10th Muse: Back to the Future

You have been given a time machine and can travel to any point in the past or future. Where/when would you go? - 10th Muse Writing Prompt.

When I was much younger I used to dream about traveling back to the past when swords and bows were common. The Renaissance and the Middle Ages were romanticized for me by my fantasy books and I loved the idea of traveling a more rustic world with a sword strapped to my back and adventure waiting for me over the horizon.

Then I grew up and studied history and came to the realization that the distant past really isn't at all waht it was cracked up to be. I'm still interested in seeing it but I'd rather do so with either some serious super powers or as an invisible, untouchable witness. We live in a harsh world but it's all puppies and rainbows now compared to the reality of back then.

I also wanted to travel into the future and see a world like the one promised in Star Trek or hinted at in my science fiction. A galaxy opened up to us by faster than light travel, technology that made life safer and easier and more pleasant, where we could devote ourselves to understanding the universe rather than trying to make enough money to pay the bills each month. The promise the future held was even more beautiful than the romanticized past.

But now we're in the second decade of the 21st century and the future has been a lot less appealing than I'd hoped for. I see no end to violence or the endless pursuit of wealth. The stars largely appear to be denied us, and the earth just keeps getting hotter and more unstable as we continue to exploit our environment without serious concern for the consequences. I'm not sure I want to see the future within my own lifetime, much less what waits beyond it. Hope has given way to cynicism and I'm bloody grateful that I have not brought children into a world I suspect will only be more unpleasant after I'm gone.

Yet despite all this, time travel still appeals to me. And as before, I'm influenced by fiction. Stephen King's 11/22/63 is a time travel story about a guy my age traveling back to the late 50's with the intent to live there until he can stop Oswald from assassinating President Kennedy. The first half of the novel is a delighted exploration of the past from the eyes of someone just like me. Reading the book, I felt a desire to do the same, to go back to the decades just prior to my own birth and see the world as it was. It helps that I'm white and male and wouldn't have to worry much about losing any rights. It'd be a pretty good deal for me, assuming I was able to get ahold of some cash and have the opportunity to make some investments.

I'd dearly love to see those years before Vietnam and after WWII.

I'm sure this will also seem rather silly but I wouldn't mind traveling back to the 80's for a few years. It's true that I've already lived the 80's once...why would I want to go back again? Well, for one I was too young to have the freedom to fully appreciate it. I still love the music and movies and would love to see it from an adult's persepctive, with the freedom (presumably) to take a great part in it. How cool would it be to see Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark on opening weekend again? What would it be like to attend concerts of musical groups that were in their prime, creating their music rather than replaying them for an audience who has already heard those same songs for decades? What would it be like to drive across the country without the internet to plan your trip with, without Google Maps or a GPS to guide me? I remember that, a little, but I never had the wherewithal to take advantage of a road without a certain destination.

The recent past...that's where I'd go, a familiar world that is still so much a stranger to me. I want to drink from a Woolworth soda fountain, take a roadtrip across the country on brand new interstates, paying less than 50 cents for a gallon of gas, watch Bon Jovi perform "Livin' on a Prayer" in concert for the first time, sit with an audence who has never seen Ghostbusters, go to a restaurant where no one is staring at a cellphone. Those times were no more perfect than any other but I'd relive them just the same.


I met Terry Pratchett only once, at Torcon (World Con 2002). I’d wanted to get a chance to meet him and get one of his books signed but I’d gotten held up by something or other and had thought I’d missed the opportunity.

Instead I ran into him at the Dealer’s Room and after apologizing for breaking one of the cardinal rules of con going (asking for an autograph away from the signing table) he kindly took my proffered copy of one of the Discworld novels, asked my name and signed it gracefully. We talked for only five minutes or so but his kindness and generosity was impressed upon me and I’ve never forgotten it.

After practically idolizing Leonard Nimoy as a teenager, I got the opportunity to meet him at a bookstore in San Francisco in 1995 or 1996. He was in town to promote his new book, I Am Spock. The bookstore was packed when I got there and I waited for quite a while, reading the book with a ton of other fans.

