There was a time when people knew what they were doing. They devoted their entire lives to mending shoes or making wigs, keeping books or smelting stuff. They were defined by what they did. Dickens had characters who were shaped by their profession. Even his pick-pockets were fully trained, accredited, reliable.
Now it seems we have web sites, backed up by people who don't really know what's going on. Yesterday I yelled at a man in the street, literally yelled at him, using every obscenity I could summon, because I needed to yell and vent my anger on someone tangible and there he was, walking his dog along the road. He had no leash, the dog ran at Tyson, and the man made some brief attempt at defending himself before he realised that was only going to make me angrier.
I now feel terrible. I had a bad night. I feel like I'm back to square one.
Yesterday was going to be the day when I bought my airline ticket -- the moment when this deal was sealed. Buying the ticket is a huge step. I am still not absolutely certain that moving to Slovenia is the right thing to do, nor am I certain that staying here is the right thing to do. The only thing that gave me the confidence to buy that ticket was being told by Air France (twice) that I could see Tyson during my layover in Paris. That made me feel better. If I could see him in Paris I would feel like I'd made one direct flight successfully and he was there, fit and healthy and in the right place. Then it was just another direct flight to Slovenia. I'm ok with the idea of a direct flight, even when there's two of them.
Yesterday, after long and confusing calls to the vet and the USDA, trying to work out if I should make an appointment with them first or get the ticket first, I called Air France and began the long dreaded ticket-buying ordeal.
The American woman could not pronounce Slovenia and had never heard of Ljubljana. She spent a long time taking all of my details and I told her that, according to two previous calls, it was important that Tyson was checked in only as far as Paris so I could get him and check him onto the Slovenia flight myself.
She said that was impossible, and what credit card would I be using today?
I backed away, cartoon-like. "But they said I could!"
As I told her I would have to sleep on it, she asked if she could help me with hotels or car hire? I went out with Tyson, once again feeling like I had to chose between two things that I don't want, like I was back in the immediate aftermath of being dumped by my wife and everything was spinning out of control. Then a dog ran around the corner and the man walking it seemed to think that he didn't need a leash. The cleaned-up sane version went something like this:
"Sir, you are an inconsiderate person, and let me put this into perspective. This is suburbia, where we are supposed to walk our dogs on a leash. If it's ok for you to go out leash-less, then it's ok for all of us. If we all do it, we will be living in India."
I'm sure India is lovely, but you get the idea. A little bit chaotic and poop-strewn.
This is Wednesday morning. I shall pick myself up, dust myself off, and start all over again.
Day two of this exercise found me saying goodbye, something which will increase in frequency as the days pass. Sunday is a time to find those who are rarely found, and I shook hands with people who wished me luck. Lyla and Hunter didn't shake hands, or wish me luck. I don't think Lyla and Hunter even knew I was saying goodbye, but I said it anyway, and gave them an extra biscuit (actually, I gave them several extra biscuits, because what else are biscuits for). Lyla and Hunter are dogs that I walk on occasion, and they are the kind of dogs I knew I was going to miss. I walked them for the last time today and these little things chip away at me.
It's a strange thing to feel sad about never again seeing someone else’s dogs, but the simple act of saying "have a good life" hits a maritally-doomed dog-walker right in the chest. I came home determined to be whimsical, upbeat and unashamedly positive. I checked my stats for this web site and they had doubled overnight. I checked CreateSpace to discover that I had sold my first print copy of The Midlife of Dudley Chalk, a novel I published only recently.
I told Sarah. She was not surprised.
"I posted a link to your first blog entry," she said. "It was hard for me to read, but it was good."
I'm sure it was hard for her to read, and it is a measure of the woman that she sent out links to drive traffic to my site, despite the content. Thanks to her and to the book-buying genie, it became a day of promise as well as goodbyes.
