Self-Employee of the Month: Jennifer Baljko

Jenn Baljko

“It’s just another gamble, right? I mean, you throw the dice, and if it doesn’t work … I’ll start over again somewhere else.

On New Year’s Eve 2003, I hosted a dinner party and served up slow-cooked collard greens and black-eyed peas—a soul food combo that, according to Southern superstition, brings wealth and happiness in the coming year. As technology trade reporter Jennifer Baljko joined the table, none of us gathered could have guessed the wealth and happiness that would soon come her way.

Jennifer’s name didn’t pop up on my radar again until 2007, when I noticed that she had beat out stiff literary competition to win the Traveler’s Tales Solas Contest. I was intrigued: Where has this woman been for the past four years?

Apparently, mere months after those collards and peas worked their magic, divorce and the dotcom bust sparked Jennifer’s search for a new life and livelihood. On the very day that the U.S. first declared war on Iraq, she declared war on life as she knew it, buying a ticket for an extended international journey and soon thereafter quitting her job. “I knew I needed to set my priorities straight,” she says.

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On Top of the World

Arctic Sweden

For the duration of this trip, I’ve been obsessed with the notion of going to Sweden. I had this sweet idea to visit long-lost relatives in Skåne on December 13, as the country celebrates the fairly major holiday of Santa Lucia Day. I’ve been slow to implement a travel plan, due to my own noncommittal modus operandi and the overdue payment from a client needed to fund the trip. Today I learned that the impressive Geminid meteor shower takes place on that very same day, and is best viewed from points north–particularly the Arctic Circle.

If I abandoned this post now to traipse down the cobbled, centuries-old streets of Viborg and board a train, then by Friday I literally could be on the top of the world during one of the most cosmically powerful times of the year, under my star sign of Gemini. So why am I sitting here staring at a computer screen when I could be stargazing with the Sami instead?

Maybe I am kidding myself, but I like to think I am cultivating focus. Continue reading

Spanish Shock Therapy

 

 

“She wants to hear
wine pouring.
She wants to taste
change.”

Rita Dove

For all the value I’d placed on travel in earlier posts, I confess that prior to this excursion to Spain, I’d failed to see the true power of a good trip. Sure, I understood that travel afforded loads of perspective, adventure, and relaxation. But I didn’t know how vital and transformative that could all be—because I’d never needed it as desperately as when I boarded the plane last week.

I had never been depressed before, which I suppose is pretty damned lucky after 32 years. But 3 months in the ‘burbs of Atlanta—with its14-lane highways and looming McMansions—slowed me down to an utter standstill. Every cell in my body huddled drearily in my skin, organs, teeth and bones until my body felt like some kind of shelter for the weak and weary. Believe it or not, I was hesitant to even take the trip at all. I was certain I’d lost any trace of a sharp, agile mind (which every traveller needs) to the seemingly endless logistics of my recent relocation.

But as the plane sped up and lifted off last Tuesday, I was physically shocked into a whole new mindset.

“Look, honey,” my partner pointed to the gargantuan strip mall where we’d inevitably been doing our shopping. He knew I hated the place, but was trying to raise my ire. “Camp Creek Parkway!”

I did not look back. Instead, I vowed that I would never set foot on that patch of asphalt again. In fact, I didn’t (and still don’t) know what I’d do when I landed again, but there would be no more life as usual. If I go back to Atlanta, it won’t be for long.

Landing in Barcelona, even my walk through the airport was electrifying. I was jolted into light, sound, and motion. God, I love motion. When we came upon the medieval streets of Barri Gotic, we stopped to sip our first café con leche—the first coffee drink I’d purchased in months that did not come from a corporate chain, thanks to Atlanta’s severe lack of independent coffeehouses. Hours later we were cocking our heads up at the wild spires of the famous cathedral, then feasting on cuttlefish and jamon, then sipping cava (with free refills, mind you) at a dark bar.

But it wasn’t the hedonistic indulgences that rocked me out of paralysis and back into my own true self. Lord knows I enjoyed our sunny day on the ancient ruins on La Costa Brava, and crashing at the quaint farmhouse in the Catalonian countryside. But it was simply the experience of that flight—the dramatic separation from the humdrum of everyday life—that made me feel the power of travel, the shift in perspective that I so needed. The rest has been gravy (… or should I say salsa).

That I’d harboured such deep doubts about this trip reminded me that sometimes closing my eyes and leaping is not such a bad idea. I suppose that sometimes that can lead to disaster—it certainly has before—but more often than not, it leads to new eschalons of opportunity and wonder.

On the surface, travel is a temporary escape that can squander loads of moolah and jack up your carbon output. But luckily, there’s more to life than what’s on the surface.

Escape of the Day: Vocation Vacations

Vocation Vacations

Get your dream job without quitting your old one.

Did you know that there’s a travel company that does nothing but book its clients on excursions with professional mentors? Essentially, you can spend several days learning the ins and outs of almost any job. Simply call up Vocation Vacations and say, “Hey, I wanna be an alpaca rancher. Can you help?” And they will. In a matter of time, you’ll be off on a temporary stint to apprentice an alpaca rancher.

The vocation options available range from ho-hum to utterly bizarre. Check it out!

Devotion | Wim Wenders

wings of desire

“We can only be as savage as we are absolutely serious.”

Planning your escape is fun and all, but it takes loads of work, too. Just ask filmmaker Wim Wenders. (He made my all-time favorite movie Wings of Desire, so he knows everything.) I am sitting here trying to figure out how to squeeze in a trip to Spain this winter, and the sad truth is that before I do that I have to a) secure a new work contract, and b) reckon with my credit card bill. Talk about serious ….

Self-Employee of the Month: Laurie Weed

Laurie Weed

In this new section of the blog, I’ll be introducing folks who’ve shown how to blaze a path out of the office and toward creative pursuits. As often as possible, I’ll add a new profile of someone who has done that with particular grace or gumption. And few possess as much of either of those qualities as one Miss Laurie Weed, freelance writer and vagabond.

When Laurie Weed leapt from the corporate ladder, she burned the rungs, running away to form a nomadic tribe of one. She first went to Southeast Asia as a tourist, returning one year later as a traveler—and a writer. Now she travels four to six months a year, feeding her passion for the road by copywriting and pimping out her inner grammar lady. When not getting lost in Laos, hitchhiking in Honduras, or bribing her way into Bali, she spins exotic tales from the kitchen table in El Cerrito, California.

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