Why I Travel

I travel to feel.

To feel the pulse of a community. To feel the exhilaration of uncertainty. To feel the gentle kiss of loneliness and the bittersweet caress of goodbyes.

 (Crystal Street)

I travel to taste.

To taste the joy of a chance meeting. To taste the beauty of local cuisine. To taste the sweetness of serendipity.

www.crystalstreet.net (Crystal Street)

I travel to explore.

To explore my boundless mind. To explore the fears I cling to as a lifeboat in an ocean of uncertainty and a world I don’t understand. To explore the tiny fibers of humanity that bind the least among us to the fiercest.

 (Crystal Street)

I travel to love.

To love the life I choose not to “vacate” but to experience. To love the person I evolve into with each journey. To love the ones who wait for my return.

www.crystalstreet.net (Crystal Street)

I travel to learn.

To learn the sorrow of war. To learn the ecstasy of triumph. To learn the value of truly living.

 (Crystal Street)

I travel to see.

To see things beyond my comprehension. To see innocence in the eyes of a child living under occupation. To see wisdom etched on the faces of my elders.

www.crystalstreet.net (Crystal Street)

I travel to be.

To be an engaged and enlightened citizen. To be a better human. To be true to my soul.

 (Crystal Street)

I travel to be in this world.

Thanks for traveling so many miles with me, dear reader!

The Wolves Kissing Your Cheeks

Today was one of those lovely days where I had big thoughts on my mind- big, life altering thoughts. The type of meandering of the mind where I was contemplating all that I am, all that I’ve created.

I wrote a letter to my private email peeps on the TinyLetter, stating why I had been silent for so many weeks and contemplating the type of words that might best fit their needs and the next step in my journey as a nomad.

I left my RV, stepped out into the desert sun and went for a long walk. Across town- and really, I use the word “Town” loosely- there’s a lovely lady with a small bus converted to an espresso producing thing of beauty and I had a craving for that bitter liquid gold. And she truly knows her shit! Finding espresso in this one-horse town that doesn’t come from a packet- or McDonald’s- is not a common occurrence.

 (Crystal Street)

Donna & the Espresso Bus

I let all the thoughts that I’d just put in my letter run through my brain a I walked through the desert wash that runs under I-10 and ends up at the big swap meet in town. I tried to find the people I encountered on this walk charming. I didn’t find them charming- I found them old, white, very large and consuming mad amounts of cheap shit made in China and shoving deep fried snickers wrapped in bacon into their grills. I tried to remain open- truly, I did- yet the specter of judgement and anger started to creep in.

Seriously, chocolate covered bacon and deep fried Snickers live here.

Why do all these people need to consume all this cheap crap? Why does this town even have giant swap meets that sell all this garbage? When did this town go from selling and trading real gemstones and minerals, filled with miners and prospectors, to buying and selling plastic back-scratchers, twirling iridescent yard art and fried Twinkies?

Why, people, why?

 (Crystal Street)

I made it to my espresso oasis and the owner greeted me with her warm smile and invited me into her bus. I then struck up a conversation with a photographer- or ex photographer. He was a paparazzi photographer and photojournalist from the 80s/90s and made alot of money doing so.

“I drove a Lexus. The women, the people, they all looked at me different, because of my car!” Or his exclamation went something like that. He was blown away at the life he used to live, a life filled with Los Angeles’ wild times and high-end luxuries. He had the Beverly Hills home, he had the girlfriend and he rubbed elbows with the stars.

And then he left it all. All of it.

He hopped on a bicycle and headed for a cross-country journey to NYC. He had plans to start a studio out there, continue his work and branch out after a few months of reflection and soul searching. Instead, he ended up taking a drastic left turn in Washington state, literally, and hopped a ferry to Alaska- or something like that.

He then went on to describe his wilderness experiences. He lived off the land, went from riches to nothing, and one day found himself woken up by wolves.

That’s right- wolves.

“I had wolves licking my face and my sleeping bag. And I was too tired to do anything about it. Wolves!” Now, I’m assuming there might have been embellishment in his story a little, but still, his come to Jesus moment involved wolves in Alaska.

