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Capitalizing on a Moment & the Creation/Destruction Dynamic

Capitalizing on a Moment & the Creation/Destruction Dynamic

The creation/destruction dynamic has existed as long as humankind. In my personal life I’ve experienced it as the desire to create art vs. the desire to withhold expression out of spite for creation. To not put in the effort to paint, to turn that emotion into a poem, to gather myself enough to channel and direct the chaos within. To take it a step further I’ve burned words and images, cut some of my paintings into pieces. This offense has been more rare — censoring past expression as opposed to withholding it somehow seems to be a different level of unholy. Sitting in the pains of un-expression takes effort, but it is more passive than anything, while active destruction takes … well, action.

But I’m realizing more and more how passivity can be a transgression.

I’ve noticed another way that this dynamic takes shape, and that is: Destruction of the present moment in order to Create future capital. Sure, this occurs in every situation where someone makes present sacrifices to ensure some safety in the future. And in a culture of social media, there have been more than a few moments that have been interrupted, or dare I say, ruined, by an overzealous shutterbug who just needed to get it on their Snap or Instagram story.

I see this come to a head most prominently in the travel sector, where people just want to show their friends at home how good of a time they’re having, and there are often new and unique ways of taking advantage–whether it involves cultural appropriation or animal exploitation. When I was a teenager, I wrongly participated in some of these things, like supporting a “photo booth” that used real captive wildlife for you to hold. It is important, if any of us have any kind of platform at all, to at least spend a little bit of time speaking out against these things, because some people, like 16-year-old-me, might not think twice about it otherwise.

Hanging coffins in Sagada, Philippines. I felt pretty uncomfortable about people taking joyful selfies in what is essentially a cemetery, but because it has become a tourist destination, somehow it has become normalized and “ok”.

As one’s platform grows, I can imagine it becomes more difficult (I don’t know from experience… yet, hehe), especially if one’s discernment is not already strong and practiced. Many of us witnessed Logan Paul’s unfortunate story unfold over the new year. That is an extreme example, but a similar dynamic is common between travelers and local culture–sometimes we believe we’re entitled to take their photo without permission. Sometimes we want to pose with a snake that’s kept in a basket all day, because it’s only $1 donation. If we’re a travel blogger, or vlogger, or whatever, some of these things can be tempting–after all, it’s in service of our audience, right?

We have to weigh what we are creating against what we are destroying.

And the most extreme ratio I’ve ever seen is the destruction of a present chance to connect, to feel joy, to embody empathy–at the expense of having some future internet content that might get the wrong message across.

Everything happening now is fodder for a future tale, and so I understand the storyteller’s mindset. Sometimes it’s a coping mechanism… to describe our lives in words can help us dissociate, as if we were describing someone else’s life, looking down on ourselves from above. It takes effort; meditation, breath; to feel the moment fully without attaching descriptors to what is happening. Especially if we’re in grind mode and there is earning potential for the stories we have to tell.

 

But, here’s a secret: the stories will still come if we let ourselves be silent.

 

And they will have more depth and be more interesting because we let ourselves feel what we were really feeling in the moment, instead of grasping at radio static in our heads because we think it’s some kind of gospel.

Photography is a little bit different, and I understand the anxiety. It can be frustrating and downright heartbreaking to miss a unique and long-awaited moment: the animal finally appearing, or the light pouring over in just the perfect way. Hopefully if, as a photographer, this has ever happened to you, you can use the feeling of this moment to inspire future work, even if you didn’t capture the “exact” moment you wanted. No matter how good of a camera or lens you have, your eyes are the ultimate equipment; your emotions, the ultimate technology. Instead of fussing over something you did not capture, connect with whatever it was you just witnessed. Absorb it, recognize its rarity, and let it drive you.

Passivity can be a transgression. And, although it seems backwards, taking your phone out to snap a million photos before even allowing yourself a second to breathe is the more passive option than to stop. Observe. And ask: how does being here make me feel? What kind of fire does this scenery ignite in my soul?

And sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. But at least do yourself the service of self-inquiring. Once you’ve found something–whether it is a flame, a void, a leaden thud in your stomach, or the expansive vapors of awe, take your photo.

Celebrating Birthdays Abroad

Celebrating Birthdays Abroad

Over the years, the extent to which I celebrated my birthdays reflected the extent to which I had discovered self-love.

