Road trip…euro style.

Well damn.

Sometimes a few amazing things come together. I’ve been slacking the last few days, and desperately needed to post an update.

There are times when things come together to truly make an impression on you.

If you recall, I was all set to hit Europe with a recently retired family friend. Here

We landed in Amsterdam for his very first trip to Europe.

It was coooold in the Dutch capital, but the three of us had an absolutley amazing time. Exploring tiny Dutch pubs and wandering through the red light district. Watching two people take it all in for the first time is fucking magic. I realized that this is my 13th time through Amsterdam (if I remember correctly) so viewing this magnificent city through fresh lenses made me continually smile.

From The Netherlands we planned to head to coastal France, so the next morning we grabbed our car to begin an epic 8 day road trip. Of course, my reservation was “not avail” so an optional upgrade was engaged.

Time to shred across Europe in this big diesel beast. Yes, Sixt gave me a brand new Jaguar with 1200 miles on it. 😈 I’ve never spent much seat time in a Jaguar, and now after logging 2,000 kilometers I can say…it’s rather fun!

To Normandy we headed where we spent the rest of the weekend. Coastal France is fucking gorgeous. Within moments one can slip into fantasy, imagining walking along small cobblestone streets clutching a baguette and enjoying a peaceful life.

For me it was my inevitable return after a decade long absence. Rediscovering this rolling countryside and shredding long car tours through the stunning land scapes has granted me a kind of serenity. There simply aren’t many places quite like this.

I’ve fallen into this routine of driving, talking, engaging these lifelong friends and showing them the amazing features of life here…touring all day, and then stupendous food in the evening, a few bottles of local product and chats long into the night.

Babies don’t sleep this good.

I’ve been completely immersed in the moment, on a different wave length altogether. I haven’t updated like I usually do, but you will have to forgive me.

Coming up next is the galvanizing trek out to the American cemetery in Normandy and Omaha beach. Then down south for a peek into a medieval abbey.

Ready for this??

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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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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.

 

 

 

 

Sunday Funday…with Elephants!

Once upon a time (2017) I spent Christmas in Sri Lanka. post here

Quite often, spending the holidays abroad (especially Christmas day) can be a lull in the otherwise grand adventure. I find that hitting a non predominately Christian country, and planning an epic excursion can quickly combat the holiday blues. This trek to Sri Lanka was completely unexpected, so an elephant sanctuary seemed totally appropriate.

I talked a bit about the sanctuary in the previous post,  but wanted to expand on that and include more pictures. The Pinnawala elephant orphanage hits hard right in the feels.

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Pinnawala  is an orphanage, nursery and captive breeding ground for wild Asian elephants. They have the largest number for this type of orphanage anywhere in the world. This isn’t a situation where you ride them, bathe them, or they are forced to perform tricks. I’ve been to those type of places, and they can be a quite a bummer. These are wild animals, rescued and rehabilitated, so you can observe them, but that’s about it.  Pinnwala was founded in 1975 for baby elephants orphaned in the wild. They currently have 85-90 elephants on site.

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The site sits around 2 hours outside of the capital city of Colombo. When arriving by mid day, one is treated by watching the elephants’s daily trek to the river. (my favorite part)

Christmas with the family can be awesome, but it can also be an exercise in drama filled frustration. Good news about elephants…no such thing!

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Who doesn’t want/need a day with these amazing animals?!

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I will eventually write longer pieces about traveling over the holidays, this is just an excuse to share elephants and spread some joy at the end of the weekend.

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There is something about a day spent on a river full of frolicking rescued elephants, snapping a few pics, sipping lime juice smoothies and enjoying bright warm weather… best Christmas present in recent memory.

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I’ve found that

“To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.”

 

Happy Sunday!

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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!

On the Path to Solo Travel

3 years ago I was super stoked.  The summer had descended on Michigan, I had a teaching assignment at the college secured and a great group of friends. I had gone through a wrenching breakup a few months previous, and had reorganized/re focused my life in a drastically more positive direction. (You know, that good growth stuff of your late 20’s) Now,  I had traveled before, I had been on a few study abroad excursions, and had made some amazing connections over the pond.  It had been a year or so since I had been abroad.

The itch was real.

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I thought about it constantly. I began mentioning to my group of friends casually.

“We should totally hit Europe this summer”. I wanted  miles under my feet, and crazy new sensations. Those damn motivational prints all over social media haunted me “Not all those who wander are lost” Etc, etc.

