I’m writing from a 4th floor apartment in Athens on a cloudy winter afternoon. I’ve thought about this exact moment for years, wondered what it would look and feel like to spend a longer, indefinite period of time here.
My first visit to Greece was in the summer of 2012, when I was working as an adventure trip leader for teen summer programs. I was guiding a 3 week Italy-Greece itinerary, which covered Athens, the Peloponnese, and an island (Lefkada) before heading to Italy via ferry. Truthfully, I can’t remember if we did Greece first or Italy. There was a time I could recall nearly every itinerary I worked in my 20’s, but they are falling away now. Still, the important memories stay.
The ten or so days I spent in Greece that summer made a permanent impact on me. You hear of people feeling so connected to places they have no logical reason to have a tie to– people fall in love with places for no other reason than the inexplicable feeling of belonging. The hint, the whisper that a piece of them is home.
Five years later, I returned to Athens, having started a blog called Erin Outdoors, where I shared my thoughts and experiences from my time on the road and the trail. It was June 2017 and I was leading my first adventure trip for the community I’d created online– people who read my blog or followed me on Instagram, and who said yes to joining my friend Dimitris and I for a week of hiking, family style meals, culture, and personal growth.
I have lost count of the times I’ve come back to Greece since. But every time I am here, a piece of me feels that belonging. People ask me all the time if I have Greek heritage. If I do, it’s very little. I don’t have a “real” reason to feel connected to Greece aside from the sparkle and the humming I feel when I’m here.
I lived in Los Angeles for almost seven years. It was the longest I’d lived anywhere in my adult life, and it really felt like the chapter where I “grew up”. I defined my career and my art, I dipped my toe into the commercial photography world, I expanded my business, I made things– art, friends, love– I got my own apartment for the first time. I got closer to God and then redefined my relationship with the divine entirely, I sat with my own ego to get really grounded on the reasons for my actions, and I learned to stand up for myself after years of online vulnerability made me too accommodating. I deepened so much into the pure knowingness of who I am. I got to know my inner critic more intimately than ever before and emerged with a more confident relationship to self.
That knowingness led me here. As it just felt right to move to Los Angeles, it felt right to leave, too. I sold my car, my furniture, and anything that couldn’t fit into a midsize SUV. So many friends of mine left LA but kept a storage unit full of stuff, just to have to decide what to do with it all a few years (and thousands of dollars) later. I wanted a clean slate instead. I’ll buy new furniture someday, when the time is right.
My boyfriend flew over from Italy, and in one chaotic week in November, we packed my remaining things into a rental car and headed East. I timed our road trip with the annual camping trip my LA friends do in the desert, which was a beautiful ending to what was a formative chapter in my life. Before leaving the desert, I auctioned off most of my camping gear to my friends before we drove toward Vegas.
Seeing everything I owned packed like a perfect Tetris game into that car was liberating. It was a permission slip for reinvention, this reminder that you can leave what you built, and the leaving doesn’t invalidate it at all, it just means you are ready to build somewhere else, something else. That the most important things to keep are memories anyway.
We spent the holidays with my family and flew to Athens just before the New Year, and my boyfriend went back to Italy as planned a week later.
So what am I doing here? Being here.
I wanted a change and a different pace. I have never wanted to define my own success by some external benchmarks made up by whoever we decided to trust with those kinds of definitions. I have always wanted to look beyond my comfort zone, to tune in and go where I really feel called. And I feel called here.
My work is not changing drastically. I’ll still be creating and sharing my own photography and art, supporting aspiring photographers with my resources and course(s), and leading a couple of intentional adventure trips each year. Most of my work can be done anywhere with decent wifi. My personal art practice doesn’t even require that (and is better without it).
There have been times in my life when I needed to be comfortable; that’s what taking care of myself looked like at the time. Now it looks like something else. Be careful of getting lulled into a zombified state of living in the known, of forgetting what true excitement feels like, when joy, wonder, and curiosity are your enthusiastic guideposts. You have to get out there. If there is beautiful music playing outside your window– do you stay inside with the windows shut, still marginally aware of it but choosing to shut it out, or do you head outside in search of it? Trust me that when you respond to the call, you get more instructions.
My days lately involve a return to my creative practices, which the past few weeks has been writing and noticing (yes, noticing is a practice). I work on my business and its many income streams. I take Greek classes for a few hours each day, I walk around, I eat, I exercise. I look at flowers and try to befriend cats. I drink wine and listen to music, and it is so beautiful that it breaks my heart open and I never want to forget what that feels like.
How long will I be here? I don’t know… a year? Less? My partner lives in Italy, and we do want to live together sometime soon after over two years of a long-distance relationship between Tuscany and California. But whatever amount of time I spend here now is not the important thing. I know I’ll be coming back for the rest of my life. The decision itself to relocate, to pack up and go, and to carefully pay attention and respond to Life’s invitation, is what matters.
For now I am treating this time like the juiciest orange, the sweetest pomegranate. I am listening. I know that whatever challenges I may encounter in this chapter (and I will encounter them), I will look back on it with fondness. I feel like I’ve been dunked in ice water. And now I have come up, opened my eyes wide, and taken that first breath of fresh air.
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