return to sender

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(photography by Liz Cooper)

I received a letter over Christmas, but it looked and felt familiar in my hands as I turned it over, and then I noticed the bright red stamp – returned to sender. It was a letter I had written a pen pal I had from two years ago. He’s a middle aged, married man from New York state – we met on a penpal website and he would send me boxes of odd and fun things he found, and in return I would send train ticket stubs, postcards, pieces of maps, and long winded letters about my pre-20s struggles. We corresponded for over a year and a half before he sent what now appears to be his last package to me. I opened up my rejected letter and read back fragments of my former self – and I’ve decided to permit you entrance into this collection of very honest snippets from my life at that point. Honesty seems to be my new thing.


Dear *****,

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a terrible person for taking so long to respond to your last letter/package. I’m on summer break now, so I’m no longer at my school address. I’m back to couch surfing at my parents’ house until the school year starts up again.

I agree with what you wrote in your letter, that I’m actually fairly close to NY! Most of my penpals are overseas or on the west coast of Canada. It’s funny to think that I’m writing to you in another country, and you’re closer than someone I write to in my own country! Distance and geography are weird.

To answer you question about visiting my parents, when I’m at school I try to visit once a month but my life at Trent University is very busy so I often go months without seeing my family. My father came to visit me once during the school year. I try to bus or take the train home, but it’s so expensive. I don’t mind not seeing them that much, we keep in touch over facebook and text and I call my mom every few days. I’m a fairly independent person regardless and when I don’t live close to people I’m often bad at keeping in touch because I put all my energy into the place that I’m in. I’ve lost a lot of friends that way from falling out of touch, but like I said, as an independent person I don’t particularly care. I’m selfish, I’m driven to focus on myself and my goals and don’t require friends to make me feel good about what I’m doing in the moment. I’m a very social person however and wherever I am I do have friends, they’re just not always the deep, heartfelt connections that most people carry throughout their lives.

I think it would be nice to travel with a partner but to be perfectly honest I’ve always preferred traveling by myself. I like the time to think and process what’s going on around me, I do a lot of writing and reading and I don’t like to be disturbed. I feel more outgoing when I travel on my own. I’m much more likely to talk to strangers, find adventures, and truly experience a culture when I’m solo.

I haven’t done much reading lately and I feel ashamed of that. I was always known through elementary school and high school, and my first college, as the girl who always had a book. Lately I just haven’t found the time to sit down and read for pleasure. It’s a shame because that used to be so intrinsic to who I was. There wasn’t a thing I wouldn’t at least attempt to read. School readings don’t count of course since I’m required to look into them for the course, although this year I wound up reading a lot of interesting philosophy material that I could learn to enjoy as an act of leisure. Socrates (and by that I mean Plato of course) really piqued my interest this year and I finished reading Plato’s 5 Dialogues very quickly. Even though I just spent 8 months immersed in philosophical culture I know I have still barely even scratched the surface. It just makes me more excited to tackle the following years of my degree.

I think we’re all a little lonely, to be honest. Pen paling for me is about searching for connections. I feel similar to you in the sense that I feel all too often that I don’t make meaningful connections or conversations with people in real life, and that I lie to impress in person. I’ve been writing as a means of coping and freedom for a really long time and I find it hard to lie through my writing. It’s always been a product of raw honesty. So when I write to other people I find myself relinquishing the truer bits of who I am more easily. So pen paling is how I keep myself honest, as well as having the privilege of seeing snippets of other people; whether they be lying or truthful.

I too, am clinically depressed with general anxiety disorder, seasonal affective disorder, and mild/manageable OCD. I’m on medications to help out with these disorders and to keep myself balanced. Recently my psychiatrist assessed my progress and we both assumed it would be alright for me to test the waters of life without medication. It went terribly. After only two months of countless mental breakdowns, anxiety and panic attacks, a resurfacing eating disorder, and my fall into becoming a borderline recluse, I was put back onto meds. I feel much better again. The medication keeps me balanced and makes me feel more like myself. So I’ve never been shy about admitting that I need it to be functional. Maybe someday I’ll move away from medicine but for now I need it, and there’s no shame in knowing it.

