What a Year It’s Been: Slow Travels, Books & Other Launches into the Unknown
This is an essay I’ve been wanting to write for a while now, as a means to honor the year behind us as well as to set forth some intentions for the year ahead.
Having just shared a gorgeous homemade meal with Mufidah — lasagne, a simple lettuce salad, and a bottle of Chianti (nearly half of which went into the Bolognese sauce!) — this fine, yet rain-soaked evening in Tuscany is an ideal time for me to pen just such a post.
Perhaps it’ll likewise be a timely read for you when you stumble upon it. If so, sit back, ideally with a hot cup of Bialetti coffee, like I’m doing while writing, and enjoy the read, considerations and photographs, taken this past week (with the exception of our pet-sitting friends), now set before you.
First a bit of backstory for those who’ve not followed Mufidah’s and my travels thus far …
Since 2005 I’ve been living in the South East of England (I’d been regularly visiting England since 1990, spent the summer of 2000 there, as well as the first six months of 2004). However, in May 2012, my partner Mufidah Kassalias and I embarked upon a slow traveling tour of Europe. In so doing, we decided to adopt Lao Tzu’s apt phrase, below, as our slow traveling motto.
“A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent upon arriving.” ~ Lao Tzu
As of January 2014, our travels continue with no end in sight. We’ve thus far spent time in Hay-on-Wye, Wales, all of our first summer (2012) in France, and seven-and-a-half months living in Burgos, Spain, before traveling back through France last spring (2013), and around the South East of England, the Lake District, Scotland and North Cornwall through late August.
While in France and the South East of England last spring, we had the honor of running writing workshops in the Dordogne — at a lovely rural location with beautifully prepared local cuisine and wines produced by the owners — and in a number of our favorite spots in Sussex, including Hastings, Brighton, Lewes and Chichester.
After leaving our three-week house-sit in Cornwall in late August, we traveled back through France for a 4.5-month house- and pet-sit within a stunning 100-acre property set in the vineyard- and sunflower-strewn hills above Gaillac, in the Midi-Pyrénées region of South West France.
We finished up this house-sit just last Sunday, and drove off early that morning to the Côte d’Azur, joined the coastal road at Cannes, continued on through Antibes, and spent a night in Nice which we’ll never forget, having been hosted by a remarkable gentleman with a top-floor flat overlooking the Cours Saleya immediately below, and the palm-tree-lined beach and Mediterranean Sea just a stone’s throw away on the other side of the Promenade des Anglais.
The following morning, this past Monday, after saying goodbye to our new friend as he left for work, we indulged in a scrumptious breakfast across from the Palais de Justice, returned to our car, and, again, cruised slowly along the coastal road — stopping hither and thither, just as we’d done the day before — from Nice through Monaco and Menton to the France/Italy border en route to San Casciano in Tuscany, 15 kilometers southwest of Florence.
And so we’re now living in Italy, continuing to work with our Creative Thunder clients to fire up their online presence and prowess, while working, too, on our own creative projects, all from a beautiful 1,600-tree olive farm set high on the Sorripa ridge overlooking San Casciano, just a few kilometers from where Machiavelli wrote The Prince 500 years ago last year.
This is where I now sit, at our borrowed kitchen table within an impossibly well-appointed Thoreauvian hut nestled within acres of olive trees instead of on the Emerson-owned shore of Walden Pond, the main farmhouse here being essentially a building site at present and, crucially, being devoid of wifi signal. And while I write this piece, Mufidah likewise sits, just opposite, writing up her own blog post. Fortunately, neither of us has thus far been sent into exile (the self-directed sort notwithstanding) as Machiavelli was in 1513 after having been accused by the Medici of conspiring against the family, imprisoned, tortured, and released three weeks later.
Rather unfortunately, the central banksters today aren’t quite so lenient in their dealings with those who oppose the virtually done-deal rollout of their one-world, police-state tyranny. Nor are today’s thinkers nearly so apt to acknowledge the existence of historical facts, so inconvenient have they become as we all play along to get along, living within a bubble of dissociation.
At any rate, it continues to amaze us what we’ve managed these past 20-plus months, slow traveling on a shoestring. Opening to the unknown has been key, as has a great deal of creative seed-planting and trust in the universe. And, of course, God, or the universe if you prefer, providing just what’s been needed on so many, literally countless, occasions. So know ahead of time that when I say, we did this, we did that, inherent within these statements is full acknowledgement that we’ve had much help along the way, that we know, full well, we can’t take full credit for all the serendipitous events which have unfolded before us, in 2013, but, too, every step along the way of our nearly two years of travels, and long before we embarked upon our journey.
That said, in 2013 we launched four of our own books, including a fine art photography book of 367 of our acclaimed 1,400+ Instagram photos of Burgos, Spain, two short fiction works, and a book of philosophy, specifically, an exploration of David Hume’s and Immanuel Kant’s works on metaphysics.
