Grounding Myself During Perpetual Motion

After many months of plotting and daydreaming, I’ve finally stumbled into the reality that I set in motion so long ago. I am now a perpetual nomad. I now carry my world with me and wherever I am staying for the night is home.

The prospect makes me giggle when I’m alone at night, typing away at my computer. The reality of it makes me step back and wonder how I got here.

My home for a week in Eugene, O.R. Biker Nick just arrived from a long day trek through Oregon on his way towards Virginia, raising money for victims of domestic violence. Bluegrass Nick is a fixture at the hostel, keeping the faint melodies of his beautiful mandolin Molly lingering in the air and looking for the pinnacle pair of wingtips to complete his fashion statement.

And sometimes, the gravity of it sends me into cold sweats. Seriously, I have no home. My comforting stack of books isn’t resting by my bedside. My favorite kitchen knife is 2000 miles away and my furry little friend is now relaxing at the beach with her Grandmother.

How does one find comfort when the items of familiarity are gone? When every face is a new relationship, when every glance and “good morning” comes from a virtual stranger?

How do you ground yourself in a place you’ve never been before? How do you keep your sanity when you’re life has truly entered the perpetual present moment stage?

Only one factor makes this possible- KNOW THYSELF.

Seems trivial or obvious- but such a lifestyle- or unconventional travel in general- requires an intense knowledge of self. Beyond what is necessary in everyday life.

Everyday life brings about the comforts that keep us grounded- the nests we build in our homes, the faces we see at the office, the bus driver that greets us every morning and the barista who knows the particular way we take our morning latte.

When you step away from those elements of the familiar, you are left with yourself, your doubts and your strengths. And a battle will wage- fast and furious. Checking your bank account balance takes on a whole new meaning when you have to pay for the next 5 nights of lodging and your client’s invoice is past due. Staying in a hostel with strangers of a transient, and somewhat questionable disposition, takes a degree of awareness not normally tapped into on a regular basis. Finding a sense of community- any community- becomes a vital element to maintaining your sanity.

When I enter a new place for a temporary stay, I seek out the Third Place almost instantly. I stumbled upon the concept of the Third Place when one of my mentors handed me a copy of “The Great Good Place” which studied the community gathering spots throughout the world. The first place is home, the second place is work and the Third Place is where you find your community and where they gather. I grew up watching episodes of Cheers with my father and spent many years as a bartender- so the Third Place has been a part of my life for many decades.

And now The Third Place is my familiar- wherever I may find it.

After my first good nights sleep in a new location, I ask the person manning the front desk of my temporary home where the nearest coffee shop is and I hit the streets. I look for indications of community, bulletin boards, restaurants with vibrant porches, parks, pubs, local markets and grocery stores.

But my mother-ship is the Third Place. And my most comfortable Third Place is the vibrant coffee shop. The sights, the sounds, the smells- these all indicate a strong community that is grounded in the sharing of a beverage and conversation.

The Wandering Goat is one of my Third Places during my time in Eugene. This coffee shop is a staple in the Whiteaker neighborhood and remains hidden in the industrial areas of this eclectic community.

I am merely an outsider in their world, but in this environment I find my comfort zone. I can breathe. I can relax. And the stress of travel and the unknown aspects of tomorrow no longer matter in this moment. I have found my familiar- not the place, but the actual human interaction that happens within the place.

No matter where I am in the world, no matter the language, no matter the chaos and the conflict outside the walls of the Third Place- the humanity that unfolds within the walls of this safe haven reminds of my place in the world. The Third Place reminds me that everyone, everywhere is simply living their life in a manner that suits them- in a way that brings them some joy. In this space, community thrives- laughter, conversation, debate and dreams grow and move into the world.

Friends gather on the street corner in front of a Third Place in the Hawthorne neighborhood of Portland, O.R. Such places are my favorite, for their big picture windows allow me to sit and watch the community gather at their Third Place.

And for someone with no actual home, who may or may not be in the same town tomorrow- the fact that the Third Place exists wherever humanity has the ability to gather, congregate and connect- means I will always find something that grounds me. No matter where I roam, the Third Place will give me comfort, will become my familiar and will allow me to do great work within the world.

