the goals we set for ourselves both physically and financially. The people we had planned to visit after such a long time away from them.

Those who know me well would say I’m not the “planner in advance” type of person, on the contrary, I’m a lover of the impromptu. Funny thing, for the first time in years, I set annual goals, I bought annual memberships, I made scheduled travel plans.

In preparation for a climbing trip in Laos next October or November, I made plans to train a couple of times a week. I bought memberships in two climbing gyms, one of them paid through the end of the year. I found a climbing partner who ‘clicked’. I was leading again, entering the roof, and could feel the progress after five months of climbing regularly.

I had planned for a pretty active 2020. I would finally learn a new sport and long time passion: surfing. I even looked at tickets and made a few inquiries about the best places and season for beginners in Indonesia.

I was going to cross two oceans to visit my friends who are family for two whole weeks. I would be there long enough to spend quality time with everyone I wanted to see, wander around the once familiar streets of Somerville and Cambridge, and watch sunsets along the Charles.

Not all plans involved international travel. There are so many things I still need to do in my new ‘home’. Places to go, foods to sample, parks, trails, waterfalls, the sea. To some extent, I can still explore some of it, but it’s not the same. It will not be the same.

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The weirdest feeling in this whole situation is ‘being home.’ After four years of living out of my backpack, hostels, friends’ couches, or short-term rental arrangements, I have a home. The moment I signed the contract and moved in, I felt something I hadn’t felt during the years I spent on the road: I felt the need to j u s t   s t a y   h o m e; which I did, for most of the four months  following my move.

While part of me wanted to be out and about, discovering new places and meeting new people, the other part wanted to go home as soon as I was done with work, spend weekends organizing drawers and running to the department store every time I realized I needed something for the house. For four months, I stayed inside, making this temporary home, my home.

Now, it feels like I was preparing myself for what was coming. I even managed to get whiskey glasses and an oven three days before the curfew started. Now I can sip whiskey while eating warm pão de queijo and looking at the plants in my balcony. Having plants has been crucial during this ‘stay at home’ period; they are the ones I talk to in the morning and they are extremely happy with the quarantine. I’ve never seen them so sparkly green.

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A month ago I thought it would be a good idea to start a journal about how I’m embracing (or not) these uncertain times, as I’m sure a lot of people are doing. Somehow, though, I couldn’t get myself to sit down and write, not even a couple of lines a day. March 21st (day 1), 31st (day 10) and April 9th (day 19) are all the entries I have during the past 41 days.

April, a month that as I write feels long gone, was long, intense, tough. It passed so fast, and at the same time so slow. Mixed feelings and sensations of a level I don’t remember experiencing before.

When COVID-19 hit and movement restrictions were put in place, I had to deal with an inability to go (travel) around and solve things. I panicked thinking about my friends and family, I panicked more from reading the news. For several days I tried to work but all I could do was to stare at my computer screen, immobile. I couldn’t stop looking at my phone, checking social media, going through messages every few minutes or so. I was already exhausted from the first few months of 2020, as the new job, new city, new routine started to sink in and feel less temporary. I couldn’t wait to take a break. I had been so much looking forward to spending a few days on the beach in mid April. Then, the Thai government cancelled the long holiday in April. A few days later, all domestic flights were suspended.

I took those days off anyway and only after four days I was able to ‘turn off’, and stopped feeling guilty about not being as productive as I wished I was.

PS – guilt is a bitch; expectations too. 

I alternated active days with those in which I probably walked less than 1,000 steps inside my apartment. I got into ‘obsession mood’ a couple of times. I burst out crying out of the blue. I danced with the lights off too. I took so many showers and baths! My water bill for April was higher than usual, and although knowing it’s not environmentally the best thing to do, I’m allowing myself to not feel guilty about it as water helps soothe my mind and soul.

I started taking pictures of my everyday life and playing with the reflections I see in the mirrors and windows around me. At this time of the year, the morning sun shows up in my apartment around 6h. By 6h20 it’s entering my bedroom window, through the curtains I leave half open. I love having the sun wake me up. I love even more watching the different shapes and shades its rays draw when entering my room.

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Reflections, shades and shapes

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In early April, I reached out to people more often. Towards the end of the month, I felt so tired at the end of the day that the last thing I wanted was to join another online meeting with someone who had just woken up and full of energy. Then, loneliness hit. Not the regular type of loneliness, to be clear. I have amazing friends and family around the world who are always there for me. But they are far, most of them with a 6-12 hour time difference, which ‘forces’ me to stay quiet and ‘alone’ during most of my day time. Except for work related conversations, the days passed in silence: 7, 14, 21…. I would wake up to hundreds of text messages sent by people before they had gone to bed. Then, 8-10 hours of silence would follow. By the time they would start texting again, I was already fed up with screens, after spending the 8-10 hours staring at one, for work.

