And home again: end of my first trip to Australia

Was that really (only) five weeks in Australia?

It was.
Somehow.
Longer.
Shorter.
Not enough time, and maybe too much.
but I wouldn’t change a second,
even when I was throwing up on a boat full of people all by myself.

Australia, you’ve changed me. I don’t think I’ll ever be the same. From your vast landscapes and stunning views to your strange animals and wonderful people, you haven’t stopped opening my eyes to new things.

If you’ve  been following this blog this past month you know I’ve been trying to keep up with telling you all what this trip has been like, all the things I’ve seen, the people I’ve met and the things these experiences have made me think about. I think I caught a lot of it… but honestly. I think I didn’t write about more than I did write. And looking back, having had a trans-pacific flight to distance myself, I feel I need to write at least this one more thing about it all.

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Melbourne, from Eureka Skydeck

Melbourne.
I’ve been hearing about, thinking about Melbourne for years. There’s an Amanda Palmer song (From St. Kilda to Fitzroy) that I had on repeat in my head as I road the tram (and yes I rode it from St. Kilda to Fitzroy one day). With its hipster, art scene, hippy vibe it felt like somewhere I would love to stay and live. Culture and opportunity ooze throughout the city and it just felt so easy to get around. My first few days were ups and downs.
Up. Excited about being in Australia. I mean kangaroos hopped along the highway and were just about the first thing I saw when I got there. How much more Australian could something be? And then, down, having a weird sort of mental jet lag and getting lost trying to find a dance class. Trying to balance working and traveling.
UpDown. Work was an excuse to not get out there. But it was also good for the nights because I had something to do.
Up. Lily got back into town and there was a wonderful whirlwind 3 day reunion. We hadn’t seen each other in 2 1/2 years, but really, when you’ve got one of those friends where you just click back together? yeah. that. I could have easily spent a few more days hanging out, dancing, stretching and leisurely discovering Melbourne… but I was off to

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Sydney Harbour Bridge & The Opera House

Sydney.
While Melbourne was a bit cool, I stepped off into Sydney in shorts and pulled out the sunscreen. Up. I felt like I was in a movie walking through the big city and old streets. The Opera House. On a whole I felt both underwhelmed and overwhelmed by it. And I just couldn’t get over the sight of it. Everything in Sydney made me feel happy. Maybe it was the sun. Down.
An awful roommate situation at the hostel, a 4-bed dorm with 3 friends + me… but (up) it couldn’t kill my mood.

I was traveling and seeing things and dancing. I did a two day dance intensive and ended up with private pointe lessons. It was awesome. Then there was the 6+ mile hike I did from Spit to Manly where even though I was hiking by myself I never went more than 15 minutes without seeing someone or feeling like I was walking through someone’s backyard. And yet… I also felt like I was really in nature. I found a hidden beach and sat on a cliff looking out at the turquoise sea. There was something calming about being alone in the city, like I could just stop and watch it pass by at any moment or I could let myself get caught up in the ebb and flow. Like stepping in and out of time.

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Byron Bay

Coffs Harbour. Up. Erin picked me up, only a year since we’d last seen each other in Scotland. I think she was even more excited for me to be there that I was. She had so much to show me even in her small town. It was good to see her again, but I realized how different we are and how we move at completely different speeds. Down. So while, I think that put some strain on what we did, overall it was fun to see Coffs and Byron Bay and just drive through Australia even if only for a little while.

Cairns.
Oh, Cairns. We had a tumultuous time.
Down.
First, your weather was miserable. For being “dry” season you were awfully wet. But the weather was also warm and sunny… so very tropical. The city itself had little to offer, but even there I was able to find some like-minded adults just taking ballet for the fun of it. Up. The day trips around the city though were gorgeous, full of walks through the rainforest and scuba diving on The Great Barrier Reef, complete a morning full of sea sickness and then an afternoon with a run in with a giant sea turtle and a fish the size of my torso. Then back on the boat I sat down next to two lovely individuals who were about to start their sophomore year at the university of Oregon. Sometimes it’s such a small world.
Down, and down again.
In between all of that I curled up in my single room, feeling homesick and wondering how I would manage until I got home because traveling and pushing myself to be out there and more extroverted was taking its toll. Plus, my birthday was coming up… I was about to turn 27, in

Brisbane.
Down. I spent my first two days holed up in the hostel, working. And hiding. Then wondrous things started happening. If you’ve been reading my blog you’ve already heard the play by play.
Up.