With that kind of crowd for that kind of celebrity, getting your book signed is an assembly line sort of experience. You hand your book to a bookstore worker, he makes sure it’s open to the right page and slides it down the table to the writer to sign.

So my experience was basically stepping across from Nimoy, telling him my name, asking how he was doing, and thanking him. He shook my hand, and the moment that I remember most clearly is when he said that I was welcome. It was Spock’s voice but with a warmth that Spock never had.  I waited for maybe 45 minutes to have half a minute with him but still, I’m glad I had it.

Now both are gone and though they will live on in their work, there’s a palpable absence in the world without them. I’m grateful that I had my moments with them both, however, no matter how brief.

Snow Light

It's one of those perfect winter nights, the sky clear and lit by a gibbous moon whose light is shining on the thin layer of snow blanketing the ground, making the air itself seem to glow.

It's pretty cold right now after being unseasonably warm yesterday, making a thick crust of ice on top of the snow so that I could walk across it without it giving way beneath my feet. That just heightened the otherworldly sense of the night. The wind sliced through my thin clothing like it was nothing but I kind of liked it. There's something clean about the cold, a crisp clarity to it that thrills me. The older I get, the more I crave that feeling and despise the wet, sweaty, insect filled heat of summer.

A few years ago when I had my DNA analysis done and it was determined that I am descended primarily from people in Northern Europe as opposed to Central, I was surprised but the more I think of it the more it makes sense to me. There's something deeply rooted in my bloodline that makes me want to go further north, that makes the future promise of warmer temperatures and fewer snowfalls seem so terrible.

I am meant for this season and nights like this and as they grow more rare, the more I feel as though I'm the outcast here, as alien as the moonlight reflecting off the snow.

Books Read in 2015

1. 01/05 - Child, Lee: One Shot - Another Jack Reacher novel, entertaining and easy to read as always.

2. 01/09 - Rickman, Phil: The Smile of a Ghost* - Still re-reading the Merrily Watkins books, far too slowly.

3. 01/31 - Sawyer, Robert J: WWW: Watch - This is the second book in a series about an emerging consciousness on the web. Usually I like Sawyer quite a bit but this particular series has been harder for me to enjoy, in part because one of the protagonists is a 16 year old girl who I just can't relate to. It's hard to read when you're rolling your eyes. Sawyer speculates a lot in his fiction and usually I enjoy that but this time it just annoyed me, a lot. I still want to read the final book in the series just to see how the conflict between the emerging consciousness and the government (which I totally do buy) is resolved but it's going to be rough to deal with the other aspects of the book that drive me crazy.

4. 01/31 - Wilson, Robert Charles: Axis* - Second time I've read it in preparation for the third book of the series that I haven't read yet. Good, but not as good as Spin was. I'm looking forward to reading the next book and seeing how it all ends.

5. 02/21 - Rickman, Phil: The Remains of an Altar* - Second read of this particular book and the one of the better ones. All of the Merrily Watkins books are enjoyable for me but this one much more so than the previous two, which made it easier to re-read. Only one more to go, I think, before I get caught up enough to read a new one. Looking forward to that, finally!

6. 02/24 - Wilson, Robert Charles: Vortex - The final book of the Axis trilogy. I actually quite liked it, especially the final chapter when everything got quite tidily wrapped up. Quite a satisfying end to the storyline.

7. 02/26 - Weir, Andy: The Martian - Holy crap. It's been a long time since I've read some really good science fiction. This book is that in spades. There tends to be two kinds of science fiction: pop science fiction which has science fiction elements without much science and fiction with a lot of hard science. I'm not particularly science-minded but I love science. Knowledge and discovery are exciting things for me but I love a good story too and this book is the perfect mix for my tastes. There was a lot of science and math but it was explained (in a way that really works with the story) so it's not a detriment but an enhancement. I'm hoping that young people will be encouraged by the book to have a greater appreciation for such arcane knowledge. Anyway, I loved it. First book I really truly enjoyed in a long time.