That’s kinda cool.

And we talked for quite awhile about living a simple lifestyle. He spoke so warmly about his life now, his bicycling and his big old Buick. He lived in RVs, camped, lived off the land, gardening, whatever he felt like. He had the luxury of time and he walked away from a life in Beverly Hills to do it.

We warmly spoke of living in Airstreams, yurts, campers, tents, tipis and both knew about the adventures of Dick Proenneke. He understood my desire to live in an RV better than I did.

This truly spun my wheels for the rest of the day. Even if the wolf thing was an exaggeration, it’s still an interesting visual. He knew something wasn’t right with his life. He knew that the shiny car he drove and the perception of the people who saw him in the car didn’t belong to him. This did not fit. It wasn’t his true self. Now, even with the struggles and trials that a life off the radar- off the grid- can provide, he had peace. He had laughter. And he was happy.

I contemplated this as I walked back to my RV- aka The Writer’s Cave- and truly put somethings of my own life into a better perspective. While I’ve never had the Beverly Hills lifestyle or salary from my work to reflect that level of external validation- I’ve never needed to escape into the wilderness and have wolves like my cheeks to wake me up to an authentic existence.

I know, shocking revelation for a person who, I’d like to think, has a rather high level of self-awareness.

I began to revisit my Airstream Daydreams this evening. In fact, while walking back from my lovely barista, I saw a tiny canned ham trailer for sale. I stuck my head in and glanced at the set up. Now, it’s about one step above living like a nun, but it was cute and had the essentials. It started spinning my wheels even faster.

Maybe I could live in an Airstream, and live off the land and not be considered the next Ted Kazinsky.

Maybe I can have a vegetable garden and live on the cheap and not have to adhere to the standard urban lifestyle- farm removed from my food and its source.

Maybe I can create a bubble to live within that protects me from the suburban lifestyle I’ve spent my adult life avoiding and still not isolate myself from community and people. I do like people- most of the time- even if I am silently cursing them for not seeing how their actions are enforcing the ills of our society.

Maybe I can live on my own terms, in my own manner. Well, duh, of course I can.

For those of you who have never lived out West or spent more than the occasional week vacation out there- the difference is strong and it’s distinct. And the East Coast has a very different mentality, one that puts me on edge and shocks my energy in ways that takes me days- or weeks to recover.

Like geography.

So, anyway, my point being here, do we really need the wolves to kiss our cheeks in order to open our eyes to the life we’re living and how far removed it may be from our true selves? Can we not incorporate a life that reflects our real desires- not the need to fit in to other people’s myths or society’s narratives?

And can I maybe stop trying to fit into the narratives that exist and just be my fine, freaky self if I so desire? Do I need to wait for the wolves to knock on my door before I just accept that I find RVs more charming than homes with foundations? Do I need to have the external validation of others to feel like my desire to figure out how to live totally off-grid is more than a fad or an attempt in rebellion- or total insanity?

Can I finally make peace with the fact that I simply do not have the desire to make a million dollars with my photography and play the game that I know I’m totally capable of- and sometimes get excited about- but know that the things I’ll have to sacrifice to reach that scale are too sacred to leave exposed and unprotected while undertaking such an endeavor?

Maybe my chance meeting with the former photographer was more than coincidence. Maybe he was my message and his story was validation from the Universe that I’m doing just fine.

And no, there will not be wolves kissing my cheeks anytime soon.

Functioning Within the Cycle of Perpetual Change

How often in our modern society do we embrace the opportunities of change?

A street performer in Riva Del Garda, Italy makes his way towards his "office".

How often do we stand at the edge of a fire, embrace the heat and then leap through the flames to find the results of that change we are so desperately seeking? For some of us, this leap of complete faith in the potential outcome is a welcome yet uncomfortable occurrence. We recognize that the intensity of the discomfort now is a direct result of the potential of what lies on the other side.

Yet, this is not always the case. Most people fear change with an intensity that is manifested in the current state of our society. We’ve become so complacent and expectant of the amenities and social institutions that we are all engrained within, that the very thought of any upheaval to the expected routine brings about a desperate fear that has no remedy- besides maintaining the status quo.