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Our host (Neil) & Amanda Palmer
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Amanda, on the phone with Neil (who’s in the UK) talking with the children.
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Mali Sastri singing on Wednesday night at the house party in Lutwyche, Brisbane.

Tuesday night: (planned) Amanda Palmer house party where I made three new friends, Ellen, Tegan & Neil, who have given me reason to return to Brisbane, which I didn’t think I’d have because it wasn’t on my list even until the concert dates changed. And then we’re there and Amanda invites me to the second house party. Up again.

Wednesday night: (unplanned) Amanda Palmer house party, completely different from the first but wonderful. I spent the evening hanging out with Mali, who happens to be a musician and an old friend of Amanda’s and lives with her in Boston in the Cloud Club. Then Amanda sang me happy birthday just because. (up) And I got to split a cab with her and Mali and a few others back to our respective hotels.

Thursday afternoon (unplanned): hanging out with Mali and talking about art and life and how things end up ending up the way they do and travel and getting caught in ruts and making things happen and generally just the kind of awesome conversation that feels like a mental hug because you know you’ve found a new friend and a kindred spirit.

 

 

Up again and again.

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Amanda, just before diving into the crowd during Bottom Feeder at The Tivoli.

Thursday night (planned): I sat on the sidewalk and watched people show up for the gig, saving spots for a friend of mine from twitter. We’d never met but my description of my clothes was enough to help her spot me right away. Hugs and pictures and rejoicing because even online you keep talking to certain people because they’re your friend, even if you’ve never met. And then, once you do, it’s brilliant. And the venue doors open and we’re front and center. Drinks and birthday wishes and the concert starts. The show was great and the energy up in the pit was so good. After I kept running into my new friends. I bought merch and got in line to have it signed, scanning for Ellen because she was saving my spot and I had her stuff. My name is yelled by three people. Only one of which I knew. The others were like ‘hi, we just know your name, come get at the front of the line with us.’ what? okay.
Up.

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Amanda and I, post show.

When Amanda saw me she stood up and gave me a hug and chatted for a minute she thanked me for a letter I had written her. Up. Then I spent the next half an hour or so being pulled (sometimes literally) from group to group as people who had met me that week wanted to talk to me. At the end of the night after many many hugs and some photos were taken, Mali and I walked back to a deserted train station and caught the second to last train back to our part of town. Up/down.

Down because it was all over…
but I haven’t really come down yet. The sum of it all has only half sunk in. I feel alive, like I’m running at life. And, the things that happened on this trip aren’t over just because I left Australia. I have new friends to keep up with and make future plans with. And I just may have found someone to do a artistic collaboration with. So much up and down… but whichever way things were going I had to keep going because I was traveling.

Travel doesn’t afford you the luxury of luxuriating in the down, letting it envelope you. You can let it, but it’s much harder than when you are at home. At home you feel if you’re down that you have no choice but to roll around in the feeling, that life stops happening for you and you just go through the motions. But when you’re experiencing, creating, out of your element, even in the down there is a forward, maybe upwards tumbling running spiraling path that you’re on, and wherever you’re at in life you have to own it.

And right now, up or down my heart is full because I think this year is the first year I’ve really felt that everything is coming together. Just keep saying yes,
or no if you need to,
keep doing things that scare you.
If you don’t do something that scares you every so often you don’t know what you’re capable of.
If you don’t have a way to get into and out of your own head then you get stuck.
My heart is full.
My head is full.
And I think a lot of things are about to happen because of it.

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Epic birthday accomplished

post show, minutes before midnight, the end of an epic birthday

The concert was amazing, I was first row and just left of center for the entire night (pictures soon). I kept running into new friends from the house parties and from twitter. Everyone was so excited and lovely. I hit the signing line and handed her my shirt to sign, she’s halfway through the massive queue and hasn’t looked up yet, but when she does she lights up, reaches across the table and grabs me in a hug thanking me for the letter I had given her the previous night and asking if I had a good time, a good birthday and saying she was glad her friend Mali and I got to hang out all afternoon. I ask for a photo but say I can stick around, so I spend the next bit talking with all my new Aussie friends, who knew I’d ever have a reason to come back to Brisbane :)

After the line died down I went over to Amanda for one last chat and a photo. Several hugs, thank yous and apparently what was ‘an adorable moment’ according to my friend Ellen later I walked out into the balmy night air. I don’t think I could have managed a better birthday if I’d planned any of this.

