Would You Survive if Someone Shut Off the Lights?

Yep, we’re gonna have that conversation.

How often do we devote the time to actually contemplating a world without our modern conveniences? Not the more complex elements of civilization that we take for granted, such as internet access and cell phone service- just the basics.

A storm blows across the Rockies while I play in the back country just down the road from my house.


But the fundamental modern elements that allow our civilization to function and keeps chaos at bay.
Running water, electricity, food at the grocery store and gas at the pumps- these are all elements of modern society and very recent developments in the grand scheme of man’s existence on earth.

Living in a small town in the Rockies can be a humbling experience.  As I’ve mentioned, the internet is a crap-shoot, we have no gas station and there is one store where I can buy groceries. Now, the next town is only 6 miles away and has all those “modern conveniences” but in a blizzard, like today, I really don’t feel like trekking down the road and running the gauntlet with all the tourists leaving Breckenridge.

Hearing the wind howling, literally howling, down from the hills and bouncing off the walls of my cabin is humbling.  Seeing the gas stove kick on when a chill hits the cabin is a blessing.  When the lights go out, the whole town goes totally black.  And you’re not quite sure when you’ll be bathed in electric light again.

Being this close to the raw force of nature and being aware of the actual resources it takes to live in a place like this makes me pause and contemplate the actual core of our civilization and will it last when one or more of the staples holding it together crumbles?

This town will survive and actually, it will probably thrive.  People already live “off the grid” to a degree and there are enough local people producing products to live off of, if necessary.

But this line of thought makes me ponder the fact that I’m unprepared if something were to happen.  If the oil supply were disrupted, if the dollar totally tanks or if the grid just collapsed- due to weather or a man-made interference- I am completely unprepared.

Now, I’m fully aware that this is not a conversation many people engage in- many are too afraid to even consider the possibility or just have blind faith that the system will always exist and function for them. Though I am a rather happy person most of the time, I am a pessimist when it comes to the intentions of our political leaders, their intelligence to do what’s best for the country and I am totally pessimistic when it comes to the actual structures that we, as a civilization, depend on for our survival.

I believe we should depend on ourselves for that survival, particularly in today’s world.  If the proverbial ‘shit hit the fan’ right now, I would be totally unprepared, but I’d at least be in a town where I could manage and I think between my roommate (who idolizes pure mountain man survival) and I, we’d survive.  But I am truly behind the times if the lights went out and we were tossed into the dark ages.

I have at least planned an plotted for the possibility and believe the next year will spent preparing for an off-grid lifestyle.  And even if the lights stay on and the world stays a happy place, I’ll be living a truly simple life, and a rather cheap one at that.

When was the last time you contemplated the possibility of rolling the clock back 200 years?  Does the thought put the fear of God into you and just cause you to shut the line of though off instantly?  Or does your imagination run wild with the possibilities of living off the land, returning to nature and living a “simple” life?

Would you survive or thrive?

Will Your Passion Navigate You Towards Your Dreams?

Doing what’s necessary

You’ve established your goals.  You’ve visualized your dreams.  You’ve taken the time to write that vision down and revel in all it’s glory.  You may have even created a gorgeous vision board to bring those dreams to life.

Takes a little passion to fight for your goals! And some brute strength!


Now, will you do what’s necessary to bring them to life?  Will you sacrifice the time, the sweat and the sanity to make those visions come to life?

I’ve asked this before on this blog and I’m returning to the topic for several reasons.

One

I have several dear friends who are about to embark on the journey of bringing their dreams to life.  They usually come to me for advice on how to start or to flesh out the possibilities of their quiet dream.  I guess, since I’ve been plugging away at this for so many years, I’ve become somewhat of a go-to person for such advice.  And frankly, if I could just get paid to spit out ideas and brainstorm all day- I’d be a happy camper.

And the one thing I can tell them is to check their passion first.  Above all else, you must possess sheer passion.  You must, MUST have the passion that will fuel the insanely unorthodox decisions you will have to make.

Will your passion comfort you when you leave the unhealthy relationship you’ve been apart of that is a direct wall in your progress towards your dreams?

