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.

Awakening, Connection and Domination ~ Day 3

What!! It’s over already??

Even the posts on the streets are eclectic in Portland.

The third day of World Domination was a pinnacle day for me. After wonderful conversations with new friends and a little Bollywood rhythm, something shifted for me. I believe I finally pushed the trepidation and the uncertainty aside and began to look at both this conference- and quite possibly my life’s work- from the inside out. Sounds odd, but for a person whose entire passion in life is based on observation- looking from the outside in is just my natural tendency.

It’s how I think. This outsiders perspective is how I travel through the world. There are moments of connection and touching the Source- from the inside, but they are not always a conscious decision. Once I’ve traveled deep within a story, then I am looking from the inside out- but in my daily life, I just don’t work that way. This tendency just always seemed natural to me and it has always stood as a natural barrier between me and the world.

This barrier of the outsider became my protection from a world that, at times, has been rather brutal and unforgiving. And even in those moments where this world has been beautiful and awe-inspiring, I still kept that barrier of protection erect out of the fear that this beauty was not mine to enjoy or that if I reveled too much in the essence of such joy- it might be forcibly ripped from my world- before I was ready to release it. I get it, the whole Zen suffering and releasing attachment perspective, but just because I get it doesn’t mean I always embody it.

And Sunday morning, the video that replaced the absence of speaker, Neil Pasricha, just brought all this shit to the surface. The emotions just surged- to the point where I had to go outside and hug a tree to ground myself. (A skill recently showed to me by a dear friend- thanks!) And in that moment, as I sat leaning against a tree wandering if maybe I should have seen a therapist so many years ago amidst all my turmoil, a strong voice just made this one statement, so clear and true that I thought maybe the tree was whispering in my ear.

This sadness is not yours.

Well, hell, that kinda makes sense. And, I stood up, thanked the lovely tree and then went back to dominate the world. And from that point forward, the entire day was this beautiful flowing, organic event and I was open to it all. I was finally looking at something from the inside out- recognizing my discomfort and owning its source.

Trees do have an amazing energy and wisdom, if we can take a moment and listen.

And I guess that’s all I could ever ask for in a “business conference”.  Thanks so much, Chris, for creating such an environment where self-exploration and self-realization could thrive amongst a community who might just be meeting for the first time.

And here’s the last of the documentary photo images and a few notes from the day’s journal. Enjoy and until next year- go step into the Flow and revel in the beauty of where it takes you.

Let the Day begin!

My 5 things of beauty that I noticed this weekend:

A couple sitting the park at sunset

The beagle at the coffee shop with the couple enjoying a Sunday morning coffee and the newspaper

The Third Place I found on Friday morning

Amazing trees in the park

Walking through the city at night

The Mondo Beyondo ladies brought the house to their feet! And have me thinking of a tatoo for the first time in my life.

My Mondo Beyondo Words

Duality & Flow

John Unger has a story- or a thousand!

A little fresh air and snack during the day of domination.

A happy surprise at the art museum! Some of my favorite photographers from the 20th century are hanging out here- Ansel Adams, Lewis Hine, Bresson and Edward Weston. Happy.

The man behind this gathering of dominators.

Seriously, is he fueled on caffeine, flow or the energy of World Domination?

The Portland Art Museum and the headquarters for this summit.

And why wouldn't a green top hat be a fabulous means of both expression and branding? Truly brilliant, Ms. Dagmar!

And now we unwind. The after party is in full swing!

The best thing about the one hour wait for a chicken taco- meeting some amazing folks in line. Though, we scattered like starving carnivores as soon as our food came.

Mmmm...food carts.

The lovely Farnoosh and magnificent Marla work diligently to photograph their Mondo Beyondo words in the limiting light of the party.

Catching a little fresh air with Matt and another Crystal.

One seriously hard-working crew of folks. Inspiring!

And now...we dance.

I believe this drink special livened the evening up a bit!

What better way to close out World Domination than with a congo line? Till next year, peeps!

Farewell, dear Dominators!! May our paths cross again soon. And until then- go enter your flow and build something inspiring! Ciao!

ps- you can click on the images to download them for free and use them as you wish. The landscapes and city shots are for sale, if you would like to decorate your dwellings.

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.

How Death Can Force Us to Face Our Truths

When mortality makes a presence in our lives- be it from someone close to us or through someone we merely shared a few moments with- it brings forth some profound truths we may be ignoring.