After bidding farewell to Lyla and Hunter I made my way to the library. Everyone was there. Seriously, if you are looking for someone, go to the library on a Sunday. It was standing room only and, strangely, almost everyone working there was Chinese. This is not a particularly Chinese-heavy community. I found it interesting that all of the Chinese in the area have migrated to working for the Lower Merion Library District. It could have been a post dog-parting hallucination except that I still have the book I checked out. I also have the DVD of "Adaptation," which the Chinese check-out lady said was good. She also thought that O Brother Where Art Thou was good, and had similar feelings about 'In Treatment' series 1 through 5. As I wended my way around the young Chinese lad who was either pushing or hiding behind a trollyload of books (and took a sneaky glance at the attractive Chinese girl who's only job appeared to be decorative), I wondered if there was a thriving community of exotic people living in the travel section, cataloguing by day and watching top quality movies by night. These thoughts entertained me as I walked to the car. The car park was full. Sunday afternoon at the library is a time of mystery and wonder.
It was not just to find out the Asian opinion on the works of Charlie Kaufman or Homer that I beat my way to the library on Sunday. It was also to get a book on marketing -- specifically marketing for independent authors. I have to fund a life in the Alps, where I suspect pet-sitting is not big business. I genuinely believe my work will sell once people discover it, but so far I have done little to promote it. Sarah is all over Facebook and reaches out to people through the power of social media, but it takes something creative and intelligent to get people to part with their money. I felt it was time to get a book from the library. I might even read it.
Other thoughts crossed my mind while huddled in the most popular library in America. I have tried various schemes over the years and none of them really came to anything because I have spread myself too wide and too thin. It would do no harm to congregate these things onto one place: This site. Anything that gets people to come here increases my chance of becoming a household name.
Such as? I hear you ask.
Well, in 1999 I moved from England to the Greek island of Corfu. I lived there for 4 years and my beloved dog Tyson was born under my bed. When I moved there I began to write accounts of my new life and tried to make them as entertaining as I could, sending them back to the editors for whom I worked so that they wouldn't forget me. Eventually I began to sell some parts of that journal and one entry won me a creative non-fiction contest. It was a very fertile time and I haven't really done anything with that material. I posted half of it to a "we might pay you one day" web site and then forgot it. People liked it. I think I shall tidy it up and post it on this site as a separate blog. It's there, sitting doing nothing and could be used to build an audience. You could view it as a prequel to the next move; a glimpse of what you might get from this unfolding journey from the US to Slovenia. I'll put it up in the next few days.
The other thing is a puzzle I put online but which, due to lack of marketing, withered on the vine. I shall recreate it here and give away my books to people who can solve it. It's fun and it might drive traffic.
All I need are book sales, and I think they will come once people feel confident of what they are getting. Sarah says that nobody knows me yet, and this is my way to show them. The Greek tales go a long way toward making me known, and the puzzle? It is a mystery hidden inside a story. The story is the true tale of Sarah and I, and how we fell in love. People will get to know us through that, and also win a book. Doubly wondrous.
It is now Monday morning. I have five days of pet-sitting left. Five days of saying goodbye to animals that I've taken care of for over a year. It's going to be a sad week, but also a week where I need to get busy. By the end of Tuesday I need to be the owner of a plane ticket to Slovenia.
There's a pair of socks on the floor of the basement. They are my socks, but I don't want them. For the past eight years I have worked from the basement of this house in the suburbs of Philadelphia and in those eight years I have accumulated, well, stuff. I seem to have more socks than I need and one pair has formed the beginnings of a pile on the basement floor. Some of my accumulated stuff needs to go and some of it needs to --
-- wait. Let me stand back and describe the bigger picture. My wife doesn't love me any more. All of my pleadings have been cut short by that statement. She doesn't love me any more. I have to leave. I have to go to some place, any place, that isn't here. So far my attempts to deal with this resemble someone wandering away from a traffic accident. I know I should go somewhere, but I still have a crash ringing in my ears and my legs don't seem to work.
My plans thus far amount to two socks, thrown onto the basement floor.
I am obsessing about accumulated 'stuff' because to put things into piles is easier than thinking about a marriage that simply walked away and won't come back. I say 'put things into piles' but in truth, there are no piles. I have done nothing, if one discounts the socks. I have concentrated on the idea of piling up the material evidence of my past eight years but haven't, as yet, had the strength to move a single thing. The clock is ticking down to the moment when I shan't see her again and to keep the basement intact is almost like this awful event isn't happening. I sit amid my comforting junk. Things that used to get in my way are now propping me up.
