Thursday, June 11, 2015

Loud Lady :: How Shannon Lived Loudly!

When I was nine years old, I remember watching a reality court TV show after school one day. The defendant didn’t speak English, and instead rattled off long, sonorous strands of Spanish. I barely read the subtitles as I sat captivated by the words coming from her mouth.

In that moment, a new life goal emerged: I had to become fluent in Spanish.

I wanted to wield exotic words like swords, whip them between tongue and tooth like a native. I didn’t know why, just that it felt right. Just like becoming an astronaut, and writing (only one of those ever became a reality. Guess which one), felt right to me.

I spent my university years in pursuit of these goals (minus the astronaut goal, of course), majoring in Spanish Literature and Latin American Studies. In the second half of my sophomore year, I moved to Mexico for a semester abroad. Like most people who study abroad, I was completely shell-shocked by the cultural differences, by the language difficulties, by the mind-blowing amount of stuff I didn’t know about the world.

It left a savory taste in my mouth. I not only wanted more, I needed more. My writing blossomed in a strange new way, like an unknown seed in fertile land.

I was determined to live abroad, somehow, some day. Most of my friends and family back home didn’t quite understand why I felt this urge, and I could barely explain it either. They had accepted from an early age that I was a writer—all those stories, novels, and newsletters I produced beginning at age 9 couldn’t be ignored, so it was easy enough to accept that writing was just a part of me. But Spanish? Why that?

I was fascinated by Latin American cultures, completely titillated by the various histories and political struggles. Furthermore, there was an addictive bliss that came from travel, a pungent, meditative now-ness that punctuated my life in a way never before experienced. Travel provided life lessons—everything from planning, interpersonal skills, budgeting practice, lessons in panic and ruminations on home—and I was dying to learn them all.

And I had a real hankering to just show up somewhere, rent a room, and see what happened.

But real life intersected my grand plans to move abroad. Though I researched the shit out of job opportunities abroad, none of them offered me a financial buffer zone to both survive and pay my student loans. Though dodging my payments was heavily considered for a time, the urgency of my dreams coupled with the hopelessness of achieving them propelled me into a distinct type of early-20’s despair. No matter which way I cut it, I couldn’t find a way out of the very real money pit.

So I struck a balance: I’d get a big-girl job and insert traveling around the edges. Whenever I could. And of course, I’d keep writing, finish a novel, try to bring that into a more lucrative and adult sphere.

About two years into the Big Girl Lifestyle, which was complete with my very own 401(k) and commute to boot, I realized that wanderlust was becoming something of a wanderdesperation. Travel, the way I wanted it—rife with cultural integration, lazy explorations, and long-term wanderings—wasn’t possible with a job that consumed so much time and offered so little vacation. My writing projects shriveled into puckered shells of their formers selves. I had no creative drive, no time to focus on my passions, and no way out.

Well-meaning friends and family members counseled me on the nature of my desires: You need to face the real world like the rest of us. Maybe once you retire you can do all that traveling. You’ll write again someday. For now, it’s time to buckle down and work. The world will be waiting for you when you can afford it.

But the thought of waiting to set foot abroad until I was 60 didn’t seem like the right path for me. Just because I was young and a recent-graduate didn’t mean I had to dedicate all of my life to paying bills, forgoing my interests and passions. Why was this the only advice I got? And furthermore, I couldn’t understand why everyone thought travel came after a life well-worked. Why couldn’t it come during?

As time wore on, the WanderDesperation turned into WanderAggression. This was getting serious. I had a great job at a nonprofit speaking Spanish and helping low-income patients, made enough money to save, AND was surrounded by friends and family who loved me. I felt like an asshole for wanting to leave. The judgment was sometimes imagined and other times implicit: if you love your family and friends, why would you leave them?

It wasn’t that I didn’t value my family and friends, though. In fact, it was my home community that made the pending move a difficult decision. I have lived a very rich life in terms of outrageously amazing friends and supportive family, and being away from them for a potentially very long time was a heart wrenching possibility.