Back when we could still walk around without face masks, or having to ask about how people were keeping up with social distancing (also as a way to figure out if it would be ‘safe’ to meet in person), I had made a resolution for 2020: that I’d get out more often, in a effort to build a social network, meet like-minded people, make new friends outside of work. Most importantly, people in the same time zone. I dared my introverted self to join meet-ups and reach out to different communities outside of the online world, and I was quite proud of my efforts. Then, we all know what happened.

Climbing gyms closed, then restaurants, then parks, I retreated to my turtle mode, into my shell. This time not because I wanted to.

I have also thought a lot about being single in times like this. I texted a group of friends, all married with kids, saying I was jealous that they had partners to share this time with. Oh…that the ‘grass is greener on the other side’ has never been truer. To these friends: thank you for being so open about your own struggles while supporting and understanding my own; I’m very glad to know we are in this together and have a safe space to share our feelings, thoughts, struggles.

I started running. I was never a runner. I started going for even longer walks as an excuse to explore the neighborhood and get enough daily steps. It started with 5km, now it’s about 10, and I’m looking for new areas to explore, preferably with back alleys, quiet lanes, canals, some green.

Not having plans, or having to change them on the go, was never a problem to me before, and I keep reminding myself that it shouldn’t be now. I was so happy with the pinches of certainty from having a new job and a steady income, that I forgot how happy I was with the uncertainties of my life before that. Writing about it and sharing with the people who have been following my adventures through uncertainty, help me stay grounded and aware of my own abilities to deal with whatever comes next.

For now, I would be very happy to be able to travel again. Domestic will do. A beach sunset, an outdoor climb; there’s so much to explore in Thailand. It’s not much to ask, is it?

Searches and findings

“Home is not where you were born. Home is where all your attempts to scape cease” – Naguib Mahfouz, Egyptian writer and Nobel Prize in Literature 1988.

A couple of months ago I reached out to a friend I met during my travels. We met at a silent meditation retreat and spent a few weeks island hopping in SE Asia afterwards.

Every time we messaged each other, he would remind me of how thankful he was that I invited him to come along and spend some quiet and relaxing time at the beach, doing yoga, eating noodles and curries, and getting lost riding motorbikes under pouring rain. Every time, he would remind me of how lost he was when we left that retreat, and how welcome he felt by the invitation.

After we said goodbye and I continued my journey north, we kept in touch. He stayed in the islands, survived one of the worst floods in years, and started teaching at a local yoga school where, I believe, he still is.

Last time we exchanged messages, I updated him on my whereabouts. For him, who ended up staying there, with occasional travels home and to other Asian countries, it was difficult to grasp my need for constant movement. He asked me “what is it that you keep searching, and why can’t you find it”?

Until then, I hadn’t looked at my travels as a search, but as something naturally inherent to me, as a basic need to my self-balance. I mean, when you are searching for something, you are searching for what you need [want], right? So if you already have [and live] that, does it mean you’re still searching?

It was so clear to me that it was not a search, that it took me a while to understand his question. Until recently.

Lately, his question has been following me. Especially after my recent move, which was not meant to be as temporary as the latest ones. This time, I moved wishing to stay for a while, if not necessarily in the country, certainly in the region. I moved to a place I wished I had never left; and it feels like I have found something.

But how come I “found” if I wasn’t searching? It made me think that, perhaps, I’ve been looking for ways to stop my attempts to scape. Perhaps, I’ve been searching for home, even though I thought home was anywhere.

In a month from now, Literal Uncertainty turns 3. Three years of embracing uncertainty and being open to the unexpected, to the unknown, to the uncertain. Three years of listening carefully to my intuition, of freaking out once in a while, and of learning to accept that I simply don’t have an answer to the question “what’s next?”.

Acceptance is a daily exercise. Even when we think we know, we don’t. Period. And when we think we don’t, we do… in a way we always do – but it’s not always what and how we would like it to be.

Acceptance involves understanding the highs and lows, the excitements and boredoms, and all the moods, and fears, and joy that come along. It doesn’t mean accepting whatever happens without questioning, without wanting to change. It is a learning process, through which we learn how to deal with the constant groundlessness of life.

For the time being, I confess: I am indeed experiencing the joy of feeling home. For now, my attempts to scape whatever it is that I was trying to get away from have ceased. Right now I can focus on the uncertainties of a daily routine. At least for now.

