Something that Prisoners Do

“Why are you digging ditches? Isn’t that something that prisoners do?”

Sure. But I get to be outside, use my body, and I’m not cleaning toilets. Your point?

The last thing anyone between the ages of ten and twenty-five wants to hear is “It builds character.” Whatever you are trying to get us to do or endure, we know it builds character and we know it’s good for us. It just feels like you’re giving us a condescending pat on the head and a “life gets better, sort of and we know what we are doing, sort of.”

That being said, you are right most of the time. If there is something that more of the Western world needs to have experience in, it is physical labor.

When I first arrived in Wanaka, I answered an ad for a job for yard work and wood stacking. I sent a text and before I knew it, I was scheduled to arrive at a suburban address the next day. Slightly nervous and ready to fight anyone who told me I couldn’t work in the dirt, I knocked on the door.

“Hi! Nice to meet you…I thought he got a boy.”

Knew it.

“My name is a bit gender neutral.”

“Well it’s quite heavy digging. Do you think you can handle it?”

A flicker of uncertainty sent my thoughts to the bulging disc in my lower spine and my occasional limp. “Yes. I do.”

Sure enough she brought me outside and explained the job. I was to dig a trench around the back, side, and part of the front of the house in order to install insulation. It needed to be well over a foot deep in some cases and about six inches wide at least. Stubborn and determined to prove myself a hard worker, I attacked it.

Seven hours later and covered in dirt and sweat, I climbed into my friend’s car with a request to return the next day.

My employers wanted to keep me around. I dislocated my knee cap and they asked if I could be back at work four days later. Upon my return I was told “Under no circumstances are you to push your knee too hard.” They fed me lunch, sent me home with loads of organic apples, and recommended me to friends as a reliable laborer. After being gone only a week, I walked up the driveway to warm smiles and genuine hugs. Homes are good places to be.

When you are relatively small and female, there are bound to be stories associated with your penchant for hard labor.

As I was moving dirt one day, two electricians walk around the corner. The first to arrive engaged me in polite and pleasantly surprised conversation. Then the second walked around the corner.

“Who are you?”

“My name is Locke.”

“You don’t look like the sort of person to be digging ditches!”

Mm. Don’t I? Well. “I don’t look like the sort of person who should be doing a lot of the things I do.”

One hour later: “Wow. You’re good at stacking wood.”

The funny part was, I wasn’t at that point. Maybe he was just surprised I could carry armfuls of wood???

Half an hour later: “Bye doll!”

F*ck. You.

That was the only time I spilled a wheelbarrow of logs.

I walked up to my boss. “I don’t really like being called ‘Doll.'”

“Did he call you doll?”

“Yes.”

“I’m sorry. People can be a little backwards down here. I’m sure you noticed.”

There are a lot of reasons why I loved working for them, but I think that response to the condescending sexism is the top reason.

If you are able, I encourage you to work in the dirt. Have your kids do garden labor. Help them see that the world needs those who sweat and haul as much as they need the artists. The fruit pickers, the construction workers, the garden workers, the factory workers, the miners are all doing the things you have the privilege of ignoring.

And to those who have left all they know to find grueling conditions and a culture that does not want them,

Thank you for “stealing” those jobs.

Because we all know the U.S. doesn’t want to do them anyway.

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An Open Letter to the MAW

Dear Mums Around the World,

You have brought the world into being. Literally. You are directly and indirectly responsible for all of the achievements ever to have been made. You create life. Not entirely sure where equal rights for women got lost in the jaws of the patriarchy, but probably somewhere around the point guys realized “oh shit. moms are the ones we owe everything to and therefore are far stronger than us.”

Mothers are those who teach you the ways of the world, and wish they could shelter you from it. We have been gloriously built up and f***ed up by their strengths and weaknesses. We forget to give credit for how much they have given us, and we forget that they are human…or we focus on it far too much. They work, they teach, they encourage, and they hold far more power than any other group of humans on earth.

If you are a mom, you are badass. You have raised the world.

Thank you.