Instead of reaching for those black bags that claim to be for contractors but are instead sold to the likes of me, I have chosen to begin my documentation of this phase of my life. I shall try to be me and write with a touch of whimsy, despite all my whimsy having decamped to Sarah's side of the house.
So here's the situation. I am English and I came to America to be with Sarah. Eight years down the line we are friends and not much more. We both knew something had to happen to revive our flagging spirits, and I thought we were going to sell up in a couple of years and move away -- Europe perhaps, or possibly the Pacific North West. It turns out that Sarah wanted something else, and a month ago she broke the news. I have to leave, and there's nothing I can say or do to prevent it. I have never really been happy with the situation here, and I think she's worried that we'll sell up and move, only to find that I'm not happy with the situation there either. I guess she didn't want to risk it. We remain friends. She's picking up pizza and we'll eat it watching My Name is Earl.
So what to do? I have put everything into the past eight years and so I have no money, no car, just a few things I want to keep and a basement full of things I've accumulated over the years. I shall be travelling light -- just me and my faithful dog Tyson -- to pastures new. But where?
For over a month I have been wrestling with that problem. Should I stay in America or return across the pond? I have been working as a pet-sitter here in the Philly suburbs while working on my writing, but I don't want to stay within pet-sitting range. So my immediate problem is no income (apart from you wonderful people who have bought by books). Would I prefer no income in America or no income in Europe?
Europe is a good idea because I want to be close to people who love me and they are 3000 miles away. It's hard (or at least historically it's been hard) to get a dog into the UK, and easier to get one into mainland Europe. My brother lives in Slovenia -- the Alps, no less -- and I wrote to him asking if I could begin my new life at his house. He said yes, of course I could, and I realised that I love my brother like a brother. He's a good man and I miss him.
It's been some weeks since he said that, and while I think it's the right thing to do, my dread of taking my 12-year-old dog on such a trip is overshadowing my relief at having family to run to. Also, the chance of getting work is less in Slovenia than it is in the US, and my writing isn't going to pay for a new life yet. On the other hand, in the US I'd be out all day trying to fund a life that I don't want, and poor Tyson would be alone while I'm cavorting with other people's animals. These things have kept me awake at night, the room spinning.
I have decided that we are going to live in Slovenia, a country neither of us has visited. I would be mad not to try.
To bolster my spirits and maybe drive some traffic to this site, I have decided to document the next 12 months and set myself some goals -- some waypoints, if you will. Concentrating on success will ease my mind. I can get through this if I see it as some abstract game of survival rather than a real-life disaster. I thought you might like to watch it unfold.
The abstract game is this: After 1 year, I want to achieve a lifelong ambition to be a qualified paraglider pilot with my own gear, living within minutes of a good flying site in the fair country of Slovenia, making enough money through writing and illustration work to live in Slovenia indefinitely. That makes this blog project a 12-month experiment. Paragliding is something I have dabbled with over the course of 20 years and never fully embraced. Now I find myself moving to a village only minutes form a prime flying site, so it makes sense to have that as the final 1-year mark of success. It's a clearly defined goal. Here are the waypoints:
Wrap up my American life and get me and Tyson to the plane. New York JFK seems to be the place to go.
Make it to Ljubljana with Tyson, all my worldly belongings (though they are nothing compared to Tyson), and get to know the place. As a sneak peak, he lives in Bohinj. Google it. It's insanely pretty.
See if the Slovenian authorities let me stay for more than a few months, which seems to involve having an income and proving that I'll not be a drain on the country's resources.
Find somewhere to live with an internet connection.
Learn how to paraglide despite my fear of heights (yes, more on that later), buy the gear and end my first year of Sarahlessness as a successful flying single ex-pat.
And after that? Get Sarah back, of course. How could she not be impressed by a man who paraglides and lives in the Alps...
Tomorrow I'll get serious. Today is October 26th. I aim to fly mid November. There is much to do...
Slovenia, writing, other things