Posts Tagged With: travel for writers

What to do, what to do?

IMG_0927This article is about panic. So if you aren’t panicking yet, why not? You should be. Or maybe that’s just me.

So, as regular readers of this blog may have gathered from my most recent posts, i once again find myself in Oslo. I’m not sure how much detail i’ve left in the other posts but let’s just say, for the moment, that i am in limbo. In fact, i’ve been in limbo for a long freaking time and it’s been getting on my blasted nerves. So what do you do when you can’t do anything? Why, panic of course!

A little back story: Almost exactly a year ago, i left my job on the hope that i would be residing in Oslo. I got a ticket, came to Norway, stayed with my wifey and hoped against all hope that we would figure out a way to let me stay as at that point we’d already been married for about six months and, as you might imagine, kind of liked the idea of actually being together. To make a long story short, it didn’t quite work out. Not that we’re not still together. That hasn’t changed. She’s wonderful and delightful and the best wifey you could ever want in spite of the fact that she reads books at about twice the rate i do and i’m no slouch in the reading department. Rather, i had to leave Norway 90 days after arriving because that’s as long as you can stay on a visitors visa.

Which sucked.

After that it was back to the states which were in no better condition than when i’d left them. Only now i was jobless. So i did what i usually do in those situations – i hit the temp services. It made sense considering i was already planning to return to Norway for christmas. (By the way, if you haven’t been to Oslo at Christmas you are missing out. Book your tickets now. Norway IS Christmas. You legitimately expect Santa to be standing around the park sipping an epleglogg.) In the intervening months from august to december i worked. No big. It was the usual thing – typing stuff into a computer system i barely understood, trying to hold the line between order and chaos until the person whose job i borrowed could return from maternity leave.

Christmas comes… (Seriously… come to Norway for christmas. Go to the julefest by the palace along Karl Johan’s Gate. Get an epleglogg. You will not regret it. It’s the best thing ever. Hint: do NOT speak to native norwegians about the proper julebrus. They all have their opinions and you are likely to be wrong 50% of the time) And i had a wonderful time. You may not be aware but Christmas in Norway means you open presents on Christmas Eve. And Christmas is about four days long. All of them glorious. I will have to write a post about it at another time because i’m totally getting lost.

Around the middle of January, i am forced – once again – to leave the wife and head back home. It sucks but we were prepared. Ish. America hasn’t changed for the better yet again. I am depressed. And i do the usual thing – hit the temp services for a job.

This time it doesn’t work out so well. I get one contract that lasts a few weeks – long enough to get the ticket back to Norway that i’d been aiming at, but not long enough to earn up the requisite cash for a good long stay as we are now aware that we CAN – in fact – apply for my permanent visa.

Here’s the thing about the application process that i might have mentioned. Stop me if you’ve heard this before: it takes a while. It was necessary to file the visa paperwork FROM Norway though because, from everyone i’ve spoken with, filing it anywhere else means it takes even longer. As in eight months longer. Which would have put me somewhere in winter – again – before i could return. During the time that your paperwork is in process you can’t come back to Norway. If you’re IN Norway, however, you can’t leave it. And WHILE your paperwork is in process, you can’t work.

Hence the panic.

So now i am in the unenviable position (though it’s okay if you do decide to envy me because i am at least in Norway and that’s much much better) of being here without a job. So what does one do when you’re in a foreign country and can’t apply for work there? Yup. You guessed it. A variation on the temp thing – freelance work.

So now i am actively seeking freelance work. Something i can do while sitting on the couch. And hey, i’m a writer and a pretty good one, i think. But have you SEEN the offerings out there for freelance work? I mean… holy crap. What do these people think we eat? Air? In the last 3 hours i’ve seen more job postings offering $2/per hour than i’d ever care to think about. That isn’t a typo. TWO dollars an hour. I saw one that offered 1 cent per word.

So… what to do, what to do?

Well… i’m so glad you asked. The answer is – you write a blog post about it. Oh, and you go for a lot of walks. And you lose weight because you’re now eating air. I aim to learn how to cook (always a good idea in Norway because they don’t do an awful lot of processed food here and what they do do in that regard doesn’t last long because they haven’t nearly the number of preservatives we do in America.) Also… cooking is far far far cheaper than hitting a restaurant.

Luckily for me, Norway is a great place to walk in. There are parks everywhere. Literally everywhere. I mean, half the country is basically a park. Not that i can get there because, no money. But anything in Oslo is fair game and seeing as Oslo is 80% forest, it leaves for plenty of excellent options. It also happens that taking a nice stroll someplace beautiful is a VERY norwegian thing to do and has the added benefit of heading off the employment/dwindling bank account panic i am currently experiencing.