The Third Place gives me hope and reminds me of the beauty of humanity, no matter the chaos beyond.

Sometimes I'm lucky enough to have a furry friend as keeper at a hostel. Oso, partial "owner" of the Whiteaker Hostel, stakes his claim in the theater room every morning while the other owner of the hostel tends to the days tasks and keeps his ship running. The Whiteaker is actually a Third Place as well, which is what drew me to return here on a whim. After an overwhelming- yet life-altering- conference of World Domination, I knew I needed to ground myself again and I needed familiar places. I had stayed here two years ago, at the start of my first Walkabout and the launch of this blog. I knew the time had come to return.

The Traveler

Walking through Hebron.

The Traveler hears another conversation.

She sits with a smile on her face as she listens to the daily chit-chat on a bus. She knows this chatter is not hers to judge or to engage in. For her world is not filled with trips to car dealerships, office politics and weekends on the pontoon boat. Her world is filled with boarding passes, security checks and bus itineraries.

The Traveler turns heads.

He sits on a street corner or a park bench, propped up by his backpack.

Resting. Lounging. Plotting. Watching.

People turn to watch him as they drive by on their way to the office. He’s different. He doesn’t belong. His backpack indicates another path in life. He’s not weaving through traffic and inhaling a McMuffin as he frantically plows towards another day just like yesterday.

The traveler sees people watching him. He understands these people are gazing at him and thinking of another time in their own life. People are instantly thrown to a time in their lives when a choice was made. The traveler reminds them of the adventure they’ve been postponing, the dream they’ve delayed and he reminds them of the person they could still become. And sometimes, he reminds them fondly of a time when they were the traveler.

The traveler sees this recognition on the people who pass him by. And he quietly acknowledges this fleeting engagement with a smile of peace- a gesture of understanding.

A smile of simple kindness.

The Traveler lives in the moment.

The traveler is here. She’s present. She’s living in the moment- at its truest sense. She answers the question, “Where do you live?” with this simple reply- “here.”

For the traveler truly does live right here. Right in that moment. Her world is on her back- literally. Wherever she stops is just where she will be. And the next stop, well, hopefully it takes her one step closer to her destination. For that day- or for her life.

The traveler enters an authentic state of being that the non-traveler cannot comprehend. The traveler still has concerns; she also bears the burden of worry. But the act of perpetual movement and complete presence puts her worries into perspective. A perspective not shared by the sedentary soul.

Her worries revolve around her arrival- and her next departure. Does she have a place to sleep tonight- that meets her comfort zone? Will the bus she’s currently riding on take her to the proper destination- and if not- is she prepared to shift gears on the fly? Will her computer last through this next trip- or better yet, will her back? Can she afford a taxi to help her arrive at her resting spot tonight- or will she have to lug her heavy baggage through a city in 100 degree heat?

Will her friends and family understand that her perpetual wandering and desire to commit to no schedule are the things that bring her comfort- elements of her life that bring her joy? Will others understand that this sense of constant motion places her closer to her Flow- allows her to touch the edge of all that is possible- all that is beautiful- and sets her within her true essence of creative being that no other action can provoke? Will she find the person who understands this and chooses to travel through the journey beside her- as an equal- and with as much intensity and passion for the unknown as she harbors?

Will her perpetual travel leave her alone and without the ability to ever enter a “normal” state of living again? Or will her travel show her the pure joy and beauty of a chaotic world- and cause her to willfully celebrate a life of un-convention?

The Traveler has Freedom.

Above all else, the traveler holds his freedom as the essential element of his existence. He holds that freedom close, tightly embracing the ability to go- to leave- at a moment’s notice. Not because he has to leave or because the present makes him unable or unwilling to bear the moment. No, the traveler leaves because he must-it is his calling.

The traveler knows that destinations await him- filled with the smells and sounds of the raw essence of humanity. He knows that somewhere a street vendor is preparing a meal that will shift his definition of ecstasy. The traveler knows that somewhere a dingy, decrepit bus waits to hurtle him deep within a Himalayan village and allow him to glimpse into the distant, dying culture of a people who are invisible and fading amongst the mechanisms of modernity.