Birthday #27

Last night a rock star sang me happy birthday, fed me cake and gave me a kiss.

Last night was the second Brisbane house party with Amanda Palmer. Until the night before I didn’t even know there was a second party. Then Amanda asked if she could bring me along as a guest.

Amanda and I at SxSW last April.
Amanda and I at SxSW last April.

It was a simple kindness but it was also huge. It wasn’t something I asked her to do it was something she just did. I was talking with her friend Mali (who happens to be an awesome musician in her own right and is a guest at tonight’s show!) about how it all came about. And how, even though I’m a massive fan, I see Amanda as a person and not a celebrity. Throughout all of it she remains very human and grounded and kind and yet still has this big rock star persona and energy that is amazing to get caught up in.

Birthdays and holidays have been hard for me these last four years. Things just haven’t seemed right. But something in that small act of kindness, the passage of time, and the atmosphere that night shook up the feelings inside me rearranging them into something that made the idea of holidays easier. It was a catalyst. One I’m thankful for and don’t quite have the words to describe. I’ll never forget being introduced by Amanda Fucking Palmer to her friend because I was someone worth introducing or getting fed cake or given a birthday kiss. But really, I’ll never forget how alive it all made me feel like I’m running headfirst into life instead of away from it. That really, if I just ask, if I just try, anything might be possible.

Last night, lying awake in my bed, still soaking in the last hour, the last two days, the last five weeks, the last four years, I turned 27.

The Person I Want(ed) to Be

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” – Annie Dillard

Dance on the beach at Cape Tribulation, Australia

It’s such a simple thought.

Of course the way we spend each day is the way we spend our lives. Most of us look at a future someday as say I want to be the kind of person who… fill in your own blank. And then we continue on the way we are, not changing to actually be the kind of person who… We continue to imagine that one mystical day, in a far off, but maybe not so far off future, we will be that person

And it’s funny how I imagined
That I could be that person now
But that’s not what I want
But that’s what I wanted
And I’d be giving up somehow
How strange to see
That I don’t wanna be the person that I want to be

– from In My Mind by Amanda Palmer

We want to be a type of person in the future at some point, but as we grow we change who we are and who we want to be evolves as well. The things that are important to us morph and change. By the time we reach a point in our lives where we thought we would a certain kind of person doing certain kinds of things we realize that sometimes we’re trying to force ourselves into an idea of the ideal that no longer resonates.

Every time I dance my heart opens up and I feel whole. I feel like there is nothing better than continuing to dance until my body says no more. I want to be the kind of person who spends their life dancing, making a difference through dance. So I dance.
I sacrifice other things, travel, social opportunities, sleep. But I dance.

In the words of Amanda Palmer, fuck yes, I’m exactly the person that I want to be.

Maybe not exactly, but I’m the kind of person who is working to do all the things that I want, the things that matter. Realizing what things are really just something I’d like to say I do, and realizing the things that actually matter to me. And I think that is exactly who I want to be. I don’t want to be the same person for the next fifty years. I know that I want to be eighty and still dancing. I want them to take me aside like they did with Martha Graham and quietly ask me to not dance as much anymore. Maybe by then I’ll have wisdom to impart on a new generation of the people who move and shake society. I want to be the kind of person who is always striving to do the things that make me happy and letting go of the things that don’t. To be the kind of person who is strong enough to pick which emotions I spend my energy on and letting go of the ones that don’t give me something back. So that in that eventual someday, the way in which I spent my days is how I wanted to spend my life.

My mother’s things

Four years ago I started putting you in boxes. The things that were left. I tried to preserve the memories I had and held onto each image in my mind as if they were fragile leaves pressed dry between the pages of a book. Somedays I flip through that book, a series of images and feelings and smell. I can call up any number of voices to read the litany of thoughts rushing through my mind, but I can’t remember your voice.

