There’s a girl I follow on Facebook, and read her blog. I’ve known her since she was a little girl (she’s 6 1/2 years younger than me). In the last few years she’s spent the majority of her time in foreign countries, traveling alone. Backpacking through South America for a year, riding her bike from Canada to Mexico on the west coast, and now, cycling through India, before going on to cycle most of Asia. A lithe 20 year old, bent on seeing the world. She’s off having grand adventures and I admit, I get a bit jealous.
Every time I see a new post from Shirine. I start to think how amazing what she is doing is and how not quite as amazing what I’m doing is. It’s amazing how simple and compact she’s made her life. I feel I’ve opted for (comparative) extravagance, instead of real simplicity and the power that comes from trusting other people, and yourself implicitly, having only an outline of a plan and just living life each day. Making your way through life just doing the things you love and nothing that doesn’t get you to that end goal. I’m inspired by her and wish I could do that.
And then I remember that I’ve heard very similar things from people who follow my adventures. And I realize that what I’m doing is it’s own kind of amazing. A rockstar sang me happy birthday. I travelled Australia by myself. I moved alone to Europe… twice. So it makes me happy to think that maybe others think of my adventures the way I think of Shirine’s. Happy because, in a way, we’re all able to find someone to be inspired by.
I started googling cycling blogs, thinking maybe a small trip around Oregon, or across the US. So I could take a chance and strip life down to the bare essentials. As I sat in a hostel in Cairns, a tropical storm blowing outside, thousands of miles from home thinking how much more interesting my life would be if.. if what? I followed her dreams? I’m astounded by this young woman who lives so simply. I want to find that inner tranquility that allows me to let go of the material and the pandering of the media and simply live. Live simply. But as the night and storm rolled on it hit me: the nitty gritty of what she wants is not what I want.
As much as biking through a foreign land for a year sounds like an amazing escape, it is just that, an idea, an escape. It wouldn’t be a way of life for me, as it is for her, for me it would be running and pretending to be someone else (albeit someone awesome). So as I sat on my my bed in a hostel in Cairns, reveling in my decision to upgrade to a single room for the week and wishing it wasn’t the middle of the night at home so I could call and talk to someone about just what things I should look at. I’m looking at my life wondering, what can I let go? What can I cut out to get down to the essence of who I am? What things can I give away, what things do I still need to live the life I want?
The things that made up the core of my life settled around me. Those ideas echoing through me as I continued on. friends. new opportunities. saying yes. dance. new places. kindred souls. honesty. art. being present. photography. good food. writing.
following my dreams.
and making sure they’re mine,
and not someone else’s.
Sometimes stuff is just stuff.
Sometimes things are just things.
But sometimes we forget to see that.
Things and places get comfortable. The routines we place in them safe no matter how unhappy, uncomfortable or joyous they make us. As much as we and are world are in a state of constant flux, we love to have our routines, our things that make things make sense in this crazy world.
When I was in Australia I had 12.5kgs 27.5lbs. Plus my carry on, which admittedly had my heaviest gear (camera, lenses, laptop). On my way back, jeans packed in my bag, and souvenirs stuffed in every nook and cranny I only had 16.2kg (35.7lbs). The amount of stuff I had, considering I had my most needed tech/camera stuff, and dance stuff enough to last me through a week of yoga and dance classes if I played things right… i didn’t have that much. but, to live and enjoy myself, really I had more than I needed. From time to time there was a thing or two I needed, but I doubt I even needed wanted a kilo of extra gear. We forget that we don’t really need as much as we have.
I have boxes full of things in storage at my grandmas, not a lot, but enough that I feel the weight of it. My room is full of books and more clothes than I need in two weeks (maybe a month if I rewash socks and anything designed for sweating). I’ve got things that get used a few times a year and the rest of the time they hide out of sight. I own books I’ve read, that I may never open again, but I like to look at them all. I have almost every pair of pointe shoes I’ve ever worn. There are a lot.
But… really these things are just things.
Very few have any real meaning.
And the ones that do, the memories are stronger.
The sights in my head I’ve committed to paper.
The images I’ve captured and saved in a string of 1s & 0s.
and the rest of the things, when I stay near them too much, they start meaning things that no one said. I see them all the time, so my brain starts thinking that I need it. Just incase. Just. In. Case. Except when I leave it behind, even half the stuff I use regularly… I don’t need it. Hardly just in case. Some things are useful, tools, but things and in the long run, if need by replaceable.
These things matter.
I sacrifice a modicum of privacy (maybe a lot) to save them out in the public eye. Some I try to save, enough that one loss won’t cause me to lose it all. And then, the back up of back ups, my mind. The thing I can hold on to as long as it lets me. The big part of the part that matters most.
And what I can carry with me. In my memory, in my hand, on my back. What I give myself access to on the world wide web. The people and things around me. Because things are just things. I threw my favorite pair of jeans in a trash can in Sydney because they ripped; my wallet $80 lighter I had a new pair, enough to look good and do their job.