My summer to date has been mostly a boring one consisting of way too much work and not enough backpacking or adventure in general. I hope this letter finds you well, happy, and focused on something greater.

I hope to hear from you soon, although I understand if you wait 6 months so you can fathom a sense of justice.

 

Cheers,

Gyða

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yes, I travel. no, I’m not rich.

Fresh back from Poland, here we are! (And by fresh I mean it was 5 days ago so a lil stale but still interesting content, ya feel?)

When I first got back to the UK after Christmas break my friend, Anni from Finland, agreed to accompany me on a trip somewhere! I had no idea where I wanted to go, I was flip-flopping between Denmark and France which are both fairly expensive countries. So I used the most effective travel tool that I know of… skyscanner.net. (This post isn’t sponsored, I’m not well known enough for that shit – I just really love this website). Skyscanner is this beautiful site where you can put in the airport you’d like to fly out from and then choose where you’d like to go and it finds heavily discounted and last minute flights for you. The best feature the site has is that, say you don’t exactly know where you want to go or when? That’s fine, you can literally put in your destination as “anywhere” and it will show you the cheapest place to fly that week/month.

 

 

So that’s exactly what Anni and I did. We found that one of the cheapest places to fly 2 weeks out was Gdansk, Poland. There were a few other cheaper flights but they led to countries that were expensive to be in. That’s the trick with cheap travel – you may see a discounted flight which is great, but if it takes you to a country that’s expensive then you’re not really saving any money (like France for example). This also brings me to talk about why people think it’s appropriate to say to me, “wow you travel so much, you must be rich. I could never do what you do, I just don’t have the money.”

 

OKAY. FIRST OF ALL, IT’S NOT EXACTLY POLITE FOR YOU TO COMMENT ON MY FINANCES IF WE ARE NOT INTIMATE FRIENDS/FAMILY (OR THE LADY WHO DOES MY TAXES), AND EVEN THEN IT’S NOT IDEAL. SO MAYBE DON’T DO THAT.

But, if I’m being fair, I can understand where this assumption comes from since I used to think the same way when I was younger and saw a lot of my friends travelling when me and my family couldn’t because of our financial situation. Having become financially independent, I have realised that the world really is an expensive place and it’s not easy to be a young adult who wants money stability while also finding the pennies for experiencing travel.

So, because I value transparency, I will set aside my annoyance at why people think it’s their business to know that I only have 300$ in my bank account to last me until May. I will share with everyone here, how I organise my life in a way that allows me to have the cultural excursions that I have worked into my world.

I have a passion for travelling, that’s as plain a fact as the sky is blue. I am obsessed with experiencing new things and going new places, that is the most important thing in my life. When you’re passionate about something you throw your whole self into it, putting in massive amounts of effort to make this passion realized. If you want to be a lawyer, you want to beat your last PR in a marathon, you want to get published, it’s all the same. You make sacrifices for what you truly want if it’s really that important to you. Travel is my life. So I make heavy sacrifices to do what I do. My life is not just cutesy instagrams of me sipping Belgian beer in Bruges, or standing in front of a castle in England. My life is the immersion of myself into the culture that I choose to visit, and in order to do that I have to give up so many things that a lot of you may regularly take for granted.

Let’s start with a fairly basic thing that I had to change in order to fund my passion: I eat plain pasta and potatoes that I buy for less than 2$ basically everyday because if I want to buy a plane ticket then I can’t afford meat or fresh veggies 90% of the time. I skip breakfast daily because I can’t afford to buy cereal if I want to drink beer in Belgium. I walk or ride the bus absolutely everywhere because I have to choose boat rides in Prague over the convenience of an Uber home from a party. I wear clothes that I’ve owned for 3+ years (even though I’ve lost weight and none of my trousers fit me anymore, I can’t even afford new bras even though the ones I have now are at the end of their lifespan) because I choose walking through a WW2 memorial in Poland over the newest party dress. I have been absent from my family for years. My brothers are teenagers all of a sudden, my younger sister has tattoos I’ve never seen, my parents are off living their almost retired lives, my older sister is having a baby in April and I missed the entire pregnancy (and I’m not even sure I can make it to the birth) because I had to choose between an expensive plane ticket home and a week in Morocco. I make huge sacrifices. I see my family two to three times a year, I sleep in sketchy hostels, I crash on peoples couches, everything I own fits in two suitcases, I haggle until I find things I can do for free, and I repeatedly have to say no to going out with friends because I sacrifice everything for my travel. For my passion.

