What I Learned in Spain

Salamanca, SpainWe’ve been back from Spain for a couple weeks now, but I immediately dove into a barrage of freelance work and trying to put the (not-so) new place together, which left little time to reflect and craft a story worth telling. Still, I wanted to share some snippets of our trip. I’ll follow up with a fuller guide to Salamanca in a few days, but for now, this is what I’ve learned.

Salamanca, Spain

  • I like to introduce Chad to new places. Often when I’m in a new situation, I let him take the lead until I get my bearings. This time, I really enjoyed pulling him along and reintroducing him to different vocabulary words, my favorite nooks in Salamanca, and funny Spanish idiosyncrasies. Perhaps I should lead the way more often.
  • I love my Swedish Hasbeens, but wood sole shoes do not play nicely with cobblestone.
  • My favorite drink at my favorite dive bar is still delicious and still embarrassing (Agua de Valencia — vodka, champagne, and orange Fanta. Remember, I was 20 when I studied there. It’s better than it sounds, I swear), though the clientele is no longer 18 year olds. It feels like the same people who went there 7 years ago are still hanging out there. They’re just older now. The vibe is still plenty grimy.
  • I need to figure out how to eat more Spanish tortilla & ham croquettes on a regular basis.
  • I can still speak Spanish well. My accent had gotten worse, but it came back by the end of the week and I was very comfortable conversing with anyone.
  • My favorite vacations include lots of walking and eating.
  • Spanish trains are awesome, but when you can afford it, it’s sometimes nicer to fly. It maximizes exploring and relaxation time.
  • While inconvenient, a missed flight is not the end of the world. Everything will be ok.
  • Salamanca still feels like home 7 years later. The same man with the same scruffy dog still plays the same beautiful violin in the same plazas every day. The crooked, nonsensical streets are still imprinted on my heart. The things I loved about it then are the things I love about it even more now.

Salamanca, Spain

Lunchtime Reads 9.2.14

Burro on Calle Toro in Salamanca, Spain

Hola from Spain! I’m here for a little over a week, spending a few days in Salamanca, where I studied for a semester in 2007, before flying on to Barcelona and then to Madrid to finish out the trip. If you want to follow along, I’ve been posting to Instagram like a fiend at @_lisli. I’ll be sure to share more from our trip in the coming days, but for now here are some links to get you through the post-holiday slump.

I believe in writing. Writing for yourself, writing for an audience, it doesn’t really matter. Also, Allie Vesterfelt is a doll. “Writing is incredibly healing. It is beautifully calming. It can help us find our way home.” If you write, you’re a writer.

I also solidly believe that people with humanities backgrounds can thrive in tech careers, despite whatever the toolbag bigwig venture capitalists may say. Top tech CEOs apparently agree with me.

Though I’ve decided to give myself a break this trip and not work at all, I have been thinking about the realities of working abroad for more lengthy periods of time. This is a great post that outlines some of the more practical and less glamorous ways to work as a digital nomad.

I’ve spent so much of my life in this place of total overwhelm. I’ve been thinking about it a lot this trip, because it’s completely counter to the way the Spanish spend their days, and thus the way they spend their lives. I want to be more like that. “Caught up in what I’ve come to call the Overwhelm, the thought kept nagging me: Was I not just bad at time, but was I squandering my one and only life?”

Last but not least, if you’re at all bilingual, love Spanish food, or at least love really beautiful food photography, check out El invitado de invierno, a Spanish food blog. I don’t think Miriam & I will get to meet up on this trip, but her recipes look amazing!

Travel, Making Art, & Permission

Record Shop, Lancaster PADo you remember the Amtrak Writers’ Residency craze that was happening several months ago? It felt like everyone I knew was talking about it some capacity, most of them longingly. What could be done with weeks on a train to write one’s heart out? Artists wanted in on it too, calling for an artists’ residency.