But sometimes when I look in a mirror I see my eyes peering out of your face. The one from the picture when you were maybe 28. The one where I realized I have your hands, where I can see how alive you once were, your spark and spirit, the woman who followed her heart. High cheekbones and faint laugh lines, a crooked & wry smile. The way our eyes narrow when we laugh because there is room for nothing else but laughter.

I try to laugh as much as I can, but every day a happy moment of sadness catches up with me when I start to reach out to tell you something. Four years of things big and small, silly and serious. I left not long after you died; I needed to travel and get away from the places where I saw you everyday. You followed me, a trail of single roses out of season. Now that I’m back and it seems I’m staying, I see you in myself.

There are so many things I want to ask you. Mainly, how did you do it? With everything that happened how did you keep moving forward. From where did you draw your strength? I think we had only just reached the point where maybe we could have these conversations, that I was even cognizant enough to ask. I want you to tell me all the stories I don’t remember. I want to know about your mom and how you figured out life after she died, but if you were here I wouldn’t be thinking about that.

I’m trying to figure out life without you here. Most of the time it doesn’t make sense. So I’m clinging to the things that do, all the little things that make me smile and laugh. My friends, some of whom were once your friends, now my family. Family, in whatever way I can, but mostly letting go (we know why). Dance. Travel. Little things like a clean house or a cuppa tea on a grey morning, book in hand (or maybe both!). My cats. The things that make me feel that I’m flying; I’m clinging to them all while the world rushes around me, the media telling me I’m doing it all wrong. I’ve stopped listening.

That is, I’ve stopped listening as much as I can. I can still hear the voice of society booming in the background that there is one way we need to be. I’m just trying to be someone you would have liked, that you would be proud of. And yet, still trying to make my decisions for me, being a little selfish when I need to be. Learning that compromise isn’t the worst thing in the world.

Maybe one day I’ll unpack those boxes and see if I remember why I kept the things I did. The thing about things is that the can start meaning things nobody actually said. And the things that matter most, they’re all inside my head. Like the way we danced with abandon in the living room to a new cover of an old song or the way you’d wrap us up in blankets and sit on the back porch in the cold when I had a bad cough and the cold night air was the only thing that felt good on my throat. But four years on, those boxes are staying packed. I might peek in from time to time, but I don’t think I’m ready yet.

Confessions of an Artist

Everyone’s favorite question for a child is “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Everything when you’re a kid is about growing up. You’re supposed to pick a profession and dream about how to become a teacher, a firefighter, a lawyer, a doctor. Out loud I’d say whatever I thought made me sound most interesting that I could stomach the idea of, but none of them felt right. Inside my head or later that night in my room I would whisper to myself, Artist. I want to be an artist.

{inspiration} art
– Amanda Palmer

I once wrote it down on a piece of paper. My confession. I folded that paper up into a tiny square and hid it away. At seven years old some part of society had convinced me that being an artist wouldn’t be good enough. I was also seven and had trouble reconciling artist when anything other than drawing & painting which I did not do well.

As I got older my artistry (which I was scared to explore) pulsed in the back of my mind pushing against my drive to be something great. It was like I was trying to travel down two roads at once, trees in between so that I couldn’t see they were going the same direction. It tore me in two, the girl driven to be successful (whatever that meant) and the girl who just wanted to make beautiful things and connect the dots.

When I was born one of my mom’s best friends, a ballet instructor, held me and told my mom I was going to be a dancer. Circumstances what they were I didn’t dance (much) as a child. There was that one month of ballet in first grade– where I had a traumatic experience trying to figure out if the tights went under or over the leotard–  and that time I ended up dancing in a ballet of the  Labyrinth (yes that  Labyrinth. I got to be a Fiery, and goblin, and a ballroom dancer). But I never got to dance until college.

Throughout my teenage years I dabbled with writing, finding it was one of the few ways I could express and communicate the things I saw. Photography let me show others what I saw. Though because I was so bent on doing something, on being successful and somehow those words could not be combined with artist, not for me, it took me years to slowly come to grips with who I was. That just maybe, these things that I did to survive were something that I could turn into success (whatever that is) and great things.

I only recently stopped fighting who I was, embracing the fact that I need to create, carve out time to make the things in my head come to life instead of letting consume my thoughts on repeat. If I don’t pay attention to them they haunt me, making me feel incomplete.

I’m an artist.

And that’s okay.

I connect the dots. And if I touch just one person with the things I do, then it’s been worth it.