Will your passion wipe your tears and tell you to keep on going when you walk away from all the familiar people in your life to pursue your ultimate goal?

Will your passion console you when you’re teetering on the edge of insanity because you’ve turned down a $100K job to pursue a dream that can’t even buy you a cup of coffee yet?

Will your passion tell you to keep walking forward, when five years have passed and your dreams are still just out of reach- but you can feel them in your hand?

Will you passion scrape you off the ground and lift your head up when all of your bank accounts are in the red and the creditors come a calling?

Will your passion stand up for you in a room full of your peers as they speak of their 401Ks, their mortgage rates and their flashy new cars and show others that you may not possess those items, but what you possess far surpasses any material item parked in a garage?

Will your passion help you navigate the murky waters of the “real world” and make the decisions necessary to stay true to your goals?  And will it continue to navigate, year after year, until you are standing in the reality of your vision board?

Your passion will pick you up again, and again and again.

Two

I’ve felt a little nostalgic while preparing to return to the Rockies and have been reflecting on all that I’ve become and all that I’ve turned away from in pursuit of my goals.  And passion is the reason behind my decisions.  So here’s a little look at what my passion has navigated me through- hopefully you’ll pull a lesson or a little comfort from my actions.

Over the years I have walked away from almost everything in my life in pursuit of my dreams. I’ve left several long-term relationships because we hit the point where my passion out weighed our love (or our loathing).  I’ve turned away good salaries and 401Ks for idea of something else- something all my own.  I’ve gone into debt to learn the necessary skills to become the best at my profession.  I’ve missed weddings, births, baby showers, graduations, holidays and other countless occasions with friends and family to chase down my dreams. And now, at 35, I have life that doesn’t fit in the paradigms of the typical social narratives.  I’m not sure how or when it happened- well actually, it started in my early 20s and grew from there.  And, I’m fine with it, I’m happy about where my passion has guided me.  And now my passions are guiding me back to the mountains I love and towards a winter of writing, creating and producing!

And as I pack up my belongings and get ready to hit the road, I’ve been taking a little time to look back on the past year of my life.  This year has been insanely random and has tested all my perceptions of self and my passions.  My decisions this year were based entirely on my passion and the vision of my dreams on the horizon. I turned down good job offers, walked away from excellent living situations and kept plugging forward, one baby step at a time, towards my dreams.

I even, at age 35, decided to live with my mom for 7 months in order to keep walking towards my dreams.  I hadn’t planned it, it wasn’t deliberate, I stopped by for a visit after my walkabout and the time just kept growing.  I picked up some local freelance work and then before I knew it, half the summer was gone and I was falling into that demographic of older children who return to live with their parents.

Uh-oh!  When the realization of that sunk in, I started to look for my own place.  Year leases, insane rents and un-dog friendly landlords squashed that task pretty quick.

So, I stayed.  And I fought my inner pessimistic gnomes who kept tossing about the reality of living at home at 35.  But, halfway through the summer, my passion stepped up and said, “shut the hell up already!  Enjoy your time here and spend every waking moment possible working on your dreams.”

And that’s exactly what I did.  I polished the blog, I found a more relevant voice, I embraced the Twitter and found an online community that I love.  I connected with people I may have never interacted with if I had been waiting tables or working a real job.

And I’ve enjoyed my time with my mother more than I ever thought possible.  It’s truly been a refreshing time to spend with my family and I’ve loved my time with my mom.

I learned to laugh at myself a little more.  My passion showed me that not everything is as it appears.  My passion propped me up and said “open your eyes and use this wonderful gift of time to propel yourself forward.”  My passion took me out of my own head, squashed my ego and forced me to run full speed towards my dream.

And then you glide.

And lastly,

Understanding your passions and how they can change over time to reflect the person we are at the moment, is necessary in pursing any goal or dream.

As I embark on this latest stage of my dreams, I feel as though the passion of my past self and my present self are merging at last. It feels as though there’s this happy collision that’s occurring and I just can’t contain the excitement.

