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On Masterpieces and Messes

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On Masterpieces and Messes
Vila Nova de Milfontes, Portugal
October 30, 2007
Homepage: www.VagabondJourney.com

“I have always been an idle fellow, and prone to play the vagabond.”
-Buckthorne, Tales of a Traveller, by: Washington Irving

” . . .great geniuses never studied, but were always idle . . .”
-Buckthorne, Tales of a Traveller, by: Washington Irving

I have either made a masterpiece or a mess out of this life. That is right, the rambling, horizon chasing road has either added up to an elaborate collection of insight and wisdom that forms the rough substance of a life well lived, or an astute waste of my tenderly cultivated potential. My mother and father put a lot of time into raising me, and I have gotten the impression that I have become an awry Frankenstein sort of creation.

“When are you going to settle down?” my mother asks me. “When are you going to get a real job?” she pushes. “Don’t you want a family?” “How are you going to support a family if you don’t have a house?” She has always asked me these questions, but now they come with a touch of scorn. She seems unable to view my lifestyle as anything other than adolescent and I have the impression that she blames herself for my perceived short comings. She cannot understand the merits of a life lived on the Road, of an existence that is based not in the tangible acquisitions of security and family, but in the wholesome acquisition of life experience and knowledge.

I tell her that I am the richest man in the world.

But she does not believe me. My life is simply different than hers. My mother grew up on a farm with a large family. This is what she knows, and watching me miss out on this way of life makes her worry. My mother’s happiness derives from family, love, security, and routine. She seems to think that I am going astray, and will eventually be unhappy with my life decisions. She is just being a mom, and I can not blame her for the ever increasing harshness that she shows towards my incessantly inconsistent lifestyle.

My father, on the other hand, seems to know exactly what I am doing and may even admire me for it at times. He is a proud man who will be equally proud of his son no matter what he does. He knows that I have used the faculties that he provided me with to find loopholes out of the system of working nine to five. My father seems proud of the fact that I have found ways to live like a king and do whatever I want on a mere five thousand dollars a year. He knows that work sucks, no matter how good the job is, and I have suspicions that wishes for me to never do anything other than what I do. He is a strong, solid working man, who made a good living for himself and his family on the might of his own two hands. But my father knows damn well that this kind of living is not for me. He sometimes tries to teach me how to do some things, like fix an automobile, and knows that I am all thumbs- that I will never learn it no matter how many times he shows me. But that seems to be alright with him, and he has never complained about teaching me the same things over and over again. My father knows that I am better equipped with the pen than with the wrench.

But it does bother me a little that my parents seem to have no idea what I do for most of the year. This is the main reason that I began writing this travelogue in the first place: so my parents can understand a little of how I live. I had the privilege of being able to meet up with my mother and father when they went to China to adopt their daughter. I met them in Hong Kong and then went to the orphanage in Hunan Province with them. This was the first time that they have ever been out of the USA (except for occasional trips over the border into Canada) and I was thoroughly excited to show off a little of the traveling prowess that I had earned through eight years of being on the Road. But when I met them, my plans to impress them disappeared, as I realized that they had absolutely no conception of what I do or what an itinerant life consists of. It made me a little worried to know that not even my parents know anything about me. So I began seriously writing on this travelogue with the hope that they will occasionally read a little bit of what I am doing and find substance in a life that I can only regard as being full to the brim.

But sometimes I still feel as if I have disappointed my parents. This is a heavy weight to bear, but one that I push with a sense of stubborn pride. Old mom and dad put everything that they had into forming a well-educated, successful man, and I took these precious raw materials of my youth and threw them into a direction that my parents could not have dreamed of. I took my skills and education on the road with me to live as a pauper of a poet; to live on my wits and my wits alone. When I am done with all of these travels, I will have learned a hundred trades, wrote a hundred books, and loved and lived enough for a hundred lifetimes. This is my only ambition. What comes inbetween- the jobs, the haunts I call home, the possessions, the accomplishments, the respectability that I choose to ignore- is all transitory to me and means nothing. My goal, my idea of success comes not from how others regard me, but from how I think of myself.

Last night I thought that I made a mess out of this life. I thought that I took the tender, perfect guidance that my parents provided me with and stomped all over it. I had just finished a bottle of wine and was beginning on a liter of Absinth when this overbearing feeling enveloped me: I felt as if I was a waste, that I have not, nor would, accomplish anything. Have I ignorantly shoved my potential into the gutter? Have I disappointed my parents?

There is no worse feeling in the world than that of letting down your family.

I looked at myself in the mirror:

Tattoos covered my body. My ears are stretched open, deformed, by pieces of three quarter inch think teak wood. My beard had not been shaved or tamed in years. My face bore the wear of almost a decade on the Road.

As I stared at myself, the lines to a Pogues song soon came to my tongue:

“I could have been someone. Well so could anyone.”

A tear rose to my eyes and I looked down at the beauty of Mira, as she laid in perfect sleep on the bed below me. Her face rested softly upon the pillow and her body took the shape of the mattress that she had been deprived of for the past three nights. This beautiful girl had been tramping with me like a character of old for the past year and a half- living out fantasies, realizing that dreams are born and die with their birth. We have been discovering this world together for an entire revolution of the earth and, in the process, and have only discovered each other.

“A masterpiece or a mess?” I repeated this to myself.

Travelling can save a man or break a man.

It is my opinion that it concurrently does both.

This is OK with me.

I know that Mira knows that we are the happiest people in the world. I smile as I know that we have already realized what every man on his death bed comes to know:

That life is only the collection of experiences, knowledge, and memories that you acquire throughout the moments of your days. That the recollections that go through your mind in those last moments of life are the most precious things in the world, and that the numbers at the bottom of bank statements and stock certificates are as worthless as the paper they are printed on. Life is about the happiness of moments, and happiness is never reserved for tomorrow.

Today is all we have.
Seek the horizons that only dreams are made of.

Paint your masterpiece.

  • Travel Philosophy
  • Travel and Family
  • Traveling Lifestyle
  • Portugal
  • Vila Nova de Milfontes
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Filed under: Big Overland Journeys, Europe, Family, Portugal, Travel Inspiration, Travel Philosophy

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 76 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3048 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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Wade Shepard is currently in: Polis, Republic of CyprusMap