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. 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.

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

Cutting the Cords of Communication and Dealing with Consumption Overload

We’ve all got a little bit of a problem.

We’re constantly connected.
Some of us are more connected than others.  Some of us value our connectivity over most everything else.  Some of us do not view this as a problem at all, but a gift.  A gift or by-product of our high levels of productivity.

A simply beautiful drive through the Rockies.

We carry our connectivity close to our hearts, in our shirt pockets, jeans pockets, attached to our ears and the constant ding of our in-boxes and rings of our smartphones make us feel wanted.  Needed.  Special.

But others loathe this constant connectivity.  Others view it as a curse of modernity.  A burden.  A chore.  Others see this constant tethering to our devices as a deterioration of our communities, of our ability to hold a conversation and the ultimate destruction of our society.

And others view this constant age of connection as a fracturing of our minds, a biological rewiring of our brains- never seen before in the history of our species.

Personally, I feel as though I’ve gone full circle in this age of connectivity.  In 1994, I almost failed a college course because I refused to retrieve my homework assignments using this new thing called “email” because you had to log in through the UNIX system (think MS DOS and dial-up) and it took too damn long and was insanely inefficient.  In my college days, if I wanted to see what my friends were up to, I walked over to their houses.  There were no cell phones and no one ever answered the land line.  I eventually evolved into a cell phone, but it took a while.

Then one sunny day 3 years ago, my five year old flip cell phone fell on the concrete and shattered.  Damn!  So I traipsed over to my carrier and took the leap into the world of the Crackberry.  At the time, I was juggling several major commercial multimedia jobs, helping teach classes at UNC and my in-boxes runneth over.

So, I went there.  And it was fabulous.

I felt on-top of things, in the loop, connected and productive.  That lasted for about a year.  Then I found myself rolling out of bed and grabbing the Crackberry to see what was happening in the world and in my inboxes- before I even brushed my teeth.

Does one really need to scroll the NYT first thing in the morning?

I found that my morning muse- the little voice that produces many of my articles, was being squashed by my need to address the flashing red light on my smartphone that told me someone wanted to communicate with me.

My smartphone was making me dumb.

So, I cut the cord.  It took a while.  I had that thing for two and a half years.  But I did it.  Done.

And though I was no longer coddling the Crackberry first thing in the morning, I was shifting my communication addiction to the social media beasts.  And yes, I was working and marketing and I value the connections I’ve made through social media to a great degree.  But I found myself flitting about obsessively on these outlets looking for information and connections that would further my work.

And I found them.  And I consumed.  Alot.  And now I’m tired.

Yes, my brain has reached its capacity for consuming information on the internet and all it really wants to do is read Harry Potter books and ponder the Tao of Abundance.  My internal hard drive is full.  And luckily I live in a town where I can now so easily cut the cord of communication and begin my recovery from my consumption overload/communication addiction.

Here’s a glimpse at the Detox.

I live in the highest town in the country now, and the internet is questionable.  I researched home internet access and the process was exhausting.  Then, we asked the plumber who was wedging himself into the crawl space under our house about the best option.  I mean, there are 3 satellite dishes attached to our rental home- which is all of 300 sq ft.

He said that the only one worth a damn has been down for about a month.  Apparently, the internet has a virus- or the tower does- or something insane like that.

So, I now hang out at the local bar at 9am because they have wifi, bottomless cups of coffee, pancakes bigger than my head and the local banter is priceless.  The morning chef now yells her greeting to us from the kitchen based on our breakfast order.  Love it!

I work until lunchtime, when the place starts to fill up and the booze begins to flow.  Some mornings the weed is fired up early too and the bar smells like Christmas.  That whole medicinal marijuana gig in Colorado is treating this town pretty well.  I had to check for an important email the other afternoon and figured I’d be OK, it’s only 3pm.  The bar was filling up and was getting rowdy by 4pm, so I had to quietly exit.

I now only check my email, Twitter/Facebook and RSS Feeds once a day (or every other day) for about 2 hours in the morning.
That’s it.  And there’s no real in-depth work being done in a bar, sorry, that’s just not gonna happen.

The anxiety of such a limited access to everything internet related was a little overwhelming at first.  I logically know that there’s nothing in my in-box that will implode my world if neglected and I know that such matters can wait until the next day- or a few days from now.  My clients who need to reach me have been informed of my schedule and they have my cell phone.

But there’s this fear of being out of the loop.  Fear of losing audience for the blog and all the hard work that has gone into her so far and there’s a fear that I’ll like this disconnection so much, I might not go back.

