The Power of Failure…and Resurrection

Every one falls.

Creative types especially. Nothing great comes easy. Turns out that failure is an absolute necessary component to the equation.

Some Easter Motivation comin at you.

Why Writers Must Practice Resurrection

It’s almost Easter, which is a pretty good time to get reborn, if you ask me. Especially if you’re a writer. What do I mean by that?

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Every writer as a creative entity “dies.” And every writer, in a manner of speaking, must be resurrected. If you choose to ignore or avoid this fact, it could be mean the end of your art and even, possibly, your life.

Let’s unpack this a little.

Every writer dies

To create is to suffer. Just ask any mother. It is a painful, grueling task of bringing new things into existence. This is why, among many reasons, there is an unmistakable sadness to most creatives, even God.

And this is also why writers commit suicide, why painters cut their ears off, and why actors go through serial divorces. Creativity is a hard business.

There is an inherent frustration to it. And if you don’t know what to do with the inevitable pain, it could be the end of you. (It was for Hemingway.)

Ironically, those who destroy themselves never learn to die — they don’t know how to grieve loss and let go of past seasons. Are you struggling to let go and reinvent yourself as a writer and an artist?

Every writer must be reborn

When you write, you share a piece of you with the world. You put your very soul on display for all to see.

Sometimes, the world doesn’t reward creativity. Sometimes, it stones prophets and crucifies saviors. Sometimes, the world scowls at genius and scoffs at insight.

Every creative has critics, and every critique is an arrow. There is no getting around this. Creating is painful, and every writer gets wounded. In order to move out of wounded-ness (“My God, why have you forsaken me?”), we must face the injustice of unfair criticism, and heal.

We must get reborn and become whole again.

The art of practicing resurrection

This is the season in which we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Even in non-Christian contexts, the earth is teeming with rebirth. It’s hard to ignore.

Trees are budding. Flowers are sprouting. All of creation is collaborating to share one message: New life is here.

I struggle with these cycles — the ebb and flows of the seasons. My creative self wants to camp out in the wilderness, to to sulk in its travail. It’s been hurt, and it wants to wallow in its pain. It’s scared of trying again.

Currently, I’m coming out of a season of death — of letting go of what once was familiar and beginning to walk in newness of life. But I’m taking these first few steps slowly.

There is grief that needs to happen — losses to be mourned, disappointments to be acknowledged. We must grieve before we can move on. We must acknowledge what was before we can welcome what will be.

Death before life

We writers must acknowledge failure. We must come to grips with death. And we must practice resurrection. There is hope beyond the story of a tragic hero. There is health. There is freedom.

If this describes you (and it might), I hope you can move out of the pain of dwelling of what’s been lost and start creating beautiful art once again. It begins with honesty — with acknowledging the rejection you’ve experienced without excuse or justification.

As an exercise, try writing it all down. Then, if you’re comfortable, give it to God. Receive healing. And welcome a new day. Like I said, this is a great time to get reborn.

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The war on public education; Time to organize

Here we go, a lesson from over the pond. A few of our states are showing promise in the K12 scene… progress is long overdue. The American Higher education scene has been bled out.

Why I’m a striking lecturer: I want to stop the slow death of public education

On the picket line I’ve seen how much widespread support there is, by those fighting against broader attacks on education

University workers attend a rally outside the Scottish Parliament on 8 March 2018 over pensions changes
 ‘Under the ‘defined contribution’ scheme, the typical lecturer would lose about £10,000 a year in retirement.’ Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Iam a lecturer, currently on strike. I am also a part-time MA student, whose lecturers are on strike. And I am the mother of a student whose lecturers are on strike. There have been attempts by many vice-chancellors to pit students and their parents against striking staff, often by positioning staff as selfish and greedy, and students as the consumers whose livelihoods they harm. But even though I dread the hole in my next pay packet, and know exactly what it is like to see classes disappear when I have an essay to write, and though I feel for my daughter, who worries about the impact this will have on her degree – and therefore her future – for me there has been no moment of doubt, no internal war.

