Sunday October 14th Amsterdam, NL – Teetering on the Brink

Sometimes I like being reminded that traveling alone isn’t all that bad. I’m sitting in the smoking room of the Flying Pig Uptown hostel and these three American guys have spent the last fifteen minutes bickering about their plans. I don’t have that problem. Well, I suppose I do, but arguing with myself is entirely different. My brother told me once that he strongly dislikes traveling with other people because he hates dealing with their bullshit and indecisiveness. Personally, I think it’s a matter of finding the right type of human being. One that compliments your own travel style and habits. There are a lot of people I would never ever choose as an accomplice, to be perfectly honest. But that doesn’t change the fact that there are so many moments when I desperately wish I wasn’t by myself. Like I mentioned in my previous entry, it’s that extra push from an outside force that gets you to do things you might not do when on your own.

Over the weekend I had to stay in another hostel on the other side of the city. I had to take a tram to get there, too. Which of course was the most harrowing experience (ha). I’m such a stubborn wuss at times. It’s laughable. Anyway, this castle of a hostel was in the middle of a more ethnic neighborhood. It felt even more European than being in the city center. It also forced me to explore other parts of Amsterdam I never would have seen otherwise. And by explore, I mean got hopelessly lost and was finally forced to use my map. But in the end it resulted in me feeling far more comfortable than I’ve been since I got here. That’s always the worst. Those creeping epiphanies that sneak up on you right before you leave a place. Right before you start imagining how easy it would be to find an apartment and get a job and build a new home. I could see myself living here. Really, I could see myself living anywhere. It’s simply a matter of perspective.

Yesterday it rained forever. The relentless drizzle a constant companion. I eventually found my way to The Hermitage Museum where the Van Gogh exhibit has relocated to while they do renovations in the original building. The line was quite long, but I wasn’t about to back out just because I had to wait. I’ve had a lifetime of experience with waiting. I used to feel like I was always waiting. Some people aren’t very adept at patience. It’s an important skill to learn, obviously. The exterior of the museum wasn’t anything special, but the interior was rather lovely. A perfect union of old and new. I admit that my expectations were sort of astronomical because the entry fee was 17.50 Euro. I can tell you with absolute confidence that it’s not worth the expense. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by The Art Institute of Chicago or by the plethora of other art exhibits I’ve seen all over the world. But even with the Impressionist gallery it was a bit of a disappointment. Whoever curated it though did a very nice job, the space itself was fantastic. My favorite part was the entry to the Impressionist wing. They’d blown up a painting, huge. I mean enormous. Bigger than wall-size. I stood there in awe and dreamed of diving inside the kaleidoscope of light and color for a solid half hour (not exaggerating, seriously). Overall I can’t really complain about the experience because I walked away with several new story ideas buzzing around in my brain.

The rest of the day I wandered around in the wet, the shroud of gray wrapped around Amsterdam contrasting with the bright, bubbly pop music blasting from my headphones. Life is always more bearable with music.

Today, Sunday, is my last day here. It’s still raining. I’m not sure I really want to go out and do anything though. The idea of bumming around the hostel bar all afternoon, writing and drinking coffee, sounds far more appealing. I’ve hardly written at all this week and it’s awful. Though the break was needed, I think. I have months and months of writing ahead of me. Stopping to take a few moments to marinate won’t kill me. Tomorrow morning I rise with the sun and take the final steps toward the next stage in my life. Tomorrow I say farewell to Autumn in Central Europe and traverse the ocean to greet the sun and the jungle and the annoying as hell howler monkeys down in Costa Rica. Tomorrow is the beginning of a brand new adventure. Here’s hoping I don’t fuck it up.

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October 9th Amsterdam, NL – One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Being on my own again in a foreign country feels really strange. Being displaced, being lost and disconnected. Every city I’ve been in for the last five months there was someone to anchor me. A friend, a family member, a host. But now it’s just me. Alone. Granted it’s only for a week and most people in Amsterdam speak English. It’s still strange. I’m glad that I’ll have this experience once more. The process of learning as quickly as possible how to orient yourself, how to put yourself in a new context. Leaving the farm was bittersweet, but necessary. I was falling into new habits and taking my temporary permanence for granted. I’ve learned that I can create a bubble anywhere, a nest where I don’t have to challenge myself or be anxious and stressed. To be comfortable to the point of regressing, if that makes sense. I know that relocating to live in Costa Rica with my mother is a ballsy move. Ballsy because it’s where I plan to develop as a human being and as a writer. And ballsy because the potential to fail is too real. Knowing myself is dangerous because of what is possible and what is inevitable. I don’t want to fall victim to my own habits of self-sabotage. I’m too good at it. I feel like it would be easier, moving around like this, if I had someone with me. Someone to bounce off of when I am stationary for too long. Someone to share the anxiety with. My loneliness is acute. And it’s crippling.

