Finding Focus.

Well, I can’t believe it’s gotten to this point.

By which I mean both: “I can’t believe it’s my last Saturday in Madrid,” and also: “I can’t believe it’s March 25th and I haven’t blogged all month.”

I would be like “so much for my blogging every day goal,” but honestly the whole month has been a litany of “so much for this-or-that goal.” So much for learning Spanish, so much for getting up on time in the morning, so much for finishing work early and going out to explore the city. I’ve been struggling, and I think it’s only right in the interests of honesty to admit it. Working abroad is an amazing opportunity, but it is primarily that: an opportunity, and whether or not it actually proves to be amazing is up to you. It doesn’t happen automatically, and it can be frustrating to live under the pressure of having to make the most of your time abroad, especially when you are hyper-aware of what everyone else imagines your experience to be, and you want to live up to those expectations. Why yes, I am working from a bar, sipping my wine, watching the bustling streets of sunny Madrid pass by instead of holed up in my apartment, frantically trying to finish my latest assignment while there’s still daylight.

Does this sound whiny? It shouldn’t. I’m not trying to complain, I just want to be honest. I think we’ve fallen into a trap in the way we present our lives to others, in that we feel compelled to present the best face at all times, but feel false in doing so, and yet are afraid to admit when things aren’t all hunky-dory for fear of appearing glum, depressed or ungrateful. Well that’s the kind of nonsense I’d like to keep off my blog. This space is meant to be a real and honest exploration of shit I’m doing with my life, and that ought to include the things that aren’t working as well as the things that are.

So: I’ve had trouble pulling things together in Spain. And I’ll get into more of that in a second. But first I’d like to cover what I did over the past four weekends, which form part of why I’ve been so negligent in keeping this space up-to-date.

  1. Granada. I loved Granada. It was freaking incredible. If I come back to Spain for an extended period of time again, I may go to there. My last blog was on the Alhambra, and I meant to write more about the gypsy caves up by Sacromonte, and the city itself, but I got sidetracked by the other things and didn’t get to it. More on that to come.
  2. Barcelona. This was my other main travel destination when I came to Spain. It was nice, but much larger than I anticipated, and many of the attractions I wanted to see were quite far away from each other. Still, I discovered Gaudí, and that made the whole trip worthwhile. I think he would have made a great Hobbit architect.
  3. My friend Alaina came to visit. We had an excellent time exploring the city and discovering awesome places to eat and drink. We discovered my new favorite gin bar together. Good times.
  4. The UK. Originally, I had planned to devote my time in Spain to all things Spanish. But once I realized I was too distracted by ALL THE THINGS to do this (more on that later), I decided to pop over to the UK for a quick catch-up with some of my Uni friends. This is 100% the right decision, and did the more to help turn my month around than anything.

So there you go. Four pretty packed weekends sure put some perspective on why I’ve been remiss on, well, lots of things. In fact, they’re part of what helped me realize something very important about myself: I’m not a travel blogger. You know that last post I made about the Alhambra? It took me days to get that out. I was nearly to Barcelona by the time I managed to get it published, and that put me behind my schedule. I couldn’t decide if I should finish blogging about Granada before I moved on to Barcelona, or if I should skip the rest of my Granada post. Then I got back from Barcelona, and everything I felt I “had” to write about became this massive burden. I couldn’t write about what was actually on my mind because I hadn’t written these other posts yet. Blogging wasn’t an enjoyable experience, it was a task to cross off my list. An obligation.

And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I can only handle so many obligations. And if I’m prioritizing them, blogging is sure not at the top of my list. If I’m going to focus a lot of energy on making sure I get a thing done regularly, that energy should go toward something like my novel, or improving my languages.

All of which leads me to that “thing to come” I’ve mentioned in my preceding paragraphs:

I’m swamped. I’ve over-committed. I’m burning out. All the things I tell myself I’m going to do every day, they’re too much. I need to re-prioritize, and that mostly means that I need to cut back.

This is not an easy thing for me to admit. I like doing ALL THE THINGS, but in my excitement, I find I can’t focus on my actual priorities. So I planned my trip to Spain thinking that if I put in some intense study beforehand, and then really dedicated myself to practicing during the two months I was here, I could go home speaking Spanish. I think this would have worked, if I’d made my priority. Only I couldn’t bear to leave behind the books on Russian history I’d recently purchased, so I’ve spent most of the past two months desperately wanting to dive back into Russian practice. It doesn’t help that I made a stop by basically the most amazing fabric store in the world on my way to Madrid, and I’ve been antsy to get back home and sew again. Then there’s the apartment I’m moving into, which has probably cost me hours of productive work time as I’ve distractedly browsed the Internet for furniture and decor that I can’t actually afford. And of course at the bottom of all this is the thing that I really, actually should be prioritizing above all those other things, which is writing my novel. You know: that thing I said I had to do or else risk being a pretentious asshat for saying I would do it and then not.

I came to Madrid thinking it would put me back into that “everything is possible” mindset I had while I was in Vienna, only now I’m realizing that mindset was not a good place to be, even if it did make me happy. Because that happiness was an illusion built on a daydream of things I hadn’t done. And when the things you thought you would do don’t align with the things you actually can do, it leads to a pretty big crash. The kind that lands you in the doldrums for months as you beat yourself up for being less-than-awesome.

So Spain has been a reality check, which is not what I wanted, but certainly far better for me in the long run. I can’t do all the things—or at least, I can’t do them all well. I need to do the thing. And do that thing right.

Does blogging still have a place in all this? Oh most definitely. But not travel blogging. Not the kind of blogging that leaves me feeling drained for failing to live up to yet another obligation. Instead, this is my progress blog and my think space. This is where I’m going to keep dumping my spare thoughts, because it helps me focus. It keeps me accountable.

If that’s not useful or interesting or enjoyable to you, please be reminded that this is an opt-in space: you’re not obliged to keep reading. If you care to join me for the ride: thank you. I really do like knowing you’re here with me.