I chose to go to Gdansk because I’m poor, and my Canadian currency can go so much farther in such a cheap country.

I sacrifice every other aspect of my life for my international experiences, and that’s my choice. If travel is your passion, you can make it work. Take a look at the way you live your life – there is always a way for those who are driven and determined enough to make their dreams a reality. Money is just numbers, and if you learn to juggle them well enough then anything is possible even with the tiniest of budgets. Be resourceful, find shortcuts and discounts, stop looking for luxury and look for affordability. A hotel/hostel doesn’t need to be a 5-star, all you need is a clean bed to crash in. Your food doesn’t have to be served on gold in the Ritz-Carlton, it can be local fish and chips wrapped in newspaper that you eat while you sit on a nearby rock or bench or an apple you bought for 20 cents in a local market. Also, in Europe most places sell beer for cheaper than water (just saying).

Don’t assume that I make these choices lightly. I’d love to go to the club and buy rounds of drinks with my friends, or buy a new pair of jeans occasionally. And it hurts me deeply to not be a present member of my family, to never know what’s going on back home, and to have everyone make me feel guilty for choosing “trips” over family. It hurts to make sacrifices. This lifestyle isn’t easy, but without it I’m not honouring my true self – I wouldn’t be me if I wasn’t a nomadic weirdo that no one can locate. But it still hurts.

So yea, I travel. But hell no, this girl ain’t rich. So please stop asking.

Cheers,

Gyða

p.s. The pictures included in this post are from my trip to Poland, so it’s not all doom, gloom and sass. (even though those things are occasionally necessary #sorrynotsorry)

catch me if you can

Hi, it’s been a while.

It’s now officially the second week of my second term of my exchange. I’m past the halfway point and only have a short 2 and a half months left of this particular adventure! Sometimes I still can’t believe that I live and go to school in the UK.

My Christmas break was an interesting series of events mostly consisting of border crossings, plane rides, and jet lag. I started with a week long excursion in Iceland to see my family and friends there! (And to sneak in a hike of course) I managed to get myself a few shifts at the restaurant, saw so many of my favorite people, and got to spend some quality time with my Aunt and Uncle. After such a whirlwind of a year in 2017 I am still so grateful for the opportunities they gave me last summer, and I will always be thankful that I have a safe haven with them in Iceland.

 

After such a short visit to the Homeland, I jumped on another plane and headed to Canada! I got to spend Christmas with my parents, hundreds of siblings, grandparents, and my very pregnant sister! (IT’S A BOY BY THE WAY, YA GIRL IS GUNNA BE A COOL AUNT TO A LITTLE NEPHEW NUGGET) This year marked 5 years since my grandmother died on Christmas day in 2012. This was the first year since then that I really feel that we started to go our festive mojo back. We actually decorated the house and had those warm fuzzy feelin’s.

After a violent bout of food poisoning on boxing day, the Chapman-Richard-McLeod Clan pack our cars and started our 30 hour trip to Orlando, Florida – and if you’ve been counting… yes that means I was in 3 different countries in a month. The drive was…. tense… at times with a pregnant carsick sister and everyone already exhausted from the holidays, but eventually we made it to the condo in Kissimmee and began our week of relaxation. While we were in Florida I turned 22! Still working on the whole “adult” life situation but at least I can cook and know how to turn on a laundry machine so that’s a plus.

So, we returned from Florida (after driving through Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, and Michigan) all of us exhausted from too much vacation. And that was the beginning of the end of my Christmas holidays. I only had two weeks left in Canada which I used to see a bunch of friends and family, I wandered around TrentU campus for a few days running into old students and dear friends (IF I SAW YOU -THANKS FOR THE HUGS, IF I DIDN’T – YOU CAN CATCH ME NEXT TIME).

One of the biggest adjustments over the break was that I finally decided that I’m going to finish my undergrad degree in Philosophy at Trent next year! So come september I’ll be back in Canada for approximately a year. I know that my plans change as often as the breeze so I decided to make the decision real by signing a lease with two of my closest sorority sisters and friends!

