Brisbane Color Project: Finding My Vibrant

Exploring new cities makes me feel vibrant.

The thrill of navigating public transportation, the dizzying splendor of sky-scraped landscapes and the epiphanies of the unfamiliar. Discovering holes-in-the-wall on beaten paths new to me.

In the midst of any adventure, my eyes and heart are wide open, eager for delight, and I’m swept up in splendor. I always have been. Ever since the family vacations we’d take every year to a new destination, I’ve loved the adventure of an expedition.

These last two months, Brisbane has been the city capturing my fancy. Nestled in Australia’s Sunshine State, it’s like Florida (except with a better personality). Or like Portland (but less pretentious). And it kind of reminds me of Vancouver (only with more sunshine.)

How ever you slice it, it’s been the best place to end my year of wandering. 

A traveler’s mindset seeks to be delighted by novelty and trying to soak up the beauty any way I can. So without realizing it, I’d been cultivating an openness towards others, the world, and myself. 

Like a true tourist, I’ve been taking a lot of pictures on my iPhone. When I shared this cacophony of color collecting in my photo album with my friend, it reminded her of a blogger she follows who photographed Paris by color. She pulled out a coffee table book, filled with pages of Parisian streets, both close up details and wider shots, categorized by various hues.

Nichole Robertson had collected these photos during her year of living in Paris. In the forward to her book, Paris in Color she noted “Nothing sharpens your senses like a new address. The streets were no longer an obstacle course to run. We walked for pleasure, with no agenda and with no particular destination in mind. We noticed details, and took time to take them in.”

Her observations struck a chord. This woman’s pursuit of a creative life sparked an idea. As we went to the farmers market later that morning, the hues seemed heightened. The piles of carrots and riotously pink beets were calling out to me. 

“Each colorful detail popped against the natural textures of the beautiful, worn buildings as if waiting to be noticed. Some were out in the open. Others were well concealed from casual passers by. Those were the best discoveries.”

I was hooked. For the rest of my time in Brisbane, my eyes were peeled for color, seeking the vibrancy in the (extra)ordinary world. When my perspective shifted, the world became technicolor.

You find what you’re looking for.

It’s an epiphany I keep having throughout my life. (Just like when I started seeing Chevy Cavaliers everywhere just after I got my first car. What I pay attention to gets bigger.) This project was a beautiful reminder that joy “is a gift the created world is perpetually offering.” (Fae Malania)

Without realizing it, this color project helped me show up to the present moment. So easily, I can stand at a distance from my life, stuck in my head with patterns of anxiety and fear. Hypersensitive to how others are perceiving me, or fretting over an imagined scarcity.

But in focusing on the vibrant details of my environment, I unwittingly entered into the fullness of my life. Attending to shades of red or purple ushers me into jubilance, even if it’s just for moments at a time.

That was my hope for this whole journey. The catalyst for traveling around the country and around the world was a longing for vibrancy. Choosing to boldly declare my deep joy as a worthy pursuit. “Finding my vibrant” has become a mantra phrase for me. A playful invitation to live life to the fullest.

I’ve found vibrancy while wandering around the streets of Brisbane. But the paradox discovery is how shifting my perspective can cultivate this vibrancy anywhere. Sometimes “finding my vibrant” might mean going on an international adventure. But more often, “finding my vibrant” means reframing what might seem mundane into ordinary splendor.

I’m so curious what vibrant color schemes will fill my next season!

Much of a Muchness… And Other Australian Epiphanies

Did you know Australians not only drive on the left side of the road, but also walk on the left side of the sidewalk?

Also, they call sweaters “jumpers” but don’t have a word for the denim dresses with overalls we all wore in the ‘90s.

And they say “how are you going” rather than “how is it going?”

This is one of my favorite games right now—dissecting the subtle differences between American and Australian culture. My friends and I will point out idioms, products, or cultural norms and hold them up to the “Yank” way of doing things. (And, like the dork I am, I’ll try the phrases out, attempting the flattened vowels of the Australian accent, sounding only vaguely British and mostly absurd.)

It’s hard to believe I’ve been here for almost two weeks now. At the beginning of June, I flew for sixteen hours over the entire Pacific Ocean and arrived in the Northeast coast of Australia. Two friends (whom I technically hadn’t met yet) greeted me and ushered me to their apartment in the heart of Brisbane.

Seemingly seamlessly, I joined into the rhythm of their lives. I recognize the rare gift I’m receiving of generous hospitality. Delicious meals shared and a welcoming intentionality as these people share their home, their food, their friends, their time. And the genuine excitement as we tour their Brisbane favorites—a steady stream of “Oooh! We’ll have to take Allie to (fill in the blank with yet another delightful Brisbane gem)” adding more to the Explore List. 