I have a trip coming up myself, and in the midst of a busy 9 to 5, a booked-solid freelance schedule, and a recent move, I can’t wait for the mental break. I recently stumbled across a printable form to be filled out with self-imposed travel arts residency information. You fill out where you’re going, what you’ve created, who you’ve talked told about it, and a bunch of other information. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, but just enough that if I filled it out, I’d feel committed to creating something while traveling. It’s a really great idea and something I would totally do if I ever find the link again. (Have you seen it? Please tell me if you know what I’m talking about and where to find it!)

But perhaps the most interesting and powerful thing about the concept is that it gives you permission. It’s a promise you make to yourself (and maybe to your seatmate on your flight?) to be playfully productive during your explorations, but without the pressure of doing actual “work.”

So now I’m wondering what would happen if, even if I can’t find this form, I give myself permission to create my own traveling artist’s/writer’s residency. No excuses, no self-consciousness, no feeling like I have no business with creativity or that I’m not good enough. Just a pressure-free assignment to be where I am and document the journey.

Is the world better or worse than it used to be?

fernsA few months ago, Chad was thinking about writing a story that would take place in the future. He started thinking about what the world would be like in 100 years, and whether it would be better or worse than it is now. He started randomly asking people if they thought the world had gotten better or worse over time.

The answers were interesting and, at times, incredibly contrary to each other based on the answerer’s worldview. I don’t know how I could even answer that question. My favorite answer came from someone who coworks with Chad: “No man, I don’t do those kinds of dichotomies.” A very West Philly answer. It leaves room for paradox and tension and reality. Things are of course better in some ways and worse in others.

I have a bunch of blog post ideas, but I can’t bear to write a floofy round up or something. Not with what’s going on in the world. It’s been a difficult several weeks to wrap your head around, and I don’t feel that I have anything wise enough to contribute to the cacophony that more eloquent people haven’t said already. Right now, my privileged, first-world, upper middle class, white heart is incredibly heavy.

Mike Brown. Ferguson. Gaza. ISIS. Christian children being beheaded in Iraq. Ebola. Friends who’ve suddenly lost loved ones. Injustice upon injustice. They need to be acknowledged.

Anne Lamott is one of my favorite writers. And though she is oft-quoted, I still think this is appropriate:

Our preacher Veronica said recently that this is life’s nature: that lives and hearts get broken – those of people we love, those of people we’ll never meet. She said the world sometimes feels like the waiting room of the emergency ward and that we who are more or less OK for now need to take the tenderest possible care of the more wounded people in the waiting room, until the healer comes. You sit with people, she said, and you bring them juice and graham crackers.

This world feels like the emergency ward. I don’t know if it is getting better. I hope it is.

Spain on the Brain

Salamanca, SpainIt’s been over seven years since I left Spain, where I spent six months studying during undergrad. While I was there, it felt so much like a second home that I naively thought I’d return often — it would never be a stranger to me.

Well, seven years later I’m planning my grand (albeit short) return. We’re headed to Spain at the end of the month and I’d forgotten that I miss it so much it hurts. The past couple nights when falling asleep, I start blabbering about Spanish fast food joints that I’d totally forgotten about. Pans and Company. Telepizza. El Gran Shanghai, a Chinese place ironically located in the middle of Salamanca where I could get arroz con pollo and a jasmine tea for four euros. Slowly but steadily, memories of cities that have just become names to me are sneaking in and I want to go to all of them. How do you revisit six months in a week?

Puente Romano | Roman Bridge, Salamanca SpainI can’t but I want to. Do we try to cram in three cities in a week? Or do we park ourselves squarely in Salamanca for the week and take leisurely day trips to places like Segovia and Zamora or, if we get really bored, Madrid?

Do we subsist on La Vaca que Rie (Laughing Cow cheese), crusty baguettes, Nutella, and a box of table wine like we did when I had $70 to last until the end of the semester and a long-haired college boyfriend with a part-time computer lab gig to fund our travels? Just for old times’ sake? Really. These are the silly questions that have been consuming me of late.