For over fifteen years I have stood fast here in Thessaloniki, raising a family and working at private language schools teaching English. The family never ends this side of the grave, though responsibilities diminish as the kids grow, but a job is a job and eventually becomes redundant. That’s the way I look at it anyway. The only job I ever held which I feel I will never forsake is my writing, and that has never supported me. In addition, it is much more than a job. It is a vocation, a calling, such an integral part of me that if it were ripped away I would be incomplete, a mangled mess devoid of purpose. Writing is not just something I do, it is something I am. But a job – well, that is something I do for money. I have enjoyed teaching English, and I have had some wonderful students, but in the end if it were not for the steady pay I wouldn’t bother. Not so with the writing. With the writing I persevere, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade, and so on. It consumes much more of my thoughts, dreams, and plans than I will ever see financial remuneration for. Even if tomorrow I began to earn thousands a day through the writing it would never compensate for the blood, sweat, tears, fears, trauma, agony and ecstasy I have invested. No matter. I would do it again in a heartbeat. I cannot imagine a being such as myself, John Walters, in reference to anything except writing, and with that I am content.
But I mean to talk to you about transitions. From writing itself there is no transition, as I say, though I may shift styles, lengths, genres, and so on. But from other life-events there are always transitions, at least for me. I am aware that for some people – for most people I might say – there are a modicum of transitions as one grows up – from childhood to teen-hood to adulthood (although many never seem to make this last leap), from elementary school to junior high to senior high to university (although, again, many don’t make this last leap either) – and then they hunker down into one job, one situation, one marriage, one house, one neighborhood, one town, one state, one country, and remain there for the rest of their lives. Things happen, sure. They have kids, they raise them; they bury parents and other loved ones; they might even commit such a radical act as change political parties or religious affiliations. But deep down they have buried themselves in a hole, scraped the dirt over themselves, and placed the premature tombstone: R.I.P.
Not for me, thank you. I have lived many lives, so to speak. I was a slow starter, didn’t know what to do with myself for many years, even after I had made the decision that I had to be a writer, but once I got out on the road, first through the States, then to Central America, then to Europe and finally to Asia, the world opened up and I realized the vastness of it, the scope, the variety, the immensity. And I came to the conclusion that to fall asleep too close to where one got in was a grave error. When so much possibility existed, why settle for the mundane, the mediocre, the commonplace? Why not be uncommon, different, malleable, iconoclastic? Why settle for a one-act play when you can have an epic?
On the other hand, there is a time to hunker down and remain faithful in that which you are doing. Otherwise you can become a tumbleweed, blown about with every wind and never achieving anything of consequence. There is a balance to be found, and it takes wisdom to know when to stand fast and when to move on. I have stood fast for the past fifteen years or more because my kids were young and growing and we needed a stable environment in which to aid their growth. They needed to go to school; they needed plenty of food and other necessities. For years we raised them on the road, but finally we felt the need to establish a base. And so we did.
But now… But now… How do you know when it is time to stand fast and when it is time to take off again? As I said, it takes wisdom. Such decisions should not be made flippantly, especially when you are responsible not just for yourself but for others as well. And as usual, for me, the overriding factor was the welfare of my sons. As for me personally, I have the tendency to just rock along. I will take it easy, adapt to whatever situation I find myself in, as long as I have the means and the time in which to write. I could have kept going with the status quo in this situation as well, were it only my own welfare at stake.
But Greece, at this point in its history, is in a terrible state. There is so much I love about the country, but I can no longer sustain my family here. For many years we have had a good life, but I see no opportunities in the foreseeable future for my sons. Unemployment for young people is around fifty percent, and for those who do not have family connections in business, relatives or family friends who can offer a hand up, the rate is much higher. In addition, though the price of everything continues to rise, salaries are being steadily whittled away, benefits reduced or eliminated, people getting sacked right and left. All around us are families with children, both parents of which have lost their jobs and are near destitution. The European Union continues to squeeze and squeeze, trying to wring water out of a rock, seemingly oblivious to the death rattle of the economy. The country is being squeezed so harshly there is no chance that the economy will be able to recover and come to life again. It’s like trying to pray a dead horse back to life while at the same time pummeling it with clubs and breaking every bone in its body.
I sympathize, I empathize deeply with the Greek people, but not enough to go down with the ship. Were it myself only, as I mentioned, I might, but the welfare of my sons is at stake. Therefore I have made the decision to pull up stakes and head off to America, where though the economy is not thriving at least there is some modicum of an economy left, and where my sons will have at least a fighting chance for a future. I do not take this decision lightly. I contemplated the prospect for a long time before I shared it with anyone else. I myself feel ambivalent about the move. I enjoy living in Europe; I appreciate the international perspective. I have not lived in the States for thirty-five years; it is a big change for me. It is as great a transition as when I left my comfort zone and took off on the road back in the seventies.
Regardless of my trepidation, it must be done. When you realize a transition period has arrived, it can be a terrifying time. You feel you are at the edge of a void. The fog of uncertainty can obscure your vision. You have to take a leap into the unknown. You don’t know for sure that when you land it will be in a better place. You hope so, but you don’t know for sure. The thing is, though, if you don’t make the change things will only get worse. You will have condemned yourself and your loved ones to decay and death. That chance has to be taken, that change has to be made. There really is no choice at all, if you want to continue to grow. The only choice after you have made the decision to turn your back on that which has stultified, petrified, turned putrid, that which can no longer sustain you, is your attitude towards the transition. Are you going to take it like a wimp, cowering and whining and paranoid of every shadow and every hint of obstacle or difficulty? Or are you going to sally forth in the spirit of adventure, defying the unknown, ready to do battle? I picture an explorer on a great sailing ship, hand on the helm, wind in his face, joy in his heart, defying the elements, defying his fears, oblivious to the whimpering of others who say it can’t be done, sailing off the map into the great blank uncharted void – to his destiny.