In the midst of this new shared urban life—picnics by the river, subway rides into the city and (my new favorite hobby!) Monday night Beer Yoga, we have started to settle into a rhythm of normal life. All three of us freelance writers. All three of us somewhat new to the lifestyle of doing what we love. Sharing companionable silences punctuated by keyboard clicking. Sharing meals and conversation in the afternoons. Sharing “just one more episode” looks after a particularly cliff-hanging ending of Orphan Black in the evenings. 

Kinship is a novelty after so many months of solitude.

One Australian idiom has been echoing in my head, as I adjust to life down under. Mick tossed it out as we were exploring downtown Brisbane, discussing the various public transportation systems in the city. “It’s much of a muchness.”

“Much over muchness?” (I have to ask people to repeat themselves often. Even though we’re both speaking English… I still need translations.)

“Much of a muchness.”

The whimsical phrase seemed to describe my life right now. Because to my untrained ears, the phrase sounded like a stretch beyond immensity. A thing too much to be contained by one four-lettered “much.” Immeasurably immense.

And life feels pretty immense right now. I’m struck in odd moments by my reality. Attempting to share who I am when Kamina introduces me to someone and faltering for a succinct answer. Being in such a different time zone from everyone I love—it’s almost always Tomorrow here. Still trying to wrap my mind around the whirlwind of events this past year. (And realizing there’s no end in sight in the Big Life Changes department.)

For all the uncertainty and trailblazing, it seems I’m in uncharted territory. And in grasping for a way to describe it, “much of a muchness” feels right.

But that’s not actually what the phrase means. It doesn’t mean beyond infinity. “Much of a muchness” is an idiom conveying the very little difference between two things. Like “six of one, half a dozen of the other.”

This also rings true. Because as much as my life feels like an immensity difficult to wrap my mind around, it also feels exactly right. Traipsing around the west coast on my own or sharing life with Australians? Six of one, half a dozen of the other.   

In all of the absurdity that’s come to make so much sense, there’s a certain level of shoulder-shrugging acceptance of it all. Of course I’m here in Australia. Of course I decided to come stay with my Australian friend for two months. Unconventionality has been my m.o. for quite awhile now. (Maybe it’s because I’ve spent the last year of my life staying in strangers houses, but the spectrum of what’s “normal” for me has expanded.)

It’s all much of a muchness.

Not because I’m super brave or anything. Mostly because I’ve been practicing. Following Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice of doing one thing each day that scares me. While I don’t desire an endlessly nomadic lifestyle, residing outside of my comfort zone these past ten months has been an excellent teacher.

Learning how to be brave in the solo-adventures brought me to depths I didn’t know existed. And now, as I enter back into community, even at the other end of the world, I’m finding new ways of being just as brave. But wherever I find myself, there I am. Still me, gifts and struggles and insecurities and splendor. Every bit very much of my muchness.

Everything Is As It Should Be

What is my life?

This is the question buzzing around my head.

Resurfacing when I lay in bed at night trying to wrap my mind around the events of the last few months.

The incredulous exclamation whispered with a laugh as I try to prepare for the upcoming ones.

A genuinely baffled and utterly delighted curiosity towards this whirlwind of a story unfolding.

Allie Illuminated | danner boots

A quick recap for those at home:

  • Last September, I left everything familiar and certain to travel around the west coast. I always knew the very next step, but plans or visions of any bigger picture were fuzzy at best. Eight months of adventure, discovering new friends and the hidden treasures of the Pacific coastal towns, all while launching a freelance writing business from scratch. The immensity of all that happened within me during this solitude and unprecedented independence is still hard to wrap my mind around.
  • In moments yet too fragile to put into words, I explored the outer regions of myself. It was a most beautiful emptiness, but the season of solitude seemed done around March. I wanted to keep traveling for a bit, but to adventure towards or with people who knew me well. So when an opportunity to stay with a dear friend in Australia presented itself, this nonsensical adventure made all of the sense in my soul. Which is why I booked a two-month flight to Brisbane, that leaves on Tuesday.
  • So in the last few weeks of being alone in the remote parts of Northern California, I stumbled into a plot twist. An unexpected, nearly unbelievable but ironically perfect gift. I met someone. I met a California mountain man,  to be more specific. With a depth of kindness that takes my breath away and an adventurous soul that feels like home. And, dear reader, this is very new. A story that is still just his and mine, and one that I’m not ready to share in this context. But a beautiful game-changer, with a weightiness impossible to ignore.

Endings and beginnings. Leaving and arriving, only to leave again. It’s as if I’m sitting at a train station. Just returned from this immense journey that changed me in ways I’ll still be discovering for years, and about to embark on another adventure of epic proportions. The whir of trains leaving, seasons ending, and the rush of anticipation, announcements, and countdowns to leaving has me feeling swept up and thunderstruck.