We see this in our antiquated educational systems, designed for an era long before technology became mobile and knowledge instantly accessible. We see the fear of change in our political institutions to such a perverse degree that we’ll actually vote for the very person who would wish us dead or render us in utter poverty rather than elect a person who might bring about actual, tangible change- not merely use it as a slogan of propaganda. We see it in the demise of our very economic structures and our inability to force change to occur at all levels of the systems we’ve become enslaved to.

And we see it on the faces of the people we pass on the street everyday. This quiet desperation of the souls who need to change the patterns of their life, but do not have the knowledge or the will to do so. The status quo is much easier to maintain.

And we see the fear of change in our own eyes.

Even if we are an agent of change, we still feel the sharp sting of the unknown. We are blessed with the ability to recognize the source of our fear, and if we’re truly lucky, we’re able to act upon it.

If we lose the ability to change, as a collective whole and as enlightened individuals, we will never evolve into the people we are meant to become.

Our society will never fully embrace all of its potential. In our misery at maintaining the lives we’ve created and the societies we’ve built, we will act out upon one another with anger, resentment and fear. We will continue the paths of destruction that bring us a perverse sense of comfort.

We will continue to destroy the things we love most and the people we cherish through our inability and unwillingness to do the difficult work of changing the paths we are walking down.

Books for sale on the streets of Paris.

If we fail to enact change, we will continue to justify the deaths of others as benefiting the greater good. We will continue to look away as parents abuse their children, as people starve in the streets and children grow into adulthood having never seen what love actually looks like.

We will close our eyes as the world which was handed to us shrivels and dies a tragic death.

For to truly evolve, we must function within the cycle of perpetual change- individually and as a collective. We must have the ability to question our premises, understand the sources of our prejudices and judgements and look beyond the truths we thought were absolute and see what lies beneath.

We must have the strength and the wisdom to dissect the institutions we live within and the relationships we’ve cultivated and truly decide their value and whether or not they play any role in nourishing the person we’ve become.

If we are to evolve and embrace all the potential that lies before us, we must open our eyes to our reality and change it. Now. We must embrace change with all the respect and joy it deserves and step towards the vision of what lies beyond that radical change.

A Smartphone and My Happy Place

I discovered a key to my creative happy place- a place I haven’t seen in some time- or at least not in this capacity. This happy place can live in my pocket and can translate my vision- with the touch of a single button. The key to my happy place? A smartphone.

I purchased this savvy device at the beginning of my recent photo assignment in Europe and downloaded an app that replicates the Holga film camera. I had a vision for part of my assignment and the Holga had to be a part of the total body of work.

 (Crystal Street)

Dinner should always have such ambiance. Riva Del Garda, Italy

Several years ago, while taking a logic class at UNC, I began to see things in squares. I know this sounds insane, but while learning to understand logic- my creative mind was trying to learn to see in medium format. Let me give that statement some context.

I see in rectangles. I see in black and white. I see light and I see shadows.

My world has been immersed in 35 mm photography for so long, that I see everything as a potential composition- even if my camera is no where to be found. That’s my world. That’s how my mind works.

And has been working for over 20 years.

Strolling through Riva Del Guarda.

When I shifted into digital almost a decade ago, I lost a part of the joy of my passion. Things became technical. They became complicated and they began to be measured in pixels. And unfortunately, the cameras I enjoyed, the instruments that truly sang to me, were film cameras.

Last year I took a step towards satisfying my passionate needs with an amazing professional digital camera, which has one major drawback. She is a massive beast of a tool. She’s amazing and when I lift her to my eye and interpret the world through her lens, I find joy, peace and flow.

But her size and weight prohibits me from truly engaging in the creative outlet that makes my heart sing- street photography. Simply documenting the tiny slices of humanity that I encounter when I wander through the world. My professional companion is amazing for commercial work and outstanding for intense photojournalism or documentary projects, but when the time comes for me to embrace my inner Henri-Cartier Bresson, the sheer magnitude of her power inhibits my art.