I spend more time walking my dog, taking in the amazing mountain views and reading.  I do my work when it needs to be done, but then there are these vast blocks of time that are free.  At first I thought I’d have to spend big money on a special wifi rig for my computer or get another smart phone.  But now, after a few weeks of this routine and surviving the digital detox, I don’t think that’s necessary.

I believe this cutting of the cord is a fabulous occurrence in my professional evolution.  The down-shifting back into life is a welcome transition.  And it feels nice.  I can move back into production mode, creativity mode and contemplation mode.

I’ll leave the communication mode on hold for now.  Communication will happen, as it should, but more on the 1994 terms of my youth, than the communication on steroids of my thirties.  And I believe the information consumption will stop for some time.  I have my choice outlets for consumption, but my frequent visits will occur no longer.

Welcome Free Time.  Hello Productivity.  Nice to see you again, Creativity.  It’s been too long, Contemplation.  Good to see you all again, I’ve missed you.

What are We Producing?

A fabulous online friend posed a wonderful question the other day through email correspondence.  While musing over the impact and investment of creativity and business coaches, she asked a very simple question that often pops into my mind.

One of my favorite characters from last winter's adventures. He's producing his own wind-powered bike.

Are you [hiring a creative coach] to take your photography to the next level or are you trying to build the blog?

As a freelancer with an inner entrepreneur who wrestles with an inner child and an eclectic, though demanding inner artist, this question has no simple answer.  As with most major decisions in my life, it depends on the day, the weather, the moon and sometimes the wind.

What it truly boils down to, the true core of the question, who am I and what do I do?  Or better yet, what do I produce?

I pose this question, because I’m feeling that need for full on production.  I’m approaching that time of the year when I tend to retreat- both literally and figuratively- and the production aspect of what I do kicks in.  Not in a monetary manner for clients, but in an artistic manner- for myself and for the sake of producing.

The winter months are my time for artistic endeavors, Walkabouts and wandering, reading and philosophizing and examining the state of my business and my approach towards its future.  I literally slow down- in all aspects of my life- and kick back a little.

And my friend’s question and my recent disengagement from the trusty old wifi has me truly analyzing my forward momentum.

Do I move forward as a writer?

Do I move forward as a documentary photographer?

Do I put the wheels in motion for a full blown production studio?

Do I build an online business around my blog?

Do I continue to juggle freelance work, commercial multimedia production and writing for a living and hope to squeeze out some documentary work in the “down time” and hope my clients actually pay their bills so I can fund the documentary work?

Or do I just put everything on the shelf and be a black and white photographer- in a darkroom, coddling her negatives and relishing in the fumes of fixer.  (Yes, I like that aroma- go figure)

Or- here’s a nice wrench in the whole argument, do I just retreat from the world, live off the land, relish in the beauty of small town America and do lapidary and photography- just for the sake of itself?

Oh, the tortured logic of an artistic entrepreneur.  Because really, they are all wonderful options.

So, I come back to the original question, and it’s not a new one to this blog.  Who are you?  What do you produce?  Why do you follow this line of work?  What’s your impact on the world?

And, if someone were to pull the plug on all the technology in the world and we were to revert to the mid 1990s- pre-internet boom- or even worse, the mid 1950s- pre-computer days- where would you be?  Or rather- who would you be?

What would you produce?  Why would you bother?  Who would benefit from your efforts?  Would you still be the insatiable entrepreneur- all Atlas Shrugged style or would you be the existential being living by a pond all Thoreau/Walden like?

As we approach another year and start to contemplate our plans for growth, the future and the big picture- maybe we should stop and reevaluate some of these fundamental questions.

Oddly, I pose these questions to myself often- but I never come up with a true answer.  And when an answer arises, it usually changes.

But what I do find is that vision- that dream future that I see and am walking towards- usually surfaces after the frantic ADD leaping from one possible career scenario to another possible business option subsides.  And once this Medusa-esque beast goes to sleep and I’m left with that one rational voice in my head, that true-self that quietly speaks up after the madness has subsided, I return to one thing.

Storytelling.  I am a storyteller.  I use images, words and sounds.  And I create.

That’s it.  You can have the rest.  Give me the time and space to create my art.  Give me a little food and a dry roof over my head (a train/plane ticket helps too) and I will just create.

Your turn.  What do you produce?  Why do you produce?  If you were take it all away- all the shiny bling of the internet, social media and the computer, what would you be left with?

And be sure to visit Farnoosh’s fabulous blog, Prolific Living, when you have the chance!  She prompted this post with her insightful questions.  Her blog is wonderful, so spend some time over there!