8. 03/06 - Correia, Larry: Spellbound - Second book in the Grimnoir Chronicles. I liked this even more than the first one. It's one of those books that's written by someone who has a lot in common with me, so though it's not high literature in any way, it sure is a lot of fun. What impresses me is that even though it's not written brilliantly, it's still written pretty well. Better than I could do, so I liked it.

9. 03/20 - Mann, Charles C.: 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus - I've been wanting to read this for a long time and I found it to be every bit as fascinating as I'd expected. One of the earliest questions I had as a child why was the Indians were so technologically inferior to the Europeans. It was a question that no teacher ever answered to my satisfaction. Truth be told, this doesn't answer it either but it comes closer than anything I've encountered before. The truth is, we don't know very much about the people who were in the Americas before the Europeans came and most of what we've been taught is either outright wrong or tremendously prejudiced. It's frustrating and infuriating to contemplate all that was lost and that we'll never know but at least I have a slightly clearer picture now than I did before I read this book.

10. 03/27 - Correia, Larry: Warbound - Third and final (so far as I can tell) book of the Grimnoir Chronicles. I liked this one best of all. Great wrap up to the series, overall satisfying. Definitely an entertaining read.

11. 04/03 - Dolnick, Edward: The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern World - This was a very difficult book to read as it involved a lot of math which made my brain hurt when it wasn't completely beyond me. But interesting nonetheless and I learned quite a bit I hadn't know. Overall it was good, just challenging.

12. 04/05 - Adams, John Joseph and Howey, Hugh: The End is Nigh (The Apocalypse Triptych - Volume One) - This is the first of three anthologies, with stories set just before an apocalypse. I love these kinds of stories and most of these were really good. I want to read the next one right away.

13. 04/09 - Adams, John Joseph and Howey, Hugh: The End is Now (The Apocalypse Triptych - Volume Two) - I downloaded this right after that last one and read through it without delay. I sure do love these kinds of stories. There are only one or two that I didn't care for and a few more than that I really loved. Very fun. I just have to wait until next month for the last one to get released. Can't wait to see how some of those come together.

14. 04/14 - Riddle, A.G.: Departure - Interesting idea but the execution didn't really work for me. I didn't like the way story was told, two first person present tense narrators. The characters didn't do a lot for me either and there was absolutely no subtlety to the writing. It felt like a very sophmoric effort all around. The end was a little better than I expected it to be (wasn't completely predictable like the rest of it). I almost gave up on it early on but I did manage to make it through.

15. 04/18 - Munroe, Randall: What If? - Wonderfully informative and humurous all at the same time. But lightly so on both counts.

16. 04/24 - James, Aiden: Plague of Coins - Simply put? Crap.

17. 04/27 - James, Aiden: Reign of Coins - More crap, though not quite as bad as the first. This is book two of a series of books about Judas Iscariot trying to retrieve the 30 silver coins he'd been paid for betraying Christ. Many years ago I read another book with this same premise that was really pretty great. When I stumbled on this series I was eager to give them a shot. Long story short, I got books 3 and 4 for free and had been trying to get the first 2 that way as well. In the end I signed up for a free month of Kindle unlimited, which allowed me to read those books and find that they're terrible. Terribly written, very uninteresting premises, awfully portrayed characters. I really shouldn't have wasted my time with the second one but I didn't want to lose the opportunity to read it just in case. Books like these make me think that even my writing can't be that bad.

18. 04/27 - Eggers, Dave: The Circle - This is a book about a company similar to Google basically growing all powerful. It begins with a rather ludicrous tone and has an unsettling quality of becoming more outlandish and at the same time more believable as it goes. By the end I actually quite enjoyed it. My final conclusion is that it was really well written after all. Scary, too.

19. 05/07 - St. John Mandel, Emily: Station Eleven - Another surprisingly good read, though I guess I shouldn't be so surprised after George R.R. Martin recommended it. This is a post-apocolyptic novel that plays around with time in a way that works for me pretty well. I really liked it and was sad when it ended. It's going to be hard to find another book to read after that one.