An afternoon in the park in Annecy, France.

After the summer when I began to see squares, I purchased a Holga, the lovely 20 dollar toy camera that shoots medium format film. I lugged her to Palestine, Jordan and Indonesia. And fell in love with the odd, dreamy, mystery square that I created with her.

A Holga is truly a piece of masterful shit- really. She leaks light, has only one exposure setting, focusing is more of an abstract concept rather than a precise technical skill and you get 12 shots a roll and that’s it. I actually close her shut with electrical tape, so changing a roll takes at least 5 minutes. And you never know what you’re getting- which is part of her charm.

But now, technology and my passionate needs have collided in the most unlikely of places. An unlocked, Italian Droid smartphone with a Holga app. Go fucking figure.

For the past five weeks, while shooting a documentary assignment in Italy and France, I have kept that damn phone in my hand the entire time- even while shooting with my lovely professional beast. I must look like I’ve lost my mind- standing next to the Notre Dame in Paris, a $5000 camera draped over one shoulder while obsessively shooting with a $200 smartphone. I feel like I’m cheating on my lovely pro companion, but I just can not help myself.

I am the proverbial kid in the candy store.

Standing outside the Pantheon in Rome.

Yes, its a smartphone, and yes, its a computer app. But this new tool pushes me to translate the world the way I truly see it- and try to capture the vision in tiny slices of time.

The smartphone allows me to strip away the complications and get back to the basics of composition. I can simply look for light and wait for my subject to step into that light. I see a visual metaphor unfolding before me and simply wait until the right moment to capture it.

I can simply sit and watch. I understand how this computer application in my phone reads light and I compose my images around these methods of interpretation.

I can return to simply reading pockets of light, long shadows and contrasting objects of black and white.

I can return to the core of my art. Composition. Joy. Flow.

A Week of Eclectic Roommates & Curious Juxtapositions

A week at the Eugene Whiteaker Hostel in Eugene, Oregon.

The Eugene Whiteaker Hostel in Eugene, O.R. acts as both a community gathering spot for residents within the eclectic Whiteaker neighborhood, but also for the people passing through on the way to their next destination.

Mac Hines, proprietor of the Eugene Whiteakter Hostel, and his trusty friend, Oso, sit on the front porch and watch the neighbors heading down the sidewalk.

Mac chats with one of the workers at hostel about some maintenance tasks that need to be addressed from the office of the hostel.

Guests at the hostel gear up for the day ahead of them. Nick works on uploading his pictures from a cross-country journey by bike to raise money for victims of domestic violence. Another guest packs his gear and a thirty-day supply of food into a backpack for the second leg of his journey into the Oregon wilderness.

The hostel is filled with items of artistic expression and character.

Nick the cyclists takes a moment to absorb Nick the mandolin player as he settles his bikes for a night's stay at the hostel.

A few guests and workers at the hostel enjoy a rare sunny afternoon in Eugene. Many of the workers are students who compensate the cost of living in Eugene by working at the hostel.

Oso checks out the camera.

Nick practices his mandolin in the backyard of the Whiteaker hostel. Molly, his mandolin, is one of his prized possessions and does not travel far from his sight. Nick does not believe in interaction with computers and spends a great deal of time embracing a nomadic musician's lifestyle.

Maurie and I share a few moments on the front porch talking about his visit with his daughter, a student at the University of Oregon located in Eugene. One advantage to the hostel lifestyle is the diversity of the guests and the ability to touch on a wide range of topics through in-depth conversations during the day.

The Annex, an addition to the Whiteaker Hostel, has a beautiful herb garden adorned with words of encouragement and hope.

Every Sunday, the Whiteaker Hostel hosts a potluck supper for the community and guests to break bread, share conversations and create music- or whatever the mood dictates.

Bluegrass musicians gather for a little potluck dinner at the Whiteaker and talk about their passion.

One beautiful aspect of hostels is the convergence of artists- and free, live music during dinner!

Oso looks on as guests and workers clean up after an evening dinner at the Whiteaker.

Evening falls at the Eugene Whiteaker Hostel in Eugene, O.R.