Sliding Doors

So recently I found myself back in a place I never wanted to visit again – heartbreak. Lovesick. Depressed and moping around, kicking myself for not making better decisions.

In any life you’re going to get those ‘sliding doors’ moments; do you go for the job opportunity in another city? Do you go teach English in Japan or go teach snowboarding in Canada? Did you tell her how you feel while the chance was there, or let the chance slip forever? Fuck, I mean you could get maimed in a car crash when you were planning to take the train and suffer life changing injuries. Shit happens, and sometimes it completely alters your course through life.

The thing with travelling or living as a digital nomad is that these moments happen with greater frequency, and the variations in course they produce can be wild. A small decision, or even a failure to act in the moment, can suddenly see you heading to a different country or totally different continent, with totally different people around you. One moment you could be in Kyoto expecting to marry a beautiful woman, the next you could be back in your home country nursing a broken heart (or going nuts in Bangkok or wherever), and looking back you see there was literally a sliding doors moment on which your whole future turned – the last time you saw her, you on the platform and she on the train, the doors sliding shut but your eyes remaining locked through the glass as the train left the station (“…with two lights on behind, and the blue light was your baby, and the red light was your mind”). Should you have jumped back on that train when the door chimes sounded and pulled her close? Maybe. Probably. But you didn’t. And suddenly you’re a wandering soul again, not knowing where it’ll take you or what you’re going to do now.

And it hurts for so long, and you can never forgive yourself, but you suck it up and take it on the chin because what else can you do anyway? And years later you see that actually, as strong and true as your love was, you probably weren’t a great match for marriage – perhaps there would always eventually have been heartbreak with her, one way or another. But you’d never have regretted trying. At the end of the day, you can only accept that it is what it is and it was what it was.

Kyoto was 7 years ago, and I’ve long since accepted it. But this present heartbreak? That’s right now, right here in Taipei.

I went out to catch up with a mate the other night and he listened over many pints of local craft brew; and he gave all the appropriate advice – you just have to roll with the punches. Keep moving forward. There are plenty more fish in the sea.

And there are indeed plenty more fish in the sea. But you don’t want fish after you let a unicorn slip through your fingers.

I’ll spare you the full play-by-play, but in brief – when I first came to Taipei I fell in love with a girl, and I also fell for the city. But I could never quite get the girl – she felt it too, but the timing and circumstances were off, my circumstances as a broke wannabe digital nomad in particular. I left Taiwan, came back again, ran out of time (i.e. had visa issues) and funds, and left again to pursue business goals in Korea & Japan in an attempt to urgently cease haemorrhaging money and get my shit together (partially successful, but far too slowly); leaving it in the hands of fate, I figured on heading back to Taiwan once my travel blog & ESL site were making enough money for a Taiwan student visa and I’d finished building my Korea snowboard website (for the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang), and hopefully our fates would align. We were never even together, but the connection was there and I still hoped to build on it.

But, long story short, I fucked it up. The timing & circumstances weren’t good, but more importantly – that was largely the result of my own poor life choices, and I didn’t do enough to make them good.

So in the end I didn’t return to Taipei until two months ago, just in time to learn she was getting married… I knew I’d probably been away too long, but I didn’t know she’d met someone and coming back to Taipei I intended to finally tell her how I really felt; but shit happened in ways other than I wanted it to and now that will forever remain a daydream.

Gutted. And now I’m so full of regret, so full of ‘what ifs’. But like my friend said, you have to keep moving forward.

Well, I figure that’s pretty much the default. Question is, which way are you looking as you do so?

Hollywood screenwriters (and theoretical physicists) tell us time may not be linear and there may be an infinite number of alternate timelines co-existing where you made this choice instead of that choice – where you jumped back on that train in Kyoto before the doors slid shut. Where Mystique didn’t kill Trask. Or where you didn’t hesitate outside that bar in Taipei as you held each other’s gaze and hands while she sang to you, or you stopped that taxi and got right out instead of driving away with that awful feeling in your gut (which still lingers); or where you got back on a plane and went back before so much time slipped by and the ship slipped the mooring and sailed away into the sunset – and everything turned out differently. But the way we experience time is linear, mercilessly linear, and however many alternate timeline universes may or may not exist, this here is the one you’re in. The others might be better, but they might also somehow have been worse. So stop living in daydreams of the future or of possible alternative presents that could have resulted from better decisions along the forks in the past. Forward is the only path available through time; turn your face to it and meet it head on.

And yet, despite my head being able to reason all that out, my heart won’t accept it; fact is I’ve made some poor decisions and I am still totally pissed off with myself for it. Only thing that’s going to make that feel any better is time. And maybe whisky. And maybe… maybe I have to square it with myself that the digital nomad life is only ever going to lead to heartache. I realise that, if I’d come back to Taiwan earlier, and found her still available, and interested, and things had worked out how I wanted – that I’d have been all too happy to stop with the long-term travelling, stop with all the basing my life around ski seasons and long-haul overland trips, and focus on being in the one place. In fact that was what I wanted, though I didn’t see it clearly enough when I needed to. Maybe I should still stay here anyway in this city I still love. Get a student visa, learn Mandarin, have a sense of purpose here other than sitting in Airbnbs working all of every day away on websites to live the digital nomad ‘dream’.

Though you know, it’s also true I’d have never met her in the first place if I wasn’t trying to do the digital nomad thing (after all, the reason I was in Taipei that first time was to meet with friends about becoming business partners on an online ESL school, something we tried & ultimately failed with). And had it all worked out back then, had the ESL site taken off (or had this blog taken off far sooner) and thus enabled me to afford to join a full time language course and stay in Taiwan on a student visa, perhaps I’d be saying it was the best thing I ever did. I guess sometimes you just have to take a punt; but such things don’t always go your way. It may sound romantic to leave things to fate, but in practice it’s only romantic when it works out – the reality is that Fate is not always on your side; you must make your own fate.

I’d say nothing worked out the way I’d planned. But on reflection, that’s not accurate. It would be more accurate to say nothing worked out the way I wanted. But just wanting something, however sincerely, doesn’t make it happen however hard you will it or visualise it. The universe won’t always make things come right for you just because you want them badly enough; your actions are what counts, not simply how badly you desire the results. Don’t live on wishful thinking.

And, as hard as it is to follow my own advice right now, don’t overthink things, and don’t wallow in your emotions when things go wrong. For we are all but sacks of flesh and water, blood and bone, animated by a spark which will one day flicker and go out. The emotions you feel in your heart and your head until that happens have no external meaning, even when they render your food tasteless and your nights sleepless. So finish your fucking dinner and get on with it. Make the call. Do the work. Book the ticket. Tell the girl. Whatever it is, take action and do it. All the time you’ve ever wasted, it never comes back, all the opportunities you’ve ever let slide, they’re gone.

Not so long ago I watched as my grandfather reached out and laid his hand on my grandmother’s coffin; a final goodbye, and one of the most moving, heart-wrenching things I’ve ever seen. But whenever you fall in love, one thing is certain – someday, somehow, it will be over. All you can do – what you must do – is act on that feeling and keep it alive for as long as you can. My grandparents had 7 decades together; the lost love I’m writing of here, well… I lost it before it could even take wing, through my own failure to tell her I’d gone back specifically for her, by my own failure to generally have my shit together. So if you’re out there travelling and you suddenly meet someone and you have that feeling, that instant recognition and feeling of fate, don’t lose it. Change your plans, alter your course, tell them how you really feel. If they freak out and run a mile, well… at least you know it wasn’t really there. At least you won’t regret never trying.