Everybody hurts, sometimes. REM
A BITING, bitter Brisbane wind is howling outside and I am inside, howling too. I’d love to say I have a case of the winter blues, but if only it were that easy. I am back home after a hectic six months of travel and I am struggling to earth myself, drop anchor. When you are out in the world, living the frenetic life of a travel writer, hunting and gathering the stories of others, it’s all too convenient to forget your own story. And that story is loneliness.
One in four Australians now live alone and despite having greater electronic connectivity than ever before, we are less connected. A recent article in the Guardian online, penned by Penelope Blackmore, examines the latest casualty of our disconnected world. In the United States, Uber has just launched a new service in which you can now request that you are not disturbed during your ride by the driver speaking with you. That’s right, cordial chit chat has just flown out the window.
In her piece, Blackmore argues that we can outsource almost every “irritation” in our lives, but we can’t outsource loneliness.
“Studies have shown that regular interactions with weak ties, or acquaintances, can drastically improve your mental health and feelings of connectedness,” she writes.
“So while we might think there’s no point waiting around at our local coffee shop when you can pre-order your flat white on an app, studies prove us wrong.
“Baristas, cashiers, yoga teachers – these are all people that might recognise you, and people that are worth talking to, even if it’s just a quick nod of the head.”
Baristas, cashiers, yoga teachers…her words resonate with me on this particular day, when the black dog of loneliness (or is that 10 cats for a single woman?) is nipping at my heels, poking and prodding at me with thoughts that I’m worthless, unlovable, all alone in the world. I’ve had a long, dark night of the soul that seems to affect writers who care about their words, and the world. Some days you wonder if you’re making any difference, on others, you doubt your basic ability to write. And then you panic. Because without your words, what are you? I have awoken on this particular morning in this precise frame of mind. So I force myself to return to my yoga studio that I’ve been neglecting for the past 18 months. Due in part to travel and part to laziness. I walk into the studio, tell the yoga teacher that “something” told me I needed to come back, and then burst into tears. “I need to release today, so please ignore me” I say. She understands, and tells me to simply resort to child’s pose at any point during the class. I make it through the class, noting how badly my balance is off, and leave in tears.
Around the corner, I pause at the second hand book store run by Lifeline volunteers. I say hello to the elderly gentleman behind the counter, and he greets me with a hearty hello back. I linger around the travel biographies section, my favourite genre, and see if any juicy new old books have arrived. On this chilly, crappy day, I want to escape into the arms of another writer, live vicariously through their travels, while I collapse on the couch. I should be writing words myself, but I’ll tell myself that this is research. Even better, the biographies are half priced and with their wizened, yellow pages, they smell so good. Of wild adventures, love, loss and ultimately triumph.
The next destination in my world which has shrunk considerably for now is the local coffee shop. Simon, the owner, sees more of me during winter, when I can finally bask in the winter sunshine after a long, hot summer. I am wearing sunglasses to hide my red eyes. I ask for a hot chocolate but then realise the Eftpos machine is out of order and I don’t have any cash on my person. Simon senses I need this hot chocolate, and simply says “no worries, fix me up next time.” I sit in the sun and fat, salty tears are streaming down my face. Anyone noticing me on this wild and windy day will think my eyes are running from the weather. I clutch my hot chocolate and nudge the karma fairy in Simon’s direction. If only he knew how much this cuppa means today.
Back home on this day, like the wind which is making my windows and bones rattle, I can’t stop howling. I try, but it doesn’t work. So I acquiesce to the sadness. Sometimes life’s answers are held in the pauses between the next breath. The next big adventure. Sometimes they aren’t. I have no answers today. I have friends scattered around the world, and in my hometown of Brisbane, yet I yearn to belong. I crave the next great love affair of my life. On a marvellous night, I want a moon dance. I search for a constant community with which I can connect, not merely dip in and out sporadically.
People think the life of a travel writer is one of pure glamour. And for 10, maybe 20 per cent of the time, this is true. But for the rest, it’s bloody, hard work. One of constant pitching stories and rejections. God, the rejections. Readers will stalk you from around the world to tell you that your story sucks. You spend an enormous amount of time chasing unpaid invoices, juggling Peter to pay Paul, wondering why it is so hard for publishers to pay you what is rightly yours. And for writers such as myself, it can be a lonely life on your own, out on the road. But you keep going, driven by a love of the written word, and the desire to understand the world. I know what a great privilege I have been afforded.
Blackmore sums up loneliness in her excellent article.
“Instead of plugging in your AirPods and listening to a podcast on how to better connect with your loved ones, or how to market your startup, or how to be as productive as humanly possible, try something new,” she says.
“Make small talk, make eye contact. Perhaps give a non-creepy smile to someone that looks like they need it.
“Walk to the train station without distraction, taking in the smells and sounds of your town. And for goodness sake, have a chat to your Uber driver. You never know, you might even enjoy it.”
Even the Pope has weighed into the conversation this week, during his Pentecostal Mass, saying “the more we use social media, the less social we are becoming.” The New York Post has quoted his warning that the temptation to cling to “our little group, to the things and people we like,” saying it’s only a “small step from a nest to a sect, even within the church.”