This is what social media lets us do: Story of an Amanda Palmer Kickstarter Party

A year ago I opened my mouth on Twitter and opened myself up to an amazing opportunity in which I organized a house party with Amanda Palmer. I spent a year imagining how it could go, and honestly every dream, every imagining I had was blown out of the water by what did happen.

Amanda Palmer Kickstarter Party in PDX
Sitting downstairs, almost everyone. New friends <3

I offered to organize a house party as a backer reward for Amanda Palmer’s Kickstarter. It’s amazing what happens when you say yes. Fifty strangers offered me up money, with no guarantee that I wasn’t a psycho going to run off with their cash. One of them offered up her house. We came together, brought food, brought drink and made something magical happen. We were strangers, loosely bound together by the fact of being in roughly the same geographical area and being fans of AFP. Using social media we were able to connect, people who may never have connected in this way.. we connected, unsure of the end result but willing to give it a chance. It was an act of trust, of faith in humanity – which I wrote about how doing this restored mine. We’re a community, unbound by geographic restrictions.

The day of Amanda texted me, stuck in traffic – this non Portlander will never again forget that the Seattle-Portland corridor gets massively backed up every afternoon and will warn every person who tries to make the drive. We texted back and forth for a while, talking about traffic and that night. But mostly how that week had been a tough one, and well, regardless of what had been happening, I was confident there would be a lot of love and friendship waiting in the party house. I didn’t really know how right I was. I had hoped… but really, I’ve never felt so connected to people I’ve just met.

Amanda arrived, walking around the corner of the house to the backyard. A silence dropped. I got up from my seat and ran over to her, I’d promised a massive hug. There was a moment, a hug, a kiss, a thank you. A moment where all that mattered was, we’re here, we’ll make things okay, celebrate life, embrace the shit. A hug. A kiss. A thank you.

Amanda Palmer, Kickstarter House Party, Portland
Amanda Palmer: Laughing, misheard lyrics, “Cat’s got your soul”

You don’t realize how powerful eye contact is, how powerful touch is, how powerful simple words are until you find them (almost) missing from your life. Researchers say you need 8 meaningful touches a day to maintain emotional and physical health. I’ve counted days where I never touched another person. Every hug I got that day, every kiss, every moment of eye contact was a salve on my psyche and my soul. These strangers, many now friends, created this bubble of trust and happiness. I think for everyone. I don’t think I’m the only one who can say that last night changed me.

Amanda sang, and we sang with her, she read from Neil’s new book, we ate and drank, we played Mafia/Werewolf. I cried. I had too many feelings. I think mostly I cried because I was so fucking happy at what we had created. Fifty-odd people cuddled into a den, the only light a lava lamp. Singing sad songs, listening to Amanda sing. All. the. feels.

I got to have them because I trusted the people I was around. It was okay. People I’d only just met gave me their hands, led me their strength. We felt a gamut of emotions, collectively breathing in something bigger than ourselves.

Early on in the night I got to talk about social media, and how it really is just a tool, no more, no less than the people who use it. How I wrote a portion of my master’s thesis on studying how she did things. The thesis that landed me my job. Getting to hear Amanda tell me that I got it, that I understood was an amazing validation. Fighting the good fight got a little easier. Comrades.

I know I missed moments of brilliance shared between others. I couldn’t be everywhere. I hope everyone went home a little bit healed, a little bit happier, a new friend made. I made friends with another dancer. I sat on the floor with Amanda while we got back massages from some lovely people. A moment of release and contentment. I was told I was gorgeous by a lovely girl. I got to hug people. My friend and I were able to give someone a couch to crash on. Many made a concerted effort to take me aside, look me in the eye and thank me for organizing this. I don’t think I could ever really say how much that night could have been different if they hadn’t been there. If they hadn’t been willing to be a part of it. It was our party. I may have orchestrated a few things, but everyone there made it what it was. So if you’re reading this: thank you.

Last year I wrote: Sometime next year I’ll be hanging out with some new friends and our favorite musician, enjoying life because we all took the chance to trust a stranger and make magic happen. I don’t think I knew how right I’d be. We made magic happen.

Amanda Palmer, Kickstarter House party, Portland Oregon
Amanda Palmer, Kickstarter House party, Portland Oregon