The ‘Anatomy of Restlessness’ and Pondering the Wandering.

During my time in Walla Walla, I had access to my dear friend’s amazing personal library and stumbled upon Anatomy of Restlessness, by Bruce Chatwin.  Many of his passages resonated with me at a time that I needed the words of a wandering writer.  I came to this passage and knew I had found the voice I needed;

“Those of us who presume to write books fall in to one of two categories; the ones who ‘dig in’ and the ones who move.  There are writers who can only function at ‘home’ , with the right chair, shelves of dictionaries and encyclopedias and now perhaps word processors.  and there are those, like myself, who are paralyzed by ‘home’, for whom home is synonymous with the proverbial writer’s block, who believe naively that all would be well if only they were somewhere else.”

Chatwin nailed it.  That’s me.  Completely.  And not necessarily as a writer, but as a photographer and creative being in general.  Creativity, for me, is harbored in the unknown.  When I travel, all the details and burdens of my “sedentary” life just melt away.  I am completely in the here and now.  I choose to travel by train for a reason, as I stare out the window, my internal creative gnomes crawl out of their hibernation caves and spring to life with ideas, adventures, plans and ponderings about the people’s lives I’m privy to while staring out the window. I often  find myself wanting the train ride to continue on past my destination.  To just keep moving, and staring out the window.

I return to this passage now, because I find myself at a crossroads of sorts.  And I have a feeling many of us in today’s world are at a similar crossroads- just different road signs.  I am faced with a decision, and while I know the answers, I am going to flesh them out here- just in case someone else is standing at that crossroads and unsure of the right path to choose.

A rare double rainbow appears over Happy J's Trailer park in Quartzsite, AZ.

A rare double rainbow appears over Happy J's Trailer park in Quartzsite, AZ.

I’ve consciously made a decision to not to return to the “normal- in the box lifestyle.”  I’ve jokingly been making this threat to myself for years, but I think this walkabout has finally solidified that which I’ve known for a long time.  There is a different way of living.  Obvious statement, yes, but how often do we provide ourselves with the opportunity to step back and actually make a conscious decision to live our lives differently.  And I don’t mean different in the “let’s paint our house a different color than the neighbors and vacation in a more exotic location than everyone else.”  I mean different in a “let’s not buy a house with a foundation first, let’s get a home with two axles that hitches up to my bumper,” way.

Now, this way of living isn’t for everyone.  I have many very dear friends and family who love what they do and fit in well in their worlds.  But, I’m sensing that a multitude of my fellow Gen Xer’s and beyond are actively seeking a different way of living.  A different definition of home.   There’s a reason this year’s Super Bowl ads were littered with unhappy 30-something men justifying their submissions to the suburban-consumption lifestyle with fast cars, beers and flat screen TVs.  Madison Avenue was speaking to a large demographic that has trapped themselves in unhappy lives and does not know how to change it- buy a shiny car- that will fix things.

Uh, no.

I chose a different route a long time ago, but I periodically drift back into the “normal” world.  But, I believe that is coming to an end.  A home, that for a duration of time, provides the opportunity for perpetual motion, is what I am seeking.  If I am of the same Chatwin cloth- and I know that moving is what keeps me sane- then the logical decision would be to choose a lifestyle of perpetual motion.  For a time- and see where such a life would take me.

I’ve spent the last month or so with many “old-timers” who have chosen a different way of living as well.  Now, they made this decision after adhering to the social norms- and in many cases- establishing the social norms that my generation is now playing out in real time.  I look around this traveling community and I don’t see any of my generation or the possibility that my generation would ever choose this life- at any age.

A walk during the 'magic hour' in Quartzsite.

A walk during the 'magic hour' in Quartzsite.

Why wait until the best years are past us to embrace this different world.  How many of us would unlock that creative gnome that lives dormant inside waiting for the moments of travel, motion and the loss of normalcy to surface? What would the world look like if more people stepped away from the rat race, even just for a few months, and took a glimpse into another world?  Would they find that inner child who was silenced when they hit puberty and were told that you had to get a degree and climb the corporate ladder to reach the golden ring at the end?  Would they find that playing in the garden was more fulfilling than a multitude of board meetings and executive lunches? Would they then take that playful exuberance and turn it into a trade, business or profession that allowed the inner child to run free and play in the garden?