The traveler knows that somewhere, someone- in a place he has yet to visit- has a story to share with him. A story that reaches beyond language and cultural disparities- a story that will change his perceptions of the world he walks within.

The traveler protects this freedom at all costs- for he has sat with people whose countries deny them a passport and remove the ability to leave. The traveler knows the value of freedom- for he has walked among those who have none.

The Traveler knows peace.

The traveler understands peace in a way that few politicians or statesmen can comprehend. She has sat amongst a war-torn community who live the ramifications of our military industrial complex every single day. She has listened to the heart-wrenching story of a woman widowed by a callous soldier. The traveler has stood at the Wall between two peoples fighting for the same land. She has walked in the shoes of the displaced. The traveler has broken bread with the rebel soldiers fighting for the opportunity to merely taste what she holds above all else- freedom, self-determination and choice. She has felt the sting of racism, felt the fear of dictatorship, smelled the pain of tear gas.

The traveler has visited places others dared not go- for she must know what a place smells like and she must stand among the people her government has programmed her countrymen to fear and to hate.

The traveler knows there are two sides to every “truth” and “absolute” that her government uses to control a complacent population. For the traveler knows that every person in a distant land and an unknown culture is someone’s lover, someone’s mother or someone’s father.

The traveler sees humanity for what it is and what it could become- because she has chosen to walk within humanity and not hide from it. She stands within the chaos of humanity because someone must bear witness and someone must tell others what they cannot see for themselves.

The traveler embraces the entire world- because that is where she lives.

Can Hope Maintain Peace?

This essay was written while conducting a documentary project on the Tibetan Exile community in India, funded by grants from UNC. I was studying photojournalism as well as Peace, War and Defense at the time and this essay reflects many of the questions I based my projects upon- and am still seeking answers to. While the topic is specific to the Tibetan population and their struggles over the past 60 years, the overall themes of pacifism, modern war-fare, modernity and cultural preservation apply to many of the issues we currently face as a society. A point, which in light of recent world events, I think we should all revisit and truly ponder as a collective.

A Tibetan monk takes a minute to watch the action on the streets of McLeod Ganj. Image by me, 2006.

Is it possible for the Tibetan people to initiate and maintain the last peaceful struggle to achieve autonomy?  And if such a goal is unattainable through non-violence, then is peace throughout the rest of the world merely an unattainable objective?  Is mankind, as a whole, unable to accept the spiritual implications and requirements of non-violence?

Can man simply not accept that peace is achievable through diplomacy and that profiting off of the deaths of others is not a viable solution to the evolution of mankind?  Or does war and peace truly boil down to the pursuit of commodities and natural resources coupled with the profiting from military mobilization?  Is war hidden behind the shroud of freedom and democracy for everyone whilst the true motivation for invasion is the commandeering of monetary gain and positions of power?

Historically, states have not bothered to hide the fact that they were invading to commandeer the resources of another.  Imperialism.  Today, states invade the sovereignty of another in order to retain the natural commodities desired by the aggressor and the intention is hidden beneath liberation and protection from dictatorships and autocratic regimes.  This is acceptable to the general public. One can easily digest the notion of spreading the desirable conditions of human existence- opportunity, freedom, and the pursuit of further inalienable rights- but the travesty lies in the easy acceptance of veiled truths. Such truths are, at times, hidden by various avenues of media; a deceit that kills innocents and destroys the cultural strands woven over centuries of time.

Children at the Tibetan Children's Village take a break for snacks. These children are orphans, some with families left behind in China. The Tibetan Exile government provides a familial and educational environment from these children as they are separated, sometimes permanently, from their families left behind in China. Photo by me, 2006.

Are we unable see the tragedy that our own consumption and desires for material wealth bring to other societies?
Or is that consumption merely the end product, or means of modernization and can that consumption help build poorer nations into a status of development that becomes self-sustaining?  If that is the case, then are we as a society ready to embrace and accept the means of modernization and development by the spreading of consumption of cheap material goods?  And when this type of “sustenance” reaches a capacity breaking point (for truly, there is only so much physical space in this earth for cheap Chinese goods) and when the resources needed for such production come at the cost of human lives and cultural heritages- as in the case of the Chinese using Tibetan natural resources to create cheap material exports- will society accept that violence and war will be used to attain the power and control over such resources for this eventual material outcome?

