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.

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

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.

Adapting to Life at 10,500 Feet

My recent Western Relocation has landed me in the highest incorporated town in America.  With a whopping population of 600-ish people, Alma is about as high as you can get for a Rocky Mountain town.  While walking outside my door and being dwarfed by a 14K foot mountain peak that’s literally half a mile away is a wonderful way to start the day, there are a few adjustments for this location independent nomad.

Our daily walk in the shadow of a 14K footer!

And while the move went smoothly (give or take a few weather systems), my ability to adapt has been challenged in several ways since I came to this quiet little town.  Here are a few of my recent adaptations.

Connection.

Connectivity is by far the greatest challenge in this move.  You truly do not realize how dependent you are upon the internet in this line of work until you can’t find a connection.  The local coffeehouse is wonderful, and for good reason, they do not provide wifi for their customers.  Being a strong proponent of community gathering places, I totally understand.

So, while walking through town on my first day here, I noticed the local pub had a wifi sign on the window.  Perfect.  And they’re open at 6 am for breakfast- even better.  So, the following day, I bundled up- did I mention the average temperature is about 15 degrees at this elevation- grabbed my backpack and walked down to the pub at 9 am.  Amazingly, a people were actually having a beer and playing pool.

Did I mention that I’m next to South Park- or the town where the cartoon was based? I can see a novel or a sitcom growing out of this town.

I grabbed a table next to the window and parked my ass there for hours. I ordered a ‘giant pancake’ (literally twice the size of my head) and a bottomless cup of coffee and commenced to getting my wifi on.

And I’ve been back almost every morning since.  I’ve opted for just the Sysco coffee sans ginormous pancake.  And I hate to admit this, but I really like it.  When I open the door to the pub, literally and figuratively called “Alma’s Only Bar” I kinda feel like Norm walking into Cheers.

I know who will be sitting at the bar, that the bartender will be having her coffee and chatting with the locals and that the chef will be sitting at the bar table with her laptop.  I join her in the mornings, we share a table and get to work.  And she always gives me such a warm welcome when I walk in.  There’s a fire blazing in the wood stove and the coffee is hot.

What more can you ask for?

The transition of the bar crowd vs coffeeshop crowd in the morning does take a little bit of an adjustment.  Luckily, I grew up in the restaurant industry and was a bartender for ten years, so I speak the language.  There’s no NPR or folk music playing, usually the entertainment news or CMT is on the bar television.  There’s no debate of politics, in fact there’s very little talk of politics at all. Unless the Rogue politician gone Hollywood pops onto the TV and the bar will fire up with the latest talking points spinning out of the media cycle.

But, a little color in the morning is a nice change of pace.  I met Uncle Johnny the other morning, who kept the fire stoked and the conversation interesting.  A former police officer from Pittsburgh, Uncle Johnny is the go-to guy in the bar and probably in the town. I have a feeling if I need anything, Uncle Johnny would be the man to ask.

When he introduced himself, I had to smile a little.  I had an Uncle Louie in Pawleys Island who could, and I quote “make things happen. If you need me to take care of somebody, you just let me know.  I know people.” Literally, his exact words.  Love it!

So, while my connectivity is still a little spotty, I am learning to adjust and hoping my online communities will understand my lack of availability at the moment.

My favorite "office" from last winter's Walkabout. I hope to be there in a few more weeks! Image from my Blackberry.

Work Schedule


As a location independent professional, I’ve learned to work almost anywhere when necessary.
But even when not traveling, I have certain times of the day when my creativity emerges and I ride that horse for all it’s worth.  My new living arrangement (and it’s only for a few more months) is very small.  Tiny.  300 square feet tiny, with my dog and a roommate.  Yea, wrap your brain around that for a sec.  No bedrooms or quiet corners for this little night owl to dive into her writing and production.  Conundrum.

I have found the local coffeeshop- sans wifi- to be an excellent place for contemplation and writing.  I sit next to a giant picture window that looks out over Main Street and that mammoth 14K foot mountain by my house and work away.  Or try to.  I’ve met some wonderful people there and have gotten some writing done, but mid-afternoon is my least creative time and they close at six.  My most creative time is at night, and I’m hoping to find a little more rhythm there soon.