Now I’m back in Canterbury, already behind on my readings, and drinking lots of tea and eating biscuits for dinner. And of course, me being preemptively overwhelmed for my courses, I panicked and booked a 4 day trip to Gdansk, Poland with my Finnish friend…. so I’m staying true to myself I guess haha!

I’ll try and be more relevant and regular with my postings this semester as I try to shove as much adventure into two months as possible (yes mum, while also keeping my readings and assignments under control).

It’s good to be back in the land of trains that run on time, and awkward small talk about the weather.

Cheers my dears,

Gyða

 

p.s. it’s january and there’s no snow on the ground and its almost 10 degrees on a regular basis…..

On Travelling Alone

IMG_20171125_202412_737I have managed to enthusiastically work my way up to being in this amazing place in my life where I have the privilege of being able to use the sentence, “I’m not doing anything today so I’m just going to Belgium for a few hours.”

Recently, the opportunity to take a day trip to Belgium through my school presented itself to me out of the blue. Although it was last minute I managed to get a ticket and anxiously awaited this adventure with my friends. The night before the day we left my friends and I had a little disagreement (and by “little disagreement” I mean we had a full on high school halls worthy blowout). Shit happens, people don’t always get along, I’m already over it. The problem I found was that what was once an anticipated experience with friends, suddenly became a trip where I would be completely isolated from the group.

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I have travelled alone before (and in fact I would say that I do prefer it). The first time I travelled without my parents was when I was 11 and I went to Austria with a choir. Since that point I’ve completed exchanges, a few more choir tours, various vacations, etc, but I have seldom found myself completely alone in a country I don’t speak the language of and have never been to before. I spent the entire night anxious, feeling so alone. But, I’ve realized now (after successfully exploring Bruges) that my anxiety was not about being alone in a foreign place – it was about being alone with myself and the perception of isolation. With all my talk about confidence, mixed with my fairly outgoing and happy personality it may come off as strange to think that I secretly cannot be alone with my own mind, but my overcrowded and messy thoughts are often too much to bear. I love having people around me so that I can be distracted from the constant internal rants going on in my head.

My social anxiety has become more prevalent in recent months and I have become increasingly aware of people around me and I seem to have developed the idea that I’m constantly being judged. Being alone usually comes with negative connotations, so as you can imagine I was highly anxious about being perceived as vulnerable and lesser by travelling alone.  

But, the further into the day the more confident I got with the silence I surrounded myself with. For once I realized how relieving it is to not constantly be forming articulate conversation with another person to avoid lulls in our attention. When I was alone I was surrounded by the comfort of consensual silence. I also got to experience the liberating freedom of choosing my itinerary at random and without any concern for anyone else’s opinions. I despise having to travel with someone who cannot agree with me on what activities we’d like to do, or places we’d like to see. It drains me and ruins so much of the experience which is why when I’m not an anxious wreck I generally travel solo.

The first activity I treated myself to was a boat ride through the canals of Bruges (commonly referred to as the Venice of the North). It was a slightly overcast day, but the experience was not overshadowed by the weather. It was a small canal boat and it was filled quite tightly with strangers to me. It was an odd feeling being the only person travelling solo in a boat filled of people in families and groups, but for some reason my anxiety had subsided and I didn’t mind being a quiet loner at the side. I enjoyed an hour of canals, breathtaking architecture, and intimate people watching.

I enjoyed Flemish stew Belgian beer for lunch (with a random young Polish gentleman I bumped into in the street), and wandered the streets of Bruges for hours finding charming local shops and cathedrals less crowded without hordes of tourists. I did a little bit of christmas shopping for some of my family members back home, getting to take my time in thinking over my purchases. Then, I knew I couldn’t leave without one final aspect of the Belgian experience – I had to stop by a chocolatier shop. I chose the lovely (codeword for over my budget) Dumon Chocolatiers and spent way too much money on teeny tiny chocolates that are artsy.