At the time that Chatwin wrote this, traveling was rugged and raw.  People departed on long journeys into the wild or unknown cultures seeking something they could not explain, but knew they had to experience.  No guidebooks, no tour guides, no marked trails.  Months or years to roam and find the thing that eluded them, haunted them and drew them out into the world.  And some of the greatest literature of each generation was written by that wandering soul.  By that person who sought to find that which he could not name, but knew he must seek.

What will happen when we stop seeking that which we can not name?  What will the world become if people insulate themselves with fear rather than face the unknown or embrace the abnormal path?  What would your inner creative gnome become if he was unleashed onto the world, if you chose to move- to seek- and in doing so found something you never knew existed?

I believe my inner creative gnome has spoken, and it loves the desert!  It loves this nomadic lifestyle, and I believe I will have to find my balance of motion, of home and of the unknown.  I came to the conclusion this week that my immediate future holds an Airstream, outfitted with a mobile photographic studio and inhabited by my dog and myself.  I believe that throwing myself into the world and everything the open road has to offer is going to be the journey that I’ve been restlessly seeking all these years.  And I want to share this world with those who read this blog.  In fact, the writing of this blog is a motivating factor of this decision- and I think the nomadic and alternative living themes are becoming the dominant voice here at the Storyteller.

After coming to this conclusion, I’ve had two dear friends make a similar conclusion.  One of them jokingly told me tonight that it looks like I’ll have a company on my adventures. How exciting!  He is struggling to find work in the academic world- and he is rather brilliant, holding a PHD and several years as a professor under his belt- but has been bitten by the Airstream bug.  I believe he is opening his eyes to the possibilities, though he is intelligent enough to know they exist without anyone pointing out the obvious, and he’s starting to warm up to the creative energy that exists within this lifestyle.  He’s a writer who needs motion- so the possibility of some amazing literature spurting out of his creative gnome is rather exciting.

And I know there are a few other folks out there staring down similar crossroads.  I know I’m not standing there by my lonesome, and I know my PHD friend isn’t either.  The real question is not that we are standing there making these decisions, its what decision will we make?  What decision will you make?  When you stand at your crossroads, is your view obstructed by all the what ifs and if onlys or can you stare down your roads and see beyond those arbitrary questions to the journey that suits you- not your family or your friends- but is best for you?

Past Lives, Present Selves and Future Paths.

Is the past linear?  Is the past cyclical?  Or neither?

History is doomed to repeat itself, we hear it all the time. Society seems to repeat its own missteps.

But are we, as individuals, doomed to repeat ourselves?  Are we on a linear path in our own history- continually moving forward, closing doors on our past as we travel through time.  Or are we on multiple cycles, where moments of our past resurface and manifest themselves in their full glory as we age.

I am famous for procrastinating.  I excel at starting a project and putting it on a shelf.  If you ask me what I do for a living, well that depends on what month it is or which pot on my stove of activities is starting to boil over.

Are we meant to be this one thing in life, this one activity or career that defines us? Or are we meant to continually revisit our past lives and our past beings and then make them better at a time in our lives when we are ready to embrace some part of our selves we placed on a shelf many years ago, for whatever reason.

Largest full moon of 2010, seen from the blackberry

Largest full moon of 2010, seen from the blackberry

About 6 years ago, I was bartending at a small restaurant on the Outer Banks.  The town population in the winter was about 300 people or so and we would close the restaurant at 8 p.m. and be done for the night. One of our cooks was in his mid 50s and the most intelligent man I have ever met- but no one would give him a second glance if they passed him on the street.  Our waitresses called him sticky-whistle tooth and you really didn’t want him cooking your food.  We would all sit around the bar, have a few drinks and he would take the conversation to places I could hardly wrap my brain around.  He could talk to the political situations in Palestine and switch to quantum physics without missing a breathe.  Truly amazing.  He made a conscious decision at some point in his life to not participate in the circus.  He worked under the table, traveled onto the next location when he felt the need and was a life-long learner.  He exposed me to books and music that shaped my perspective on the world and was an underlying reason I returned to university at age 30.  Sitting at that bar in the middle of nowhere with such enlightening conversation made me realize, there is more out there.  And I’m being lazy in not finding it and seeking this knowledge for myself.