Time to let my friend know I’ll be visiting soon.

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Contemplation – Koh Phangan, October 2016

2017: a heart opening year

[Português]

Days before I start a new year of my life, I’m finally able to finish this post looking back at 2017 and the lessons I’ve learned from months of traveling, experiencing, settling, working, and getting to know me better – and feeling comfortable with it 🙂

2017 was the year I (re)opened my heart and allowed love to flow (in and out) again. After surviving 2016 (how tough it was!), and traveling east, 2017 surprised me with lovely encounters with places, people, and experiences.

It was January 11th when I felt it was going to be a different year.

It was raining and I had been awake since 5am to catch the first of 3 buses of that day. I was extremely lucky that my travel  partner decided, last minute, to continue her trip with me. Because when crossing the border I realized we’d swapped passports by mistake. I had hers, she had mine, and despite the same nationality we don’t look anything alike [another lesson learned from the road].

I can’t imagine how 2017 would have been if I was not able to cross to Laos on that January 11th. I wouldn’t have met the Mekong, nor the weavers of Xamtai, nor started a new habit, nor improved my motorbike skills, nor enjoyed sunsets and the best hash browns at the border with Cambodia. I’d probably have had a different experience in Northern Thailand, skipped Songkran (the water festival), and most important not met all the incredible people along the way.

If 2015 was the year I was forced to embrace uncertainty and deal with it without time to think or breath, and 2016 was when I embraced it and tried to add some structure to it (at least in my thinking), 2017 was when I allowed myself to live it beautifully, to enjoy the uncertainty of the paths I chose, and to experiment without fear of failing.

I spent 3 months in Laos, visited Northern Thailand, spent almost one month back in the US – covering both coasts and a bit of Louisiana and Mississippi -, introduced my mother and brother to one of my favorite spots in the world – where he indulged himself with all kinds of bugs and weird food – and had a blast having them visit my Thai family, and flew back to Brazil for a work project.

Being back in Sao Paulo after 7 years away was an interesting experience, to say the least. I reconnected with old friends, made new ones, and was able to keep feeding my nomadic soul hopping from one house to the other, thanks to the generosity of friends who are more than family to me, until I found a perfect short-term place where I spent the last 5 months of the year.

2017 also taught me that sometimes the right people come into our lives at the wrong time, and there’s nothing we can do about it other than enjoy their company while it lasts. It also taught me that there are wrong people out there, and sometimes we have encounters with them right when we need to learn a few lessons.

It was also a year of love in terms of acceptance.

Acceptance of who and how I am. Of the fact that I don’t have a standard answer to the question “what do you do” or “where’s your home”. I understood that not having a standard answer to questions like these does not mean I don’t do the things I do with professionalism and passion, nor it means I don’t feel home in the places where I am. Regardless of what people might think (and judge), I know that I’m an excellent professional, daughter, sister, and friend who will always be there for the people I love and for the exciting and challenging projects that come along.

Bring on 2018!

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The courage it takes to be certain

As I embrace uncertainty and live my life without trying to control the uncontrollable future, I’ve been trying to inspire friends and family to do the same, to leave their comfort zones, and allow themselves to see beauty in the unexpected.

I understand that we all have very different approaches to life, uncertainty, and change; that my level of comfort in not knowing what’s next is not the same as my friends, and I’m no better or worse for that.

Over the past couple of years I’ve learned that my comfort zone consists on being constantly on the move; that I don’t need more than a 50 liters backpack and less than 20 dollars a day to enjoy myself and be happy, to wake up every day feeling excited about life. I’ve also learned more about my sense of unease when it comes to knowing too much about where I’m supposed to be next or what I’m supposed or expected to be doing.

As I encouraged my friends to be more easygoing towards life, they also inspired and encouraged me to approach it in a more structured way, and to have the courage to chose a place and stay there for a while longer than two weeks – that would be way easier if that place was in Laos 🙂

Recently, reading a friend’s blog post, I realized I am brave enough to keep traveling on a budget from one country to another, but not to go back to my native country and stay there for a certain period of time. When sharing her courage to go home, she made me realize how much it takes for someone like me to say “ok, I’m going home, and I’m staying there for a while.” It takes tons of courage to be certain.

So far it’s been an interesting experience. Now I embrace the uncertainty of rediscovering a place where I spent ten years of my life; I embrace the novelty of familiar landscapes through the lenses of fresh traveled eyes. And whenever I feel uneasy about knowing where I’m supposed to be for the next six months, I think of Southeast Asia and the certainty I have that one day I’ll go back.

Wait, did I just say “certainty”?