And a year ago I was finishing my walk across Scotland. A year has passed. My stock portfolio has diminished and, counter to habit, I’ve carried those vacation charges on my credit card. The expenses have accrued some double digit interest rate. The benefits have pervaded far more of my life. The benefits outweigh the costs, but I can’t pay the bills with memories – that is unless I tell the story. I’m writing a new book, and the act of writing it is therapeutic, possibly productive, and at least occupational.
I am a fan of travel. (see Travel Perspectives) Travel can be escapist. Travel can be educational. Travel can even be philanthropic. Disaster areas aren’t kidding when they say that they need people to return as aid workers or tourists. There’s work to be done, and they need the influx of cash funneled through jobs. Travel for me is stepping back from the canvas of life that I’m painting every day. Travel for me is also jumping into another rut to better see if I’m in any ruts within my normal life. Bicycling across America and walking across Scotland were long ruts that I appreciated for the experiences and for the perspectives.
At the beginning of August I had a significant financial setback that I hope is only temporary. For more than two months I’ve been applying for jobs, networking, and acting entrepreneurial. To those who say, “Anyone who wants a job can find one.” Hmm. I’ve found plenty of jobs, but so have many other applicants. When the number of unemployed people is greater than the number of jobs, looking and wanting won’t be enough.
In the meantime, I’ve been writing writing samples for applications, online freelance markets, and for various charities. My trip across Scotland taught me to take control and responsibility of my mood and attitude, as long as I avoid wheat and gluten. Two gifts that I gave myself are writing this blog and writing a book, the book about what I learned about myself while walking through a foreign country. Once a day I know that I’ll write to my values, in my style, to express myself in something that can be shared, possibly sold, and expanded upon. I’m probably past the halfway point of the trip, so the first draft of the book is about halfway done.
Hunting for a job is tough in good times. It involves vulnerability, courage, risk, and internal reinforcement. Daring to be something else is, well, daring. Hunting for a job during times of high unemployment, high personal interest rates (oddly happening while the prime rate is near zero), while housing prices drop enough to put mortgages at risk, and while health care costs continue makes for a tougher hunt.
At least once a day I take control. For an hour or so I write the book. Writing is a job that is self-administered and self-controlled, at least as long as you self-publish. (You know I teach classes in, have a book about, and consult regarding self-publishing.) The key though is that for an hour I am working on something productive that can’t be down-sized, foreclosed, or reassigned without my approval. I know I am getting something done.
Writing a book is one method of self-empowerment. Fixing up something to sell, creating something, learning more about a passion, even something as basic and useful as cooking can be positive. One friend decided to start brewing beer. Drinking beer was something he enjoyed, but buying microbrews was too expensive and hanging out in bars was even more wasteful. Instead, he started brewing his own, which was cheaper, made to his taste, kept him busy and even taught him history as he traced recipes back to ancient Egypt that had particular healing qualities. He wasn’t just brewing beer. He was lowering his health care costs. If nothing else it was a good story.
Scotland’s favorite beer seemed to be Ireland’s Guinness, a beer long touted as a a tonic. “Guinness is Good for you.” The posters are more ubiquitous than framed pictures of the Queen.
Scots are stereotyped as stoic, hard-working, hard-drinking, frugal, and resourceful. They live on a land of poets, though I had difficulty finding village bookstores. Give them rocks and they build walls and houses. Give them land that can’t be farmed and they’ll raise sheep. Tell them they have to become Romans or English, and be ready for a fight with whatever’s on hand.
America was founded by immigrants from such places. They continue to flow in. They filled the country. The advantage we had until recently was mobility and opportunity on our internal frontiers. Go west young man. Homestead and raise a farm and a family and life, leaving behind your previous unfortunate circumstance.
Unfortunately, leaving a house behind is harder when it can’t be sold for more than the mortgage within a reasonable time. Credit ratings and electronic histories follow us forever. Homesteading won’t absorb all of the discouraged population, unless we start colonizing space, and NASA’s budget isn’t enough to land a bridge party on the moon. Colonies might only happen by the Chinese or the ultra-wealthy.
My memories of Scotland affect my daily life, partly because of the example set by the Scots, but mostly because of what I learned about myself. I traveled unsupported, and that’s the way our society seems to treat many people now. On my own though, I can set, accomplish, and celebrate goals that fill a life. Paying the costs may be delayed, but that’s basically another definition of an investment: expending resources up front to eventually recover them plus more.
I can do that as an individual. Doing that in collaboration can be more powerful. Communities built that way can be resilient and thrive. A society and civilization that invests itself, which means investing in its members, can find ways to sustain itself for generations.
In the meantime, I’ll finish this blog so I can get back to writing the book – and to get ready for my talk. Thursday night, October 20th, starting at 7PM, Wander on Whidbey is hosting a talk and slideshow that I’ll give about my walk across Scotland. And it’s free. That fact alone can make it a memorable event in these times.