Of Hot Chocolate Evening Proportions

“What if I’m not the main character?” I think it ought to be more understood that we should be the main characters of our story. I think it should also be understood that we are not the main character in anything else. Your life is a hardly a flash in the span of the universe’s grandeur and time and all of our delusions can be easily removed from the cosmic scale with hardly a ripple.

Scary, isn’t it? All that we are is laughable. For if we don’t at least snicker at the comedic value of living, than we are overwhelmed by its tragedy.

I spent a part of yesterday playing mandolin the park, letting my moment be photographed by passing tourists. I ate dinner with two of the most wonderful people I have ever met. I curled into the warmth of knowing I am loved by forces and people far wiser than me.

And today we hiked and drove. I ran from a bird. I swear to god these Keas are scary.

It was a good day.

“Like a Slingshot, Eh?”

I entered a travel writing competition on the transformational power of travel. I realized I write because I like to and I hate being judged for it. This is the first competition I have participated in for my writing. Here’s hoping.

“Like a Slingshot, Eh?”

My fingers strolled up the neck of my mandolin, wishing for the experience only practice gives. However if wishes were fishes, we wouldn’t have a severe overfishing problem in our oceans, so I set my instrument aside and began learning foreign words from the backpackers sitting nearby.

Bat’se. Czech for “afraid.”

People often choose to tell travelers that we are brave. They act as though our discomfort within the comfortable is something to be deeply admired. They tell us that courage is being fearful and doing it anyway.

But to be honest, most of us just feel like we are backflipping off the tightrope spanning bravery and stupidity.

I entered my first solo venture to New Zealand terrified of ATMs and banks. I knew nearly nothing of cooking and it would be my first experience in applying for a job. I had no clue what I was doing. On the worst evenings, I would curl up beneath the covers of a borrowed bed, tell myself “But I’m doing it anyway,” and find a way to move forward.

Provalo. Italian for “try it” or “prove it.”

Comparisons run rampant through hostels and travelers. The constant appraisal of your priorities becomes exhausting. The drinkers, the campers, the partiers, the hitchhikers, and those who fit all of the above share rooms and subject themselves to the scrutiny of social interaction. But I don’t fit.

I value hiking.

But not as much as the Englishman who chose to hike the length of New Zealand.

I value home.

But not as much as the German who dreamed of being home for Christmas and will likely not return to this part of the world.

I value community.

But not as much as the Irish girl who stayed at her hostel job for nearly the full duration of her working holiday.

At what point will I realize my values will never align with another’s and my achievements can only matter to me? Glancing at dusty camping gear and watching the intrepid walkers taking on mountains, I breathe deeply to remind myself there is nothing to prove and everything to try.

Selbstbewusstsein. German for “self confidence.”

I adore the moments of falling in love with a stranger, not for their body, but for something I cannot explain. I don’t speak to them, but I watch them, glance behind me, and wish I was wearing sunglasses so my gaze could linger. Some strange magnetism, or maybe just their style, drew me in for that space. My favorites are the confident ones. Their stride catches my eye and I wonder what inspired their sureness of self. Who was inspired from childhood and who found it in the satisfaction of jobs well done? Who learned to love themselves from a significant other and who chose to reinvent themselves?

And which of them is just a bit of an arrogant prick?

My gait has changed since being away from home. I walk and wonder if others see the person I have become. The limp from a chronic injury is fading and my shoulders are straighter with the experience of being alone. Even on my worst days, I find myself smiling with the privilege of wandering the world.

For comfort zones expand and life becomes a process of exploring its boundaries.

Jilear. Peruvian Spanish for “flirt.”

“May I kiss you?”

There are many reactions to that simple question. My favorite is the look of surprise. “I mean sure. But why?”

Why not? I find you attractive. Perhaps I just want to know how you taste. Perhaps it is my way of telling you that you are absolutely fascinating and worth my time.

Or perhaps it is a desire to grow a little more aware.