He exposed me to Ani Difranco, Utah Phillips, Orwell, Huxley, Rand and a host of others.  I’ve engaged with this art and felt compelled to move the world, wanted to right the injustices that saturate the fabrics of our society, wanted to retreat to or create the utopia spoken of in atlas shrugged.  I’ve been moved by this music and literature to do and to seek.

In my more recent life, I’ve placed many of those intentions, many of those projects in a box, locked away while I searched to embrace the traditional roles in society.  Put that person that ignited the passions in the closet in order to make a living, to support my projects with the money some of them need to come to life.  And while I have no regrets- every step and misstep in this world serves a purpose and teaches a valuable lesson- I am starting to really see why the day cook said screw it and stepped off the hamster wheel.

I’m listening to an Ani Difranco concert and that past flame is firing up again just listening to her lyrics.  Seven years ago, on my last trip to Quartzsite, I started dabbling in jewelry making, beading and leather craft.  I loved all the stones and crystals I found hiding at the swap meets.  I saw this amazing alternative life and economic system and thought, wow.  This is something else.  I made some plans to learn lapidary arts and start a small business as a gemstone and crystal wholesaler.  I made plans to travel to distant lands and visit crystal mines and gather stories- and stones.  And while I brainstormed and daydreamed a little, complete with an airstream, a dog, a map to mineral mines and the open road, I put that project on a shelf.  And I did some fabulous things.  I pursued my passions for documentary photography in an academic setting, traveled the world and learned some absolutely amazing things about myself, my talents and what I am capable of doing.  And I met some dear friends along the way.

And now, sitting here in a motor-home in the desert, listening to Ani, I feel as if the past circles of the last 7 years of my life are converging.  I see that my artistic passions, for photography, for writing and for storytelling are merging together and making room for the new passions that have yet to fully manifest but are growing each day.

So, I guess this slightly narcissistic rambling into my past is to just share with you my belief that our past endeavors, placed on hold for whatever reason, are not lost or forgotten.  They are just waiting for the right time to re-emerge. These passions and projects lay just beneath the surface waiting for the time when we are prepared to build what we began years ago.

And if you decide to shift gears, decide to pick up that project, dust it off and become one with it, decide to pick up that trade and do something else and someone asks, “well, i thought you were going to be a ________ or I thought you were doing ______.”  Well, just tell them that there’s no need to define yourself by yesterday or tomorrow.  I am this person today and what I become tomorrow, well, I may not know it if you ask me now, but I’m sure it will fabulous, none the less.   And when your friends look at you and question your sanity, your response may be, “no, I’m not crazy for wanting to live my life this way- are you crazy for never stepping off your wheel to question your path?”

And if you need a little  musical inspiration- something to make you feel like, yea- I’m gonna do this and just be f****** fabulous about it, put on some Ani and listen closely.  Her record label isn’t called “Righteous Babe” for nothing.

Embracing a Trade: find a skill and put food on the table after the apocalypse

The end is near?

Over the holidays, while everyone was feeling jolly and joyful from all the yummy home-cooked food and merry spirits, the History Channel chose to bring its viewers down to earth with a week full of “apocalyptic” programming.  Every possible end of the world scenario was created and filmed for our viewing pleasure, so of course, my friend and I watched each and every depressing show.  Every night a new theory on the end of our civilization was presented- and oh, by the way, its just around the corner!  So, it got my wheels spinning.  If society were to crumble, the lights went off and we were to return to our agrarian roots, what could I offer in exchange for the essentials- food, shelter, water and a little moonshine to keep me sane.