But this thing wasn’t going away. I knew the only authentic option was to see it through. No matter how much it felt like a painful extraction, like a wisdom tooth that needed to come out despite the natural order of it, I had to move toward this desire, not away from it.

The open road’s call had gone from a mumbling hum to a spine-tingling siren’s song that I couldn’t shake.

I had to make a plan to move abroad, and FAST. Desperation crept in as more and more years slipped by, living and working at home. Hitting my mid-to-late-20’s, I fretted about all sorts of things. Would I ever make it abroad? What if I didn’t have enough money saved until I was in my 30’s? What if I didn’t EVER have enough money? Was this a hopeless pipe dream I had deluded myself into believing? Would my car ever stop breaking down and needing costly and ridiculous repairs? What if I met someone and fell in love before I moved abroad and he hated travel but I loved him enough to stay back? What if I moved abroad to begin focus on writing only to find out that I don’t even want to really be an author? What if my friends and family mistook my travel dreams as a condemnation on them, and where I came from? What if I ran out of money in three months and came home, tail between legs? What if I got robbed on the first day out of the airport?

This is a laughably small fraction of the thoughts that wracked me prior to the move, and I didn’t even have a plan in place. But one morning in early January 2012, one of my best friend’s from college called me. She had been living and working in Vietnam for a couple years, and understood my dilemma. Her opening line was classic, get-to-the-point Leslie.

“Hey, do you think we could move to South America together in the fall?”

I blinked in the 7AM sunlight, having woken up on the couch of a friend’s house, a little hungover from whatever early-winter shenanigans the night before. I didn’t have to think twice before the words leapt from my mouth. “Uh…yeah. Absolutely.”

Her offer was a no-brainer, not because it lessened the burden of throwing myself into the unknown, but because it provided a cardinal direction prior to the leap. Alongside fears that burst like fireworks in my subconscious, another part of the frustrating battle was indecision. With a world so large, where do I start? What opportunity of the billions should I select?

Leslie gave me the nudge I needed to push forward through the fog of indecision. We talked it through as much as the early morning hours and bleary booze brain would allow. But the plan was simple: she was leaving Vietnam, wanted to move abroad somewhere to learn Spanish, and loved me enough to live with me somewhere foreign and unknown. Plus, she knew a lady in Chile, a place where we could rent for cheap near the Patagonia region. I had ten months to organize, save money, and otherwise prepare myself to take the leap.

“And what will you do down there,” everyone wanted to know.

“I don’t know,” I replied. “I want to travel, and I want to write. And the rest I’ll figure out as I go.”

In March, we bought one-way tickets to Santiago, Chile from Cincinnati, OH.

In September, I quit my job with a sad goodbye to my beloved coworkers and patients.

And in October 2012, I moved to South America with a very stuffed backpack, $2,000 in savings, eyes wide and heart open to whatever I might find on the road before me.

Inside the softest, quietest parts of ourselves, located somewhere between jumpy monkey brain and the tender flesh behind our ribcages, there is a faint pulse that knows the way. I believe that living loudly, living authentically, begins with tuning into that pulse.

Sometimes it’s hard to find it, or hear it, or even understand what it’s saying (because sometimes it speaks to you in a foreign language!). Sometimes it takes you far away from your home, your community, your friends, your comforts. People thought I would abandon them, never come home, that my leaving was the end of a story.

But going where it leads you is never the wrong choice. Instead of a story’s end it is instead a continuation of a complexly rich life journey. And my pulse always, always brings me back home to my community, to my beloved Ohio, to all the people who have supported and uplifted me enough to even consider living loudly in my own way.

Shannon Bradford is a twenty-something Loud Ladies member with a fondness for open-air markets, ancient ruins and foreign tongues. She is currently living creatively in South America where she spends her free time writing novels, mastering the Spanish language, and learning the ins and outs of the ex-patriot lifestyle (which includes lots of wine tasting) while blogging at The Astromaid Chronicles. Join us for 30 Days to Bolder Blogging, a community challenge happening all month long!
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