In the now rare moments of quiet, I poke around in the giddy jumbled pile of my thoughts and emotions. And I think “What is my life? How did this happen?!”

Fear disguised as wisdom would have me bridle my joy, hold back my happiness, guard against some future hurt. Worrying and playing out worst-case scenarios feel like the prudent things to do.

But I’ve lived enough life to know those tactics for what they are—feeble grasps at control rooted in mistrust. And regardless of the outcome, the times I’ve dared to be happy and chosen to enter into the moment have never ended in regret.

This time around, though, I’m feeling more able to dismiss the anxious thoughts. I’ve been trying on the thought “Everything is exactly as it should be.”

Months of healing solitude has produced a deeper sense of confidence in me. The nearly daily practice of stepping into the unknown has fortified my ability to trust. And the help of a dear friend and mentor, Julie has cultivated new and healthy thought patterns. I’m finding it possible to really believe in abundance and to recognize thoughts of scarcity as fear-based lies.

How do I know that my solo adventure on the west coast was the right thing for me to do?

Because that’s what I did.

How do I know that Australia will be Good for me?

Because I’m going.

How do I know all the moving pieces and sometimes overwhelming immensity of it all is supposed to be happening?

Because it is.

How do I trust that this story I’m in the midst of is the right one?

Because the One writing this story is trustworthy and Good. 

Tempting though it is to try and figure how all of this is going to play out, I want so much to be in this present moment. To not miss a thing. What’s happening has left me incredulous, but the story I’m in the midst of is so riveting.

At this train station, crowded with familiar faces of people who know me or knew me, as I share bits of past or upcoming travels, they say with eyebrows raised “I am excited to see what happens next!”

It’s all I can do to giggle and reply, “I know! Me too.”

Thoughts on Becoming a Hopeful Pessimist

Housesitting in Canada. Traveling solo around the west coast. Freelance writing. How did this become the new normal?

I have zero regrets about making this choice. I feel more myself than ever and deep gratitude most of the time. Sometimes, I imagine my life in montage—a series of snapshot moments of what my life looks like right now. I think there could be two possible montage sequences for the trailer of my story.

Montage Sequence #1: A shot of me strolling on the beach at sunset. Driving on a road ribboning through forests and breathtaking shots of the Pacific Northwest. Another shot of me sitting at my computer, fingers flying as I chase down the words for another writing project. Laughing on the phone as I connect with a friend from back home. Another of me deep in conversation with some random friend I’ve met in a coffee shop.

All of these are all regular occurrences. This is real life, and sometimes it floors me.

But here’s another, also very real montage happening simultaneously:

Montage Sequence #2: Me, sitting on the couch alone on a Friday night, when the “Are you still watching?” pop up comes on Netflix. Sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on my way home from a downtown coffee shop. Bloodshot eyes staring at a screen, deleting the sentence I’ve been trying to write for the last hour. Sitting in my car, trying to work up the nerve to walk into a meet up where, once again, I don’t know anyone.

It seems glamorous from the outside. People often admit envy when I share what I’m doing. But there are terms and conditions to this life. Things I agreed to sign up for when traveling solo and choosing a career that requires large chunks of time alone with my thoughts.

Just like we don’t read the fine print on the websites we join or the products we buy, it seems we spend a lot of our lives carefully avoiding the reality of our own disappointments and frustrations, the inevitability of ache in the paths we choose.

We pine after constant bliss, thinking it exists just within of our reach. We pursue the promise of an ideal existence, convinced if we can just be productive enough, clever enough, fill-in-the-blank enough, the best versions of our lives can finally start.

I’m living a life I love, and I’m not happy all the time. Montage Sequence #1 comes in a package with Montage Sequence #2. That’s the way it is.

Work life will never be pain-free. Conflict-free relationships where the other person totally gets me and loves me perfectly don’t exist. I’ll never be this elusive perfect version of myself.

These pessimistic revelations aren’t leading to a defeated despair. Ironically, coming to terms with these “terms and conditions” is a huge sigh of relief. A hopeful embracing of what is possible.

It seems all of us are trying to find the best ways to be fully alive. And the motivational slogans encouraging us to “Make Every Day Great!” and “Choose Happiness” seem like a logical strategy.

But how much deep joy have I forfeited in my demand for constant happiness?

What if my crusade for positivity was actually robbing me of the nuanced beauty of the current messy splendor?

What if admitting my limits and being hospitable towards my mundane moments actually freed me?

I’m testing out this hopeful pessimism, and it feels like a sigh of relief. In a nonsensical way, not needing to be happy all the time is making me a happier person.

Please don’t confuse what I’m saying with existential cynicism or an apathy towards growth.

