And This Is How It All Began

“Get busy living or get busy dying.” It’s a famous line from a famous movie — one of my all-time favourites, in fact. It’s a sentiment I repeat to myself often, particularly when I find myself getting too comfortable. It’s quite frightening, how quickly you can slide from random to routine to rut. Once in that rut, it’s mighty hard to climb back out.

penderharbour33I’ve never been too interested in living the “conventional” life: early marriage, 2.1 kids, mini-van in the suburban garage, summers at the lake. Just the thought of it felt suffocating. I’m not knocking those who chose that path and found happiness — you grab joy where you find it. It just wasn’t for me. Thankfully, I found a life partner who felt the same. So, after an 11-year engagement, Rick and I tied the knot. Not in the traditional way, of course. We eloped. To Mexico. In those 11 years we had traveled around the world, and a foreign wedding seemed natural. We continued to trek the globe, racking up 60 countries over 6 continents (the 7th, Antarctica, remains elusive to this day. But there’s still time).

After 16 years shimming up the corporate ladder, I started to feel the familiar suffocation so, at the height of my brilliant career (I was routinely told by PR flacks that I was “A list”), I clocked out. To do what? you ask. I dunno. I had no plan, no path, no safety net whatsoever. I just closed my eyes and jumped. The ensuing 9 years brought the ups and downs of a European stock market. There were times of drought, sure, but there were just as many deluges of the kinds of work I never would have pursued had I stayed a corporate shill. I was snagging gigs at some of the biggest publications in Canada, the U.S. and Europe. At one point, I was tempted to refuse a pay rate of $2 a word (U.S., when the Canadian dollar was at about $1.50) because it was so insanely high. And for a job that required me to spend a weekend in the lap of luxury, sipping fine wine and slurping fresh-caught oysters. Prudence prevailed, of course, and I gladly cashed the cheque.

But just as there are highs to the stock market that inevitably presage crashes, so too did the kind of journalism that I practiced take a dive. My gravy train derailed and I was left, like so many colleagues much more esteemed than I, to rethink my journey.

I knew I wanted to continue to write, mostly because I don’t know how to do anything else. But with fewer outlets to pitch, I had to create something else. To wit: social media. To an old-school hack like me, the very idea was anathema to all I held dear. It conjured images of 12-year-old girls tweeting about Justin Bieber. And the fact I even knew who Justin Bieber was infuriated me. I resisted for so long, hoping people like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates would get brain freeze and stop hurtling toward such astounding technology, return us all to our ink-stained newspapers and magazines — and, more selfishly — my bread and butter. But the barn door had been (electronically) opened and the horses were on the run, never to be recaptured. I had to adapt.

robinfrancispoint2At about the same time as I grudgingly came to this inevitable conclusion, I found myself veering into another rut. And the more I aged the more resistant I became. I looked around at all the things I’d gathered, collected and accumulated over the years and realized they no longer made me feel happy, they just made me feel trapped. My possessions began to possess me. One day I’ll likely want them all back, but right now I just need to lock them up and break free from their hold. So today they sit crammed together in a storage locker, plotting the day when they’ll lure me back with their blasted comforts and conveniences.

I just began to feel that if I allowed my life to settle into those smooth, familiar grooves, the deeper I’d sink and I’d never get out. There was too much living to be done yet. Which brings me back to the beginning, and how I learned to stop resisting technology and start loving social media. Not exactly tweeting, but what about blogging? Also beneath me, but not as far. Besides, some really big names were doing it (Huff Post, anyone?). And I’d been advised by a Vancouver newspaper’s managing editor it was a terrific way for paper people like me to learn how to use the various types of technology — writing and editing online, uploading photos, interacting instantly with readers. But what to write that would be remotely of interest to anyone? There’s an old adage in journalism: write what you know.

sunset10As I pondered this, an opportunity fell into my lap to house-sit. In Mexico. For 5 months. It took all of 90 seconds to say yes. Or, si. Mindful of the perilous situation at the country’s border, heeding the fears and cautions of our rightfully concerned families, we packed up our Subaru and headed south. We’d driven through Mexico before (and Africa and Israel and Northern Ireland, as well as numerous “soft countries”) so we felt we were pretty seasoned. Besides, the dangers in Mexico are concentrated and targeted. We’d simply keep our heads down, our noses clean and the pedal to the metal until we clear the border towns. From there, we’d get going on this most excellent adventure.

I have no illusions that a 5-month stint in Mexico is going to catapult my life into a state of nirvana. It could, in fact, backfire and be a disaster. But we can settle in to that rut or take a chance. My dream has always been to leave this world completely used up, drained and wrung out tighter than a dish cloth. Better get busy.