Elizabeth Briel, Travel Artist

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Split Existence


Hitting the streets with the Man in Seoul, 2004

This year, the Man and I will spend a total of 6 months apart. With visa restrictions & our work/travel schedules, we’ve only managed to plan a single meetup – next month. When strangers hear this, they do a double-take. They say I’m jeopardizing our relationship with my work, “tsk” and say they could never manage it, hinting that we won’t, either [it’s usually a man with a “real job” that travels for work, right?].

But those who know us well just sigh & say “Oh they’re at it again.” This photo album shows a few of the places we’ve been together – often while one of us visited the other when we lived in different countries.

It’s not that we want to be apart all this time, it’s just that we’ve realized what most nomads do after awhile – that you can’t “have it all”, all the time, in the same place at the same time. That our lives are works-in-progress, together & separately. That our careers require different locations for training and development, and also that we have different levels of tolerance for humidity, hassle, & searing Southeast Asian chilies.

This isn’t a “Long-Distance Relationship”; it’s a relationship built while living together, and enhanced & maintained with care over occasional distance. We met in Korea 6 years ago, and had already planned to move to Cambodia (me) and to China (the Man). Within weeks, we changed our minds and decided to stay in one place long enough ? we postponed our dreams – to see how it would work with the other person. Over years of online & domestic communication, in the living rooms, bedrooms & internet cafes of several countries, we’ve created our own system of what works for us.

For an hour or two every day, we chat online, and use a webcam when we can stick one on top of a dusty computer. We probably look into one another’s eyes more now than when we’re living together; it’s easier to focus on the other person, free from daily distractions. When I can’t access a computer, I call him instead: from a night-time boat on the Mekong, from temples and airports and jungles and buses. In tears and with borderline heatstroke and occasionally with elation after another project has come through.

When your partner respects your dreams enough to miss holding you for a few nights, then you know you’re spending the time you have with the right one. Many male writers say with a hint of condescension, “I couldn’t have done this without my wife.” My version goes something like this: “The Man knows I would’ve done this anyway. Thanks for giving me the go-ahead before I even thought to ask.”

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