People can’t eat photographs, if the power grid goes poof a web site is totally irrelevant and I seriously doubt anyone will need a promotional multimedia video when their DVD player becomes a pillar for their bookshelf.  What can I offer?  Can I knit a sweater to keep myself warm?  Can I grow a vegetable from seed to harvest?  Can I capture rain water in a cistern and hydrate myself. No. No. And no.  So, if the end of the world happens, I’ll be that poor sap clinging to her camera looking for scraps of food with the rest of the 2012 survivors.  Uh, I’d rather not go there.

So, in my infinite wisdom, I’ve decided to gather a few trades while the lights are still on and I can support myself with my freelance career. This week I began learning Lapidary arts. While people can’t eat rings and jewelry either, trading stones and jewels is as old as civilization itself.  Seems like a logical place to start.

Next I’ll tackle knitting, sewing and then maybe a little vehicle maintenance.  I don’t think I’ll ever have the patience and talent to grow anything from seed to harvest, so I will be moving close to friends who can and I will continue developing my trades for bartering.

A bumber sticker from a nomad's car in Arizona

A bumber sticker from a nomad's car in Arizona

Embracing a Trade

But seriously, do you have a trade?  We, as an “evolved” society have deviated far from our agrarian roots and we no longer emphasize the essential need to have a trade or a skill.  Beyond the whole survivalist scenario, having a trade is a wonderful change of pace from our normal intelligence based work.  We’ve deviated from working with our hands to working solely with our minds, and while some amazing innovations have come from this period of intellectualism, might we all benefit from working with our hands-just a little?

Matthew Crawford explores the topic in his book, Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work and while I have yet to read it, watching interviews with the author made me want to dive deeper into the art of having a trade.  The Christian-Science Monitor interviewed Crawford recently- here’s a little excerpt:

“As with blue-collar jobs a century ago, white-collar work is now suffering a similar intellectual and skill degradation, Crawford argues, whereby “the cognitive elements of the job are appropriated from professionals, instantiated in a system or process, and then handed back to a new class of workers – clerks – who replace the professionals.” Corporate culture and teamwork have taken the place of individual responsibility. Brand projection has replaced the actual production of goods (now largely outsourced). Workers are judged subjectively by their somewhat opaque contribution to the bottom line, over which they have little individual control.”

While sanding down my little piece of agate in the rock workshop this morning, I found this wonderful sense of calm.  Working with my hands, watching the stone move back and forth over the sander and letting my mind wander aimlessly was so rejuvenating.   I was so inspired to create, I came home and baked cornbread from scratch using a recipe I found in a Native American Indian book about healing.  What better way to learn to live off the land then from those who have done it for thousands of years.

My first Cabachon and the start of my lapidary arts endeavor

My first cabochon and the start of my lapidary arts endeavor

So, again, I ask, what’s your trade?  Have you thought about ditching the cubicle for the workshop?  Is it possible to have both worlds?  Can you scale back your “real work” and incorporate some carpentry side work, working as a seamstress or selling your handy-work on Etsy.com?  Have you thought about becoming an apprentice for a blacksmith or have you always wondered about becoming an herbalist?  What’s stopping you from learning these trades?  And no, your mortgage is no longer an excuse for not pursuing things your interested in or curious about.  Carpe Diem, my friend, because according to the History Channel, time’s a wasting!

Go dig in the dirt, hammer some nails or shape some stones.  Go do something that allows you to look back at the end of the day and say, damn- I made that.  And while you’re at it, ditch that cubicle and find a way to make your trade your profession.  And if you’ve already ditched the cubicle- nice work!  Share your story and your knowledge with us in the comments section.

The Details of Our Lives & the Catalysts We Become Along the Way

Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.  ~ Hemingway

I’m going to take a moment and delve into this quote for a bit.  I’m sure this topic has been written about extensively in the past, but every so often, I like to contemplate this point.

As a person who tends to value her nomadic tendencies over stability, quotes like this become a security blanket when things get a little grey.  So, I tend to reflect back on all the details of my life, how I’ve lived and if I died tomorrow, what would be my epitaph.  What would people who knew me say?