As I wander around Amsterdam, I don’t know what to do with myself. I see everyone ambling along, arms laden with shopping bags, stopping to take pictures every five seconds. And I feel numb. I know this neighborhood perfectly now, know shortcuts and alleyways. It’s only been twenty-four hours. Though I am apprehensive to go elsewhere. To ride the tram. It’s completely ridiculous but I can’t muster the energy to give a shit. The city itself is beautiful, though. The most obviously European city I’ve been in since I got here. I like it. I just wish I had the money to experience it the way it deserves.

Last night I hung out in the smoking room in the bar of the hostel. Eventually, two very sweet Irish boys sat next to me and we got to chatting. It was nice, but felt hollow. A rerun of an episode of my life that’s already happened. They were generous with their weed, however, and I happily wallowed in the unique fuzziness that comes with being high and beer-buzzed. After we parted ways (a hug and a kiss on the cheek), I went for a walk. Left or right, it didn’t matter. I’ve been carrying a map with me but I never look at it. My visual memory is much better than any map. If I’ve walked it, I can always get there again. It helped that I got turned around on my way to the hostel yesterday. One must get lost before one can find their way. I just don’t think I’m the right flavor of “lost” right now. Or I just suck at this game.

The rest of the week stretches out before me and I wish it would disappear. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be daring and take a ride on one of the river boats instead of eating.

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September 6th 12:54pm Rahden, NRW Germany – The Best Way Out Is Always Through

Having finally found a time and place to stop, to be and exist, my thoughts are free to unravel and spread out. In my experience, limited though it may be, it’s discovering what you don’t want that allows you to see more clearly the things you need. The things that might have been there all along but your perception was too clouded by the bullshit to recognize them for what they were. What they are.

I know that I started running at full speed without making sure that my shoes were tied first. And now that I’ve tripped, I can view the world from my new position face first on the ground. I don’t regret blindly stepping forward on a path that was unfamiliar or unknown. Because it has led me to this exact moment of absolute clarity. I do regret, however, not being able to see my initial idealistic fantasy come to fruition. To see the friends scattered across the globe that I so desperately love. They are the reason I even got this far. But I’ve left a trail behind me and I know that one day soon I will find my way back here once again.

I want to go home. I think, more than ever before, I want to stand in the place where I began and look at my life with these new eyes and these new thoughts and these new dreams swirling in my head. I need to go home.

This is not giving up. This is the start of something bigger than just myself. This is where I am.

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August 26th 2:34PM NRW, Germany – Four months? Fuck, it feels like yesterday.

Apologies for the lack of updates. Since I arrived in Europe just over three weeks ago my life has been a bit hectic. I knew, going into this experience, that I wanted to avoid making solid plans. The opposite of what my time in Australia and New Zealand had been in 2009. But I think I’ve since learned that there is a difference between rolling with the punches and being an irresponsible idiot. Still, I don’t regret any of the choices I’ve made because I continue to move forward and I continue to collect valuable life lessons. I continue to learn about myself. I continue to live. Which is all I can really ask for. I’m not sure if I’ll actually be able to accomplish what I originally set out to do, but it isn’t going to stop me from trying. I’ve come to terms with the fact that going back to the states before the end of the year is a definite possibility. And that’s okay. The time I’ve spent traveling has been everything I needed it to be and more.

Today marks four months exactly since I left Chicago in April. Which is strange. I don’t keep track of the passing days much anymore, my everyday existence has become a comfortable routine of manual labor and a regulated sleep-schedule. The world narrowed down to a small village in Rahden, Germany. Or rather the farm house where I live and work. It’s simple. And predictable, up to a point. Breakfast at 8:30am. Coffee, toast with butter and jam, cigarette. Four hours of replanting herbs with Elke or watering the garden or helping Oliver with construction of the farm shop. Lunch around 1:00pm. Usually pasta with home-made sauce and home-grown vegetables, cloudy apple juice, cigarette. Break for an hour or less. Checking emails, catching up with friends, cigarette. Two or more hours of replanting herbs with Elke or watering the garden or helping Oliver with construction of the farm shop. Shower. Stare at my computer screen for an hour and a half. Dinner at 6:30pm. Home-made bread (by me), tomatoes, cheese, prosciutto, fresh salad from the garden, cloudy apple juice, cigarette. Sometimes more coffee. Four hours of free time. Bed at 11:30pm. Sunday is mine to do with as I please. Rinse and repeat.

