The Guest House

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Dear Keatsway,

I want you to encourage you as if it’s the most important task I’ve been given. You’ve been brave and adventurous, hopping continents and crossing borders, forging your career trajectory and becoming the most international person I know. All of which comes with a cost: leaving friends, meaningful work, and places you love behind. Of course, you are heartbroken and unsettled. You don’t know if you should prepare yourself for the next move or learn to love Amman. I don’t have easy answers.  I can only echo your broken heart.

Recently, I returned to America after living in England for sixteen months. In York, I fell in love with the city, the people, the lifestyle. I lived inside Roman walls, traded my car for a bicycle, bought my groceries at the year-round farmer’s market and grew to love the rain and the fog. I critiqued literature, translated foreign films, and learned how to read medieval maps. I went road tripping and hiking through the Yorkshire Moors, Scottish Highlands, the Lake District and Irish countryside. I traveled by train across Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Spain. I did daring things I had never done before: karaoke, bouldering, sensual bachata dancing, swimming in Loch Ness, clubbing until 3 am. I also wrote a thesis, fell in love, and started attending an Anglican church. I could write a book about everything I did in England but there is not enough space here yet for that.

A few months ago I unpacked my bags in a new place: a hamlet in southern Washington state. I am grateful for the hospitality of my cousins, and the chance they have given me to start anew in the Pacific Northwest. Nevertheless, I struggle to be fully here at times, as I imagine you are in Amman. My 16 months in England reels through my head reminding me of all the brilliant adventures and loves I have left behind. I want to return permanently, but I don’t know yet if that’s in the cards or as you say, Inshallah, if God wills it.

I agree with you Keatsway, we must write about our inner journeys. The highs and the lows. The joy of a discovering a new place and the ache that accompanies having your heart split across continents. What do you love about Amman? What do you miss about Kampala? What can you take with you from place to place to create a home regardless of where you lay your head?

I think we can choose to stay in a place and call it home. Even if we have to leave we can build our lives around returning. I don’t know yet if Amman is your city, but I do know that the last city I lived in felt like a place I wanted to stay.  I don’t know what it will take for Amman to feel like home for you. And if you are not sure about Amman, be excited about what the city has to reveal you. What the city expects of you. Maybe you will discover answers to Rilke’s questions or perhaps you will learn to carry them with grace and poise.

All that is yet unknown. As you learn to hold uncertainty with open hands, I leave you with this poem by Rumi. It offers solace for the expat whose heart is still halfway in Kampala or York.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

— Jellaludin Rumi,
translation by Coleman Barks

So much love,

xoxo Brightstar

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Inshallah

Dear Brightstar,

It has been three years since I moved abroad. Though my letters havn’t been consistent the questions and aches I’ve felt over the past three years have been the same.

I moved to Geneva and then I left. I lived in Kampala and with work and an open heart I grew to love that change. Then I moved to Amman where I am living now.

The expat life has been exciting but it’s broken my heart a few two many times. I’ve fallen in love with people and built up families everywhere I’ve gone. I’ve transformed myself from a continental museum wandered to a streetwise motorbiker. Open and then hardened before transforming yet again, I have been formed by each experience

But the questions have not been answered. I only feel more jaded then I was at 24 moving abroad for the first time. I suppose through trials and adventures I’ve proven Rilke’s view that you tend to carry questions with you. Life doesn’t resolve itself no matter how many continents you live on.

I plan to keep in touch more if only to document my inward journey as I keep moving.

Jaded, confused, and heart sore.  Getting a bit sick of the expat lifestyle. But addicted to the promise of learning one more culture, one more city, one more new creation of self. Watch as I see whether this is the right city for me or just one more stop.

Always with love,

Keatsway

 

Chicago: 8 Months Ago

Dear Keatsway.

I meant to publish this post last November. Better late than never they say. Let’s hope they are right.

[8 months ago!] I flew to Chicago.

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I went to attend a conference on writing. Now not necessarily the kind you do for a living or on paper, but rather life writing. Of course I wanted to do both–learn how to write my life and how to write for a living. The conference was called Storyline.

When I booked a ticket to the conference and the city, Chicago, I was in one fluid motion combining my love of writing, travel, and story.  One of the joys of solo travel has always been the exhilaration of finding your way on your own terms. Being open to whatever the city will reveal to you about it’s character and the person you become as your new surroundings mold you. The city becomes then a coauthor of your experience. You impact it as much as it impacts you.