Playful Cousins

Playful Cousins

An interesting question.  For an artist, I’d like to reflect on a career of tear-sheets from amazing magazines, a couple pulitzers and maybe an award winning documentary or two- yes, I think Oscar needs to sit on my desk one day.  As a writer, maybe a nobel prize in literature or a best seller would help me feel that sense of achievement that has actual tangible recognitions from society attached to them.  Alas, I have achieved none of those moments of greatness- yet.  So, what do I reflect upon when I think of the details that distinguish my life from the person sitting next to me in the coffee shop?

Stories. Lots of stories.  Stories gathered from spending 15 years doing random things and traveling to the far reaches of America and the world beyond.  I look back on all the people I’ve met in my travels-people whose names escape me but with whom I shared true moments of time.  The old fisherman from Alaska who took my for a ride on his Harley in the deserts of Arizona; the driver from Madaba, Jordan who took me all over his town and would stop traffic to come say hello when I was walking down the street in his town;  the woman I photographed for a morning in the hills of Nepal who shared her precious, limited breakfast with me;  the man who shared beers with me on an late night Amtrak and told me the story of the love of his life passing away in his arms or the night I spend with fellow travelers on top of a Himalayan ridge in a chai walla, drinking chai, playing chess and listening to the World Cup on a radio.  Those are the details that have made my life rich.

People. My friends and family.  I can look back at the people I’ve shared moments with, people I’ve loved and laughed with, and feel a sense of fulfillment.  I’m inherently shy, but I was graced by my parents with their love of people and their desires to be social.  Conversation was a high commodity of my home and it was implied that you would partake in a soda, a beer or two or some coffee and conversation with my father on the porch.  Its just the way we were.  So, as an adult, I’ve been blessed with a wide and diverse group of friends.  I look at these interactions as a major detail that makes my life rich beyond anything that money could provide.  And I look at some of these friendships and see that our paths were altered by our crossings.

Catalysts.  I enjoy being a catalyst in people’s lives.  In a good way, of course.  I value this as, hopefully, a major contribution to people’s lives.  We all have catalysts in our lives.  Sometimes it’s an event, sometimes it’s a person; but those catalysts leave us altered.  Hopefully for the better.  I have a dear friend, a soul mate, who is also a catalyst.  She touches people’s lives and they are never quite the same again- her energy just makes people happy and calm.  My mom was blessed with this trait too and I like to think she has passed it along to her two daughters- though its manifestation in us is a little different than in her.  Point being, to be a catalyst in someone’s life that pushes them to see beyond their reality, to embrace the possibilities of their life, to question their role in society and how they live their life, is an amazing gift.  We all have the potential to be a catalyst and I believe that if you can look back on your life and see the positive catalysts that you’ve left behind- be it upon a large population that benefited from your giving or in individual lives that you’ve touched, through actions and words- than you’ve had a life well led.

So when I contemplate the bylines and awards that have yet to be written on my CV, I look to the stories I’ve gathered and shared over the years and I smile.  I look to the family and friends I am touched by and my heart is warmed.  I look to the catalysts I’ve created with those that I’ve interacted with and I think, if I were to face my mortality tomorrow, I’ve had a life well led.

And when I look at the heart-breaking images from Haiti, I wonder, what were the details of that person lying under the white sheet.  What were the catalysts that person left behind?  And what details will never be?

What are your details?  What moments and stories distinguish you from the person next to you?  If you were to leave this world tomorrow, what would people say about your life?

Living Outside the Box~ My favorite unconventional lifestyle Gurus

“You’ll Never Need to Retire?!”

My father told me this when I was 21 and its one of the best quotes to live by, in my world.  Why should we wait until our most capable and youthful years are behind us to retire and enjoy our lives?  Shouldn’t we strive to enjoy everyday, no matter what age we are, as if we were ‘retired?’  Shouldn’t our professions reflect this desire to live a meaningful life- even in work?