This unity of purpose is mirrored on the picket lines, where the active support of students has made even the coldest days feel like high summer. They arrive at 8am daily to brew us “solidari-tea”, they make banners, art and music, they occupy buildings, and march alongside us, even in heavy snow. And the support is broad: a YouGov poll conducted on the eve of the strike showed that 61% of students supported it, and only 2% blamed the strikers for the disruption to their studies.

The issue that has led to this dispute is pensions, and yet large numbers of casualised staff are on the picket line too – part of a growing cohort of young academics for whom the only jobs on offer are paid hourly, and meagrely, with no security and very little opportunity to do research. Viewed from the precarious position of many staff and most students, pensions of any sort must seem like an impossible dream. So why do the majority of them support us?

Partly, because they can see the injustice. Often presented as if a gift, like some fat cat’s golden handshake, pensions are in fact part of our pay. People who choose to teach in universities do so because they believe that teaching and research are a public good, and worth doing in return for modest pay and a decent pension. So when the vice-chancellors, represented by Universities UK (UUK), announced their intention to switch from a “defined benefit” scheme to a “defined contribution” scheme, the betrayal was keenly felt.

Under the “defined contribution” (aka “die quickly”) scheme, the typical lecturer would lose about £10,000 a year in retirement. It is a deeply cynical move by people with vested interests, which if successful, would mark the end of higher education as a public service.

Why are university staff striking?

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The fact that the majority of vice-chancellors involved have now publicly distanced themselves from UUK’s position, including OxfordCambridge, and others who appeared implacably hostile to the strikers’ demands only days ago, is a sign of the weakness of their argument, as well as the strength of the strike. Many universities have expressed dismay at how their own contribution to UUK’s “consultation” was presented. UUK also claimed that defined benefits have become prohibitively expensive – a claim that turned out to rest on an implausible scenario in which every university went bust tomorrow, and which has been challenged even by the Daily Mail. Meanwhile, universities enjoy record surpluses, vice-chancellors are being given obscene salaries and lavish expenses, and cash is poured into trophy buildings to make the “brand” easier to “sell”. And all while junior staff struggle to pay their rent, and students in huge debt sit in overcrowded seminars.

But, like most strikes, this one is about much more than money. My favourite banner on the picket line reads “Against the slow cancellation of the future”, a phrase popularised by the late cultural theorist, Mark Fisher. In the grip of neoliberalism, we begin to believe that there is no alternative, Fisher told us.

In universities, this slow draining of hope began with the introduction of tuition fees in 1998, and gathered pace when they were tripled in 2010. Successive governments, enthusiastically aided by overpaid senior management drawn from outside the university sector, have turned higher education into a utilitarian and consumer-driven activity that students buy in exchange for skills for the job market. The raid on pensions fits this pattern – it is an attempt to shift the risk of volatility in the market from the employer to the individual, to pave the way for further privatisation and rid universities of any remaining sense of responsibility for the long-term health and dignity of their workforces.

The real reason for the widespread support for the strike is that these broader attacks on education as a public service affect the entire academic community – the full-time staff, the casualised staff, and, of course, the students.

The problems we face – debt, increasing workloads, precarity, mental health issues – are not only shared, but systemic. Students understand that staff working conditions are their learning conditions; staff understand that students’ financial stress is an assault on their freedom to learn. On the picket lines, the conversation has not been about pensions, but how we can democratise universities, and restore them to their real purpose. Every member of the academic community knows education is potentially life-enhancing, liberating, world-changing. That is something worth fighting for.

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 Becky Gardiner is a senior lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London, and former comment editor of the Guardian

7 more days…Travel to soothe the soul

2018 so far, has packed in some monumental change. The conclusions and insight apparent within the first few months have been astounding. The upheaval, transitions, and even betrayal have left me wounded and a feeling like an old tire. Where to go from here? Clarity is needed, and when dealing with uncertainty, clarity becomes rare.

This post is going to be a personal one, but with a twist. I believe travel can be a kind of therapy. The same vein I wrote about previously, upon discovering the glory of solo travel,  Baltic Success on the Solo Road  Showed me how cathartic and solidifying travel can be. I was scattered and disheveled.  That trip taught me a new dimension to self reliance, and embracing the unknown, and its time for me to re imagine those lessons.