A young Tibetan teaches western tourists how to cook traditional Tibetan meals in McLeod Ganj, India. Image by me, 2006

Do alternatives exist to this type of modernization and if so, what are they?  How do we spread a sustainability option not reliant upon such cycles of production and consumption?  And how do we call the international community to embrace and implement such alternative means of sustainability in the world economy, particularly when the governments pursuing the a fore mentioned opportunities of obtaining natural resources sit on the very councils of the international body that determines the justifications and conditions under which conflict and war may be waged?

A Tibetan monk spins his prayer wheel during an interview at a Tibetan Refugee Reception Center. Tibetans who flee China on foot eventually make their way to this final reception center before they assimilate into the local community.

When does non-violence become as detrimental to a society as violence?  Is the slow deterioration of a population who’ve existed for thousands of years an acceptable by-product of pacifism or would the direct and indirect harm to non-combatants in a violent conflict situation be an acceptable outcome of a people’s struggle to regain freedom?  If so, what constitutes the boundaries of acceptable collateral damage—and can cultural identity and heritage be considered under the definition of collateral damage, or does that merely apply to human lives and the ability to pursue the basic rights of life, such as breathing, shelter and eating?

Is cultural identity quantified in the definitions that justify violent action and the situations for which war may be pursued?  Or is it merely a secondary element to the harming of non-combatants?  Yet, what if that cultural identity is the element which defines the non-combatant, that keeps the population of civilians alive, or is that merely overstating the relevance of cultural identity to a population of people, particularly in the era of modernization and globalization?

Is it better to whither slowly or expedite the demise in attempting to save what might no longer exists?

The comments are open on this one- let the debate begin!

His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. I had a press pass to photograph this event and mangaged to create not a single decent image. Epic photo failure!

A Tibetan protest on the streets of McLeod Ganj, India.

Images of Tibetan prisoners in China. We interviewed several recent refugees from China and their stories of brutallity were heart-breaking and gruesome.

More images from the protest.

This image hangs as a reminder of the sacrifice and means of protest of individual Tibetans in the office of the Reception Center.

Damn, the West is Beautiful!

Why has this blog been so quiet lately, you ask?

Well, I’ve stumbled onto a little writer’s blog. It happens, what can I say. Due, in part, to my abrupt change in location in November. Disruption- while I am a fan of change- can take a toll on the creative muses that live in my brain and help me create my work. So can the constant changing of living situations.

But more on that later.

I’ve decided to just show you what I’ve been up to rather then tell you. A change in direction, I know, but at least it’s visually stimulating.

What can I say, this is where I live. Or about 40 minutes down the road from where I live. Hard to leave such an amazing place, I admit it.

Yet, this is where I was heading. So, who can argue with this beauty as well. The deserts of Arizona are not a bad trade-off to the peaks of the Rockies. Assuming one had to choose.

And yes, I must include Little Red and the Happy Hound Dog in as many photos as possible, especially when the backdrop is so damn gorgeous. Makes Little Red look like quite the bad ass!

Driving down through the Rockies, close to Salida on route 285. I have to admit, I felt a profound sadness when I reached the last town on the Colorado/New Mexico border and my Rockies were far off in the distance. It’s possible that this nomad has truly found her home. Yea, I’m the kind of person who has to leave what they have in order to know that want it. Tortured, eh?

After a long day of driving and an extensive hike, Ladybug commandeered her new friend Waylon’s very large doggie bed. Quite the gentleman, he allowed her to be the queen of the doggie bed before we headed on down the road to southern Arizona.

“Uh, I’m not quite sure what those needles and prickly things are, but they keep getting stuck in my paws. And didn’t I see a sign for rattlesnakes and scorpions over there? You really think this is better than that nice fluffy white stuff we just left, mom?” Yea, if my dog had a thought bubble, that’s what it would say. But at least that’s Sedona in the background and she got some good Vortex Vibes while she took care of her roadside business- or I like to think she did.