I don’t measure my growth as time passes overseas, but if I did, I would observe who I was at each kiss. Nervous and unsure. Temporarily infatuated, but aware of my own beauty. Amazed and willing to take the first step. Mutually attracted and curious. And straight up “I wonder what would happen.”

Sometimes I ponder who I would be if I was still home. Possibly searching for some relationship built to last or discovering my polyamorous nature while surrounded by people whose opinion I fear. In its own way, it would still be a journey. But there is something about the average American mentality that avoids those odd girls rocking faded blue hair who ask for a kiss.

Or maybe I just wasn’t looking before I left.

Transformera. Swedish for “transform.”

“You are facing new things all the time, Abiel. People who haven’t had to deal with that will never quite understand.”

Mom somehow manages to say it best.

I worry about coming home. I left just after highschool. I will return God knows when. I chose travel as my first adult lifestyle and the chrysalis I emerged from, cannot be what I return to. I guess it is meant to be just another adventure, another season of transformation.

Yet even with this thought process, you can never go back. Not to a place, not to a memory, and definitely not in time. You can only watch yourself accelerate towards the end.

“Time is relative and linear, but it always seems to go faster.”

“Well maybe time is like a slingshot, eh?”

Maybe so, my friend. Maybe so.

Invested in Some Fruit Company

“Run Forrest, run.”

And he ran. For “no particular reason. People just couldn’t understand it.”

I had never seen Forrest Gump before this evening, and like so many before, I found myself falling in love with the careful southern drawl sharing his mama’s wisdom.

He ran and fought and saved lives. He loved and cried and spoke. He worked. Most importantly, he was loved.

“My mama used to say you can tell a lot about a person from his shoes.”

His mama cared for him. Told him he was no different. She loved him just the way he was and was never ashamed of him. He was exposed to travelers and happenstances. He remembered clear lakes and sunrises. He collected a feather and his favorite book was Curious George.

He is a character.

But I’m pretty sure we are too.

Characters waiting to see what shows up in our box of chocolates.

I met two Canadian protagonists today. Matt and Liam have surfed and wandered their way through Australia and New Zealand. Unlike the many backpackers who choose to mosey about, they have chosen this temporary lifestyle for a vastly different reason than most. They are not here to drink. Nor are they here to find themselves. They are here to be themselves.

And that makes a huge difference.

Play guitar and piano. Know goodbyes aren’t necessarily forever. Travel alone. And go home.

But not because you have to

Because you want to.

perhaps I’ll tell your story to a stranger at a bus stop, just to see how long they listen

Sauntering in Love

I have a weird aversion to the phrase “in love” when it comes to a person. I am always in love with so many things. I fall in love with places and moments like there is no tomorrow, because I am aware that there may not be one. I fall head over heels with stories and poems and memories.

And I wholeheartedly love people. I can adore who they are and all that they offer the world without a thought of what that could look like to anyone watching.

However I cannot use the phrase when I am romantically interested in an individual.

Maybe I am the sort of person that could use that phrase genuinely. I instantly know when I want to understand an individual more deeply. I habitually understand that if I wanted to, I could easily see that person as many times as I wish, even if they live across the globe. I’m hopelessly romantic and my words to those I love reflect this. I genuinely live my life as if it is a story going to be told through writing, film, and photography. When you look at the world that way, interesting camera angles and beautiful words just kind of pop up everywhere.

So I suppose I could use the phrase “in love.” Perhaps I have fallen in love many times and I am in the middle of another casual stumble that sent me careening over a cliff edge. Writing this out, I think I’ve figured out my reasoning a bit clearer.

I don’t want my choices undermined.

If I say I have fallen in love with a person, it sounds as though I tripped into something unexpectedly. It sounds as though my world was suddenly turned upside down by the arrival of this perceived to be wonderful person and oh goodness I can’t live without them and how did I live without them before? That is just not the case. With every question I ask, I understand an object of my current affection more deeply. I can smile at the thought of them, tell stories of conversations, and sing along to love songs with a face in mind. But it is not because I fell there. Maybe I jumped or ran or sauntered or swam or got a little lost and kept walking in a general direction, but that still requires purpose.