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Timing is an odd beast. Tricky, yet at times serendipitous. As i’m dealing with personal drastic and radical change, today’s date reminds me that now we are 7 days away from heading back over the pond.  Timing indeed.

This story goes back years. Ill keep it to the condensed version. I have a near and dear family friend, who retired from teaching a few years back. Shortly before retirement, over our customary Friday beverages, I implored him to join me on an excursion. Having taught history for decades, I knew he would marvel at so many destinations. The food, the wine, architecture and history.  I also had an additional angle. I could not travel with my own father, as since his remarriage he apologetically informed me that he simply would never be allowed to go with me. His new wife forbade it. If he was going to travel, it would have to be with her. (and of course, they promptly never went anywhere)  That was a bitter pill to swallow. That dynamic frayed my parental relationship permanently. The politics and savagery of divorce, and the inherent power struggles native to integrating new relationships left me in an odd position. I have always appreciated the “old guy hindsight” the anecdotes, and the comparisons of days gone past. I’ve got years of formal education, a handful of degrees, and a bit of travel experience, but the older I get, I realize how little I know. I’ve come to embrace the fact that I need to talk less, and listen more.

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So, after imploring my family friend for a few years, he finally went and renewed his passport. Now we were getting somewhere! (his last passport expired in 1977). Late last year, a cheap ticket popped up for Amsterdam. This was it. Time to book, to take the plunge and not look back.  His daughter, whom I grew up with decided there was no way she was sitting this one out and joined in on the adventure. We were now a trifecta heading to The Dutch capital.

Our plan?

This year happens to be the 100 year anniversary of the end of WWI. We have decided to rent a car (diesel, and equipped with a 6sp) to rip across the Netherlands, Belgium, and France. Hitting The major battle fields en route to Normandy. The Somme in particular. What is it about the road, saltwater and good friends that proves so lethal to the doldrums?  A stop in Champagne, Bayeux, Lille, and possibly Bruge, should thoroughly enthrall the senses. I am hoping that in the end, the time on the road, the chats, the wine, and the journey will grant me the clarity I need in choosing my path forward.  I hope you are looking forward to dispatches from the road! A new episode of the Gypsy Professor is fast approaching.

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Monday Musings…a day late.

Today has been a Tom Petty kind of day. I miss that guy.

Fat Tuesday is here, its cold outside, and there are Paczki near at hand. Tuesdays may be the most difficult day of the week this semester. The previous evenings night class ends at 9:30. post the long slog of Monday, I am left to stumble home, a bit numb and wind down before bed. The true endurance is needed for the early morning rise on Tuesday.

How do you stay motivated? Do you look at flights? Pictures from previous trips?

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After much thought I’ve come to realize that the tricky Motivation beast is not a bottomless well, but a battery that has to be kept fully charged, and maintained. While the idea of travel is almost always inspiring, sometimes life gets in the way and then suddenly, your focus has shifted, you’re distracted, your limited supply of fucks have been redirected elsewhere. those are precious fucks, and you have a finite supply from day to day, so keep those eyes on the prize.

I feel as if I’ve had my ass kicked this semester. A month through South East Asia,Holy shit. Angkor Wat. then An incredible and yet taxing time in Haiti, The End of the World…Caribbean style. only to land  back to a full time grind a day later. The day job, running a small business, office hours, grading, the side hustle, writing, reading… who in the hell has time to run down their dreams?!? You know the whole damn point to all of it? I can get easily distracted, and these last few days have been a low point of frustration and exhaustion.

Motivation is important, and I want to discuss it shortly.