Yea, that’s beautiful. Enough said.

“I like to watch all those clouds go by. I don’t think we’re in blizzard country anymore, my hair is flying off at an alarming rate. I can smell rabbits out there, I wonder if I can have some for dinner. Look mom, no more gas, damn my furry little ass was a little stinky at 10,500 feet. Think they’ll have hiking trails and howling wolves in our new location?” More Ladybug thought bubbles. She likes to ride with her nose resting on the window sill. Little does she know she’s about to land in the warm desert to live in an RV park with some old timers for a few months. I think they’ll like her, she’s likes to lay around and listen to stories- which is a prerequisite for living in the park.

I think Arizona may have the best rest stops in the country.

And what photo essay of a westward drive would be complete without the sunset?

Amost there...just a few more mountains and some cacti.

Time Travel Tuesday, on a Saturday~ Home

Originally published in 2007 after returning from my project in Palestine.

“I’m already going to hell, so it don’t matter anyway!” yelled my shuttle driver as he argued with a man who was blocking his parking space.

Al Aqsa Mosque, taken with my $20 plastic Holga camera.

God bless America.

The sights and sounds of Times Square filled my senses and reminded me that I’m home. Colorful billboards cluttered the sky, horns blared in rush hour traffic, advertisement for adult theaters and the smell of hot dog venders overwhelmed me as I realized there’s nothing quite like America.
The sounds of my driver and his nemesis engaged in the art of road rage, physically standing outside their vehicles yelling at one another was simply music to my ears. The driver glanced at me and I saw the look of confusion as he looked at the eagerness with which I watched this scene and the smile on my face. Anger at fellow drivers is universal, only I can not understand the comments when I’m with Arabic drivers.

We drove off and upon learning I was from the south, my van driver told me of his last visit to South Carolina.

“I didn’t want his money, only a little time.” The driver stated he just wanted a little acknowledgment of his existence from his father. A lifetime devoid of birthday cards and Christmas gifts was written on his face. “I guess he was just a sperm donor,” said the driver. “Here’s Penn Station.”

With six hours to burn until my train for North Carolina left the station, I set out into the neon saturated night to find some American cuisine. I stumbled onto a coffee shop and diner not far from the station and settled in for a meal and a little people watching.

“I need a minute,” yelled a tiny old woman occupying the booth behind me. “Waitress, I’m ready,” she shouted thirty seconds later, loud enough for everyone within a one mile radius to hear. She took a long time placing her order, with special menu requests and triple checking with the waitress to make sure she took down her order properly.

After her meal was finished, she asked the women at the table next to her what time it was, but they didn’t speak English.

“You don’t speak English?” she looked at the pair with despair and incomprehension. “Pity!” she claimed, shaking her head as she turned to me and asked for the time. I replied and she said, “Oh, that’s my father’s birthday. When’s your birthday? Mine’s in October.”

She muttered some more phrases to herself and shuffled out into the night wearing her pajamas and clutching her bag of food from the restaurant. She stood on the sidewalk, unsure of where to go, and shuffled back and forth for several minutes. She then walked out into the street and dodged the cars to cross to the other side.

Was she someone’s mother? Was someone waiting for her at home besides some fish or a house cat? Did she even have a home?

I returned to Penn Station to wait for the 3 am train to take me home. Most people would not consider an overnight stay in Penn Station to be desirable or even an option, but what better way to reenter your homeland than at its most raw and inhibited. Riding an Amtrak gives such an insight into so many aspects of American society and the variety of cultural differences; each station has a subculture, each train has a hierarchy of social status and functionality and each town that you travel through is so diverse. The view from the window shows you a tiny peak into other people’s lives; into their backyards, into their main streets and into their skid rows.

As a whole, Penn Station is quite safe with a strong police and National Guard presence and the seated area is regulated for ticket holders only, so sleeping on your bags is not an unsafe option. The only interesting times are when nature calls and you must venture into the dark realm of the public bathroom.