I am not falling. I am not helpless. And I certainly don’t need whoever I happen to sing for.

But I’ve chosen them for a while.

And I would rather say that to a person’s face than any sonnet of the unexpected rush of hormones that comes with a desire to be held.

ISH

“I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.” – David Bowie

This is my new answer to people asking me questions about my plans. More often than not, I truly just don’t know.

While on the ferry from Wellington to the South Island, I met a guy who was fascinated by how Americans use the suffix “ish.” “You stick it everywhere. Like that answer was an exact answer. You don’t need to say ish.”

But I do need to add ish. I’m showing you the flexibility of my world. The fact that all of what I’m planning is subject to the whim of three little letters shows you that I am unfazed by the fickleness of planning. At the same time, I usually have some sort of idea in the back of my head. It’s just more realistic to say I really have no plan…ish.

But for those of you who are curious, here is my current general idea of what I am doing.

Tomorrow I am hitchhiking north for a night to see a friend before returning back to Christchurch.

My traveling buddies and I will be going to Arthur’s Pass National Park once we finally leave Christchurch. (My traveling buddies are 3 lovely Germans with a love of dancing, singing, and head massages. They are trying to teach me German. The gendered nouns are throwing me off. Like, what the hell. Why is a butterfly male?…but if there are multiple they are female. I usually just end up spluttering as I try to pronounce their R. “You don’t have to roll it. Just say it normal…Okay don’t say it like an American. Here. You say it in the back of your throat…We’ll work on it.” Insert me hissing like a cat in an attempt to make it work.)

In June I go to Tasmania for three weeks to meet up with another friend I made in National Park and to participate in a museum festival. Still wavering on whether or not I’ll join in with the nude swim on the winter solstice. Cause freaking brrrrr.

Here is where things get fuzzy. My visa expires in September. After which I am thinking I will go to Australia again to see the mainland. Or maybe Samoa. Or Fiji. Or Vietnam. Or none of the above and I do something completely unexpected.

Or go home.

But I promise it won’t be bowie-ng.

 

 

…that was terrible…

 

An Asher Service Announcement

My Dear Asher, I know you’re in the thralls of puberty and just about anything self-esteem building is far outside your conception at the moment, BUT I’m going to do this anyway.

When people ask about my siblings, it is always a personal source of pride to explain who each of my brothers and sister are and what they accomplish.

You are completely unique, Asher. Wit, imagination, sarcasm, eclecticism, intelligence, and creativity ooze from your laughter and conversation. I am always proud to be your big sister, whether you be constructing new worlds or impersonating odd characters. I miss you.

Being around a lot of people trying to be cool has reinforced in my mind that my entire family is seriously freaking cool. I like to keep a note of quotes from my life/I find/other people’s stories. Below are a few of my favorites from Asher. When I’m sad or homesick, I go read them and I’m laughing aloud by the time I’m finished.

I am thankful to have a brother who can manage that even from halfway round the world.

My mom was explaining what reincarnation was and how people can apply it to their lives if they choose. Asher gave her an incredulous look and said “Reincarnation? Next thing you’re gonna come to me and say ‘I think we should start sacrificing goats.'”

It was a legitimate fear of Asher’s that he would not be taller than me because of how much he teased me for being “short.” Some of the best insults I’ve ever heard came from him about my height. For example, I missed a frisbee throw from him, (I swear it was half a meter above my head), and without skipping a beat he hurls this my way too: “You can’t play frisbee with an ant, much less you.”

One day Asher discovered the endless possibilities of spouting nonsense and pretending it’s deep. Resulting in “You never question the gender of a kangaroo, right?” and “Roses *dramatic pause* because they know how to live.”

I’m pretty used to frank observations of my appearance. But they tend to be most amusing when coming from him. “Abiel you look like a pink Snow White.” After my hair faded from bright blue to light blue, I was greeted with “You don’t look like Gatorade anymore. More like a toxic mushroom. Maybe a radioactive whale.” When it was spiky, I got “If the sky and a hedgehog had a baby, that would be you.”