When it comes to traveling;

 

3 Quick bits

Research Destinations — Google them, read blogs about them. Here, and all over the web.  These are the initial steps, build the foundation, and eventually you’ll get there. It may sound wankerish, but by always keeping travel on my mind, I have a mental place to focus on, don’t just zone out, keep those eyes on the prize. Be mindful about what it is you want. Don’t worry, there will plenty of people to shit on your grand ideas. Friends and family who have never left the country rarely shy from giving you their input about not going there…because, in fact they have never gone anywhere. This is a GREAT sign. People bag on things they don’t understand. Just worry about getting there. You know when you encounter someone who is actively keeping their dreams alive. They are typically supportive of your endevours, positive and cool to interact with. Those that let their dreams die a twisted death are past even cynical, and their jaded nature finds a way to alter almost every aspect of conversation with them. People will either inspire you, or drain you. Chose them wisely.  I’m constantly researching destinations online, reading news from overseas, and generally getting to know the world better. Refining my “short list”.  The more I learn and absorb about various places, through history, culture, food, etc…Im left energized with a feeling of “So many places, so few years”.

Devote time – Stuff always seems to come up, doesn’t it? Life happens. Life happens fast. Blink and you will be in a long term relationship, picking out matching leisure wear, yelling at kids to stay off your grass. Guess who didn’t climb that goddamn mountain?  Look, nothing awesome comes easy. I spend roughly an hour per day looking at airfare and options for adventure. My dad, on the other hand reads the local obits every morning. (see the difference here)? Instead of wasting time on toxic people, or drowning in the mental masturbation of social media take that time back. Devote that shit to planning your trip. Make it a consistent part of your schedule and develop a habit so that it doesn’t feel like a task you “have” to do; it becomes just something you do automatically. Book a flight. Just do it. Go. You might be shocked whats waiting for you.

Read, Read…Read! — Reading about other travelers’ adventures can show you that it is easier to travel than you thought, provide advice and tips on the art of travel, and teach you about places you’ve never heard of. Start with the history of a particular region, then move onto some of the literature. Your experience will pay off in dividends.  And of course you can read about some of it here. Shameless plug.  Scared of Albania? Read about peoples experience there. I’m sure there are dozens of blogs dedicated to everything from the art/music scene, hidden beaches, solo female travel, vegan food options, etc. You go with a glimpse of history, end up with a talented musician on a secluded beach…how much better than some bullshit Caribbean cruise would that be? Perhaps One day you’ll get sick of living vicariously through others, and you will be all set to go make your own blooper/highlight reel.

This, as well as hanging out on travel forums will also help you tune out the ass hats that tell you “you can do that”. Life is too damn short for that shit. Like i said before, you chose your company. chose wisely.

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Leave some love

Monday Mornin’

Monday Morning comes at you hard some weeks. I’ve noticed that for some of us, immersed in the digital age, the lines between the work week and the weekend have a tendency to blur quite a bit. I wanted to share a slice of motivation, in the form a brief TED talk. Kick Monday motivation square in the pants.

For those who are constantly online and working even on the weekends, stress is an all too common a feeling. But to feel so at the start of a fresh week is not likely to do much for your productivity. However, Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist, in this talk, shares her findings on how we can (and need to) re-calibrate our minds to view stress contrarily, different than our current notion/belief of it is as a life-threatening disease of sorts. Kelly talks about perspective changes, how one can try to see stress as a sign of action-readiness. About how we can view our stress responses as helpful and not harmful. Her suggestions on how we can befriend-stress are simple and worth giving a try.

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What do you think? Any methods you might recommend? Leave some love.

Baltic Success on the Solo Road

Some things work out quite nice as a trifecta. When I began thinking about the importance of traveling alone, I thought of my first time truly taking the plunge, and sharing that story became a necessity. Divided into three parts, this my mini narrative.

As you might recall the two previous chapters are On the Path to Solo Travel

and here: The Silver Lining/Solo Travel Pt2

So, after a crushing defeat, we find glory. (A proper silver lining) This glory is two fold. One of the first aspects is that when it comes to travel, toss those expectations right out the fuckin’ window. Toss em. I’ve known folks who have the most insane itineraries, allocating absolute minutia, building in “15 min break” slots into their schedules. Control wound that tight…is going to lead to a tense, frustrated mess.  No thanks.  Learn to embrace some element of flow and flexibility for a much improved experience.