I know this goes against the ‘conventional’ perspectives instilled by the previous generations into their children.  Get an education, get a job, get a 401K, get a mortgage and squirrel away all your money for the likely event that you’ll still be working for the same company at age 55, you’re 401K will still be solid by 60 and you’ll be able to spend the remaining years of your life waiting for the weekly bingo game and the early bird special at your favorite buffet.  Really?  As young 20/30/40 somethings, should we not strive to make everyday as fabulous as it can be and exactly what we want it to be?  And hasn’t the ‘Great Recession’ shown us that none of those conventions of previous generations are a certainty in a world of globalization and corporate capitalism?

Yes, I know, there is a valid place for savings accounts, stability, home ownership, and making a living.  I’m not arguing against this, I’m just making a point that we should strive to merge our likes and our interests with our trades and professions, so that we aren’t spending everyday in a meaningless vortex anxiously awaiting our weekends and longing for the gold watch in 30 years and a some free time.

Change

Change

Below are a few of my favorite unconventional gurus and a few books and blogs that reflect the movement towards a life well lived.

1. Thoreau-  No need to point out the obvious here, but devoting some time to Thoreau’s readings make the case for escaping the rat race and entering a symbiotic existence with nature and things as they are.   Grab a coffee, a copy of Walden http://thoreau.eserver.org/walden00.html  and pontificate the merits of a simple life.

2. Kerouac
-  Again, not to be dwelling on the obvious, but really, who writes it better than Jack http://www.npr.org/programs/morning/features/patc/ontheroad/ .  Venture past on the road and into Dharma Bums and Big Sur.  Its worth it.  And if you haven’t read On the Road yet, seriously, get the coffeepot out again and get to work.

3.  Steinbeck
- Um, hi, Travels with Charlie http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Travels_with_Charley?  Who can resist a travel camper, a man and his best four-legged friend on the wide open road?

4.  Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer- These characters may explain, in part, my case of  adult-onset wanderlust.  By far my favorite book as a child and I recall wanting to be Huck Finn each year at Halloween as a child.  Go figure.

The Motto at the One Cup coffeeshop in Eugene, OR.

The Motto at the One Cup coffeeshop in Eugene, OR.

A little modern unconventionalism on the web.

There is a growing movement for ‘lifestyle design’ or location independent living on the internet.  The evolution of the Web, coupled with the realization that life is fleeting and to spend a majority of it in a cubicle is a sin, has given a breeding ground for this movement.  A few of my favorites include:

Tim Ferris and the 4 Hour Work Week .  Seriously.  Just read it.  Bypass the cheesy title and don’t expect to work only 4 hours a week- you’ll drive yourself and everyone around you absolutely insane.  Read it and embrace the concept of ‘mini-retirement.’  Implement the automation aspects to your daily life and embrace the ‘Muses’ section.  The blog and book may spawn ideas you never knew you possessed, you may wake up one morning with more free time to spend with your family and loved ones, you may find that you have totally automated your income and can be the philanthropist you’ve always dreamed of or you may just chuck everything in storage and find yourself executing a life on the road- free from the normal constraints of rent, paychecks and staff meetings.  Again, Seriously.  Read it.  Enough said.

The Art of Non-Conformity This blog takes the lifestyle design concepts and puts them into action.  The author, Chris Guillebeau shows that not everyone leads a conventional life and you aren’t the only black-sheep wanderer in the world.  The Manifesto is free and interesting and may spawn your creativity in ways you hadn’t anticipated.  I’ve purchased one of his E-Books, about art and commerce, and its been a good resource as well.

Eat. Pray. Love. I avoided reading this for some time because it seemed rather cliche, but once I started reading, I couldn’t stop.  Loved it, loved the concept and props to the author for putting herself out there and just doing it.  Again, seriously.  Read it.

Zen Habits , Vagabonding, Matador and the Frugal Traveler .  Excellent blogs and each one has a different theme revolving around travel.  Each one has threads and links that will lead you to people living an unconventional life.  I enjoy reading each of these blogs and try to scan them weekly for some relevant content or to find a new person living a different life.

20091219_SEATTLE2_0006

A few musicians in Seattle working a different way.

There are so many more, I realize I’m doing a massive injustice to the remaining unconventional life-stylers out there.  Please feel free to post your favorites in the comments section below. I’d love to hear of more fabulous living and expand my horizons.