I find that I enjoy this immensely. The exhaustion in my bones each evening feels deserved. Satisfying. Worthwhile. I wake up each morning with a purpose.

Elke struggles with her English, but her temperament is sweet and her humor warm. Oliver is a chatterbox with a penchant for over-explaining things, but he is intelligent and absent-minded and mildly awkward. I like them very much. We discuss politics. Oliver also plays the guitar.

My room is in the attic of the guest-house. At the moment I am the only WWOOFer, but I’ve been told there will be another sometime in September when Oliver begins cultivating his mushrooms again. My ceiling slants and the floor dips and groans in the middle when I walk over it. My bed is large and soft. It feels like home.

If I’m not in my room or sharing a meal with my hosts, I’m in the garden sitting in the old chair swing covered in ivy. Or at the table by the barn, staring up at the clouds until the light dies behind the house. There are two beautiful cats. Micky and I’ve forgotten the name of the other. They follow me around every morning and every evening, begging for nose-scratches and tummy rubs. Sometimes they visit me at night when I indulge in one last cigarette before sleep, meowing and nuzzling at my shins as I sit on the stoop outside my door.

For now, this is making me happy. I don’t know where I’m going after, or even how long I’m staying here. There are personal goals I must accomplish before that can be determined. Personal goals that used to stress me out. But with the security of food in my belly and a roof over my head, my future looks a lot more promising.

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Sometimes it’s okay to ask for help….

So, a good friend prodded me into creating a page where I could collect donations to help keep me going on my travels. (Some of this is repeated on the website, but bear with me) I’m not usually one to ask for handouts, but my friend wasn’t the first to ask, nor was she the first to secretly slip me a small sum of cash. Therefore I think I need to swallow my pride and accept the fact that some people just wanna help. Something I’m used to giving rather than receiving, honestly.

I don’t want to use this as a crutch, because I am responsible for myself and my own actions and being broke and in the middle of Europe on my own isn’t something I was forced into. So, I kind of want to be able to give something back to people for their acts of kindness and generosity.

That being said, should you decide to make a donation of $20 or more, I, Samantha, will happily craft you a short-story on a subject of your choosing. It can be about anything you want. I’ll totally write it. Sky’s the fuckin’ limit. Seriously, go to town.

I can’t guarantee that your story will be delivered in a timely fashion, due to the nature of my current lifestyle (see: homeless). But I can certainly promise that it will be written. Eventually, haha.

Here’s the link: Save the Vagabond, Save the World

And if you, y’know, felt like spreading it around or somethin’…that would be great too <3

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July 21st Somerville, MA – A Lesson in Self-Worth

I watched myself today in the side-view mirror of my friend Jonathan’s beat up Volkswagen and had a strange realization. I am not an egotistical or narcissistic person (though I think I’ve had my moments over the last twenty-five years). But this morning I looked at my reflection and I couldn’t turn away because I was captivated (possibly for the first time in my life) by my own beauty as a human being. At first I felt rather vain, or shallow, because I’ve never really thought of myself as an attractive individual. So it was weird to be thinking it so early, in my friend’s car, on our way to get coffee. Even now, the epiphany seems odd, uncomfortable. Though honestly, at the risk of sounding like a huge cheese-ball, I believe my level of happiness has reached such a level that it has begun to manifest in the physical, etching itself onto my skin and pouring out through my mouth and my eyes. It’s moments like these, that help me get over being broke, or being lazy, or feeling lost. Because I am not really poor, never really idle, and never void of hope or purpose. This is where my happiness originates, in the relearning how to live, how to laugh, and how to appreciate every tiny thing for what it really is. I still have a lifetime of learning to do before reaching enlightenment (and I may never), but I think I can say with confidence that I am well on my way.