20. 05/21 - Millard, Candice: Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President - Excellent book about the assassination of President Garfield. It's a very tragic tale, really, with fascinating characters. Absolutely astonishing how much has changed in 125 years. Very compelling read for nonfiction.

21. Mo/dy - Last, First: Title - Thoughts

* Denotes something I'd already read at least once before.

Christmas Magic

Christmas is one of the few things of my childhood that was pleasant. My mom made a real effort to make it a special time regardless of her circumstances and my memories of the Christmases of my youth are all happy ones. I think we always had a real tree and there were always a large number of presents around it. In those days I was a christian and I believed whole-heartedly in the basic religious underpinings of the holiday, even though I learned quickly enough that Jesus wasn't actually born in December (if he was born at all).

My favorite memory of those years was of returning home after the Candlight service at church on Christmas Eve. We almost always went and opened presents after...Santa's delivery was scheduled each year during the service. I was driving home that night and as we paused at the stop sign to turn onto the main road heading home, I was caught by the most perfect, peaceful, beautiful Christmas snowfall I'd ever seen. To me, that was the perfect Christmas moment. Snow drifting down onto the windshield, lit by the warm glow of the streetlight overhead. I've never seen anything like it since.

So here I am, more than 20 years later sitting in a dark room that is only lit by the lights on the Christmas tree. This year the Christmas tree is surrounded by at least as many presents as the most bountiful year of my childhood with three kids receiving gifts. They're just for Jade and me, because we like buying each other presents and watching the unwrapping. The street outside seems surprisingly busy. And though I live in New England, which is always supposed to be snowy in my own worldview, it's wet from rain and warm with temperatures in the 40's even after sundown.

It's been a little harder for me to hold on to the magic of Christmas this year with the warm weather and the rain, the absence of Jade as she is helping friends on the other side of the country, and the sense of general grumpiness on most of the people I encounter in the world outside my living room. Most of my wishes for a happy holidays is received with a grudging return, and it largely seems as though this December is little different than any other time of year. Long ago and far away is the sense that this is "the most wonderful time of the year," as we embark in a "winter wonderland."

Still, I cling to the sense of the holiday. Even if the world outside seems mad with violence and despair, at this moment in my house with well-fed animals all around me, the lights of the Christmas tree filling the room with a warm glow, the promise of Jade's return drawing ever near, I focus on what Christmas has always really meant to me. A hope for peace and love to triumph over all, an embrace of the joy in giving, the warm companionship of family and friends. Life is what one makes of it, or so I fervently believe, and Christmas is a time when we can choose to make it about the better nature of humanity. Joy, hope, love and giving, no matter how cold and dark it is outside.

It's in that spirit that I wish you all a Merry Christmas.
When I was eleven, I broke a hand mirror belonging to my grandmother. It was an accident and I felt really bad about it, foolishly trying to hide it. That failed miserably and my mother punished me pretty severely.

That was the last time I visited my grandparents house for several years. I was 17 when I returned and I'd forgotten all about the incident until I went into their bathroom and saw another mirror, looking just like the one I'd broken, sitting in the same place that it had been all those years ago. The memories came flooding back, accidentally dropping the mirror, hiding the evidence, geting caught and subsequently punished.

I didn't like to think about bad memories so I shoved them all into a box in my mind and locked them away.

Another year passes and I visit my grandparents again. Once again I visit the bathroom and see that mirror and again, the memories come flooding back. Instead of burying the memories back up, I pick it up with utmost care. In the last year, my life had improved substantially. I was happier than I could remember being since before that fateful day when I broke the mirror, and when I looked back at it all it occurred to me that everything had gone from bad to worse up until the previous year.

I quickly put the mirror back down and stepped away from it. It had been seven years, I realized. Seven miserable years between the time I broke that first mirror and the time that things started to get better. "Break a mirror and you get seven years of bad luck."

Holy crap, I thought. It's true!

A year after that I was having car trouble and it seemed like everywhere I went I would find a penny on the ground. "See a penny, pick it up, all day long you'll have good luck!" With that in mind I picked them all up, feeling like I needed all the luck I could get. A few hours later, however, my car broke down just outside of Santa Barbara and when I pulled over to the side of the road and popped the hood, I found that the engine was actually on fire. Luckily for me, I happened to have a pepsi in the car and I was able to use that to douse the fire but I remember thinking, "So much for the lucky penny theory."