It’s just that sometimes optimism requires a blindness towards the less desirable emotions. And I’m not willing to submit to that anymore. I’m tired of the hustling to diminish my weaknesses. I’m not attracted to the kind of busyness aimed at distracting me from the presence of heartache.

And I’m seeing a tyranny in the Either-Or. The All-Or-Nothing. There are actually more opportunities for joy when there’s more margin for accepting the not so amazing moments.

The upside of pessimism is how it helps me say “no” to things cluttering my life. Admitting the finite-ness helps me steward the time, energy, and resources I have in a more effective way. It provides a lens that reveals the ways the grass may not actually be greener when I start to compare or assume.

Maybe this is just an optimist’s step into deeper joy. Nuanced, messy, and full of splendor.

The Art of Not Having Things Figured Out

I have this friend who is a counselor. She works with a lot of women in their mid-twenties to mid-thirties. I asked her, over coffee one day, for her thoughts on our sub-species— the young woman of the 21st century. What themes did she see on the other side of the counseling couch?

“I see a lot of young women who have so much anxiety over not having their lives figured out. Some feel this sense of panic, that things aren’t turning out the way they thought. They are frustrated with themselves that they can’t be this idealized version of themselves that they’ve created in their heads.

Others have gotten to their mid-twenties and have checked off a lot of the things on their lists. They’ve started their careers. They’re married, maybe even have children. And yet they have this sense of loss. Like what do I do now? Is this it??

What I want these women to know is that, developmentally, they’re not done yet. All of these regrets and existential crises are actually premature and unnecessary. They see their stories as already written. And that just isn’t true.”

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I set my coffee cup down with an emphatic nod of my head. I felt like I was just like those women she was talking about. I have felt those panic attacks. That feeling of claustrophobia—is this all there is?! I’ve felt stuck, frustrated that the narrative I’d planned out wasn’t unfolding according to plan. I’ve been on the counseling couch, grieving over the story I was supposed to be living, but wasn’t.

And that grieving was important. I had to mourn and die to the version of myself I thought I was supposed to be. I had to come to grips that the “American Dream” wasn’t going unfold like the predictable path of a Life board game.

But just like my counselor friend pointed out, for a lot of my twenties, I assumed that my story was already written. In recent years, I’ve been surprised, daunted, encouraged, and terrified at the news that I actually had more freedom than I thought.

girl-in-the-lightFinding myself in the midst of a story unfolding feels equally risky and hopeful. Especially this past year, it seems I’ve chosen the even more reckless option to “Choose Your Own Adventure.” I’ve become untethered to any sense of long-term plans or clear ideas for where I’ll be in five years, let alone three months. As I have the typical conversations with family members over the holidays (the well-intentioned questions about my Plans) the words “I don’t know” have become very familiar on my lips.

I don’t know where I’ll travel to next.

I don’t know how much longer I’ll keep traveling.

I don’t know if my freelance writing will support me.

I don’t know what’s going to happen next.

I don’t know the long-term plan yet.

But I do know the very next step, and I sometimes have a hazy idea of what might come after that.

So that is where I start. I’m practicing the Art of Not Having It Figured Out. I’m trying to let go of my demand to be this ideal Allie that always has the answer and never messes up. (To tell the truth, I don’t even think I’d like that girl.)

girl on top of carI’m finding myself replaying that conversation with my counselor friend that I had all those months ago.

It’s relieving to remember that I’m not alone in wrestling with this anxiety. That might not be what we’re presenting to each other on our filtered social media feeds. But when we encounter the gift of brave honesty, we discover we’re all wrestling self-doubt and fear.

But my friend’s observations are also a call to change the script. To insist that it is a good thing that I’m still in progress. To expose the disillusioned lie that we’re stuck and things aren’t going to get better. A whispered invitation to let go of the martyr’s crusade towards some fantasy version of perfect.

As I set my sights on a brand new year, I don’t have a twelve-step action plan to help achieve all of my goals. I’m not clinging to a specific outcome anymore. But I have a pretty clear idea of what I want.

img_2636I want a vibrant wholeness, not a hollow holiness.

I desire authenticity, not a counterfeit conformity.

I want to become deeply human, not sporadically spiritual.

I don’t want to confuse the process of true transformation

with my ego-inflated attempts at self-improvement.

I want to keep entering into the process of becoming

who I already am.

Reflect & Envision: An Illuminated New Year’s Guide

The week in between Christmas and the New Year has always been a hushed margin of possibility for me. The presents are all unwrapped and all the chocolates in the Advent calendar have been eaten. But the decorations are still up, and the days are still infused with the holiday rhythm. There’s less of a push to be productive, and as the year comes to a close, it’s okay to just revel in the snow-globed magic of the season.

img_3372At some point in this transition week, I always try to steal away for a couple of hours. I find a quiet corner in my favorite coffee shop, drink my coffee slow as I think back over the last year and dream about the year to come.