My twenties were filled with random adventures, living in amazing places and skiing my ass off.  My twenties had its moments- and they really were doozies- but beyond the tragedies of my twenties, I had a damn good time.

And over the past 5 years, as I’ve been working through my 30s, I’ve embraced that part of myself I knew existed in my 20s but could never truly find. The driven photographer, the intense artist, the intellectual person and the successful entrepreneur.  This person of my thirties is the vision that caused me to sacrifice so much in my twenties.  I knew she existed and I knew I’d never reach her with the relationships I was in and the places in life I found myself.

While those identities of my 30s are still developing, they are now merging with my identities from my 20s and we are all returning to the place in life where I truly felt happy.  Standing on top of a mountain, taking it all in and realizing just how fabulous our lives truly are. Then blazing down the hill at ungodly speeds, just because I can.

Sort of a good metaphor for life.

Where did this come from?

This article came about as I was standing in line at Barnes and Noble waiting to order my usual double shot of espresso and trying to figure out what the hell to write about.  The girl in front of me was insanely stylish.  Seriously, beautifully dressed and for a split second I looked down at my outfit.  I was wearing my old “Jesus Sandals” (bought next to his tomb) my 7 year old Patagonia capris (maroon b/c they were on sale) a green top and I hadn’t shaved my legs in a week.  I kept this outfit handy because everything is packed away for my move and I was just too lazy to shave.

And as we waited, a vision of this stylish diva’s life passed before me.  Yes, I project people’s stories onto them in passing, its a creative habit of mine.  I saw the urban diva, working in her store (she had a bank bag on her and was ordering drinks for her staff) with her stylish husband at home and in their cozy little house.  And there is nothing wrong with that, there are times when I wish I could have embraced that just for the sheer security of that existence.

Then, I looked down at my sandals- bought on my Palestine adventure and smiled to myself.  My passion spoke up and said “yea, you look like you just rolled out of your suitcase and you’re not picking up any men looking like this, but you’re going to Breckenridge tomorrow.  To live.”

Oh yea.  That makes my outfit totally worth it.  And that’s why you need your passion.  Everyone needs a compass to navigate these waters.


Passion a Blaze! – Images by Crystal Street

While studying photojournalism at UNC, I produced a photo story about the Raleigh Roller Derby.  Talk about passion- you have got to love this sport to take that kind of a beating!  Here are a few of my favorites.

Why Write Your Plans in Stone When You’ve Got Water?

How often do we make plans, talk about them, stress about the details only to have the plans disintegrate.  Poof.  Gone.

www.crystalstreet.net (Crystal Street)

A young traveler waits for her train to arrive. This image was taken on one of my "whim adventures."

Life gets in the way, shit happens and our plans fly right out the window with our daydreams.

And we’re left looking down upon ourselves for not following through.  We berate ourselves for not being able to “commit” or we feel like a shitty friend for not being able to bring our plans to life.

I am almost famous for this.  For all of it!  As a freelancer, nothing- and I mean nothing, is ever set in stone.  I plan for one thing, and the exact opposite happens. I try to plan a get away to visit friends and my client decides that after three months of procrastinating they want to shoot on the very weekend that my friends have arranged their schedules to accommodate my visit.  I gear up for an overseas walkabout, and a couple clients decide to not pay their invoices at net 30- maybe net 45 or net 60 is working for them.  And I wonder why my hair is going gray at 35.

A couple days ago, I caught up with a dear friend who I hadn’t spoken with in several months,  He’s one of my more brilliant friends, maybe one of the smartest folks I know, and he takes unconventional to the point of revolution- and I love it!  We were catching up on our plans and the last time we spoke, our fall/winter plans were drastically different.

I should have been in Italy by now and he should be on the road with his Airstream and hound dog writing the great american novel- or it’s ugly red-headed step child.  We laughed at our dramatically different realities than we anticipated and he made a profound statement that I believe I’m going to snag and implement from this point forward. (It’s OK, he snagged my Airstream/traveling artist thing- so we’re even).

“I started telling people my plans are written in water.”