My other major work schedule adjustment relates to the first point of connectivity.  Not having evening access to the wifi- unless I want to be that girl chained to her laptop in the corner of the bar, sipping whiskey and being anti-social- has meant that I only check email once a day.  I hate to admit this, but I rather like that aspect of this new schedule.  It takes some getting used to, but I enjoy not being chained to the inbox.  So, I’m left to have conversations with my roommate in the evenings or read a book, both of which are rather enjoyable.

I do worry that my writing will begin (or is already) slipping with the lack of late night writing.  Hopefully my muse will adjust as well and as I find my rhythm here, I’ll be able to compensate for my challenging work schedules.

My winter chalet from last year. If I can adjust to this tight living space, I can live anywhere! Image from the blackberry.

Finding a New Market- or Not

My new town is only 30 minutes from Breckenridge, where people, business and social life abounds.  My plan was to drum up some local business to tap into when I’m not traveling. I researched the town prior to moving and lived here ten years ago, so I have some idea of what to anticipate when putting my freelancing self into this market.  But, putting myself out there requires one major element of a business that I am lacking at the moment- transportation.

If you’ve been reading this blog the past few weeks, you saw the lovely pictures of the Vintage Vanagon I so diligently navigated cross-country with the canoe/sail on top.  Well, she took a big shit last week and left her exhaust system in shambles on a mountain pass.  So I am sans wheels. In a town of 600 people, with a handful of businesses’ and no mass-transit to the next major town.

Oops.

And oh, did I mention the big mountain pass that you have to traverse, complete with hairpin turns and snow banks to get to Breckenridge?  Oyyy.

So the other night, when faced with the possibility of no wheels all winter, I did some serious spreadsheet forecasting of all the possible scenarios of living here with or without a car and running my business.  I highly recommend everyone do this often, particularly when you’re contemplating new avenues of your business or trying to understand where your opportunities lie.

My major question in this whole line of rationale was the following- was the Universe trying to force me to focus on just the online business by taking away the vehicle and the wifi all at once.  I understand that there’s the element of free will in here- and I can choose my own vehicle and such- but I tend to pay attention when things unfold and try to find the lesson within the mayhem.  By not having the distraction of the internet and having very limited options for income, I would literally HAVE to build my online business now and not mess around with more freelance jobs and “real” work.

My spreadsheets helped- tremendously.  I made about 10 different versions of the possible revenue streams and how they would budget out through the year.  I used Mac’s Numbers and their built in budget template and played out all the possible options.  I narrowed my possibilities down to three and then focused in on the one budget that was my ideal goal- both monetarily and for the type of freelance/online business balance I see myself juggling this year.

I then busted out the iCal and put all the budget milestones onto my calendar and planned out the following year!  Holy Crap!  And today, when I was beginning to stress a little about creating local fliers for freelance services and getting over the pass to network, I opened up the spreadsheets and looked at my calendar to see what I truly should be focused on.  And I did just that.

Funny how that whole planning thing works, isn’t it?

I know, seems rather obvious, but for this artistic entrepreneur, planning doesn’t always come naturally.  I can strategize like nobody’s business and I can visualize the big picture, but putting the tiny little steps necessary to get me there into action, well that’s a challenge.

So, back to my transportation adaptation.  Looks like someone will be driving cross-country- AGAIN- in two weeks.  My truck is going to have to make the journey out here, so this nomad can be mobile again.  Hitching a ride over that pass and to my desert town next month is not a task that I’m looking forward to.

Now, it’s your turn.

So, if you’re still with me, how do you adjust your work routines and schedules to a new location- be it on a business trip or a major move?

What are your necessary elements for productivity- no matter where you are?

Are you a serious planner or fly-by-the seat of your pants person?

Do you have spreadsheet planners for year long forecasting or a special method for bringing your plans to action?

What’s the strangest place you’ve worked in for wifi access?
Go on, you can tell us!