And when I say celebrate, I don’t necessarily mean having a huge birthday bash with giant mylar balloons shaped like the letters of my name, although I’ve had extravagant parties. By celebrate, I mean the emotional quality of self-recognition, of acknowledging that a cycle in my life has come to a close, that something has shifted (is shifting) and that it deserves a day of its own. I’ve had fulfilling birthday celebrations alone and surrounded by peers. On the other hand, before I discovered the significance of a cycle, I’ve had unfulfilling, unreflective birthdays, whether alone or with my peers.

That being said, I’ve had birthdays at home and I’ve had birthdays while traveling, and depending on my internal state, they have been both incredible and boring. But that additional “wild card” factor when I’m away from home has created some truly unforgettable moments. On my 25th birthday on the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica, I was with a group of couchsurfers that I had not known for more than a week. We danced around a fire and with what meager ingredients were available in the kitchen, they surprised me with a cake (it was mostly oatmeal). As everyone else drifted off to sleep that night, I lay awake, abuzz with excitement at how these near-strangers/new friends had shown me such kindness on an important day.

My oatmeal cake

Gigi Young of www.moonbirdblog.com speaks of how specific days or periods of time, such as solstices or beginnings of a new season, serve as magnifiers of the emotional quality of our lives as we move through them*. That spring in Costa Rica was a perfect example of how my birthday represented a year-long period in my life of playfulness, spontaneity, and social butterfly-like interactions with people.

This most recent birthday, in 2018 (my … 27th? Wow), I was also traveling, but there was a much different mood, or tone, to the day. It could have been that I scheduled a flight for that day (sometimes I pick significant days to travel, like, Valentine’s Day, or my birthday. I suppose it could be symbolic, but it also helps me decide when I want to leave). But it probably had more to do with my reasons for traveling–to volunteer. To provide art. To share my gift. I was in Indonesia, leaving Bali to spend three weeks at a hostel in Yogyakarta and to work on a mural. On my 27th birthday, I spent most of the day surrounded by people who did not know that it was, in fact, my birthday. It may not have been a public affair, but my soul was in a state of celebration. I had been given so much to be able to arrive at that point.

I spent all day honoring my story, cherishing it. Recently, I have realized that there is no other option but to pay my gifts forward.

It has been 2 months into my 27th year and I am working and brainstorming every day to ensure that I stay aligned with my purpose.

If my 27th birthday was an accurate reflection of what this period in my life holds in store for me, I’d say I’m on the right track.

 

 

 

*In her video titled “Archetypes and Solstice” on Youtube.

7 Reasons a Hula Hoop is the Best Travel Accessory

7 Reasons a Hula Hoop is the Best Travel Accessory

When I moved to Austin, TX in 2015, I was amazed at how many people were into a thing called hooping. Hooping is part of a larger category of the arts known as flow arts, or object manipulation. As a yoga practitioner and someone who loves to get down on the dance floor, I’ve always loved the idea of experimenting with different methods to increase bodily awareness. But when I picked up a hoop for the first time I felt clumsy and ungraceful–the beginning of a gradual learning curve that would prove to be frustrating, rewarding, and fun all at once! This was the start of a renewed relationship with self-awareness, learning to feel more comfortable with myself in public spaces, finding new and weird ways of getting my boogie on, and becoming a part of a global community of hoopers and flow artists.

One of the fun things about hooping is that you can have fun with it (almost) anywhere. Ever since I started getting into it, I have never traveled without bringing a faithful plastic circle along (although I have been less than faithful .. the hula hoops that I’ve favored as companions have changed throughout the months). I’ve brought my beloved hoops with me to deserts, beaches, mountains, jungles and cities, to Central and South America, Asia, and all across the Continental USA. The following is a list of reasons that a hoop is an invaluable addition to my sojourner’s arsenal. Some of them are incredibly specific and personal, and some of these states of being can be achieved with objects other than a hula hoop, but for me, the hoop is what does it.

1. Staying active

I am by no means a hardcore fitness person at home, but I like to mix it up with my physical activity: weights, cardio, yoga, dance, hiking. While traveling, it is not as easy to carry out all of these tasks without access to a gym or whatever space I normally do my routine. Hooping is an incredible way to keep up the cardio quota, and because it’s fun–and there are an infinite number of tricks and combos to practice–I hardly realize how much work I put in during a session.