Brilliant.  That is now my mantra.

On a whim, my uncle sent me over to the Ultra-Light tours and sent me up for my own little roller coaster ride at sunset. And my pilot actually designed the craft and was so excited to have someone under the age of 60 flying with him that he made it quite an adventure.

No longer will I write things in stone, all plans will be written in water.  Makes perfect sense.

At this point, you may be thinking, “damn, she just can’t commit to anything.” And I truly can’t stand it when people say that.  It’s not that I can not commit- it’s that I choose not to.  And yes, there is a distinct difference between those two statements.

Clarification- there are certain things I commit to, bridesmaids in weddings (luckily my friends don’t ask this too often) family/best friend’s weddings, professional commitments, the occasional holiday and a romantic relationship worth investing in.  That’s really about it.  I leave the rest of my time completely open.  At least my logical brain does.  The eclectic brain fills my calendar with exotic travels, insane “round the Middle East” tours and long months spent in cabins in remote locales writing my masterpiece or the next “Almost Sunny in Philadelphia”.

Here’s my catch, I dream out-loud. I plan my travels, vagabonding and city hopping out loud.  I don’t know why, I just feel the need to bounce my plans off of whomever asks.  Sometimes I just vomit at the mouth about elaborate travel itineraries and long-term road-tripping. Then, as the time approaches and my resources fail to appear or professional projects linger in the realm of never-to-finish, I start to panic that my plans aren’t coming to fruition.  I feel guilty for telling friends overseas that I’m not going to make it and as it turns out, I’m not.  I put my tail between my legs when people see me and ask- “where are you going now, thought you were traveling” and my ego takes a brutal blow.

And I feel like an ass.

www.crystalstreet.net (Crystal Street)

Our train hit a car at a railroad crossing. Someone wasn't planning that little mistake.

So, while writing my plans in water may not make visiting with friends all that easy, I believe that’s the way I’m going to state my plans from this point forward.  I am famous for just showing up at people’s doorsteps on a couple days notice or just jumping on an Amtrak when the restless feet syndrome kicks in, so why not just man up to this idiosyncrasy about my self and stop making plans and setting them in stone.

Note to friends, those of you who know and love me- thanks for letting me pop in unannounced for all these years!  Now that most of you have babies though, I’ll be staying at the local hostel or guest houses- so scout one out for me and keep it on speed dial!  You never know when my shiny face will be on your doorstep!

So, how do you deal with broken plans?

Are you more apt to just let the Universe take over at some point or do you get cold sweats if your itinerary isn’t set three months in advance?

Are you writing your plans in stone or in water?


Amtrak on a Whim – Images by Crystal Street

The images in this article are from my journey on the Amtrak in 2003 and they were all taken on film and slides.  I was in Richmond, most of my winter plans had fallen through and I was talking with my Aunt about Quartzsite, where they own a trailer park.  It sounded like this strange little carnival and I was in need of some warm weather and odd people watching.  So, the next day, I bought a ticket on the Amtrak and went from Virginia to Arizona.  Took just under 4 days- and what an adventure!

Why Do We Stay, When We Know We Should Go?

Why do we stay in situations that we know are slowly sucking the life out of us?

Year after year, we stay in bad relationships, unhealthy living situations and jobs that don’t embrace our passions and strengths.

documentary photography, nepal, travel photography, storytelling,

A store clerk in Kathmandu takes a quick smoke break as the afternoon slips away. Photo by me from the Freemium Photo Love collection.

Are we seeking external validation that the appropriate time to leave will present itself, through some act of God or nature?  Are we looking for someone else to make a decision for us? Is change such a scary prospect that we keep doing the one thing that we know, deep down, is driving us to an early grave?  Or at least making that precious journey through our lives a miserable experience.

Over the years, I’ve had conversations with dear friends regarding their lives and the situations they can no longer stand.  We talked about options for a different life, reasons why it’s time to go and what that leaving should look like.

But the move toward action doesn’t seem to happen, and year after year, we repeat this conversation.  We talk about how shitty their current situation remains.  We brainstorm about how to make it better and we make a few suggestions on implementing change.