This last month has been rather interesting. I’ve been so focused on moving forward, moving period, that when I was forced to stop and remain in basically one location due to financial troubles, everything else stopped with it. Especially because being in Massachusetts is not a new experience, this is a second home. Which means reverting back to my old habits of procrastination and loss of motivation. Not that I regret a single moment, or a single dollar spent on something I shouldn’t have. All of these pieces, these instances, these choices (smart or otherwise) bleed together in a way that I will eventually benefit from. Everything has its value and its lesson to teach, its knowledge and wisdom to impart. Mostly, it’s a matter of training yourself to recognize when that transaction is happening.

So, perhaps I didn’t get as much done in the last few weeks as I had originally intended. Perhaps I spent most of my time stressing myself out about where I was going to sleep at night or how I was going to make money in order to keep going. Perhaps I learned that giving up was not an option. And perhaps I needed to allow myself to become momentarily depressed before leaving the United States for an undefined length of time. Preparation for the impending storm of life that is literally going to sweep me up and carry me wherever it damn well pleases. Because life happens whether you want it to or not. The question is, how do you plan on participating?

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July 10th 4AM Beverly, MA – In Which I Wax Sentimental

Life has a funny way of leading you in circles sometimes. This town already changed me once, but I didn’t think it would happen again, and at such a pivotal point in my life (just like the first time). But I guess I shouldn’t really be all that surprised. Because everything moves in cycles. And people, places, things, happenings tend to seek you out exactly when you need them to.

I spent a solid two hours sitting on my friend Bea’s back stairwell this morning, drinking beer under a surprisingly clear star-specked sky while using my phone to communicate with friends on the other side of the world. I’ve never met them before, but they mean more to me than most people I’ve known for my entire life. I’ve almost permanently altered my sleep schedule just to talk to them. To keep building on shared interests and a shared frustration that several large bodies of water are always separating us. I never thought that, in my “adult” life I’d be the type of person who still had internet friends. Granted, I didn’t think I wouldn’t either. However I’ve learned that the ease in which I collect companions is certainly not limited to flesh and bone interaction or connection. There are too many individuals on this planet that hold little pieces of my heart and so many more that I haven’t encountered yet. The love I hold within myself cannot be bound by one city, one country, one continent. I want, I need to be able to share it with every human that I meet. Every person that I reconnect with. Because every day I feel like my heart is literally going to burst forth from my chest. So many times we are told that love makes us weak, that showing emotion is to be vulnerable and laid bare. But I find that hard to believe when my life is a lesson in love providing untold joys. And these joys rise above all the bullshit piled in between because they are the only things that keep me alive. They are the reason I exist and the reason I keep moving forward.

I dare you to show me a purpose more vital.

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Friday June 29th – Boston Common and Lessons Learned

The city of Boston doesn’t feel like home anymore. The rumble of the train shudders beneath me, body bathed in light, swimming in grass, and I feel like a foreign object. Nausea and hunger wage war in my stomach and I feel uncomfortable in my own skin. I thought coming back here would make me happy, but instead I find myself lost. Without purpose. Apathetic. Worse than that, I feel overwhelmed by my lack of conviction. I knew this would come, because I know myself. I know that I tend to sabotage my own attempts at being successful in my endeavors. I’ve been doing it for my entire life, which is why I have a tendency not to finish what I start.

It took a few days for this feeling to develop and morph into something else. Into something far less terrifying. I admit that I bit off more than I could chew, took risks and wasn’t careful enough. But I certainly don’t regret a single step that brought me here. This is why I left Chicago with just over two-thousand dollars. This is why I sold all of the crap that I carried around with me in boxes for years. This is why the aura of mild panic that has settled over me is giving me purpose instead of turning me into an incompetent mess.

Plans change, ideas change, goals change, life changes. Every single damn day. The only way I can deal with it is to adapt and not fight against something so inevitable. Returning to Beverly, MA where I went to school (the first time around) reminded me that it’s my second home for a reason. Certainly, it is not the same place that I remember it as (obviously places and people change too), but it always manages to give me what I need (even when I don’t know what that is). I am a very lucky individual, to have this, to know it is constantly there in some capacity. I can’t really ask for anything more.

So, even though I may have started this journey with a naive optimism, I’ve learned that I have it within myself to shape this fear into something useful. To redirect my self-sabotaging apathy and actually step up to the plate. Because yeah, I’m lucky, I have people in my life who will forever look out for me. But they can only provide opportunities, open doors, show me new paths. I’m the one that has to take them, go through them, walk down them.

And I fucking will, goddamnit. Even if it kills me.