Sometimes his quips were best served with others involved.

Asher: I eat souls.
Friend: Are you the devil?
Asher: No.
Friend: Devil’s son? Apprentice– Asher: Yes.
Friend: Unpaid intern? You’re the apprentice?
Asher: I’m the princess. I’m the devils princess. I had to apply pretty young

Asher: Once I crash I’ll slow down.
Judah: I have a great new braking system. TREES!

Asher: The moon hates the sun as everyone knows.
Friend: The sun ruins a perfectly good night by making it day.

*Asher walks in with a poster copy of the Declaration of Independence* “Is this the Declaration of Independence?”
“Yes.”
“Oh good. I thought I stole the wrong thing.”

Friend: Do I look like I’m selling drugs out of your house?
Asher: I was wondering where those went.

And then come all his random comments, observations, and commentary on how the world works and what he thinks of it…or just his randomness.

“Head over heels doesn’t make any sense. Your head is literally always over your heels. If anything it should be heels over head”

“The Avengers Civil War is like an intense board game and Black Panther is that one guy that takes it way to seriously”

“I would hate to work at a car wash. Like, if I ever come to you and say ‘I’m working at a carwash’ that’s when I’ve reached my lowest point.”

“Oh I’m so happy!—Hey! Jaywalker! Jaywalker! JayRUNNER!…Oh don’t pretend you’re innocent.”

“Sometimes I’m really happy with society…most of the time I’m not.”

“I don’t fight as much as you. But I like to think I’m better at it.”

“I’m not saying you’re wrong, but I’m saying I’m right”

“I think pi is infinity’s offspring”

“Don’t be ashamed of being ugly. You’ll never be killed and put on a plaque.”

“Milk and juice?! That’s my favorite band!

“I’m uno-dexterous.”

“My daddy only had red hair on Fridays.”

“I know why hearts are considered the emotional part. Because hearts pump blood and when you fall in love, you bleed. And you DIE.”

“I’m not saying you’re gonna die. Torture is also an option.”

“I can laugh and be miserable. It’s called multitasking.”

They don’t always make sense. And I don’t think they are supposed to. He’s just living and observing and talking until we are left wondering how a human could be as creative and witty as this. I look forward to the day we travel together.

Happy Birthday! Welcome to teenhood. It’s awesome.

“Whoa whoa whoa what the hell”

…Or we could just shriek about it

“Wow. Your bag is heavy.”
“Don’t hitchhike. It’s dangerous.”
“You’re awfully young. You have to be careful about traveling alone.”
“You’re so brave.”
“That’s awfully scary.”
“Here are alllll the bad things that may happen to you.” (Paraphrase)

If the above things haven’t been said or shoved down my throat, they have been heavily insinuated. Negative statements have been a very small portion of what I have heard about my trip. Positive feedback has been overwhelming.

But negative or doubtful feedback has been present. While I have done my best not to let it affect me, what comes to mind is: Why?

I heard over and over about the scary things that could befall me by traveling alone. A whole f*cking lot actually. I had fears from childhood, stories of far off dangers, headlines from my hometown, and rumors of countries never visited by the people who chose to share the horrors of such places with me.

When I wasn’t rolling my eyes or highly amused, this thought came to mind, (well, it came to mind all the time, I just tried to laugh it off):

Do you not know I’m afraid?

When you stand there and tell me all the reasons why this is a bad idea, what am I supposed to say? What am I supposed to do?

I am afraid.

In fact, there were a SHIT ton of moments where I was just straight up terrified.

And guess what? My smile was fake as I reassured you that “yeah. I’ll be careful. New Zealand is safe. I know what I’m doing. I have friends there. Other people do this too.”

What I really wanted to say was “please just F off.” I know you meant well. I truly do. I see your side. I heard your fears. I was bathed in them. Fears of growing old. Fears of missing life. Fears of the world. Fears of the unknown. Fears of the known. FEAR.