“Maybe she don’t have no family. Maybe no one wants her. I’m here now ‘cause I can’t get along with my family. But I won’t be here for long,” a young black woman dressed in a lace, see-through nightgown talks to the white woman cleaning the bathroom.

Another voice bellowed from the stall beside me. “I need toilet paper!” the anonymous voice screams. She then embarked on a tirade of garbled words in a language I’ve never heard before; some odd mixture of English, German and guttural noises.

As I exited the bathroom, I saw a group of young gangster teens playing games with a cop who pulled out his taser-stick device and began to run after the misbehaving youth. After boarding the train, I finally received a small gift from the travel gods, my own two seats with enough space to curl into a ball and get some real, horizontal sleep. Heaven

After arriving in Union Station for a three hour layover, I decided to take a stroll around the train station. I walked to the front of the building and see the Capital in the distance. I notice a protester holding a sign and passing out literature. ‘Its not Iraq, Bush let’s the CIA run the world!’

It is so nice to be home.

In front of Union Station, a large statue was erected in honor of Christopher Columbus. Though it never ceases to amaze me that in America we honor a man who committed such a mass and brutal genocide, I can not help but notice the irony that this particular statue is the temporary home to some of DC’s homeless people. A man stared at me with a vacant look and lit a cigarette and I see a multitude of people huddled under blankets strewn about on the statue.

Outside of the Holy Church of the Sepluchure, taken with the trusty Holga.

In that moment, the profound sadness I felt upon returning to America begins to take form. In the Middle East, the people take care of their families, no matter how crazy they may be, and people are not allowed to fall into the personal despair that exists in the US. I look at people now and see a deep embedded sadness that lies on the surface of most of the faces I see. This sadness is not mine personally, I am quite happy to be returning to my home and my life, but the sadness is deeper, embedded within the fabric of the society in which I live.

People rushing to jobs that fill their lives with stress and remove them from their families, people that are completely alone in the world and living on the streets, sleeping in train stations, on street corners and on cold marble benches out in the night. So many people engaged in so much pain.

Americans have the ultimate gift, the thing that every Palestinian and oppressed person in the world longs for– freedom. And what do we do with our freedom? Maybe that’s part of the sadness. So much of our freedom is wasted. And I wonder just how wealthy we are as a nation when we let our children starve in the streets and our fathers and mothers wander the bus stations alone. How free are we when a grown man comes to the realization that his estranged father is nothing more than a “sperm donor.”

In a place with so much oppression and pain, Palestine had a richness that is difficult to find in America. Their greatest wealth is their families and their proximity to and relationship with these family members. Palestinian families, Muslim families in general, are large and close and everyone lives in the same apartment complex or on the same street. They all help to raise one another’s children. Brothers and cousins become one, sisters and mothers become one and fathers pass their legacies and their skill onto their sons.

We lack that in America. We go far from our families, choose to disown family members and even turn our backs on our families as conflicts and disagreements arise. This makes us a poor nation. This leaves our fathers on the streets, leads our sons into gangs, causes young teen girls to seek acceptance by becoming young mothers, it leaves our grandparents to die alone in nursing homes and leaves our cousins to wander the alleys looking to turn tricks for food. This poverty of family and belonging leads us, as a whole, to a profound sadness. It is despair we may not see everyday, in fact, many of us are insulated from this sadness. Some of us seek to embrace the sadness and work to bring hope to that one person’s life. But there is a cloud of palpable sadness that permeates the corners of our cities and the streets of our towns.

And it is a sadness that should not exist. For in the eyes of a Palestinian we have the ultimate gift; the one thing they know they will never possess and will go to their grave having never known what it tastes like, what it smells like, what it means to just leave—we have freedom.

How we use this gift– that so many have died to preserve—should be a reflection of our society; should be a reflection of our knowledge, our wealth and our abilities as a nation to embrace our gift and remove the elements of sadness from our society and others throughout the world. And how we, as individuals, use our freedoms should be a reflection of our engagement with the world and our desires to help those within this world, our cousins, our parents, our children– even strangers walking down the street in need of coffee and someone to share it with.