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The bus ride back to the UK was spent knocked out in drooling sleep after such a thrilling and engaging day. The theme of my day was that of pure leisure, at no point did I feel rushed or required to do anything. I was enjoying my own adventure and allowing myself to give in to whatever whim that I wanted that day. I took the philosophy of ‘Treat Yo’ Self’ to heart, and indulged in some solo self care and I can say that I think I’m converted to the method. Solo travel is a great way to indulge yourself in all areas of your life for however long you want it to last. Travelling alone is self care – get yo’ self some of that.

Cheers my dears,

Gyða

 

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a goodbye hike

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We’re down to the last 48 hours of my time in Iceland. It’s so weird to be able to say that I have spent an entire summer (4 months and a bit) living here and making it my home, only to pick up and move again. But such is my nomadic lifestyle. I’m sad to leave the comfort of this little island of volcanoes and glaciers, but I’m so ready to take on the new adventure that awaits me in the United Kingdom.

Most of my summer was spent working my ass off at a restaurant in Stokkseyri. It meant such great things for my finances, I managed to pay off almost all of my debts and it means I also have enough funds to get me through the first half of my exchange. What it also means though, was that I didn’t have as much time to adventure as I would have liked. Hiking is always something I have loved and had a passion for, and it’s been amazing hiking in some of the landscapes that Iceland has to offer.

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My heart would break if I didn’t give it a proper Icelandic goodbye by doing one final hike that I had been hoping to do throughout the entire summer – Reykjadalur. It’s a beautiful 1 hour hike outside of Hveragerdi, although to be honest it took me longer than an hour since I’m sooo not in hiking shape anymore (heart problems, ya feel?). It felt so good to be able to take in the mountain high view of what’s been my home for the past 4 months. It’s been so long since I’ve felt that familiar burn in my lungs and my legs, and it was refreshing to feel so vulnerable again.

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I’m so thankful for my growth and changes over the summer. This place was truly the best location to come to terms with a lot of things going on in my life, while also preparing for another year away from Canada. My life is about to change in a big way in just two very short days. I’m so excited to get back to school, and to travel and see more of Europe. Thank you to everyone in my Icelandic life who taught me some very important lessons and provided some powerful friendships throughout summer 2017. The next time you hear from me I’ll be in a different country!

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For the last time from Iceland in 2017,

Cheers my dears,

Gyða

the close of the summer

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When I first decided to move to Iceland this summer I was making the conscious decision to give up 4 months of shorts, tan lines, and sunshine, for 4 months of wool sweaters, hiking mountains, and a foreign language. It’s been a hard, soul-searching, sometimes amazing, sometimes not so amazing, 4 months.

I can’t believe the things that I have accomplished since I got here. And, I’m proud that my “lows” are higher than what I used to know as a hardship. My life directly before I left Canada was a fucking mess. I was depressed, not knowing what I wanted to do with my life, not knowing what I needed from one day to the next, and not getting out of bed. My life is still far from perfectly healthy, most days I still sleep until 1pm, I have a rocky relationship with cigarettes, and I’m not always kind to myself. But I have made progress.

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I have quit drinking. I’ve lost 17lbs. I eat healthier. I’m not having nearly as many heart problems and sicknesses. And, I just feel like I’m in the right place and am experiencing exactly what I need to in order to grow and find my way.

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Now here I am, 17 days before moving on to the next adventure. For those of you who don’t know I’m going back to school to pursue a higher whatever, but this year I’ll be studying at the University of Kent in Canterbury, England! So until next summer I’ll be privy to the grand experience of all things British and rainy.

In the next two weeks that I’m still in Iceland I’m going to be trying my best to squeeze in as much adventure and hiking as possible. But here is some photographic evidence from the rest of the summer, proving that I did leave the house and that I managed to get a few days off from work to have a life.


At the beginning of August, one of my closest friends and sorority sisters, Madison, came to visit me! It was so special to have her here because she was the one who came to visit Iceland in February when that week long trip started my journey to living here.

Some firsts for me: Riding a horse and swimming in an infinity pool

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I’ve also found a new obsession with glaciers after a brief but exciting roadtrip along the southern coast to Skaftafell with my Icelandic friend Astros.

