There’s a cat that lives on the porch of the house where I am staying. He doesn’t belong to my landlady, but she feeds him and gives him a covered house to sleep in on the porch. So, he’s agreed to live with her.

He begins his day on her porch. Waking up and eating his breakfast. Then, he moves to the next house and eats there. He hits three to four houses in the neighborhood, enjoying breakfast at each. Then he disappears and does whatever cats do during the day. I see his tracks in the snow crisscrossing the neighborhood. Everyday, he follows his routine.

Snow cat

Photo via Anh Tuan Hoang

I am terrified of routine.

I think, if I am completely honesty with myself, one of the main reasons that I moved to Vietnam is because I felt my life settling into a routine in the United States. Everyday it was the same. I woke up. I went to work. I went to lunch. I went back to work. I went home. I surfed the web and watched television. I went to bed.

Repeat. Ad infinitum.

I felt that my life was slipping away. Like Lester Burnham in the film American Beauty, I felt…sedated.

I’m not exactly sure what it is but I know I didn’t always feel this… sedated. But you know what? It’s never too late to get it back. – Lester Burnham

How do you get it back?

Some people join a gym. Or volunteer at a hospital or pet shelter. Some people have children with their partner. Some people accept it for what it is, roll over, and go back to sleep.

Me? I moved to Vietnam.

But, it was a temporary fix. Vietnam is anything but routine but still, toward the end of my yearlong stay there, the dreaded routine came creeping back.

So, I moved to St. John’s, Newfoundland.

Back in the West routine is around every corner. Things are comfortable here. They are predictable. But for a while, they will be different. And that is good enough for me. That is the drug that I crave.

I don’t know why I fear routine.

If you stop and look around, everything runs on routine. Your body needs to eat and sleep in a routine-fashion. Birds migrate. Some animals hibernate. The tides come in and out and the seasons come and go, each in their own turn.

On a larger scale, our planet spins and revolves around our sun. The other planets do as well. Our galaxy has its own rotation.

Everything accepts its routine and lives according to it. Yet I fight it with every fiber of my being. And I know I am not alone.

So, what is a man to do?

I have been thinking about this a lot. After all, there are 16 inches of snow on the ground. I have a lot of time to think.

One routine that I embrace wholeheartedly is smoking. I know…I know…there is slight evidence to show that it may be bad for me, but bear with me.

Everything about smoking is a routine. I get up and go outside. I take the cigarette from my pack and place it in my mouth. I flick my lighter and raise the newborn flame to the end of my cigarette. I draw quickly on the newly lit cigarette to set the flame. And finally, I enjoy the first, glorious, deep draw from the cigarette, and pull the smoke deep into my lungs. I exhale slowly, sending the smoke into the atmosphere.

While it is routine, it is mindful. There is nothing about my smoking routine that I don’t pay attention to and do with deliberation. I am focused. I am alert. I am mindful.

Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.

Mindfulness, I think, is the key distinction between my smoking routine and the other routines of daily life. I am not mindful on the bus or at the grocery store. I just heedlessly wander through.

But with smoking, I am mindful.

Maybe mindfulness is the key to acceptance of routine because, unless you are planning to upend your life every year like I have, routine will have to be accepted eventually.

Routine will catch up to me. Even I can’t run forever. I have to learn to accept it.

How do you deal with routine? I’d love to read your methods in the comments below.

Travel is safe. Or, rather, travel is safe but with risks. Risks are involved in everything you do. It’s all about being comfortable living with them.

I met a lovely woman in Hanoi. She was a little older than me and was traveling by herself. Four of us sat around a table drinking beer, when she announced her travel plans.

She planned to buy a motorcycle and drive from Hanoi to Saigon by herself.

She asked what we thought of her idea.

Two of my friends (one Vietnamese and one Western) thought it was a bad idea. Well, not exactly bad, but certainly not good.

I thought it was a great idea. As did my friend.

We had a long conversation during which my friends presented many logical reasons on why it was not a good idea to do what my friend was planning on doing. But, sometimes we don’t make decisions from a logical place. And that’s okay.

Swim at own risk

Photo via Todd Shaffer at Flickr

Whenever I here about an adventure like this – because that’s what it is…an adventure – I am reminded of one of the first travelers I met. It was shortly after my divorce when I was looking to meet new and interesting people. I started meeting up with a group of couchsurfers in St. Louis. One of the gentlemen I met was named Mark. He planned on quitting his job, flying into Eastern Europe and hitchhiking around that part of Europe.

We had a conversation that went something like this:

Me: “Do you know where you are going to stay?”

Mark: “No.”

Me: “Do you know how long you will be gone?”

Mark: “Not really.”

Me: “Do you know what you will do for money?”

Mark: “I have some saved but not really.”

Me: “Isn’t that dangerous?!”

Mark: “I figure I would rather die hitchhiking in Eastern Europe than die in my bed in Collinsville, Illinois.”

That last sentence of Mark’s has really stuck with me and I think of it every time I am faced with something that is outside of my comfort zone. And I thought of it when my friend told me her plans to ride to Saigon.

Sure, something bad could happen. But, something bad could happen here. Something bad can happen anywhere. So what the hell do you have to lose?

Given the axiom of the universe that something bad can always happen, what are you going to do?

I don’t know what happened to Mark. I am sure that he completed his trip hitchhiking and returned safely to his life in the West. But, I hope that he is still out there, six years later, hitchhiking and working his way around the world.

As for my friend in Vietnam, last I heard she was in Nha Trang, about 870 miles south of Hanoi and 270 miles north of her final destination.

I’m always happy to meet people who listen very intently to all the logical reasons that they shouldn’t do something (like Mark listened to me and my biking friend listened to my two other friends) and then say, “Meh. Fuck it all,” and do what they want to do anyway.

I find those people inspiring and I draw strength from them when I face risk in my own life.

And the world is a sure-as-shit more interesting place with them in it.

 

As I said earlier, I need to elaborate on the move to St. John’s. It starts off this way:

Sometimes you move to a new place and you find a great person. Sometimes you both realize that there is something special there that you want to pursue. Sometimes, like in a fairy tale, you run off to a tropical island and live out the rest of your life sipping liquor from coconut shells and eating seafood plucked from the sea and cooked on the beach.

And sometimes you move to Newfoundland.

Let’s get down to the brass tacks:

The Good

1) Junk food: No one does junk food like the West. Fish and chips? Poutine? Graaaaaavy? Sign. Me. Up.

2) It’s nice to go to the store and be able to read labels again. I am not brand-loyal at all but there is a certain comfort to be able to recognize the things that you pick up on the shelves. No more brushing my teeth with hemorrhoid cream! Know what I’m sayin’?

The Bad

1) It’s cold. Like really cold. I don’t think this cold is fit for human habitation. I think the people who live here have some type of genetic anomaly. Maybe they have cross-bred with polar bears or seals. It’s far too cold for me.

2) Money! Shit! I forgot how damn expensive the West is! A beer is $5.75. Really? A pack of cigarettes is $12.00. Fuck that noise! It’s insane!

3) Lifestyle: one of my favorite things about Vietnam is the way of life. People seem to live slower and more deliberately. It’s never inappropriate to sit down for a tea or beer and a smoke. It’s ok to be 15 minutes late for an appointment. I like that people spend more time on the street or at cafes socializing than they do in front of the blue glow of their television set. THat doesn’t happen here. I don’t know if it is because of the cost of things or the cold but it doesn’t. To me, after the last 16 months in Asia, things here seem…stale.

The Ugly

1) Me. All bundled up. Trying to survive in these Arctic temperatures.

U-G-L-Y I ain’t got no alibi!