This tradition of reflecting and envisioning has been a practice that I look forward to almost as much as Christmas morning.

It’s surreal to think about where I was at a year ago. I was halfway through my last year as an elementary teacher, living in Kansas City with five roommates. I had recently gone through a breakup and was making my first attempts at delving into the bizarre world of online dating. I knew that 2016 would hold a lot of change, but I didn’t know how it would manifest.

I wanted to be living a life that felt congruent with who I was–I longed to feel deep joy in what I was doing. My time in Kansas City had been filled with beautiful growth and I loved it in a lot of ways. But my sense of belonging and purpose had been slowly diminishing, to a degree that was now painfully evident. I was starting to feel this invitation to step out of this predictable narrative. 

The thought of so much change terrified me, but the only thought more terrifying was the prospect of everything remaining exactly the same. It felt like there was so much at stake, and the possibility of failure felt inevitable. Even so, I decided that risking disappointment was better than living disappointed.

So, as I left 2015 and all of its disillusioning heartache, I dared to write out some of my hopes for the brand new year. Not so much a New Year’s Resolution self-improvement campaign, but a ritual of remembering who I am and dreaming about how to live in line with that identity. A brave declaration of hopes, held with an open hand.

I’ve now arrived at the other bookend of this year. I’ve almost made my way through all 365 days of 2016. And guess what? Those whispers of hopes that I wrote down? Those dreams scribbled into my journal last January? Many of them actually happened. Beyond what I had the audacity to expect! I am living out of a rhythm that fosters my wholehearted flourishing! Unexpected and unconventional though it may be, I love the season I find myself in.

img_7468If this is the part where you’re expecting to hear me say that I’ve now arrived at some continual state of self-actualized contentment, you’ll be disappointed.

2017 is coming with just as much uncertainty and me not having it “figured out.” The highs may be higher, but the lows feel lower. That makes sense–I chose a posture of vulnerability when I left comfort and predictability. 

But I can say that 2016 was a year of me stepping into More (life, freedom, joy, moments of beauty). It was a year of me entering further into the endless process of becoming. There were moments of bravery and moments of failure. Moments of sheer terror juxtaposed against moments of sheer delight. I felt the depths of isolation and tasted the sweetness of true connection.

In other words, it was a year of vibrant humanity, splendid and imperfect. And I wouldn’t trade any of it.

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So I find myself this week, back at another little coffee shop, thinking back on the whirlwind that was this past year. On the borderline between one year and the next, I want to remember where I’ve been as I remain as open as possible to what lies ahead.

The ritual of looking back–of naming what has happened and feeling the weight of its impact has brought me freedom. Starting a new season with intentionality, taking time to quiet myself long enough to listen to my desires shapes my coming months in ways that I didn’t know were possible.

I don’t know what 2016 was like for you. If you are longing to escape a year that left you battered and bruised, or if you’re ending it with a sense of deep gladness. I wonder how you are feeling about 2017. Is it a year full of possibility and hope for you? Or do you feel daunted by the mountains looming ahead for you to climb? Perhaps you feel stuck, disillusioned by the suspicion that nothing will change. That next December will find you stuck in the exact same spot.

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I wanted to share the framework that I use to help me look back and look ahead. It’s not really a formula for a New Year’s Resolution, but some open-ended questions to get you thinking. I hope it is a catalyst to help you claim more abundance in your life.

Maybe you can find a time in this week of margin to get away for just a bit. I’m getting so giddy excited for you–maybe sitting down with a big mug of hot chocolate and your favorite pen; cozily wrapped up in a big blanket and envisioning what 2017 could be like. 

Click on the picture to download this free workbook!

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Fort Bragg and the Art of Reinvention

This past week, I’ve been exploring the town of Fort Bragg, California. This sleepy blue-collar town on the Mendocino coast is a hipster’s paradise. Right along Highway One, Fort Bragg is bordered by Pacific coastlines to the west and lush Redwood Forests to the east. Secluded as it is, the town is populated by funky local shops and surprisingly excellent breweries. And don’t get me started on the locals. The quirky, lovable characters that live there only add to the charm that feels more like the set of some indie film than real life.

rough-barAnd do you want to know how I ended up here? (I have had to ask myself that question every day this week.) On a whim, I called up the innkeeper of the Grey Whale Inn and asked if I could help him update his website in exchange for free accommodations. And he went for it! This historic redwood building used to be the town hospital, but is now a quirky 13 room hotel, complete with wallpapered rooms, sweeping views of the coastline, and a dying cat named Sweet Pea. A plucky moment of asking for what I wanted led to this whimsical week of exploring a coastal town and listening to the story of this off-the-beaten-path town.

img_2120Fort Bragg is a city in the process of reinventing themselves. See, for decades, a huge corporate lumber mill generated the economy and culture of this blue collar town. When the mill closed down in 2002, they had an identity crisis of sorts, trying to figure out a post-industrial life in a changing world. It was like the townspeople looked up for the first time and saw the beauty of the coastline that the mill had been blocking. They saw the elegance of the Redwood forests they had been cutting down for decades. They saw the potential for what their city could be, surrounded by so much beauty. They started asking the questions and thinking about what the next chapter in their story could be.

