The past couple weeks

It’s now been two proper work weeks since I hit a new low, and I’m happy to say that the bounce back has been exceptional. This past week, I have gotten motivated by 6 am every morning and completed a solid workout each day. Though I sample different cafes every day, I’ve gotten in the habit of knocking out my writing quota before noon when I run back home to take the dog for a walk. The writing has been generally successful. Though I backed off my quota to only 1,000 words, I have hit that quota every day (except yesterday; I cut it short to prep for a phone interview) and often exceeded it by several hundred words. I’m rebuilding my good habits, and it feels amazing.

However, it didn’t come without a little help. Last week, Sam, the owner of the dog that I’ve been looking after for the past few weeks, returned from her vacation with the two friends who had traveled with her, Colline and Christy. Our first real meeting was at a fancy (but reasonably priced) traditional restaurant in downtown Krakow. There aren’t many cultures whose traditional dishes do not include meat, so my options were limited. Our host ordered a handful of dishes for all of us to share and courteously made sure to pick a couple meatless dishes. However, the appetizer was a giant pot of pig fat to spread on white bread. Already starving, I swiped a slice of bread and started munching.

But plain white bread just isn’t particularly satisfying, and hey, it’s a traditional dish. I had to at least try it. Reaching my knife across Christie’s plate to the overfilled bowl, I slipped out a sliver of the fat and mashed into a corner of my bread. It was surprisingly pleasant; it was basically bacon with a leanness of about 4%. The other diners went slowly on the bread, knowing that more massive plates of food were on their way, so I snagged another piece and munched it hungrily while wishing I had some peanut butter. But my deception did not go unnoticed.

“So are you vegetarian or not?” Colline asked from across the table. “How can you be a vegetarian and eat pig fat?” She stared sharply, unflinchingly, judging my inconsistency, calling my bluff.

“He didn’t. He’s just been eating the bread,” Sam tried to defend me, not having seen my theft of the knifeful of fat.

Colline didn’t buy it. She just stared knowingly.

I looked away, embarrassed. “You’re right. I’ve been absolutely terrible about it lately. Thank you for holding me accountable,” I accepted defeat as honorably as I could.

And at that moment, Colline earned my highest respect. Speaking up at that moment was not socially acceptable, it wasn’t congenial, and it certainly wasn’t nice. But it was exactly what I needed to hear. She’s a woman who asks tough questions, and apparently, it doesn’t go over well with everyone, but it’s a trait I’m actually trying to cultivate in myself. Over the course of the week, I faced a lot of these questions, and they shined a light on a broad swathe of things that I need to think more deeply about.

One of the things I’ve been thinking about is my own character. There was a poster in my high school that read something along the lines of, “Reputation is what you do when people are looking; character is what you do when they’re not.” I’ve tried to convince myself that I don’t care what other people think of me, so my character is really the only thing that matters.

I realized last week that there is a kind of life that I like to lead. It may not be a life that will make me “successful”. It isn’t what people have told me I should do. It earns me the respect of many, but it also drives some people crazy. But it’s a life that I enjoy leading, a life of purpose, of worthwhile labor, continual self-improvement. There is no end goal, but only a process. Anyone who has read any of the self-help tomes that fly off the shelves or listened to any motivational speaker will have heard that chasing goal after goal is an endless rat race with no cheese at the end. I do have goals, but I recognize that getting to the goal isn’t the point. It’s the process of moving toward the goal that I enjoy. It’s a game like any other. You don’t run out onto a football field to get to the final whistle as quickly as possible. It’s the 90 minutes in between that draws you out there and the feeling of having done your best that lingers even after the match.

This past week has been a wonderful reintroduction to that feeling. Pursuing my goals of writing and fitness have rejuvenated that passion for improvement. I’m over halfway through my time in Poland, so I’m glad I’ve reached this point now. This was exactly the post-master’s break I needed.

I’ll try to keep up with posts, but I’m spending most of my writing energy on the book and on job hunting. Tomorrow I’m going to try to get my camera out. It’s been wrapped up in my room since I arrived. And I’ll try to keep sharing once I leave, but I’ll be sending home basically everything I can (including my computer and camera) because there will probably be a significant amount of trekking, camping, and hitchhiking as I work my way across Europe and back to the US over the next six weeks.

Thanks for reading.

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