I know this entity. We’re buddies actually. He comes and chills on my shoulder, I say “what’s up?” He shrieks “THE WORLD WILL BURN.” I try to casually respond “ah yup. I’ve known that since Trump got elected.” He nods and keeps quiet for a bit. Until something new shows up and he starts his hysterics once again.

I was afraid as I prepared for my five day track.

I was afraid as I bought my plane ticket.

I was afraid as I waited for the day to arrive.

I was afraid on my first and second and third hitchhike.

I was afraid of going to the bank and setting up my phone.

I know the world is scary. America is one of the scariest places I’ve been. (Fear interjects with “ITS ALL TERRIFYING!”)

Because yeah. Uh. It kind of is. There are humans out there. I know that. I’ve cried about it. I sobbed and fretted over my heavy bag, my lack of experience, and my age. I wondered if I would be picked up by psychos and listened as intimidating looking men said they are too scared to hitch.

I sat at a table with my head in my arms asking my mom why people would tell me these things. “Are they trying to make me not do it?”

The thing is. I don’t know. Maybe you are simply trying to tell yourself the things you wish you heard. Reassure your own little fear sitting on your shoulder.

He’s not going anywhere. So please don’t send him attacking mine.

He’s got his hands full with the concerns of a wee 18 year old doing plenty of crazy shit.

So next time you are tempted to inform someone of no useful info and only how scared YOU are to go do something, please just say “I’m proud of you for facing your fear. Use common sense and you will be just fine.”

Or you know. Give them a hug. We could use that too.

The Felt Room

People have attempted to explain feelings for centuries, probably millennia. Poets can manage. Singers can come closer. But I believe it is the dancers who express it best.

Creeping cautiously into the darkness of a shipping container, I was unsure of what this performance was meant to be. All I knew of it was I had met the man who made the sound.

I’m not sure knowing more could have prepared me for the richness of these three hours.

Legs delicately crossed, I could feel my body responding to the brief moments already spent in the space. My eyes strained to adjust to the lack of lighting and I could hear the shuddering heavy breaths of the women as they shook and pulled their beings across the room. Spectators entered and left. Some only able to experience it for a brief moment, uninterested in seeing or unable to grasp the weight of what was being performed.

I did not know how long I would stay, but I believe it was solidified that I would be present for all of it when a young girl came in with her mother, (she could not have been older than three). She quietly watched the women move, cautiously allowing herself to be in the charged place and gently reaching out to brush a body of the quivering art.

It is an improvised piece. Cues and tasks are given and completed but ultimately the three hours are a creation of feelings and interaction with those brave enough to be in the middle of it.

Colors slowly lit up the room revealing five dancers fully immersed in each moment. Feeling each moment. Dressed in white, their garments hung from their limbs in a casual tattered manner which screamed of deliberation. To explain their movements would be simply incorrect. I cannot say they shoved themselves across the floor without touching on the mindful destructions of personal space bubbles. I will not talk of how they took our hands and invited them to dance without desperately trying to help you understand the erasure of boundaries within the art world.

The air hung heavy with the weight of sweat, discomfort, perfect understanding, deep emotion, and intense temperature. Those of us willing to stay longer than five minutes felt ourselves invited into the piece. We stretched our bodies along the wall, eyes slowly following the dancers, breaking only for those who entered with the intention of being the new center.

The metamorphosis of the pile of white clothing punctuated the passing time. Beginning in one corner, it morphed and grew around the women. It scattered across the room, draped itself over us, hemmed us in, became our pillows, and connected us. The emotional and timeless hours drew to a close as each individual found themselves joining the dancers in their task of turning the pile into a web spanning from wall to wall. Methodically and yet without conscious goals, we passed shirts onto others and lengthened the strands until we ducked and wove in and out of our own piece of art.

One by one, we left.

It was the one space I have been where my mind simply decided this was all there was. It played with the idea that there was nothing beyond the room. Outside that curtain there was nothing. No beings. No ideas or systems. No other way of life. No world.

Just:

The Felt Room.