A World Winder exclusive by Guestblogger Brett Sills, Author of My Sweet Saga
Prior to 2009, I had never set foot outside of North America. Well, unless you count a few visits to the World Showcase at Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center. But you probably aren’t inspired by their fake Eiffel Tower, and rightfully so. In regards to travel, I just didn’t see the benefit of plunking down money towards an experience that had no physical return, and one that would only provide a memory. After all, I could buy a new computer with the same money and reap the benefit of a faster processor on a daily basis. That was quantifiable. Travel was not. So, how did an ordinary, boring American who was averse to nomadic experiences get inspired to write a novel celebrating travel and the amazing city of Stockholm, Sweden?
Because Sweden saved my life.
I hate the word suicide. I try to never use it. In fact, it hurts to write it. But it’s the only way to describe what I was attempting to do one random night in the late spring of 2009, holding a handful of pills, while sitting on my bathroom floor. But thankfully for me, and to spare you the details, my body rejected them, leading to a failed attempt and one very sick weekend. But in the aftermath, I decided that I needed to drastically change every aspect of my life. And to aid the process, I created a numbered list of all sorts of things that I thought I should do differently. Despite my earlier concerns and theories, number six simply said: TRAVEL.
I didn’t have any particular connection to Sweden. I liked their politics, I enjoyed walking through Ikea, I once had a pleasant experience with a rental Volvo, but beyond that there wasn’t much I knew. While there are certainly more “exciting” places in Europe to visit, I had this urge to stray from the path. In retrospect, it’s as if I wanted to run and hide and, though it’s silly and nonsensical to think there was anyway I could be “exposed” in a city like London or
Paris, there was something remote about Sweden that provided appeal. So, on August 10th, 2009, I, armed with a camera, clothes, and well wishes, boarded a plane from LAX to ATL, where I would then take a connecting flight to Stockholm, Sweden.
And, to make this incredibly melodramatic, that’s when everything changed.
I always thought it would be cool if the universe tipped you off to life altering moments minutes before they occur, if for nothing else so you’d be mentally prepared for them. I had no intentions of “finding myself” in Sweden or anything like that. In fact, I had no plan at all beyond wandering aimlessly, and maybe eating some herring or whatever the local fare was. But all this entirely changed when I took my seat on the plane and was soon joined by this stunning girl who sat directly to my right. I never thought I was a romantic, but I suddenly questioned how I ever denied the existence of love at first sight. She was beautiful and mysterious; she was smart, yet guarded. And after the ten quickest hours of my life, I suddenly realized I was a cliché. The depressed kid who goes to Europe, finds someone, and is forever changed. And you know what? I loved being that cliché. And, though I actually never saw her again (that is another long, complicated story!), what followed was the best week of my entire life.
I learned quickly what it means to travel; the reason I never knew is because it’s impossible to relate if you’ve never done it before. It’s both ignorant and ridiculous to say that we know our home cities and towns like the back of our hands, but their familiarity can be suffocating. We get so used to our surroundings that every step we take is mundane, and it’s easy to feel stuck in an environment where your perception leads you to believe nothing new ever happens. But when you travel to a foreign city, a place thousands of miles away from home, every single step feels new. There is nothing comfortable about the experience, and your brain is processing new information much like it once did as a child. It’s overload, but hardly overwhelming. Most of all, it’s a bright, shiny reminder that possibility does still exist. There is something strangely satisfying about the knowledge that your friends and family are on the other side of the world; a strange sensation that reminds you that every problem you have has been left behind, and its not insane to believe that the experience can help you re-invent yourself.
In many ways, exploring Stockholm was a baptism. I took in the pristine streets, enjoyed the foreign signage, and was shocked by some of the strange local customs (leaving your baby unattended outside storefronts? Whoa!). I walked the beautiful corridors of Gamla Stan, marveling at how well kept an area that dated back to the 13th century could be. I engaged random people in conversation and let a completely new culture soak in. I sat for hours staring at the Vasa Warship, noting the not-so-subtle metaphor of the relationship between the old sunken boat and my life. After all, if an old ship from the 17th century could be raised from the sea and housed in a museum to show off its damaged beauty, then I suppose anything is salvageable.
When I returned home, walked through my apartment door, and saw the bathroom where I had attempt to take my life only a couple of months before, I knew I needed to do something to keep the feeling I had in Stockholm alive. The only answer was to write. A story that captured the feeling of that past week. And I figured I’d write about what it might be like to spend more time with the aforementioned girl. Just one day. One crazy day. And to spend it with her in Stockholm. As mentioned, she was mysterious and complex, and I wondered what kind of trouble we might have gotten into, and what secrets she may have been hiding. A week or so later, I wrote the first words that would become my novel, My Sweet Saga. And every day after, for five months, I would rush home so I could work on it, so I could lose myself in it. And though the novel is fiction and often absurd, I do believe it captures that feeling all first time travelers have: just when you think there is no way out of your boring life, you travel, find love (in every sense of the word), and suddenly all the black and grey in life has color.
Since that fateful trip in 2009, I’ve definitely caught the travel bug. And no matter what happens in my life, no matter how dire situations may seem, I know I always have an exciting trip on the horizon that will put everything into perspective again. Now I find it silly to think that I once felt there was no value in travel.
Brett Sills is a multi-optioned screenwriter/freelance ad writer who currently lives in Los Angeles. My Sweet Saga, published by Admiral J Press, is his first novel and is available in paperback and e-book at Amazon.com (Amazon hyperlink: http://www.amazon.com/My-Sweet-Saga-Brett-Sills/dp/0615532136/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1318795383&sr=8-1), other major online retailers, and independent bookstores. Be sure to check out the My Sweet Saga Facebook page as well! (FB hyperlink: http://www.facebook.com/pages/My-Sweet-Saga/170371449710646)