Two days later, the external and internal howling has finally relented and I return to my yoga studio. A woman I’d noticed the other day smiles at me when she sees me again. My teacher and I discuss my physical and mental release. I drop into the coffee shop and tell Simon I’m here to repay my debt. And I want to pay it forward, buying a coffee for the next person who needs one. His supreme act of kindness has reminded me to be kind, to myself, and others. I’m sipping my hot chocolate when a woman interrupts me. “Excuse me, but thank you, they just told me you paid for my coffee,” she says.
“My name is Chris,” I reply.
“I’m Aleisha,” she says, beaming as she skips off into the winter sunshine.
And all of a sudden, I’m smiling too.
FIVE years ago today, I dragged myself to the blogosphere kicking and screaming. I was a professional journalist who was always paid for her work, I argued to myself, why on earth should I give my words away for free? But then I looked around me, and the media world was rapidly changing. In fact, it had already changed. I had a stark choice. Embrace social media, or do something else. The concept of doing anything but journalism was not an option for me, so I plunged into the deep end. And I’m so glad I did. To celebrate The Global Goddess’ 5th birthday, I’ve put together a list of the 10 best things I’ve learned from blogging.
1. Some people will hate you, some will love you
If you are going to write well, you must be prepared to be vulnerable. Too many writers sit on the fence and just as you think you have a glimpse of their true self, they retreat. Being vulnerable comes at a cost and there are simply some people, no matter what you write, who will never like your work. As in life, for whatever reason, they won’t like you. It doesn’t matter. What matters if that you like you.
2. Write as you try to live, with humility, heart and humour
An extension of point one, but I don’t see the point of writing, or living, if you don’t give it your all. Laugh at yourself, pour your heart out, let the world in. The rewards are rich if you can follow these three principles.
3. You won’t always get it right
You may think you are one fabulously funny bugger, but guess what? No one else does on this particular occasion. Or you’ve completely missed the point, as you’re so caught up in your own headspace. That’s OK. Take the learnings and move on. There really is no point crying over spilt milk.
4. Never give up
An oldie, but a goodie. Writing a blog is like a musician playing to an empty concert hall. You can’t actually see your audience and much of the time, they don’t even tell you they are reading it. This can result in days when you wonder what the whole damn point of it is. And then someone, somewhere will mention something you’ve written. And it may have resonated with them. Someone is always watching you.
5. Always show up
It’s easy to write when you are not busy, you are in the zone, and life is good. Words, well they keep sprinkling down on you like manna from heaven. What distinguishes a professional blogger from an amateur is that you turn up, week after week, even when you are feeling at your worst. It’s those days, when you have to push through, that will determine what you are made of.
6. Take risks
With a proliferation of bloggers on the internet, it is easy to become lost. Don’t. If you feel passionate about something, write about it. Try different ways of writing, look at different ways of tackling this life business. Not all blogs need to be a narrative, they can be a listicle, such as this. They may just be photographs. On days when I have limited internet access and I’m out there travelling somewhere in the world, I simply post a photograph and the words: “Postcard from X”. Treat your followers like your friends. You haven’t forgotten them, and that you’ll be back soon.
7. People like surprises
Just when people think they’ve figured you out, give them something new to think about. While you should find your writing voice, and distinguish a persona, don’t be afraid to mix it up a little bit. While I often write about travel, as that is my main business, my other passion is social issues.
8. Embrace evolution
When I first started The Global Goddess, I was writing for myself, to heal a badly broken heart. Much of what I was writing about was dating and sex. Over the years, as my life has evolved, so has my writing. Sure, I go back to relationship issues from time-to-time, but I have grown and so has my blog.
9. Find your voice
Don’t be afraid to be yourself. And never copy anyone else. Find your niche. Most days I remain convinced everyone else on the planet has been handed a guidebook on how to live this life and somehow, I missed out. Own your fears and flaws, embrace your passions and speak your truth.
10. You never know where it may lead
It’s taken me five long years, but these days, The Global Goddess makes money from sponsored posts. I speak at conferences about social media, travel writing, innovation and creativity. I’m now a columnist with Jetstar magazine. I write Content Campaigns for domestic and international tourism boards. And I swear if I hadn’t started blogging, it wouldn’t have put me back in front of so many editors and PR people in my industry and effectively, kept me in the mainstream travel writing game I adore so much. Having a blog allows me to say to prospective clients that I can immediately deliver on a trip, while my mainstream stories are percolating their way through the editing system many months later. There’s immediate return on investment. But most of all, enjoy it. We now live in a world where we can self publish, and that privilege is priceless.
Some of the blogging accolades I’ve received in recent years:
•In 2016, The Global Goddess was named by influential travel website Skyscanner as one of the Top 20 Australian and New Zealand bloggers to follow. http://www.skyscanner.com.au/news/aussie-nz-travel-bloggers-worth-following-part-2
•The Global Goddess was named by Tourism and Events Queensland as one of the top 19 travel bloggers to follow in 2017: http://blog.queensland.com/2016/12/22/best-travel-blogs-to-follow-in-2017/
•Earlier this year, The Global Goddess was shortlisted by My Deal and The RightFight.com in Australia’s Top 50 Influencers awards.
•The Global Goddess has just been named as a Finalist for Best Travel Blog, to be announced at the Australian Society of Travel Writers Awards in August.
I’m taking a little break from blogging today to celebrate my nomination in two categories for the Bupa blogging awards. The Global Goddess is up for the Travel Adventures and Social Good categories. Finalists will be announced mid October and winnners in mid November. I wish to thank you all for reading, supporting and following me. With love and light, The Global Goddess xx.