To live happily I don’t need much. Some clothes for movement, some clothes for every day, some clothes for dressing up and concerts. My camera gear, a laptop and internet. Simple. I need to be warm when it’s cold and to cool off when it isn’t. I need friends, or potential friends. Opportunity and a strong will to run where the wind is blowing if the wind is favorable. The determination to fight against it when it blows me where I don’t want to go. And maybe the strength to know the difference between favorable and comfortable. Because when I get too comfortable things start meaning things, routines start meaning things. And really it just means I know what to expect and life doesn’t have an opportunity to surprise me.
Because stuff is just stuff. Even when it has meaning. What really matters is what it means and that lives on in our memory.
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.
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
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.
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.
Oh, Cairns. We had a tumultuous time.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” – Annie Dillard
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.
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.
This particular adventure started for me last April on the drive home after the house party in Portland. I realized as I left that if I had the chance to have that experience, or something like it again, I needed to take it. Meeting other Amanda Palmer fans and talking with Amanda is like a balm that calms the frayed nerve endings from struggling to be yourself in this crazy world. At least, for me it is. It’s a bit like being home, which this week, I needed. People are happy to see you, they give hugs freely and laugh at your jokes (because they actually get them no matter how geeky they are). So I did a bit of googling and emailed Neil (our host, not Amanda’s husband) to see if there was a chance I could be a part of their group in Brisbane.
Fast forward five months and I’m stepping out of the YHA and into the car with Ellen and her mom whom I’ve only ever spoken to on Facebook to drive to the next town over to a house I’ve never been to with people I’ve never met. She puts Theatre is Evil on the radio and we’re off. We got to Neil’s a bit early and helped with set up as more guests arrived. Conversation was easy, we all had at least one common interest and conversation started there : how did you discover Amanda Palmer. It was great to see that we had everyone from old Dresden Dolls fans to people who had only discovered her more recently. We chatted and laughed and even had in-jokes by the time the last few guests arrived.
Amanda arrived and began passing out hugs and saying hello. She hugged me, telling me I smelled nice (take that 4 weeks of travel) moving on to the next person, asking their name, then looked back at me ‘what’s your name?’ I laughed. ‘Monica, Portland house party’. ‘right! you’re out of context. what are you doing here?’ And so I explained how my trip happened to be when she rescheduled her tour, and the Brisbane show was on my birthday… so I decided I needed to come see Brisbane. A little later a few of my new friends tried to convince her to sing me happy birthday at the show on Thursday. All I’ll say is, we’ll see what happens. But more than that, the fact that there is a second house party came up. I immediately asked if anyone knew the person in charge and maybe I could reach out and see if they had room. Amanda said she would text the lady and ask. An hour later, I scrounged a piece of paper from my bag so Amanda could write down the address. I kissed her thank you. There are no words to describe how I feel about this, joy and excitement don’t come close. There aren’t many artists who would do this kind of thing for a fan. There are a lot of people that wouldn’t do it period. So for her to make that gesture, for me, on my birthday, something so kind, human and real is huge. That we get to see her as a person, as she is, as well as experience her art is something that I am very grateful for.
We wandered down from the large deck onto the lawn lit by candles and fairy lights and sat on blankets on the grass underneath the stars around an old upright piano. For the first time in a gig I was at & where she was taking requests there was a piano. One of my favorite songs of hers needs piano, and I’ve never heard her play it live. So when she asked for requests Sing was the first thing out of my mouth. She played for a series of requests and I sat there with the others, and a girl named Tegan and I leaned on each other, just taking in the moment, listening to Amanda and watching the stars, and enjoying a new friendship. (for the record I think she played: Sing, Blake Says, Gaga Palmer Madonna, Map of Tasmania, Creep, and The Thing About Things). It’s amazing what things make us feel most comfortable, most alive. After she was done playing we all turned off the lights and wandered down to the lower yard away from the candles to stare up at the stars.
Somewhere in there between the songs around the time she sang Gaga, Palmer, Madonna we launched into a huge discussion about Miley Cyrus, her VMA performance and whether we really would have felt the same way about it if she hadn’t been a disney starlet. If she’d been any other young-twenty-something musician in the pop music scene, would we have batted an eye? Probably not. But circumstance has it that we do, because she was a young star and we don’t like to think of people growing older because maybe that means we’re getting older too.
A group of us huddled together and stared at the vastness of the milky way. Contemplating the stars, to me they seemed all at once foreign and familiar. The people around me were at once almost strangers, new friends and people who resonated with something deep inside of me. Earlier in the day I could feel the weight of the long trip pressing in on me, making me homesick in a way that only happens when you’re alone. There with those people that I’d only really just met and Amanda, who has never been anything but kind and real to me and whose work I admire, there in a strange place far from home, homesick, I felt at ease. That I was where I needed to be.
Back up near the fire we huddled for warmth as Amanda signed ukuleles and a Map of Tasmania themed cake was brought out. One of the guests turned out to be an amazing artist and drew two gorgeous portraits of Amanda (I wish I had pictures of them). We all talked into the night just enjoying the company until it was time to leave, say goodbye. Tegan gave Ellen and I a ride back to our hotel, all of us full of feelings and experiences of a lifetime.
Except it’s never really goodbye is it? We can keep in contact, reach out and hope that someday we get to see each other in the flesh again. The internet is wondrous for that. To my new friends, thank you for bringing me back to me last night even if you have no idea that’s what you did.