A Maosit rebel takes a moment to pose for the camera in a remote village in the mountains of Nepal. Image by Crystal Street 2006

When faced with mortality at a young age- some tend to embrace a fearless “in the moment” perspective on life. We realize that the brevity of life is real and that “tomorrow is guaranteed to no one”. Such a truth weighs on every major decision and guides us through our daily lives.

We are comforted by the fact that if tomorrow never came, we’d have no regrets. Nothing was left undone, no joy was left to chance, no love was left untested and no moment was wasted in vein.

Or at least that’s the core truth that death can give us. It can bring these little beliefs to light and remind us that we should harbor them as beacons as we travel through this world- and eventually into the next.

And sometimes the death of a distant acquaintance can have a startling effect. It hits us deeper then the death of a distant relative, even though the time spent with this acquaintance was merely a few hours and a brief conversation and the distant relative has a blood connection to us. When someone leads a life dedicated to an unwavering truth- and then dies in pursuit of this truth- it makes us pause and reflect. If this person, creating such intense art in places others could never dare to visit, died pursuing his truth- why am I still dragging my feet on following my own truth?

When a person is killed pursuing something bigger than themselves- and leaves behind a massive legacy that supports his truth- something in us shifts. We stop. We take notice. We listen. And we look within to see how far off we are from pursuing our own truth- at any cost.

And we know the world is a little less beautiful because this person has left us.

I’m speaking here of the death of photojournalist Chris Hondros, who was killed this week along with documentary film maker and photojournalist Tim Hetherington. I met Chris one evening many years ago through a function at UNC and several of us shared beers and a few games of darts later that evening. He presented his award-winning work that evening to a group of photojournalists and I was moved by the depth of such work. He spoke of the how and the why behind his work. I don’t remember the conversations that evening- we photographers tend to just chat about gear, swap assignment stories or just play bar games- but I remember enjoying the night.

Even though I didn’t know him, such powerful and intense work leaves you with an impression of the person. I could pick up the paper, see his photo of some war-torn country and think “that’s an amazing-and heart breaking image, Chris”. I feel connected to the creator of the work, even if there is no real personal connection.

And that’s how a powerful artist- who holds his truth close to his heart- moves people. That’s why a photojournalist can place his or her life on the line and stand for something larger then themselves. Their art speaks for them. Their passion is seen in their images. No language is necessary and no words could do the pain and sorrow justice. Chris, and the photojournalists who do this work, take you into the intense moments of humanity.

Photojournalists place a human face on the abstract concepts of war and conflict so we can not sit in our comfortable homes and think that bombing other people is justified.

They risk everything to show you what they feel is wrong with our world. They risk everything to show you what they feel is right in our world.

Photojournalists risk everything to show you the truths of humanity.


I’ve compartmentalized my life in the past several years. I’ve embraced commercial multimedia production to try and fund documentary projects- and have had minimal success. I’ve built an amazing platform on this blog that started as a travel journal and has evolved into a social commentary of what I find when I travel through the world. I’ve become a writer. And lately, I’ve felt a pull back to my roots. I’m feeling the photojournalist emerging and wanting to journey back into the world and document my truth. Though my training is in photojournalism and I have an amazing community of fellow photojournalists (we’re a small community, but passionate) I’ve always considered myself a documentary photographer. And, by definition, I am.

But I’ve always separated the work that pays the bills from my true passion work- my photography. And Chris’ death is causing me to look inward with some intense scrutiny. And the lack of alignment in these two departments seems to be my biggest hurtle and has formed a mental wall between pursuing my passion and supporting myself.

I do believe the time has come to embrace my truth completely. The time has come to pull the documentary photographer out of the shadows and place her in the light. She’s been a little timid- filled with fear and what ifs- but the time has come to truly put her to work- with structure, support, focus and Flow.

Now is the time to step to the Edge where all the fear and discomfort dwell and ride the Flow towards something larger than myself.

For, as I learned at a young age, the brevity of life is real. And as I was reminded of this week, our truths are what define us and our legacy reflects the impact we have on the lives we touch as glide through the world.

Democracy Now produced a wonderful segment on the two fallen photojournalists this week. Take a moment to watch this video and learn more about their work, their legacy and the beauty that was silenced this week. The video below is from GritTV and is a wonderful interview with Tim’s roommate, another amazing photojournalist, and truly speaks to the thought process and awareness necessary to do the type of work they embrace.