Yet, nothing happens. And I silently prepare my brain for the conversation when this dear friend(s) has their “come to Jesus moment”.   Because that shit is not going to be pretty.

Why is that?  Is change so scary that we just stand there frozen, allowing our lives and situations to bitch slap us about like a helpless rag doll, so far gone that no amount of yoga, Prozac or whiskey will help us?

Are we so afraid to let go of our jobs that we make up a myriad of excuses as to why it’s not a prudent action to take at this moment?  We use things- actual material items- as reasons to stay in this job that sucks out our best juju. Mortgages, cars, shopping and vacations- all used to justify the thing that is causing us to consume and “vacate” our lives in an attempt to cope.  We cling to the distant hope that if I just bust my ass for 60 hours a week now, I’ll reap the rewards in 30 years when I’m sitting on a beach, basking in the sunlight.

I don’t believe it.  I think there’s another way.  I’ve seen it, I’ve seen others pursue their true passions, their own way.  Beholden to no one and walking down a path of their own making.  Don’t take my word for it, people have written excellent books and manifestos.  Entire blogs are devoted to this phenomenon.  The major ones that come to mind are The Art of Non-Conformity, the 4 Hour Work Week, Career Renegade, Itty-Biz, etc.  I can keep going.

We are essentially fooling ourselves that this behavior of being a slave to our wages and our material possessions is justified. And we use that as an excuse to keep doing the one thing that we should be working with all our heart and soul to change.  We use the excuses to comfort us as we pop that Prozac, plow through our 10 hour workday and wait anxiously for the weekend to roll around so we can try to undo the damage caused by 60 hours of stressful hell.  And we give ourselves only about 20 hours to do this.

Does any of this seem logical?

We dread Mondays- wish away a whole damn day!  And spend a good portion of Sunday dreading Monday.

We use drugs (prescription or otherwise) alcohol, shopping and television to soothe us after a particularly rough day of being a slave to our paycheck.

We piss away the best years of our lives- our most productive years- for a paycheck.  To pay for things we probably don’t need.  And then, during those “golden years” we’ve got nothing left to give ourselves.  We’ve spent all our creative juju and best personal mojo on someone else.  Why?

And what saddens me the most, is that none of this is necessary.  There’s no golden manual we’re given at age 19 that says here, this is how you are supposed to live and this is what your work life should look like.  You should have the house, the car, the clothes, the job and all the things that look wonderful on the outside and hide the fact that you aren’t truly fulfilled on the inside.

There’s no reason why you can’t still have your mortgage and do something that lights a fire under your ass every time you wake up in the morning. Absolutely no reason why instead of popping some meds to help you cope with your life, you actually change your career or job and do a little yoga to balance yourself.  No one said you can’t have total control over your workday and live each moment as an organic manifestation of your innermost self.

And that’s what change boils down to- YOU.  Taking action.  Recognizing that we each have a finite number of days on this planet and you- YOU- are the only person with the ability to change your situation.

When your costs out weigh your rewards, will you have the ability to change your situation?  Will you take action now to fix the life you’ve built that is taking over your juju?  Or will you wait until your “come to jesus” moment and find it may be too late?


Standing on the Tower- and Leaping into the Flames

During my mini Smoky Mountain Walkabout, I had a Tarot Card reading from a very wise and intuitive herbal healer.  Apparently, I drew some very powerful cards, all relating to the feminine power and indicated a big change is on the way.

For someone who takes change like other people take vitamins, this isn’t a big shocker.  But apparently, I drew the mother of all change cards- the Tower. It was this tower with this little guy about to take one giant leap into the flames below.

Seems a little extreme, don’t you think?

But, it seems that the Universe may be right.  I feel this thing churning inside- well- I think we all feel this at some point in time.  This feeling that something big is about to happen- something that we hope we have the ability to recognize and act upon when it presents itself.  Where you stare down two paths and you choose the gnarly, twisty one that scares the piss out of ya, but you know the possibility of beauty exists along the way.