2. Conversation starter

As an introverted traveler, I enjoy having my own space, moving at my own pace, and not having to expend much energy on interacting with people. However, being human, I sometimes desire connection, and to share experiences with people (how crazy is that?!). The sight of a rainbow-colored hoop never fails to brighten at least one person’s day when I’m carrying it around in public, and I will often get a few comments and have engaged in meaningful interactions with this as the starting point. I’ll be real–I have received unwanted attention in the past because of it, so at that point I fold it up and give it a rest. Or I just dance away and leave them in a trail of dust, laughing maniacally!

After awhile, you come up with some pretty creative ways to haul it around …

3. Perfect for long waits

The business of travel is the business of waiting. I’ve spent 13 hours at the Manila Airport, and other countless hours waiting: for a train, for a bus, to check into my next hostel or Airbnb. (Granted, I’ve never openly hooped at an airport, but if I found a spot that was roomy enough and I felt comfortable, I totally would.) If well prepared, I am armed with reading material, podcasts, a journal and a sketchbook. These are all valuable ways to spend time–and so is napping, or quietly observing! There’s nothing wrong with doing “nothing”. But why not have one more thing you can do during those grueling wait times? … Especially if it provides a workout and improves dexterity and hand-eye coordination! If I’m road tripping and have a 10 hour drive ahead of me, I make sure to take a hoop break whenever I stop at a rest area.

4. Dancing without music

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m always out of storage on my phone. Traveling with a large music selection just isn’t a priority for me, and I usually choose to fill what little storage I have with podcasts instead. Don’t get me wrong, having a great groove improves my flow by leaps and bounds, but sometimes it’s just not available. You could just wiggle your body and writhe around–I’ve done it–but without music, having an object that provides immediate feedback to your movements adds a level of comfort. It creates its own rhythm. You respond to it, it responds to you, the sound of it making contact with various points on your body is the groove, is the beat. No music required.

Belize

5. Participating in my environment

Getting a little bit more abstract here, but sometimes having a hoop to play with helps me to feel as if I’m a creative participant in the world around me, rather than a tourist just looking at things and taking pictures. It assists my integration into a new place. It’s almost as if the hoop becomes an extrasensory organ (which it does … any object you interact with for extended periods of time become indistinguishable from your body, as interpreted by specific areas of the brain. It’s real science I swear), able to pick up certain information from the environment and translate it into conscious awareness. I can gauge how I feel about a place to the extent that I allow myself to dance freely: am I not entirely comfortable here yet? Am I too tired to go out sightseeing?

The orchid show at the New York Botanical Garden

6. Ceremony

I often hoop dance upon arrival or before departure. It helps me to ritualize those often profound moments in time, and helps express any intense emotions I might be experiencing during a transition from place to place. Also, sometimes I just want to celebrate a beautiful sunrise, sunset, or completing a hike to a mountain summit. Will I hoop for joy? Of course I will!

7. Photos!

OK, the last reason is a little superficial, hence it being the last reason. Hoops are fun to pose with, add a pop of color that sometimes match the background in surprising ways, and add an interesting frame to travel photos. Standing there and smiling is just fine, but why not upgrade your look by surrounding your bright and shiny face with a UV pink circle?!

There are many businesses that make fold-down hoops, or hoops that you can disassemble into 4, 5, or 6 pieces to store away. As a lightweight backpacker, this was essential to me!

I don’t consider myself a professional hooper or even a “great” one (by my self-effacing standards) but that’s not the reason I do it. My reasons are everything listed above: the emotional and physical benefits that come with it.

Disclaimer: it should go without saying that not all times and not all places are safe or appropriate to hoop in, including religious & holy sites, and underwater for extended periods of time. Travel safely!

 

Life on a Tiny Island with no Cars (plus Review of Eco Hostel in Gili Meno, Indonesia)

Life on a Tiny Island with no Cars (plus Review of Eco Hostel in Gili Meno, Indonesia)

The Island

I had barely heard of the Gilis (gili meaning small island in Sasak, a language spoken by populations in Lombok, Indonesia) before I decided to stay a week on Gili Meno, the smallest of the three main Gilis. If anything, I had heard of Gili Trawangan, the largest of the three, known for its nightlife and party culture.