I began hatching some carefully constructed plans, seeing how I could convince my buddies to come along.

Finally after a few weeks, one particular friend who had never been outside of the country, declared over beers “Im in”! And the planning began in earnest.

Where would we go? I was keen on the Balkans, and the Baltics. I was planning on roughly 10 days. Swayed by the scenery of Croatia, and the mountains of Bosnia we decided on the former Yugoslavia.

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At this point I was watching flights daily, frantically refreshing, waiting for just the right combination, connections, and overall logistics.  I would text my buddy my findings through out the day

“Dude, DTW-BUD now 550$”

He would reply “Yeah man, lets do it!”

Later, when it was time to book, some sort of excuse would seemingly always emerge. I was getting anxious, watching flights rise and fall like the stock market. While trying to set a day to book I would read more about our intended region

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Sarajevo in particular looked beyond kick ass. The history, the culture…the food! I wanted to book NOW.  It was ultimatum time. Either we are booking or this, or it’s a no go….the day comes, we are getting together after work, its time to lock this in….

 

and then disaster strikes.

 

Pt 2 coming up next!

 

leave some love!

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!

Caribbean dreamin’

It’s been damn cold here in Michigan. As friends have not hesitated to remind me, I seem to have missed the really cold days, but I’m rather frigid none the less.

As the semester is underway and the rhyme and flow of the “grind” has set in, I’ve been thinking of Haiti yet again. I’ve been thinking of the island nation on a few different levels.

The first of which is downright adversity. Our last full day on the island was dedicated to a roadtrip to the sea. We tried to go the day before, yet couldn’t find a car. After overcoming this obstacle through much time, hard currency and angst, we then could find no fuel.

What?

That’s right. Port Au Prince was seized by a petrol crises. When was the last time you couldn’t go somewhere because when pulling into your local gas station a 12 gauge wielding team of guards informed you “no gasoline”?

Makes for a frustrated road trip. But this is a common occurrence for Haiti, especially in the capital. The solution? Dollars and time. Our fixer cobbled together a gallon here, a gallon there. We were set for early nothing the next day. To the sea we will go!

A mere hour outside the city is akin to visiting another planet. This is what I had imagined when thinking of a quick week run immediately before the semester. You know, coconuts n shit. Sandy beaches. Drinks with wee umbrellas.

Taking a day to lounge along the Côte des Arcadins is majestic. Slow, easy and not butchered by gaudy resorts. This day on the sea allowed me to begin to wrap my mind around Haiti. I had gone from the context of adversity to one of calm beauty. I did drink out of a damn coconut and floated for a while. These memories are extra potent when confronting sub zero Michigan temps. My final layer/level to Haiti that comes to mind is sheer tenacity. The savage beauty of the landscape as well as the people. I think back to the Ghetto Biennale, and Andre Eugene, the resident artist and curator. I think of seeing the kids of the art collective assemble amazing pieces, and having literally nothing. Living in a tent city.

I think about the grit that it takes to create, despite living in actual realized destruction. While I listen to my students bitch about the battery life of their new iPhones wearing their pajamas to class because they can’t be bothered to find actual pants. They “can’t even” as they say.

I think about Haiti. I think about how this place caught me off guard. Destroyed my intestinal tract, proved much more expensive and difficult than originally intended, how it caused friction among friends and could prove absolutley exhausting. But all of that aside, Haiti changed my perspective. I gassed up my private automobile yesterday…without issue. I drive where I want and things around me work for the most part.

You should smile about that.

Our political situation is nutty, with the US president calling Haiti a “Shithole” and promising to deport more Haitians…and this isn’t the post to delve into colonial legacy, but it’s something that deserves far more attention than it currently gets.

I think about Haiti, and I smile. I’m thankful for seeing a vastly different world, and yet again what that human spirit is capable of.

Thank you!

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Weekend thoughts

5 weeks on the road. (With a few runs home mind you). Makes one think.

I wanted to share a few weekend words with you.

Don’t get stuck. Move, travel, take a class, take a risk. There is a season for wildness and a season for settledness, and this is neither. This season is about becoming. Don’t lose yourself at happy hour, but don’t lose yourself on the corporate ladder either. Stop every once in a while and go out to coffee or climb in bed with your journal. Now is your time. Walk closely with people you love. Don’t get stuck in the past, and don’t try to fast-forward yourself into a future you have yet to earn.

Keep moving forward.

Happy Saturday.