Upon returning to the beach, I decided to really take my card reading into account and look at my current situation and surroundings with a more positive spin- a spin towards my upcoming leap.

A young Palestinian girl dances at a Peace festival in Israel in 2007. One of my favorite pictures- such joy!

I embraced the feminine voice. This is a challenge for someone who proudly grew up as a tom-boy and swore off dresses until the 6th grade.  I’ve recently started reading several blogs by women in the online world that I admire- White Hot Truth by Danielle LaPorte , Escape from Cubicle Nation by Pamela Slim (I even bought her book, though I’ve never worked in a cubicle before) Colleen Wainwright of Communicatrix.com and Dyana Valentine.  Maybe this is part of the feminine voice my cards were indicating.

I purchased one chapter from Danielle LaPorte’s Fire Starter Sessions (yea, I could only afford one chapter at the moment- but am thinking of just eating peanuts the rest of the month to buy the rest) and watched the included videos- and there it was.  Someone, whom I do not know and have never met- telling me to embrace the feminine (not in those words). There was this person on this video telling me about the entrepreneurial tendencies, struggles and idiosyncrasies in a way that no other person had vocalized for me. Telling me it’s OK to be who I am.

Yea, I know, our moms and teachers tell us that all our lives- but we’ve blocked that advice out many decades ago.

I’m not a “self-help” person- I don’t watch Oprah and I don’t have a collection of Dr. Phil books (not that this is a bad thing- I just don’t go there).  For my self-help, I turn to Eastern philosophy and try to sprinkle my life with some Taoism.  So this type of video/book is different for me.  At first, I was a little uncomfortable with the whole thing.

A little Tibetan Buddhist treat I stumbled on while wandering the streets of Kathmandu.

Does this make my some flighty self-help wanna be listening to the advice of someone two thousand miles away on a computer screen?  Am I gonna be that “Don’t do this” poster-child who pissed her money away on business e-books, only to not have two pennies to rub together in 6 months? Yea, that’s my inner dialogue- can you see a few blocked chakras in there? My Tarot cards also mentioned a male voice fighting with my feminine voice- YOU THINK??

But then it all just clicked.  As I watched this powerful woman telling me to just embrace who I am and be what I am- the easy way- to let grace unfold and just manifest itself through my work, I thought, “Why the hell not!  She’s totally right!”

And I’ve felt like I’ve been sitting on a fire ever since. Like I’m about to truly take that leap off my tower and just fly out into the world.  Guess she doesn’t call those the Fire Starter Sessions for nothing.  She also sells note cards that say “Fan F*cking-tastic” so this isn’t your run-of-the-mill-warm-and-fuzzy-shit.

These readings have really brought into question what I do and who I am.  As a creative being and an entrepreneur, I want to be everything, I want to do it all.  And as soon as I figure something out, I want to learn something new. This is a blessing and a curse.

So in doing this internal audit, I am forced to ask- what is it that, if everything else were to go away, I would want left behind? What is it that I’m truly gifted at?  How can grace present itself through me- with the most ease? And, as I have done throughout my entire adult career, I come back to photography.  It’s always about the camera and the image.

And here I sit, with a brand new (new to me) shiny camera that sends jolts of electricity and glee when I press the shutter (I don’t like most of my digital cameras- actually none of them- so this is a big deal for me) and hopefully by the end of September, I’ll have enough cash flow to truly head out into the world again.

In working with this new content, a reoccurring theme is presenting itself as well- charging what you’re worth. Due to insecurities, occasional low self-esteem and a blocked chakra or two, I don’t charge what I’m worth.  I never really have.  So, last night, I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning writing my rates page.  I am going to charge what I’m worth. Period.  And I am talented enough to charge these rates.  Period.  Ahhh, so liberating.

So, while I realize this article is rambly and really just about me, I thought I’d give you a peak into the mind and thought process of an artistic entrepreneur- and let you know that it’s OK to have such insane questions in your head.

We struggle to fight off the mediocrity that sucks the creative being out, we fight for the confidence to make the right decisions, and- every so often- we stand at the top of the Tower- look into the flames below and leap.