A little over a decade later, the conversation is still going on, and change is gradual, but as a visitor passing through this town, the metaphor of redemption is so rich. All around me, I saw the potential of this sleepy town that’s starting to wake up.

trestle-bridgeAnd what a beautiful place to find myself, in the midst of my own reinvention. I can resonate with some of the locals, fearful of the changes and wanting life to be the stable comfortability of its former industrial days. With the new artists and small businesses coming to town, anxieties over the creative risks make sense to me.

But I love the glimmer of hope that many Fort Bragg residents seem to have. They see the possibilities and have a dogged loyalty to the place that is endearing. They have a Stars Hallow level pride for their community, enduring the necessary growing pains for a small town longing to thrive in a new way.

pudding-creekMaybe this is narcissistic to say, but I can see myself in this town. I see the scrappy attempts at new businesses around the downtown, even as I sit at my computer, pitching myself as a freelance writer. I resonate with the cycles of self-doubt and brave dreaming that Michael the innkeeper shares as he talks about plans for the Grey Whale Inn. I see evidence of the grieving of seasons past and anticipation for what lies ahead because that’s exactly what I’m doing in my own story right now.

As I wander around the streets of Fort Bragg, listening to the stories of anyone that will talk to me, I am reminded of the beauty of the process of reinvention. I see the blossoming potential of this best-kept-secret of a town, and it is whispering hope right back to me.

img_2156“The journey of reinvention is one of raw emotions
Emerging from dormancy
Surprising as a paper cut
Overwhelming as a hailstorm
One part vulnerability
One part rage
One part surrender
Uncomfortable
Unfamiliar
Unsure
Fearful
Alone
Damaged
Broken
And finding a new Self
Slowly
Different
Healing
Humble
Present
Open
Longing
Free”
Dave Rudbarg

3 Ways To Escape A Tourist Mindset

Just north of Malibu, there’s a quintessential Pacific Coast beach. El Matador State Beach. All the locals like to keep it a secret, but I have Friends who Know Things.

Around the golden hour right before sunset, I parked along the side of Highway One and made my way towards the cobalt ocean horizon. Stairs were cut into the bluffs cutting down to a rocky beach. Windswept waves crashed into steeples in the water as the golden edges of late afternoon sun cast long shadows. Pretty much everything a beach should be.

As I made my way down the bluff, it was apparent someone had let the cat out of the bag about this place. The beach was teeming with people. A myriad of tourists holding their selfie sticks and couples holding the hands of their lovers were joined by some students making an independent film, several fashion photo shoots, and two different newlywed couples, the brides in their wedding dresses playing in the surf. There was even a drone with a Go-Pro getting the bird’s eye view.

img_2516Yup, this was a well-documented beach.

Everyone was following the impulse to capture this photogenic beach. Alain de Botton, in his eloquent book The Art of Travel, articulates what often goes on at these destinations of recognized beauty. 

“A dominant impulse on encountering beauty is to wish to hold on to it, to possess it and give it weight in one’s life. There is an urge to say, ‘I was here, I saw this and it mattered to me.’”

Registering their heart’s stirring at the view, they mistook the need to be captivated by the beauty and settled for capturing it with a picture. See, the thing about snapping a picture is it tricks us into thinking that we’ve got all there is to get from the place. We substitute actually noticing a landscape for the assurance that we can look back at it in our photo albums at any time.

I’ll admit, I was snapping pictures like the rest of them. And I was also writing this article in my head. Maybe in doing so, I too missed the opportunity to become immersed. I don’t know what the balance is here. Seems like the very thinking about wanting to be in the moment keeps me from doing just that. I second guess myself and start navel-gazing rather than Nature-gazing, if you catch my drift. 

I don’t think I’m alone here. Why is it that we cringe when we are in tourist places, everyone snapping pictures like we’re trying out a career in paparazzi? Why did I laugh at the video I saw the other day of a guy running around and cutting people’s selfie-stick poles with hedge trimmers?