 

In some other news, I’ve decided to do something pretty big for myself. After some particularly disturbing and life changing things have happened recently I find myself needing something that I can’t really describe. I feel a lack of some self-awareness that I always claimed to have. I do find that although I have come pretty far in recent years where self-love, awareness, and confidence are concerned. Lately, after all that has happened to me this summer, I see that I haven’t been completely honest with myself. The greatest thing about self-discovery is that the journey is never going to be over since you’ll never completely figure it all out. But at this stage in my life I need to try and be better to myself. Above all, I deserve my own love and kindness.

With this being said, I want to start to train to walk the El Camino de Santiago (the Camino Frances route) through France and Spain next summer. I’ve already purchased a guide book, and am planning to do some training. I have to buy some new hiking shoes and then break them in over the next several months. It will be approximately a month to do, and I hope that along the way I’ll find whatever it is I’m looking for.

I’ve been hiking a little bit here in Iceland too and it works wonders for the body and mind.

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Well, I guess that’s it for now. I have a lot to do in the next few weeks to prepare for my big move.


Drop the craving for self, for permanence, for particular circumstances, and go straight ahead with the movement of life. – Alan Watts

Cheers my dears,
Gyða
p.s. my favorite Czech boy is leaving this week and I’m heartbroken. It’s been a rad summer Jirka!
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On Having a Home

Travelling is all fun and games until someone asks you where you’re from, and the first thing that comes to mind as a response is “It’s a long story.”

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Before I moved to Iceland I lived in Peterborough (Canada), before that I lived in Kingston (Canada), before that I lived in Orlando Florida, which came after living in Barbados, where I lived once I moved away from Canada for the first time. Whenever I was anywhere other than Canada people would ask me where I was from, and I would loyally respond with the great white north. My life, and my perception of who I am and where I’m from has drastically changed since moving to Iceland. In some ways I feel more like a citizen here than anywhere else, and this feeling has simplified so many things for me. But, being a dual citizen has also confused me greatly.

Crossing borders has taken on a new type of anxiety roulette. When travelling to Canada or Iceland it’s easy to pull out the corresponding passport and feel like I belong there. But travelling to other places or talking to people from other countries, I find myself always at a loss as to where I should tell them I come from and which passport I should be using. Although being born in Canada, I feel roots here in Iceland that I’ve never felt before. Yet when I visit Canada it sparks a nostalgia and longing in me that I don’t seem to feel about Iceland.

I don’t really know where I’m from, nor do I know where I am going, or where I should stay. Home has become such a loose term for me in recent years. My necessities fit into two suitcases, I hop onto planes frequently without thinking twice as to where I’m going, I don’t have a bedroom in my family’s home anymore, I don’t own any furniture or major household items, I don’t have a partner, and I don’t have a key to a house that belongs to me. There’s a benefit to a lot of this that I have often reaped the pleasures of, for example – my life is one giant enigmatic adventure. I’m always doing something interesting or travelling somewhere cool and that’s great because a lot of people my age don’t get to live like I do. I don’t have a mortgage, or much debt (other than student loans but hey that’s literally all of us), I don’t have to find someone to take care of my things while I travel so I’m a lot more free to go wherever I want, and I’m not in a relationship so I never have to consult anyone or include anyone in my life plans. And all that is really great for me, it’s how I prefer to live right now. I’m a nomadic loose canon and I want to do spontaneous things. But I can’t help but feel like I have no weight.

I am weightless.

I have nothing holding me to one spot. No possessions, no paperwork, no obligation. I am light and I float around without anything to ground me or dictate to me and everyone else what my roots are. And, although it is my current preferred lifestyle, it’s still scary to think that you are a wanderer with nothing.

I often get this feeling of revelation when I think about how weightless and untethered I truly am, and it simultaneously fills me with awe at the sublime terror of being unattached while also making it easier to connect to any place I find myself. It’s intimidating to feel like you don’t have any roots, but I also feel like this way the entire world acts as my root so I am at home wherever I go.

I am at home in the mountains, in the forest, and in the sea. Just as I am at home in Iceland, Canada, the UK, and anywhere else my feet touch. I’ll try not to despair too much about not having the houses, partners, jobs and grounding that my friends have and instead revel in the fact that my address is the entirety of planet earth.

That’s enough hippy for one day.

Cheers my dears,

Gyða

 

p.s. I went to Canada last week for a visit and I had an interesting albeit brief time there.

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p.p.s. I got a sunburn.