I happened to mention that to a friend a few days later. "Were the pennies tail side up?" I couldn't remember for sure, but I was pretty sure that at least a few were so I nodded. "There's your problem...found pennies are only lucky if they're head side up."

I actually thought that made sense and to this day I only pick up a penny if it's head side up. I haven't had a break down since, so there must be something to that. Hold on a sec while I go knock on wood.

  Superstition is the religion of feeble minds - Burke

As a kid I spent a considerable portion of my time trying not to step on a crack so as not to break my mother's back. I avoided stepping under ladders, sought a different route if a black cat crossed my path and never dared to open an umbrella inside the house. I spent hours looking for a four leaf clover, tossed spilt salt over my shoulder, knocked on wood, crossed my fingers and made wishes on falling stars, first-star-I-see-tonight and wishbones.

Over time I eventually grew out of most of those things, but never all of them. Staying out from under ladders just makes good sense, and I step on cracks all the time without breaking anyone's back. Though, truth be told, sometimes I find myself avoiding the cracks anyway, without even thinking about it. But I have opened an umbrella inside, and I have a black cat crossing my path just about every single day. I stopped looking for four leaf clovers after one day finding a bunch of them in one place and not getting so much as a speck of good luck.

Still, I knock on wood on a pretty regular basis. I only pick up pennies, nickles and dimes if the head side is up -- quarters are clearly exempt -- and I'm extremely careful around mirrors. Is it, as Burke suggests above, a matter of being feeble minded? Maybe, but we live in a strange world sometimes. Luck seems to exist whether I believe in it or not and knocking on wood hasn't hurt anyone yet.

My personal opinion is that superstition provides a nice flavor to life, a hope for something different, perhaps even somewhat oddball. So long as my observance of a few choice superstitions doesn't rule my life I'm not going to shy away from them.

Superstition is foolish, childish, primitive and irrational - but how much does it cost you to knock on wood? - Viorst


Pedestrian Viewpoint

My primary source of exercise in the summer comes from walking. On the average weekday I tend to walk 6-8 miles a day, to and from work and another walk through town at lunch.

Along the way I see a lot of things I’d never notice if I was driving all that time. One guy sitting at a table in front of a cafe at all hours of the day, every day always eating something and talking to someone. A woman in the morning who hustles to work carrying three different bags of varying colors, wearing headphones and always looking hurried and unhappy. Another woman who rides her motorcycle to and from work each day, particularly noticeable to me because of the bright pink helmet she wears. I can always tell how early or late I am based on how far along I am when she passes me. The 9/11 conspiracy guy in front of the post office, draped in long streamers of fliers.

About once a week in the morning I see a friend of mine who works from home and travels all over the world, usually walking casually through town with a coffee in his hand, chilling out after a trip. We usually exchange brief greetings as I hurry past.

Occasionally there are things that stand out from the routine. The old man who’d parked too close to the curb so that his passenger door had scraped the parking meter. A pair of shoes abandoned in front of the furniture shop, giving the impression that someone had been knocked out of them. The woman sleeping on a stoop in front of her apartment door, wearing a set of oversized sweat clothes, with a cigarette hanging from her bottom lip. The police talking to a group of people on the other side of the street, sorting out a fight or a shoplifting.

All these fragments of a New England town that I see pieces of each day.

What has been striking me the most lately, however, is the rudeness of the drivers. As a driver I’ve certainly experienced it: being honked at for no apparent reason, having someone cut in front of me or tailgate me, people who don’t use their turn-signals or are driving absurdly slow or dangerously fast.

As a pedestrian, it's far more obvious. People stopping in the middle of the street to drop someone off or pick someone up, heedless of the people behind them who are forced to slam on their brakes and wait for them. Drivers honking at each other for perceived slights or offenses. Cutting each other off, rushing past people trying to cross the street, shouting out the window, making obscene gestures, repeated acts of cruelty and no consideration.