So you MIGHT see me post a few things in the future about the joys and horrors of attempting to freelance while overseas. And by horrors i mean the pay scale (looking at you bulgarian job poster offering 4 dollars an hour or the ‘I want a travel writer in the US to write about travelling… but only if you live in the US’)

On the other hand… Come to Norway for Christmas. It literally is the best. Stay for New Years because you haven’t seen anything quite as spectacular as the city of Oslo basically exploding on New Years Eve. I will be existing on those memories for a while because they’re slightly more filling than air.

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Have Pen Will Travel pt. 2 –

venice2Yeah. I’m back. I know it’s been a while but you know how it goes. Life stuff. No time. Writing a novel. All that stuff. But now I’m here and you all missed me, right? RIGHT?

For starters, lets talk a little about where to stay on this trip of yours. As a writer, what you really need is to get out from under the protective shell of a comfy hotel room. I mean, let’s be honest here, what are you going to do in a hotel room? Watch TV probably. Are you going to learn anything about your foreign surroundings like that? Probably not. Most likely, you’ll sit in your room soaking in the wonderful, lovely king sized bed.

Don’t do this. Your best bet, as a writer, is to find a friend and hopefully crash at their place for a day or two. Couch surf if you can. I stayed most of the week at the wonderful little pad of my friend who was gracious enough to attempt putting up an air mattress for me – which collapsed under me as i tried to sleep. Twice. But luckily her couch is wonderful, so it was an easy switch.

‘Why couch surf?’ you might say. ‘Isn’t this supposed to be a vacation? Aren’t i imposing on them?” Yes. Yes. and yes. I do and did feel like i was imposing a great deal. Hopefully you can ameliorate these feelings by providing a gift or buying them a few meals etc. What you get out of it though is catching up on old friends, which can be wonderful, plus an introduction on the town you now find yourself in.

I had no sooner dropped my bags in her house and we were out the door. I was on a mission to buy myself a new hat at the Venice Hat Shop. They’d served me very well in the past and for my birthday i was going to select a new hat for myself. This didn’t go all that well to be quite honest. Which just goes to show you, dear writer, that the best laid plans and all that. I still have the hat and it isn’t bad it’s just noisy. Why is a hat noisy? I don’t understand it. But it is.

Anyway, Right after that we wandered all the way down the Venice Boardwalk on a saturday. If you have never done this, there is simply no better place that I know of for people watching. And it was CRAMMED with people. A bit like going to a foreign bazaar, really. It was just an ongoing flood of people that i, a little trout, had to swim against and weave through. If you get a chance of walking the boardwalk on a warm day in the summer, do so at a leisurely pace so you can take it all in – the sand, the people, the strange little shops, the feel of the ocean, the breeze…

Venice Boardwalk is practically legendary. You see it in commercials, in shows, in movies. You’ve probably heard about it. But nothing quite prepares you for it – the folks skating up on roller blades with handfuls of CD’s that they’re trying to sell, the street shops – little stands selling art or selling the privilege of photographing sand sculptures, the guys in surgical scrubs advertising a medical marijuana shop. I gather the weirdness factor has become a little commercialized over the years hence the new Venice slogan (sadly not very unique and possibly pilfered from Austin): “Keep Venice Weird.” But if you’re from one of those sad sections of America (or elsewhere) where ‘weirdness’ is still something to be met with an inquisition you’ll find the place a great big gasp of interestingly flavored air.

But the real trick to being a writer in Venice is having a seat. Pull up a chair at one of the many boardwalk bars or restaurants – there are some good ones – and just enjoy the flow of people. Get a drink. I’d recommend the Venice Ale House – which is closer to the dividing line between Venice and Santa Monica. It’s a little small and their turnover is rapid – meaning you may not get the chance to hang out that long, not that they’ll actually kick you out, but you might get the impression that you should push on before long. If you want to sit for a while, though, take yourself to the Sidewalk Cafe – tons of outside seating. More like a warehouse for thirsty people, actually, but a warehouse with some excellent architecture and a location that can’t be beat. It’s just huge. If you’re so inclined, make a day of it and do both. Take the Ale House for breakfast and chill at the Cafe afternoon. If you do it on a weekday it shouldn’t be so incredibly, mind-oversaturatingly busy.

As a writer you could spend hours there and you probably should. There are quite a few wonderful little beachfront bars and restaurants to choose from to plop your shit and just soak it all in.