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I had found my ticket, but it was last minute. My Balkan fantasies would be put on hold for a bit, because my only real option was Vilnius Lithuiania…With a 12 hour stop over in Stockholm, Sweden.  This sounded great to me. I was hell bent on embracing this new sense of enlightened adventure. I had completely  transformed my feelings of disappointment and anxiety into ones of wonder and excitement. I was doing this as a personal journey as well as a European adventure. As I mentioned before, this was a starting point of epic proportion. I booked this ticket last minute, and was set to arrive home the night before the fall semester began.  Logistics be damned, lets get on the road!

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I made it to Chicago, and boarded my flight. Watched a few movies, and promptly woke up in Sweden. That morning is mostly a blur. I took an incredibly nice, and incredibly expensive train to the city center. Grabbed a pastry and walked the Swedish capital.  Stockholm is clean, efficient and easy to navigate. Swedes are courteous and a bit cold in an appropriate “Nordic” style. 38894251235_5d6da2898c_b

Stockholm was an appetizer. I was here, and I did it solo. after a day of wandering about, meatballs, and viking heritage, I made my way back to the airport, for the propeller powered jump over to Vilnius.

 

I was only a bit nervous, but mostly excited. I had planned on a few days in Vilnius, then taking a bus to Riga, and then finally onto Tallinn. I had no reservations, no expectations, no damn travelers checks, just my phone and serendipity.

I land, clear customs, and make my way to the ATM for local currency. The person in line ahead of me turns around and says  “Go green”!

I was a bit shocked and tired, so I didn’t immediately grasp his meaning. Pointing to my

t shirt, I realized I was sporting a large Michigan State University Spartan logo.

This guy hailed from Royal Oak, Michigan, and was visiting a friend who had moved to Lithuania. I was stunned.

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His local based buddy had a great group of friends and I was soon welcomed with open arms. I found a local boutique hotel in the old town, and  most nights we met for beers and general debauchery.  I absolutely loved it. Vilnius is large enough to have a plethora of activities, and yet small enough to maintain at least a somewhat intimate feeling. I implored  my new comrades to join me for Riga, and we took the party on the road.

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Before this trek, I was racked with doubt about logistics, about enjoying that amount of solo time, etc. Mid way through this journey, I had embraced the uncertainty and was never going to look back.

” You live like this, sheltered, in a delicate world, and you believe you are living. Then you read a book… or you take a trip… and you discover that you are not living, that you are hibernating. The symptoms of hibernating are easily detectable: first, restlessness. The second symptom (when hibernating becomes dangerous and might degenerate into death): absence of pleasure. That is all. It appears like an innocuous illness. Monotony, boredom, death. Millions live like this (or die like this) without knowing it. They work in offices. They drive a car. They picnic with their families. They raise children. And then some shock treatment takes place, a person, a book, a song, and it awakens them and saves them from death. Some never awaken.”

This was my moment of awakening. On the long bus trek to Riga, and then onto Tallinn, I had decided. This was the road for me.

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After Riga my comrades went back to Vilnius, and I went on to Tallinn.  I want to write a more indepth review of these cities, and this post isn’t that. This bit is meant more to discuss the journey.

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This ten day journey covering a few thousand miles proved absolutely what I needed. By the time I made it back to Vilnius for the flight home, i was already looking at tickets for winter break. I was going for a long haul month long trek after exams to the Balkans. It was going to a twisted savage affair that would change me again forever after.

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Exploring these Baltic streets of the three capitals  in late August has stayed on my mind over the tears. I met so many incredibly friendly and inviting people. I left the region utterly inspired on every level to keep exploring, and never stop wandering this incredible world of ours.

 

 

 

 

The Silver Lining/Solo Travel Pt2

p8cvVmW“I want to travel, but i’m scared to go alone”.

I was too once upon a time, and an unlikely turn of events kicked my ass right out my front door. 

 

Disaster strikes at the most inopportune times.  From my last post, here: (https://gypsyprofessor.com/2018/01/24/on-the-path-to-solo-travel/)

I was all set to book tickets to south eastern Europe, only waiting on my friend to stop by and pull the proverbial trigger on airfare.  We had waited for weeks. I was pouring over Instagram and travel forums looking at pictures of Sarajevo, Skopje, and Dubrovnik. I was obsessed with getting over the pond. It had been far too long. I missed the feeling of the unknown, the swirl of foreign languages and the assault on the senses.  We were all set.