I don’t typically think much of people in general as it is, and I’ve certainly been annoyed by people as a driver myself but I’m kind of astonished at seeing how rude people are when they're isolated in their cars. Almost every time one driver honks at another it's without real cause, just an expression of anger and impatience.

Drivers can be real bastards.

Travel at 40: Option 8 - Iceland

I’ve been to Iceland once before, in December of 2012 for just a little under 24 hours. At the time of my arrival I was coming down with a cold, which had settled in so severely by the next morning that I wasn’t up to doing much sight seeing.

Despite all that, I liked what little I saw very much. It was the most unusual looking place I’d ever seen, and that’s saying a lot for someone who has been to Utah, Nevada and Death Valley. I’ve wanted to go back ever since that first brief visit.

A trip in September will give me the opportunity to see the country at a very different time of year. I suspect there will still be greenery and there’s certain to be a lot more sunlight than there was on my first trip. This time I would rent a car and drive the Golden Circle, which is essentially a road that circles the majority of the accessible island. It wouldn’t take a lot of time to do it, so a week in Iceland would allow me to see quite a lot.

And the things to see and experience are considerable. Whale watching, geysers, continental plates, mountains, volcanos, puffins, horseback riding…it’s a virtual cornucopia of possibilities.

There are a few things that concern me, however, which is why this is ranking so low on my list. The biggest issue is that a trip to Iceland is essentially a trip to Iceland only. I wouldn’t get to see anything else of Europe and generally speaking, it’s so much closer that I feel a little as though it wouldn’t be taking full advantage of the opportunity to travel.

I’m also bummed about the time of year a little. I’ve heard some reasonably good things about traveling to Iceland in September: it’s quieter and cheaper than in the summer, the daylight hours wouldn’t be all that unusual for me, and though it’d be getting colder than I had in mind for this trip, it wouldn’t be too cold yet. But those are largely disadvantages too. I liked seeing Iceland in December because experiencing a day without much sunlight was so unusual to my experience. I’d rather see Iceland when it’s either light all day and night or dark the whole time, solely for the experience.

I also badly want to see the Aurora Borealis, and Iceland is one of the best places on earth to experience it, if you go the right time of year. It’s possible in September but not so likely. So that’d be pretty disappointing. I also think I’d have to pack more cold weather clothing than I’d prefer to do for this trip, since the average temperatures would be 15-20 degrees F colder than all the other places I’m looking at going.

Of course, there is another option. I could squeeze another brief visit to Iceland out of the overall trip by doing what I did last time and using Icelandair to travel to Europe. All flights on Icelandair require a stop in Reykjavik, and to boost tourism, the airline allows for free long stops before taking the connecting flight. So I could put an extra day or two before or after the trip (likely after) and see more of the island then. If I did this, I’d probably plan to spend extra time on the way back, so I could luxuriate in the hot springs in my final hours, which was one of my favorite parts of the last trip. Definitely a possibility, if Icelandair has any affordable flights and schedules at the time I’m looking to travel.

On the other hand, time spent in Iceland would subtract from time spent in the other countries I’ve got my eye on, and I don’t have nearly as much time available to me for this trip as I’d like as it is. So it’s a tricky proposition either way.

Regardless, I loved my first Iceland experience and am dying to do it again. If this turns out to be my second trip to the exotic island nation, I am certain it would be a spectacular trip worthy of my birthday celebration.

Travel at 40: Option 7 - Germany Take Two

I visited Germany for the first time in December of 2012 and I enjoyed the experience a great deal. My favorite part of the country was southern Germany, in the area surrounding Munich.

As it happens, in September when I’m planning to travel, Munich will be hosting the world famous Oktoberfest. Which would be really convenient if I had known for sure I was going to Munich this September several months ago (like, last year) and had made arrangements already to stay there. At this late date, there are no places to stay left.

So Munich is not an option for this trip unless I’m there for just a few hours. That’s okay, though. In December, Germany is cold and dark and leafless, filled with Christmas Markets and opportunities for Glühwein (mulled wine). It was pretty amazing, but it left me wondering what the towns and villages would be like in warmer weather when things are still green and colorful.