But we did none of that. We were on a mission, a birthday mission. And this time it wasn’t mine.

After a good LONG while walking at top speed through the crush we hung a left and headed straight on some main street. This is the other reason to stay at a friend’s place – particularly some place like LA – they know how to get places. Left to your own devices, you’re apt to get lost. Or wander aimlessly into some unsavory places – which you should probably do as well but more on that in another post.

But here’s the REAL reason you want to hang with friends as a writer. Introductions. We finally got to where we were going after a long walk in a direction I could only really define as Left. Left from the beach. Which means east- ish? Sure. That sounds good. Anyway, it was a bar. A very crowded, packed bar. Why? Because they were having a birthday for someone I hadn’t met. No problem, with the help of my friend and a few quick introductions I ended up having several lengthy conversations with total strangers who very rapidly became not strangers at all.

Which brings me to the next bit about Travel as a Writer. You really have to make the attempt to open yourself up in ways you never thought to do before. I know – easier said than done right? But seriously. The thing that worked for me – and it’s going to sound really obnoxiously trite – is thinking ‘these are just friends I haven’t met yet.’ I know. Groan. But it worked. Whatever you have to do to get yourself to the point of being open and personable. Relax. If the worst comes to worst you can always tell yourself ‘these are also people I’m never likely to see again.’ Think of yourself as a bit of a journalist, though not so annoying and probing.

And if none of that shit works just relax. You’re on vacation. Chances are, if you really open yourself up you will meet some wonderful people. I met a lady, the wife of one of my friend’s friends, who was about as inclined to be crushed into a drinking mob of strangers as i was. It’s funny how you’ll do things for a birthday you’d be less inclined to do otherwise. But there we are. We had a nice long conversation about stuff in general and it was really relaxing and fantastic. I explained my burgeoning theory about LA that, in spite of appearances to the contrary and general conventional wisdom, LA is the national capital for Introverts. I know. You’re probably thinking i’ve gone completely nuts now. And i might be. I would need a much longer time to explore this theory, but there it is. And i think i’ll leave you with that for now. The theory itself might be better served in another blog post.

Hey… i’ve got to keep you coming back for some reason right?

Categories: Uncategorized, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Have Pen, Will Travel or Get The Heck OUT THERE, Writer!!!

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Yeah, yeah, yeah. You’re a writer. Congrats. I can tell by your moleskine notebook and brace of pens, the book crammed under your arm, your messenger bag, your laptop. That’s nice. Oh look, you’ve made your way to the coffee shop. That’s great. Whatcha working on? Huh? Huh? Not going to tell me are you? That’s alright. I get it.

But here’s the thing, writer. There’s a little more to writing than… well… writing. So put that pen away for a second. No, i’m not going to stop bothering you. Put it away and listen for a second. This is important. No really. You’ve got to hear this. Are you listening?

Good.

Get out there.

Look. We’re all better off, as writers, sequestered in our respective monastic cells tapping away our stories and such. It’s one of the reasons we do what we do and love it. But there’s really more out there that you need to experience. You need to travel. You need a vacation.

Well. Duh. Is what you probably just said. But, seriously. There is a huge pile of experiences and stuff that you need to be having to restock the warehouse of ideas. There’s things you need to see, people you need to meet and experiences you must have that will just make those pages sing a little louder, a little more confidently.

But it’s not enough to just pack your bags and sallie forth. You’ve got to be open to the whole thing too. In the next few blogs i intend to post a few little whys and wherefores on the whole travel thing. Again, they aren’t meant for everyone. They won’t be a ‘do this or else’ list. In fact they’re just going to be a few things here and there that helped me on my most recent travels and stuff i’ve been reflecting on since. Things like what bars you should frequent while out on your travels, What sort of tourist traps should you hit – if any – and which one’s you shouldn’t. Then i’ll key you in to my own little travel log. Or whatever.

But let’s just start here for now. You’ve got to get out there. Find a retreat. Find a conference. Go. Hang out among the locals and get to know people. Be open. Take public transit and most importantly, chat with total strangers. Travel is an opportunity that writers must take. It’s the big golden gate to your brain that doesn’t open nearly enough. When it does amazing stuff pours in. Stuff that can and will color your words and creations more vividly than anything else.

So think of this lame post as an exhortation and an introduction. If you’re interested, just stay tuned for more. I’m hoping – of course – to tell you all about my most recent travel. I’ll be getting into specifics, so it may end up sounding a bit like a travel review type thing but i promise there will be plenty of writery stuff to it as well. And yes, in case you’re wondering, that big ship at the top has something to do with it.

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