My buddy’s excuses had put pressure on the entire process and played a bit of pinball with my level of anxiety. Almost a month delayed now, he finally  showed up, but not to book…to give me one final, and fatal fucked up excuse.

“Hey man, bad news, I don’t think I can pull it off, I cant get the time off work..etc, etc.

All of the eye roll emojis in the world could not convey my feeling at that moment.

 

I was crushed. 

 

Absolutely crushed.  I felt betrayed, frustrated and pissed. My carefully constructed plans dashed and disregarded. But there was more.

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Now that I was in my doldrums, I walked away from the computer and my buddy  for the remainder of the afternoon. I went for a walk. I  attempted  to console myself with other options, a road trip maybe, or something domestic. I pondered and I plotted. Tied up in a knot of frustration,  and angst, I felt no progress near at hand.

Eventually that night, I ended up back at my place, and in a deep google routed rabbit’s hole. I ended up falling back on some trusted wisdom from some personal favorites. Bukowski, Hunter S Thompson, and Henry Miller.

“We are all alone, born alone, die alone, and—in spite of True Romance magazines—we shall all someday look back on our lives and see that, in spite of our company, we were alone the whole way. I do not say lonely—at least, not all the time—but essentially, and finally, alone. This is what makes your self-respect so important, and I don’t see how you can respect yourself if you must look in the hearts and minds of others for your happiness.”  -HST
I peeled back a few layers of the onion and thought about why I thought I had to rely on other people for this particular dream.  I realized that nothing great comes easy. The people around me had 1,000 excuses not to pursue their dreams. I had reached a point where I refused to be one of them.
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“Fuck it”
“I’m going solo”
This was one of the most defining decisions of my life. As of this writing I have traveled to 69 countries. Some years I travel over two hundred thousand air miles. Travel becomes an obsession. Words like “tourist” no longer have any meaning for you.    The vast majority of these adventures  have been solo. Christmas in Sarajevo? Or Perhaps visiting an elephant sanctuary in Sri Lanka? Few are signing up for that.  That’s perfect.
“Learning to let go should be learned before learning to get. Life should be touched, not strangled. You’ve got to relax, let it happen at times, and at others move forward with it. It’s like boats. You keep your motor on so you can steer with the current. And when you hear the sound of the waterfall coming nearer and nearer, tidy up the boat, put on your best tie and hat, and smoke a cigar right up till the moment you go over. That’s a triumph.”
Either embrace the unknown, or get comfortable in the wet pantload of your excuses to stay stagnant.  It  was time for me to take flight. Lets grab this ticket and make the most of it!
Aw shit. Another hurdle rises in the mist.   My saved routes to Budapest, Vienna, and Zagreb had doubled since the afternoon…I’m in the zone though, I cant be stopped. Embrace uncertainty, shed the illusion of control right?
So I rolled the dice, I frantically dissected the map of Europe, I held my breath for that sheer burst of serendipity, shit, I would have been ecstatic for  divine intervention at that point as well. Into the wee hours of the morning, the siege on my ticket prices finally broke. What a 3 am Rush!   Where am I going to land?!
Ladies and gentlemen… Looks like we are headed to Lithuania!!
Wait, what? Lithuania!?
Giddddddy Up!
Baltic adventure/pt 3  coming up next!
Happy weekend!

Friday Motivation

 

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The weekend is nearly upon us! It’s time once again to momentarily shed the office shackles and wander a bit farther afield…Even if only in our imaginations.

Today’s blurb comes to us from an unlikely source.

 

Remember that there needs to be a balance, don’t kill your self for a company/job that would replace you in minutes.

Take care of yourself.

“The less you eat, drink and buy books; the less you go to the theatre, the dance hall, the public house; the less you think, love, theorise, sing, paint, fence, etc., the more you save – the greater becomes your treasure which neither moths nor rust will devour – your capital. The less you are, the less you express your own life, the more you have, i.e., the greater is your alienated life, the greater is the store of your estranged being.”

– Karl Marx, 1844

 

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Now rock that weekend!