There’s something about tourists that rub us the wrong way, even when we are one. It’s because the tourist has the reputation of wanting the bragging rights of having visited a place, but without the inconvenience of really seeing. Hurried, uncurious, and therefore blind, they content themselves with the satisfaction of checking off items on an itinerary and pass through woefully unchanged.

So how do we break out of this default setting as we visit new places? How can we step out of the mindset of a tourist and immerse ourselves into the places our adventures take us? There are a few things I’ve read, heard, or discovered along the way that have helped me.

img_2525Slow Down

Our internal lives mirror our external circumstances. The times when I have a jam-packed schedule with an unrealistic itinerary, I struggle to remain fully present. I know this, but I still need to be reminded. In the midst of so many recommendations and places on the list, I subtly took on the mindset that I had to do it all. Accepting my human limits allows for a richer experience. Choosing Quality Time in a few places rather than taking on an Amazing Race pace on my trip has not been a choice I’ve ever regretted.

img_2083-jpgLook Like an Artist

How do you train your eyes to really see something? Bring a sketch book. This was the suggestion of John Ruskin, a 19th century English artist and writer insisted that “in the process of re-creating with our own hands what lies before our eyes, we seem naturally to evolve from observing beauty in a loose way to possessing a deep understanding.” (Alain de Botton)

And before you claim your lack of artistic talent, Ruskin would tell you that’s not the point. It’s not about the finished product, but the invitation to really see the contours of the land or the way the sunlight hits that particular palm tree. The capturing of moments, through the eyes of an artist, develop like a polaroid picture. Slowly, like magic, the composition you immerse yourself in takes shape and the vibrancy appears with patience and a keen eye.

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Follow Your Curiosity

A tourist observes from a distance. A traveler merely passes through. An adventurer engages.

Beyond the slowing down and taking the perspective of an artist, we must let ourselves be changed by the places we visit. Our intentional noticing naturally leads to questions. And then we follow that curiosity! We ask the question. We say yes to the detours. We listen intently, and then we respond. We open ourselves up to encountering all sorts of newness, responding to what is called for in the moment.

img_2518Part of traveling like an adventurer is letting go of the need to “do it right.” To take pictures or not isn’t the point. But, for a moment, let your curiosity extend to your own motivations. Why is it that I’m wanting to take this picture right now? Is it about giving attention to where I am in this moment? Or is it about getting attention in some future moment when I share this?

Ponder this, make the best choice you can, and then get back in there, you daring adventurer you! 

Happy Accidents in Travel: A Case for Spontaneity

I squinted at the roadmap. Turns out cell reception isn’t the greatest in western Colorado. Good thing I tucked a good old fashioned atlas into the pocket of my passenger seat as a last minute thing.

I was making my way across Highway 70. Arches National Park was only 45 minutes off my intended route. I considered the detour. The home of The Arch. The one that’s on the freaking front of my atlas! And the Utah license plate. And in every montage of America the Beautiful…

I figured I could spend an hour or so at the park and still get to my campsite by nightfall.

That’s the thing about road trips. There is a destination to get to, but there’s also all this liminal space–the in between filled with possibility and beauty. The challenge for the traveler is to steward your time well between arriving at your intended destination and allowing space to travel through with eyes wide open.

img_2176I drove into the entrance of the park, into the view of these flaming cathedral towers coming out of the ground. Ribbons of various reds and oranges cut through the rocks, throwing the contrast of a cloudless sky into unspeakable vibrancy. The splendor contained in this park left me dumbfounded, so I reverted to uttering intelligent things like “Are you kidding me? Are you freaking kidding me? Stop it. Holy cow! Stop it! No, don’t stop it!”

img_2174The road kept winding this way and that around the various crests and stacks of rock. Signs pointing me in the direction of the “Delicate Arch.”

Several miles in, a trailhead sign pointed me in the direction of the infamous arch. It said it was a 1.5-mile hike to the arch. I looked at my watch. I’d already spent 45 minutes of the hour I’d allotted driving and gawking at the different plateaus.

But I was here. And it was so pretty! I figured if I could keep up a good clip, I’d make it to the arch and back and still be ok. I could set up my tent in the dark if I needed to.

As I got on the trail a literal tumbleweed blew past me. A tumbleweed! The reality of the desert came in the form of an oppressive sun, but that didn’t deter my steady pace. I passed the ambling tourists, on a mission to see this Natural Wonder of the World.

I made my way up a hill and around a cluster of rocks. Occasionally there were signs pointing the way, but there were stretches of desert where the trail was unclear. Which I kind of loved. It made me feel less Pedestrian, more Pioneer. At one point the trail opened out into a plain, with no discernable path. I chose to go left, my gut sensing that the arch was just over that crest. I hiked around a few more juniper and blackbrush covered boulders and there it was.