I was approaching the end of my travels, which had been chock full of non-stop movement, chaos, and activity, and the more relaxed I could be, the better. I’m not normally a sit-on-the-beach-and-chill type of traveler, but that particular week called for some deep chill. Also, let’s be honest–I picked Meno because I discovered a place called Eco Hostel there, which happened to have a few canisters of paint and a couple of brushes, and I had the opportunity to make some art for them. It cost 85,000 rupiah to get to Gili Meno from Lombok by boat.

In addition to being a tiny, quiet, island–you can walk around the entire perimeter in about an hour–it was still low season in April, and many of the businesses were closed for a period. As safe and peaceful as it was, I would still sometimes get this eerie feeling walking the paths at night with my headlamp past a bunch of empty or near-empty restaurants and resorts.

Many of the locals keep cats as pets, but there are also quite a few wild ones roaming the island. Occasionally, in the dark, my headlamp would catch a bouncing set of glowing eyes. Sometimes I felt like Alice in a tropical Wonderland.

The roads and paths are primitive, because they don’t need to be anything more. This is a typical path that circumnavigates the island:

The main means of transport around the island are bicycles, horse-drawn carriages, or simply walking. I did see a few motor scooters, but I could probably count the total number on one hand.

If you are walking the entire perimeter, follow this woman’s good example and cover your head with a sheet for optimal sun protection

The Work

I was lucky enough to have this scenic vista overlooking the clear, turquoise waters as my workstation.

This image is the end result of my labor. There was an older, faded mandala already painted into the boards (some of the petals are still visible) but I got the OK from the manager to refresh it and give it a new splash of color. If you are reading and happen to be the original mandala artist, I am deeply sorry, let me take you out to lunch!

It did tend to be scorching hot on the balcony during the day, so I would either have to wake up before 7 to work on it, or wait until the sun started to set to go up there. I also kind of like the fact that the art can only be enjoyed at certain times of the day, like a gem hidden above everyone’s heads, waiting to be discovered. The designs are inspired by images I came across during my stay in Java: the shapes of the Borobudur Temple, the faded pastels and dot work of batik fish paintings. I loved the idea of taking a few images from previous travels that impacted me deeply, and spreading it to new lands the old fashioned way: through manual labor.

The Hostel

Eco Hostel, besides giving me the opportunity to leave my creative mark, is simply an incredible place to stay. There are a few private rooms (and tree houses!) available for guests, but a typical dorm is an open air room, equipped with mosquito nets for protection. If you prefer to nest in a hammock, there is a section for hammocks you can sleep in, also protected with nets.

The view from the common area. I only needed to walk about 100 feet from my dorm to arrive at the water’s edge

The boardwalk is a perfect spot to meditate, lounge, chill, or do some yoga. Some guests even dragged beanbags out here and slept feeling the sea breezes all night long!

Sorry not sorry: Eco Hostel only uses compost toilets, which save water and transform waste into something that is actually useful for the earth. When used properly, they remain clean and don’t smell bad, and come with the satisfying feeling that you are contributing to a regenerative lifestyle, even if in the smallest way. Also, all of the showers supply salt water, which took me a moment to get used to, but after a few days of bathing (and of course taking a daily dip in the sea) it did wonders for my skin.

The common area is airy, spacious, stocked with books in multiple languages, and is furnished with comfy beanbags and hammocks. I easily spent hours hanging out here, sometimes socializing but mostly reading or dozing. It is basically a big, breezy outdoor patio with a roof so that if it rains (which is a rare occasion) you stay comfortably dry.

Breakfast is included in the price of your stay and includes a piping hot mug of tea or coffee and two pancakes (bananas and chocolate syrup optional). The pancakes are delicious, but I have to say, I usually opted for eating out for brunch, as I prefer more savory flavors in the morning. A local favorite place to eat is called Warung Pak Man, which is less than a 10 minute walk from the hostel. One of my favorite options there is the nasi campur (mixed rice) which cost 25,000 rupiah (or less than $2 USD).

A trip to the Gilis would not be complete without a snorkeling adventure!

As a volunteer, I was able to borrow the hostel’s snorkel gear for free. It is available for guests to rent at a low price, and guests get first pick of equipment. Snorkeling was a daily activity for me. One popular thing to do is search for sea turtles–which, sadly, I did not spot during my whole week there. I did, however, witness a myriad of other stunning underwater phenomena: shimmering schools of fish, coral, a bright yellow eel. The water is crystal clear, so it’s like snorkeling in HD!