So as I landed in Chicago I reveled in the challenge of finding the right terminal to track down my CouchSurfing host, get the keys to my temporary living space for the next few days and find my way across this new and exciting city. If I could travel for a living and write about it, oh I would.

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The next morning, as I rocked back and forth on the train from the city to the countryside to the farthest reaches of Chicagoland, I looked out across open fields and endless possibility, feeling equally open and boundless myself.

Keatsway, there is nothing quite like seeing your favorite authors in person, especially if you’re a writer. It’s a heady rush of excitement and revelation. You finally hear them (Donald Miller, Shawna Niequist, etc.) speak out loud what you’ve been reading in their books for years. All their vulnerability, fears, heartaches and mistakes on their journey to a gradual success have twice as much gravity embodied by their presence and shared eye contact. Their presence adds more credibility to their stories while presenting you with a greater responsibility and accountability to live out your own.

This conference reinforced everything I’d been studying about stories for the past two years and reminded me why I was so drawn to them in the first place. Stories have an uncanny way of drawing the reader in by presenting high stakes and an unlikely protagonist. The harder the struggle, the greater the reward, mirroring life.

I’ve wondered, though, if one of the reasons we fail to acknowledge the brilliance of life is because we don’t want the responsibility inherent in the acknowledgment. We don’t want to be characters in a story because characters have to move and breathe and face conflict with courage. And if life isn’t remarkable, then we don’t have to do any of that; we can be unwilling victims rather than grateful participants.  -Donald Miller

And of course, in between conference sessions, I met my own tribe of writers and storytellers. We ate lunch and dinner together and stayed up late waiting for the last train back to Chicago. We shared backstories about how we ended up at Storyline and dreams for the future, scheming about how we could find the courage to make them a reality. 8 months later, we are still in touch.

Who knew the city where I have experienced the most delays would become the city that would inspire me the most. How’s that for irony?

XO,

Brightstar

Keeping Your Nerve Up

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Dear Brightstar,

As you well know I have just moved again. I’m living in an entirely new city, continent, and hemisphere. Kampala is by all standards a very different city then Geneva.

Yesterday I felt alive with the possibilities of living here. Tonight I feel as though I am heartbroken and alone.

My nerves are raw. I am exhausted. It’s an ever shifting equilibrium. I get both thrills from the thought of living in this new city and I despair I will never fill the ache of friends I miss.

There are definitive benefits to living abroad.

“Loving life is easy when you are abroad. Where no one knows you and you hold your life in your hands all alone, you are more master of yourself than at any other time.” ~ Hannah Arendt

But this is balanced with heartache.

“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.” – Unknown

In the meantime, you need to absorb new routines and overwhelming changes while mourning the life you choose to leave elsewhere. Especially, the people you choose to leave behind.

I know I choose this change just as I keep choosing a lifestyle of leaving places and people. But some nights its difficult to sleep with this choice.

But there seems to be nothing to it but to keep going.

The skills I will need to cultivate in order to live a life ‘persistently abroad‘—-by which I mean I keep choosing to move abroad despite my distress at starting over— will need to be: tenacity, patience with myself, courage, and good humor that feeds into a adventurous spirit.

I am here now and I will build a life in Kampala. It will never be the life I lead at home, or that I had in Geneva, but it will certainly be an adventure. With some patience and persistence, I think I can flourish here despite missing what I’ve built before.

All the best from my new home to be,

Keatsway

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Delayed

Dear Keatsway,

I sit in a black leather plushy chair of an oversized waiting room. I am not sure when I’ll be done but I imagine it will be soon. Until then I’ll pass the time writing you a letter.

I’m in a car dealership (for repairs, not car buying), but if I blink I could be back at my gate in O’Hare. Except here there is free coffee–arguably not as good as Starbucks–and there are cars instead of airplanes on display.

Three weeks ago, en route from Toronto, I sat on a leather stool next to a rain splattered window drinking Argo tea, pen and journal in hand, looking out at aircraft carriers. I wished the moment could last forever. Someday soon I hope to be waiting in an airport on my way to see you. I have not, however, always felt this way about delays or waiting itself.