More GRITtv

Someone, Somewhere Thinks Your Journey is Beautiful

As we travel through our lives, we sometimes come to a massive fork in our path. Sometimes the path splits do to forces beyond our control. Other times, we take a dramatic turn because we want to.

Because we need to.

Taking in the sunset at The Park in Cairo, Egypt. Photo by me.

We take the drastic turn because we fear where our safe, predictable path may take us. Sometimes we hit the brakes, yank the steering wheel to one side and hold on tight as the wheels tip into the air and fight to touch the ground again.

In those moments, we feel alive! Our hearts race, our vision is clear and our being is at peace- in the midst of the chaos. Deep down, that inner voice, that inner-child, knows we’ve made the right decision. We feel it, in the depths of our being, that connection to a source larger than us. We understand that this radical shift will take us closer to that source- yet we can’t articulate what we’ll find on our journey.

And if someone is looking in from the outside, they may see our radical shift as just that. Radical. Without grounds, without purpose- radical for the sake of being radical.

Our friends and loved ones may not understand our inability to justify ourselves in a way they can comprehend. They may doubt our choices. They may judge our decisions. They may question our sanity.

At this point, we are speaking a foreign language. Our loved ones simply do not have the frame of reference to understand us. We’re speaking gibberish and it scares them.

Hopefully, if we’re lucky, they will understand that this need for change, this need to evolve, this need to touch something greater than ourselves is just who we are. It’s the path we’ve chosen- the journey we must undertake. If we are lucky, our loved ones will step back and just accept that we must travel this path, with all its vines and vistas, and they will not try to understand the how or the why. They will just accept what is.

If we’re unlucky, our loved ones will judge, they will protest and they will try to crush our plans and dreams. (I’m not speaking from personal experience here- I’m speaking from observations. My family may object or question at times, but they understand and accept- eventually) What breaks my heart is to meet a person who was in the process of yanking the steering wheel off-course yet kept on the safe track because someone questioned his dreams. Someone shot down the possibilities that he was about to embody. Someone shattered the path we was about to travel because of jealousy, fear or ignorance.

And he let them.

Do we have to justify our radical shifts? Do we have good retorts when someone mocks our decisions?

I had coffee with a friend recently and mentioned that I was going carless once I left the beach and he laughed. He said, “It’s like that phase, in the 80s, when everyone thought it was cool to be gay.” I just kinda looked at him. I didn’t know what to say. We were walking away and he said it with a laugh and that’s just the way my friend is, he’s a good guy and open minded (remember, I’m in South Carolina right now). I just shook my head and rolled my eyes at him. The comment stuck in my head though, I didn’t have a good response. My reasoning is beyond his comprehension. And I don’t know if it’s worth having the conversation.

I feel as though I have two worlds sometimes. I have my “virtual world” where I connect with real people who are on the same page as me- in thoughts, actions and lifestyle- and I have my “real world” where I interact with people from all walks of life, and only a handful of them actually understand me. When I mention things like, “gas at $5 a gallon soon, can’t wait to ditch my vehicle and walk everywhere” or “yea, I’m gonna go off-grid soon because I think we’re in for a rude awakening as a society and I want to be self-sustaining” people look at me like I’m on crack.

It would actually be less shocking if I took out a crack pipe and lit up in front of them.

I get it, I’m on the East Coast and people don’t think this way. Most people in the East (most- not all) think that the lights will always be on and the gas their SUV guzzles comes from a magic fairy in the sky. (Or the don’t mind bombing the hell out of some other country to keep their car running) Rarely do they stop to consider that the whole circus might come crashing down. Or that their consumption habits might want to be curtailed if they’d like their grandchildren a chance at a livable future.

I’m hoping in the coming year or so to merge my virtual and my real lives. And I’m doing this by making radical lifestyle shifts and surrounding myself with people who don’t think I should be committed for purging most of my belongings and walking to the market.

And hopefully, you also have the core people close to you who will allow you to take a radical turn and embrace you as your journey unfolds. Hopefully you’ve found your balance and touched that inner space with the loving support of people who get you. While they may not be traveling the same path, or even understand why you are walking that way, they will embrace that this journey is your life.

And if not, find the community that will help you turn that steering wheel. They exist. Somewhere, a community exists that understands your motivations and the journey you have chosen. They understand because they made the same choices- for the same reasons.

Somewhere, someone is waiting to connect with your journey. Somewhere, that person is waiting to celebrate all that you are and all that you will become. Somewhere, there is a person who doesn’t think your radical journey is insane.

Someone, somewhere thinks your journey is beautiful.