If you ever find yourself in Lombok & the Gilis, Gili Meno is where it’s at for rejuvenation and relaxation. And if you choose to stay at the hostel, you will undoubtedly meet some rad, Eco-conscious people from all over the world!

Hostel Review: Sunshine Vintage House in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

Hostel Review: Sunshine Vintage House in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

I arrived in Bali in the days prior to a huge holiday I knew nothing about: Nyepi, a day of silence that the entire island of Bali participates in. This year, in 2018, it happened on March 17. It is a Hindu holiday, but everyone present is subject to its traditions: no one is allowed outside of their homestead or hotel, no travel, no internet, no lights on. On Nyepi eve, there is an enormous, musical, mythical celebration, where giant statues called ugoh-ugoh are marched through the streets, sometimes carried by twenty or more men, women, or youths. The ugoh-ugoh are blessed and prayed over before the celebration, and are meant to ward off bad spirits.

I had incredible fun watching the parade unfold and marching alongside the festivities. I knew that silent day was to follow, but if I’m being totally honest, I was skeptical of the extent that the rules would actually be enforced. Not be able to go outside and walk around in the streets? How could the entire island cut out the wifi? Psh, we’ll see about that …

As it turns out, they were being totally serious. I found out later that some people retained wifi usage, but for the most part, they cut it off (I have no idea how). Even the airport shut down, and no one could fly in or out that day (this is why it’s a good idea to research any customs/holidays/special events before arriving somewhere. I usually do, but I guess Nyepi was meant to be a pleasant surprise!).

Thankfully, I was staying at the Sunshine Vintage House in Ubud. I would recommend this hostel on any other day of the year, but especially on Nyepi, there was no other place I would have rather been stuck for the day.

The hostel is family-owned by Toetnick (or Nick for short) and his wife, and they have an amazing operation going. Their service is impeccable. They welcome every newcomer with a blackboard sign, a simple gesture, but it made me feel so welcome and warmed my heart right off the bat.

Finding the hostel is a little bit tricky, as it is on one of those narrow side streets that only allow pedestrians and motor scooters, no cars. Ultimately, that little extra bit of privacy from being away from the main street was much appreciated, and I was able to use the quiet street as a safe place to practice riding the motor scooter since I had never operated one before. I rented the scooter through the hostel for 50,000 rupiah a day (about $3.50 USD).

The common area:

The breakfast/common area is entirely outdoors in the courtyard, with a roof to shield you from the elements. I spent most of silent day out here reading and eating, or napping in my bunk. There is a shelf of available books for guests. If you don’t have enough food stocked up for the day–since you can’t go to the grocery store on Nyepi–the family cooks up lunch and dinner in addition to the usual breakfast, with a vegetarian option. Lunch and dinner are an additional 50,000 rupiah should you choose to opt in.

The bedroom:

I’ve stayed at quite a few hostels, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that Sunshine Vintage House has the best bedroom accommodation I’ve ever experienced. They do have a private room available, which I can’t speak to, but the dorm was everything I could ask for. There is only one dorm room, 8 beds total and mixed gender. Normally I prefer female-only with 6 beds or less, but the setup allowed for perfect privacy and it never felt crowded or chaotic at all. Rather than having standard bunk beds that creak and shift when anyone climbs into it, the beds are built into the wall, so I never had to worry about disturbing whoever was below me with my movement. Every bed has 2 wall hooks, a shelf, and a standard American electrical outlet (I did need to purchase an outlet converter after I left, though). Every bed also has a heavy black curtain, which blocks out virtually all light and made me feel like I had my own private little cubicle. Lockers are underneath the beds and you receive a key upon arrival. The bathroom is attached and has two toilets, two showers and two sinks.

The location:

Sunshine Vintage House is situated in the heart of Ubud, close to the markets and shopping, restaurants, yoga studios, and is only about a 10 minute walk from the monkey forest. Beyond that, here are a number of attractions accessible by taxi or motor scooter, such as the Tegallalang Rice Terrace or Gunung Kawi, a scenic Hindu temple. Both are only about a half hour away by car or scooter.

Another view of the hostel’s beautiful courtyard

The take-away:

Sunshine Vintage House IS something to write home about! I had a safe, clean, comfortable place to stay after days full of exploration and made friends from all over the world. I am blessed with sharp hostel-intuition when browsing around HostelWorld, because I pretty much picked this place on a whim. Highly recommend! Five stars! 10/10 all around!