I feel like I am always waiting –to find my next apartment, to pursue my dreams, for the workday to be over, for the weekend to come, and then for the next weekend. Waiting for the answers to my increasingly long list of questions about the meaning of life, and learning to be OK with the space in between. The space where I act out several possibilities to my question, or sit back and wonder what my next move should be.

Waiting in an airport has no clear starting or ending point. You just can’t predict when the delay will happen and you have to be prepared to change plans and be flexible. To remain undeterred by a detour and not waste energy being angry or frustrated. To become creative and spontaneous with your time and your new plan of action.

After a year of plane delays I have finally discovered the secret to not becoming discouraged by them–accepting them completely, and finding a pleasant way to wait it out. Sometimes it’s as simple as staying nourished with healthy food, finding a quiet place to rest, discovering a new perspective, and seizing the opportunity to work on cherished pastimes–like reading or writing. Always ready to pick up everything at a moment’s notice when the plane finally does depart, and practicing patience and fortitude when it doesn’t.

As I put my plans of graduate studies, and living abroad on hold, I am trying to apply the same lesson I learned here. To decide not to waste energy on discouragement or resisting reality. Instead accept it as a necessary part of the process, embody grace and peace, and be inventive and endlessly flexible.

Maybe this delay is reminding me that it’s the journey and not the destination that counts? Keatsway, how do you handle delays?

Yours with best wishes,

Brightstar

How To Travel: Literary City Guides

Dear Brightstar,

The best way to get the pulse of a city is to find a way to link yourself to its history, its stories, and its coffee. When I travel, I relish the chance to visit the neighborhoods where writers or iconic figures lived their lives. I also like to experience the best local haunts.

Eat This Poem blog has brought together writers  from all over the world to share their best recommendations for coffee,  food, and books in the cities they love.

Literary City Guides

 

Look up a guide today for your next travels or to rediscover a city you already know.

Happy trails,

Keatsway

Air, Sleep, Dreams, Mountains, and Sky

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Dear Keatsway,

I traveled to Banff earlier this month as a gift to myself for my 30th birthday. Although it was much too short of a visit, it was the best way to spend the last week of my twenties. A lot of our time in Banff was spent driving through mountains (see photo above), which was a joyful way to spend the first leg of our trip. We sang out loud to the Beatles, Muse, and Michael Buble (somehow all these songs become more epic with mountain backdrops); discussed philosophies about life and work and travel (I was reading Roman Krznack’s “How to Find Fulfilling Work,” which I recommend to you without reservation) and took lots and lots of pictures.

Our first evening– after helpful lessons in fire building and wood chopping, courtesy of my brother– we circled around the campfire drinking tea, roasting marshmallows, and softly singing Simon and Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair.” The next morning we shared the trails around Lake Minnewaka with Japanese and German tourists, stopping to try out yoga poses in front of turquoise waters and grey mountains. In the afternoon we meandered around downtown Banff marveling anew at the stone architecture, flower boxes, mountain views, the Bow River, and Evelyn’s coffee (which now has not four but five locations–in a town of under 8,000 this is a true testament to Banff’s tourism!). On the way back to our hotel we paused for several friendly mountain goats and a lookout point that gave incomparable views of the Bow River valley crested by several mountain ranges and right below us, hoodoos–arguably the best view in Banff. That evening after taking in the invigorating sight of rushing water at the Bow Falls, I opened some presents and dipped into the hot tub with M before midnight. Our last day included a full breakfast buffet, lots of Evelyn’s coffee, and a picnic lunch outside where I tried hard to imprint the sights of mountains, fir trees, and glacier lakes on my mind before we started the long drive home.

I was thankful that although my trip in Banff was amazing, I was not flying home just yet. I spent the rest of the week in our hometown, which while delightful and restful, paled in comparison to those few days in Banff. I hiked along the Red Deer River with my father, did yoga and shopping with J, coffee and a movie with my mother, a vegan restaurant and long drive with C, and celebrated my birthday with college friends over Indian food.

I’ve been back from my trip for only two weeks and I am already longing to return.  I take comfort in the fact that it won’t be long before I travel again. Until then I will revel in the memories and leave you with these words that sum up the philosophy of travel so well:

“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.” – Cesare Pavese

There is something transcendent and majestic about spending time in a such beautiful place and the buoyancy it gave me still spurs me on weeks later.  All we needed was the sky, mountains, air, sleep, and dreams.

Yours with Love,

Brightstar