Here’s how the Diario de Burgos journalist who featured us and our Instagram photographs in two articles, published exactly a year apart in the city and province’s main daily newspaper, summarized Burgos²:
Absolutely brilliant!! It’s a fantastic book, congratulations! A very complete view on the city, its people and landscapes. ~Héctor Jiménez, Diario de Burgos
You can learn much more, and preview the whole of the book, here. You can also see the winning entries of the daily Burgos photography contest we curated throughout December, as part of our month-long book launch.
Mufidah and I also launched our new business while living in Scotland in July, and, over the course of the year, earned income from three other businesses, not including book sales or affiliate revenues from our various websites. I’ll add that no one of the businesses made us a fortune, by any means; however, they each contributed significantly to keeping us and our travels alive and well.
Speaking of our websites, not including those we’ve built for our Creative Thunder clients, we also created three new sites in 2013, including this one, and have since been recognized three times by the WordPress.com editors — including two Freshly Pressed blog posts (one, two) and, again, in January 2014, within a WordPress.com News article. And Mufidah’s “Edinburgh Revisited” essay was chosen as a Medium Editor’s Pick in October.
Also, on 24 February 2013, my essay entitled “Slow Travels: The Art of Voluntary Homelessness” was published on Henry Makow’s internationally popular website. After having read Part One of “My Adventures with Don Quixote”, Henry invited me to write a piece about our life in Spain. Here’s how he introduced the resulting essay: “To a casual observer, Sean Madden and his partner Mufidah seem to have escaped the confines of everyday life. But, maintaining their nomadic lifestyle in Spain is a daily act of faith.”
Nearly one year later, Mufidah’s and my life on the road remains very much a daily act of faith. Not one that we always, moment-to-moment, dignify with our actions and peace of mind — or lack thereof — yet neither of us is ever more than a breath or two away from wholeheartedly acknowledging the blessings which have been, and are continually, bestowed upon us both.
We’ve had miracle after miracle arise out of thin air to grace us with a place to stay just when we’ve needed one, a client just when a shortfall loomed, or a car which continues to carry us safely from one place to another despite turning 15 years old this past summer, and for which I paid just £150 more than four years ago, shortly before Mufidah and I got together.
House- and pet-sitting gigs provided for the majority of the places we’ve stayed this past year. Since arriving back in the UK the third week of April, when our house/pet-sitting first got underway as part of our shared travels, we’ve cared for 10 homes, 7 dogs, 8 cats, 2 guinea pigs, and a fish pond chockablock with koi. Each of the dogs, cats, and even the guinea pigs became friends and continual sources of amusement — the koi, not surprisingly, less so. As I’ve written elsewhere, the hardest part has been saying goodbye to them after they’d become part of our lives, and we part of theirs.
And last but not least, I finally created a LinkedIn account this past year, on 23 October.
Despite being a web strategist, I’d blown off LinkedIn until now, having, already, more than enough on my social media platter (also new in 2013 was my creating my Goodreads Author account, initially to promote Human Enquiry, published at the beginning of April, but, too, to connect with other authors and readers). But 700+ LinkedIn connections later, I’ve been amazed by just how powerful a tool it has been the past few months.
If you’d like to learn how we’ve tapped LinkedIn to quickly attract new business, shoot us an email.
Other intentions for 2014 …
- Continue to foster and feed my relationship with God.
- Continue to foster and feed my relationship with Mufidah.
- Continue to foster and feed my relationship with loved ones and friends, generally — new, old, in-person and online.
- Continue to do my best to live reverentially, in grace — each and every day, moment to moment — recognizing and appreciating the life-affirming wonder of opening to new and perhaps previously unconsidered possibilities.
- Continue to live, work and travel creatively and deliberately.
- Continue to set daily, short-term and long-term intentions while staying open to life-changing paradigm shifts.
- Continue to write, take photographs, and feed and nurture our websites while slow traveling.
- Continue to create wholehearted and artfully designed products that folk truly want, and, indeed, cherish.
- Continue our quest to become conversant in other languages, most immediately, Italian, French and Spanish.
- Continue to stop and talk with people wherever we are, to listen to their stories, and to bask in our shared human heritage.
I consider myself unspeakably fortunate that all of my just-penned intentions have, of their own accord, come as continuations of that which I’ve long nurtured rather than as new New Year resolutions. In other words, I’m incredibly grateful for living the life that I’ve long been living, and for having long ago learned to listen to my heart to live as I, moment to moment, see fit. While there are, of course, times when I might like for a particular path to open, I know, in truth, that I need nothing new, nothing more than I already have, even if this means sometimes living on a knife’s edge. And I’m grateful that Mufidah wishes to live likewise and to share her life with me, despite — or, indeed, because of — the (oft-inspiring) challenges of living on the road.
In closing, I wholeheartedly wish you a happy, healthy and creatively prosperous 2014. And I thank you for taking precious time out of your day to read this rather lengthy essay, and to have had a look through my photographs of this past week.
And do let me know if there’s anything I might be able to do, ever, to help you pursue, and perhaps even reach, your lifelong dream, whatever that might be.
Sean M. Madden is a writer, photographer and slow-traveling digital nomad. He’s also co-founder of Creative Thunder, helping creative individuals and small businesses to fire up their online presence and prowess through strategic content, website and social media solutions. To get a free copy of the Creative Thunder Manifesto, click here.