A trip to Germany this year would provide me such an opportunity. I have several options for getting there: I could fly directly to Frankfurt, or I could fly to Zurich in Switzerland. Either way, I could rent a car and then travel through southern Germany by auto, exploring the Black Forest, wine trail, Bavarian Alps and the various castles that can be found in that area. Short trips to Switzerland (especially if I’m flying into Zurich), France or even southwestern Austria would be possible.

I’d be inclined, actually, to make sure I visit Switzerland during such a trip at least for a day or two so that I get to add a new country to my list. Come to think of it, I could even make a point of seeing a little bit of the Czech Republic.

Another option would be to fly into Amsterdam and either rent a car there so that I drive through The Netherlands and Belgium, or just take the train. Either way a day and night in Amsterdam would be a decent way to overcome jet lag before doing any serious traveling.

The area of Germany I have in mind is relatively small but it’s got a great deal to see. The wine route I alluded to earlier, a scenic drive known as the Bertha Benz Memorial Route, commemorating the first automobile road trip, castles such as Neuschwanstein Castle, and various fall festivals. It would make a great return trip.

Travel at 40: Interlude

So I've gone and talked about six places I would love to visit for my 40th birthday, expounding upon their virtues, what interests me and what doesn't. It's surprisingly difficult to write about because there's so much that I want to see and do. Even when I make an effort to restrict my options, I find that I'm going too big and planning too grandly for the brief amount of time I'll have for the trip.

It's also true that I would be happy going just about anywhere. Whenever I look into a country, I find myself distracted by the neighbors, or advice about a train that swiftly takes travelers to neighboring countries and cities. It's particularly difficult to balance the desire to see as many new countries as I can and experience different parts of some of the countries I've already seen. After all, I've only seen a small part of both Austria and Germany in a totally different season. There's still so much to see...yet how do I choose a place I've already visited, even if only briefly, when there are so many others I've not seen or experienced at all?

Another issue that is never far from my mind is the language. I've been working, very slowly, on learning a little bit of German for the last couple of years. I've not put nearly as much time into it as I'd like because it's very time consuming and also incredibly hard. There are times when I feel such despair at ever making solid progress beyond the basics I've already learned that I have to take a break.

And German is only used in one area of Europe. There's also French, Dutch, Czech, Slovakian, Spanish, Turkish and Greek to contend with. I know a handful of words in French, most of which I always forget whenever I'm with a French-speaking person. I've forgotten most of what little Spanish I used to have, and the others are pretty much indistinguishable for me. I'm not afraid of going to places where I don't speak the language and I do make a solid effort to at least get the bare minimum whenever I visit a particular place but it's one of the greatest stresses and frustrations. Particularly so because I desperately want to be able to learn the languages.

I've always said that if I could have any one super power I'd choose teleportation. If I could have any one psychic power it'd be psychometry (divining information and the history about an object by touching it). If I could have any one typical modern human ability, it'd be polyglotism. I love language and I love listening to other languages, learning what I can of them. I envy people who can learn them easily and if there's one regret I have about the way I was raised it's that my parents didn't expose me to language all that much. I can't really blame them...I had a hard enough time learning English with my hearing disability. And my mom did let me take a Spanish class when I was ten, even though I forgot it all pretty rapidly without someone to practice with.

So even though I've been to the UK so many times it's kind of ridiculous, a part of me wants to include a part of it in my trip somehow just so I can relax a little. I'm not going to do it (though Northern Ireland is calling, as is a train trip through England) but the temptation is definitely there.

Despite those things, however, I love having an excuse to pour over google maps, read wikis and travel blogs and all the other ways I have of getting insight into a foreign place. There's so much to discover and it almost eases my ache to travel just to read about these places. It's fascinating to get little glimpses into the completely different lives people are living. The history, the geography, the cultures...all these things that make travel so wonderful are available to explore from my living room. That it makes me want to travel to those places even more is undeniable but I still find joy in the process of learning about them.


Sputtering with Indignation

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April 2015


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