Across on the other side of a canyon.

img_2205Oh, I trail blazed alright. Just not to my intended destination. A wide and uncrossable cavern yawned in front of me, the arch just on the other edge. I sat down on a rock, catching my breath and shaking my head. I didn’t have time to retrace my steps. I could make out the other hikers who had taken the correct path. They were now milling around, taking their obligatory selfies and future profile updates.

img_2212I’ll admit, I’m not the best when it comes to pre-trip research. I’ll go off of my adventuring friends’ suggestions. Or I’ll ask locals where they’d suggest I go for dinner or the best beach in town. And if that isn’t accessible, I’ll rely on an app once I’ve arrived in the area to find a well-rated place to explore. If you can call this “research,” it’s in-the-moment research. It’s investigating with a heavy dose of spontaneity. Which means that it’s always somewhat of a gamble.

img_2207Sometimes I end up in the Best-Kept-Secret places, my eyes taking in a location that came highly recommended. Or I stumble into an Off-The-Beaten-Path place that no one’s heard of, a gem in its own sense. And sometimes I end up on the other side of the canyon, close to where I meant to be, but tucked away in obscurity.

How easy it is to get caught up in the destination. The next hip place that is currently all over Instagram. The Must-See stops along the road. I’m not discounting them, or pulling a hipster card, being a snob just because they’re popular. But I am saying that the places I didn’t intend to end up were just as beautiful as the places that were on the list.

img_2213And there, on the “wrong side” of the canyon, looking around at the 360-degree view of the Utah desert I made peace with where my detour had taken me. Sunlight glinted off the sloping orange stone. A welcome breeze whistled through the shrubs. This is where I ended up.

Not where I expected, just as magnificent as the icon across the canyon.

 

Traveling is a bit like falling in love

A few days ago, I got in my car. With a deep breath, I turned the key in the ignition and pulled out of my parents’ driveway.

I had meticulously filled my car with my favorite belongings and necessities for the road.

I had been held in the I-won’t-see-you-for-several months embrace of my parents.

I had double checked for the fourth time that I hadn’t left anything important behind.

img_2437

 

And then I did the thing I had been talking about doing since February.

I started heading west.

Gratitude spilled out in the form of tears as the reality sunk in, driving on Interstate 80.

I had been looking forward to palm trees and beaches and the start of this new season in California. But ahead of me lay thousands of miles of In-Between.

Not that I was dreading this trek across the country. I not-so-secretly love long drives in the car. And while the magnitude of this road trip was unprecedented for me, I had a sense of giddy anticipation for the journey ahead.

As the sun steadily rose in the cloudless sky, the familiar cornfields melted into the open plains that stretch through Nebraska.

img_2438In the late afternoon, my eyes strained to see the faint purple outline of the Rocky Mountains on the western edge of the sky.

The next morning, my car swiveled through the jagged mountain terrain, past cobalt mountain lakes, with placid surfaces mirroring their surroundings. Slanting morning sun cast shadows of evergreen armies, standing salute on the sloping foothills. 

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetMy little Ford Focus sped onward through highways that ribboned around the stony towers, the gray and greens blending into rust-colored plateaus of Utah.

Processed with VSCO with g3 presetMaybe it was the elevation, or maybe it was the beauty that made my chest ache. There were moments that I couldn’t contain my elation. It felt wrong to be zooming past this glory at 80 miles per hour.

As I passed the continental divide and started the downward slope, I entered a part of the country I had never been to before. The beauty of the foothills I was driving through seemed to reflect the foothills of this adventure I was embarking on. This was uncharted territory. Stripped of everything familiar, I felt exposed.

It was as if someone had turned up the saturation and contrast levels of my experience both internally and externally.

Alone with my thoughts, I’d oscillate between giddy excitement for what these next few months would hold and dread at the realization that I am now essentially homeless and unemployed. I’d revel in my solitude one moment, and feel the pang of loneliness around the next bend in the highway. I would feel lulled into a mundane daze at the endless miles ahead of me, only to feel a surging burst of excitement when another beautiful mountain range would emerge on the horizon.

I think anytime I find myself venturing out into the unknown, the vulnerability leads to an intensity of sensation.

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetIt struck me that this trip felt a little bit like falling in love. That feeling when the whole world seems to have a filter of vibrant colors.

Like falling in love, travel is uncomfortable and there’s so much uncertainty about how it will all turn out.

But your heart is ignited and your eyes opened to the possibilities and breath-taking beauty that other people might have passed by.

The beauty felt is almost painful. There’s this urgency to claim it, possess it, to share it.

Both of these experiences leave you forever changed.

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetWith any pursuit of the things the things our hearts long for, there is a rawness that grips us to the core.This vibrancy is not to be feared or shied away from with numbing defense mechanisms. It is to be leaned into.

This is what it means to be fully human.