Embracing Not Knowing What You Want
For a long time in my youth, I was naive enough to think I knew what I wanted.
Born of a wayward and itinerant family, I attended a new school, in a new place, most years of my life — with all the childhood pressures that entailed. Navigating through new classrooms and cafeterias, forging friendships that would be soon forsaken with the next move, was not always easy and for awhile I thought that what I craved was stability.
But when it came time to go to college, I picked up, packed up, and chose a university on the opposite coast. Upon graduating, I reversed the process and did it again, moving from Washington, DC to San Francisco.
Then, feeling constrained by the confines of crossing just one continent, I left San Francisco to move to Prague. Being young and living in Prague was idyllic. It was a faraway fairy-tale place with cobblestoned streets and honey-colored castle on the hill. It was different from everywhere else I’d lived in my many moves and in those days, like myself, it was reinventing itself. But even there, among those magical old medieval stones, I thought about the many other elsewheres.
Finally I began to learn to embrace and accept the fact that wanderlust is my patrimony. That the siren song of elsewhere would always stir my soul.
While living in Prague, I was fortunate enough to meet the woman of my dreams. During our whirlwind romance, the first thing we did was talk about where we wished to travel. Then we packed up, picked up, and took off, sharing the same urges to set foot on as much of the earth as possible. To set ourselves in new surroundings. To inhabit other places.
Then we decided to marry and move again and for a few years, we even attempted to embrace convention. We wedded, we worked, and for a time we even wandered less. We bought a house, started a business, did the things that we believed grown-ups were supposed to do.
We bought the house at the right time in a buyer’s market, had a mortgage we could afford. But the idea of a thirty-year mortgage began to grate. Even the etymology of the word mortgage, from the Old French for ‘death pledge,’ disturbed our very ideas of ourselves, of what life should be. We were not willing, those days of figuring out our lives, to be a part of a financial anchor that was a death pledge. We were still busily engaged in figuring out the etymology of ourselves.
So when we looked around at the tangible trappings of the lives we’d built, they felt like exactly that to us: trappings. We wanted more. Or to be more accurate, we wanted less. Less obligation, less convention, less mundanity; in short: less stability. The recommended requisites of real life and convention had been tried, tested and found wanting. And left us wanting something else. Somewhere else.
So we sold the house and the business and moved abroad again, embracing and escaping into our dreams of elsewhere. The sacrifices were not small. There were friends and family that we missed. Financial costs incurred. Earning opportunities lost. Holidays, ceremonies, and celebrations that we would like to have been a part of. But we wanted more of our every day life to be a celebration.
And now we live on a small Greek island in the Aegean. White sugar-cube houses dot the landscape outside our windows and we can hear the gentle soothing sounds of Homer’s ink-blue sea lightly lapping at sandy Cycladic shores. Blue skies, black olives. There are good friendships forged firm by the idea of living together on a small isolated island. We work for ourselves and live a simple life in a place that many call paradise. We have less things than many of our friends back home but often feel we have more. It is a good life in a beautiful place and we are happy.
But we have been here now for some years and learned that for us paradise is not a place. And so we find ourselves thinking more and more about where we will go next.
And we do not know where we want to go. When or how we will do it. We do not know if the next place will be better or worse. Because we have learned that we are not good at knowing what we want. And that is all right because, for us, that is what keeps life interesting.
So we think about elsewhere and ponder and play with the idea and other faraway places.
We search for the etymology of ourselves and seek the definition of what defines us and our lives. And we enjoy the search and the seeking, content in the knowledge that the etymology of ourselves may be inscrutable, but that the search is the real joy of our lives.
Scott Stavrou is the author of Losing Venice, a novel, available in paperback and ebook online and in select bookstores.