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June 25th Memphis, TN – Drunk Airplane Adventures

I’m gonna be honest, this is the first time I’ve ever flown on a plane while intoxicated. But in my defense, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to smoke in an airport. Which naturally led to me ordering two beers in less than an hour. And I’m not just talkin’ bottles, I’m talkin’ pints. The second of which was consumed in less than twenty minutes. I figure I’ve gotta have the full spectrum of travel experiences and therefore had no qualms in pounding a couple glasses of Fat Tire on an empty stomach. If anything, my bladder will remember this moment forever.

I’m currently on my way to Boston. I haven’t been back in more than two years. Which is sort of a big deal since I spent three of my most formative years there when I first went to college. This visit is more than overdue, to say the least, because so many of my friends still live on the East coast. It’s really hard to maintain relationships over a distance of more than 1,000 miles, despite the internet and phones and Facebook and I miss having these wonderful people in my life. I have a difficult time accepting that our little bubble of college doesn’t exist anymore. I know it’ll never ever be what it was, but that doesn’t mean I don’t yearn to recapture even a tiny bit of what that felt like every time that I return. Is that selfish or foolish? I don’t know. Even being conscious of the fact that everything changes, I can’t help but crave taking a step in reverse. To go back and relive that part of my life that was so important to me, so crucial in my development as a human being. I suppose the best way to look at it, is imagining each moment in my life as an infinite Russian doll, and I’m just building upon layers and layers of experience in the same places with different people. Different places with the same people. The same places with the same people. It’s a struggle to know, to really be aware of the path you’re on and the choices you’ve made. I think it’s sort of useless to wonder if they’re the right choices because what does that even mean? Shit happens whether you want it to or not. All you can do is carry what you’ve learned, what you’ve lived, with you and apply it to where you are in the present. In the here and now. Which is one of the most important lessons I’ve ever been taught.

Bottom line: I’m drunk as fuck and if that seat belt sign doesn’t turn off in the next thirty seconds I swear to god I am going to piss my goddamn pants. And no one wants that.

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May 28th 2:23pm Austin, TX – Playing Catch-up: Part 1

Life has a habit of grabbing you by the balls (whether you actually have them is irrelevant) and not letting go until it feels like giving you a break. I’ve always had a difficult time reconciling the need to exist in the moment versus the need to capture it with word and image. This problem relates more directly to photography than it does to writing, because I’m always writing but I’m not always taking photos. Mental snap-shots don’t count. Those usually manage to morph into something that feels more like a half-remembered dream than an actual memory. Which, to be perfectly honest, is how I prefer to look back on my experiences. It’s kind of the same with writing about them. Regardless of how long I wait to record a particular event or feeling, the interpretation will never accurately portray the reality. And I’m completely okay with that. Doesn’t make the internal battle any easier though.

To back-track, my five days in Seattle felt like an extension of the last time I visited, just spun on its head a little bit. My cousin Justin had moved to another house, but his belongings, his furniture, his art, his personal touches were still the same. Which I think made the transition an easier one. For the first few days we didn’t see each other much because I was too focused on spending as much time as I could with the incomparable Sarah (a member of my weirdly wonderful internet family). She introduced me to the beautiful University of Washington campus and joined me on my adventures exploring the city (something I neglected to do much of when I was there two years ago). We ate delicious food, luxuriated in some beautiful music, walked along the waterfront, looked at some art, wandered without purpose, I rode a carousel. It was pretty great (that’s a ridiculous understatement). Justin and his girlfriend Amy treated me to some of the best sushi that has ever landed on my tongue, sinfully scrumptious gelato, and a night of roller derby with some of their friends. Excitement does not always come in the form of a racing pulse and an adrenaline rush.

Due to lack of vehicle and lack of funds, I’ve found that I am far less adverse to relying on public transportation than I used to be. There were several instances where I ended up giving myself an unintentional walking tour of some of Seattle’s lovely neighborhoods, but I believe that only added to the tapestry of the city that was weaving itself together in my mind. Even though I entertained the thought of hacking off my own feet on more than one occasion. Only having one pair of shoes will do that.

I feel that there is a piece of me for every city that I visit and every person I meet that gets left behind, desiring to make its home in the traces of a make-believe life that may or may not ever become outlined in ink. Pieces that will remain until I return, for however long, and that will attempt to convince me to grow roots instead of catch a ride with every passing dandelion seed. This is the truth of an existence without limitations. Everything seems dangerously possible and tempts me with the opportunity of starting over. Choosing to follow one of those paths will probably be one of the hardest decisions I ever make in my life.

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