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.

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.

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.

In Other News, I Bought a Mandolin

My eyelids dragged shut, my legs creaked at me, and my brain simply drifted back into the fog of sleep as I regained consciousness this morning. Waking up was a slow process and I found myself starting to slip into some odd sort of funk. “I should be doing something. Maybe I should go on a hike since the weather is nice. Perhaps I am silly for not starting on something sooner.”

Finally I shook my head of the silliness and reminded myself I walked really freaking far yesterday. I trailblazed to a crater very few people see and managed to be back on time to do a shift as receptionist.

“Just get yourself out of bed, Abiel. You can do this.”

I was able to make a good breakfast and go on an outing with two lovely friends. “When in doubt, go out” is some of the best advice I received before I left. Today it proved true.

Come afternoon, I wandered to the tiny house of one of my favorite people.

“Hey! Look what I got! A mandolin. It was only $50 and it’s helping me figure out the violin too.”

I fell in love with the little instrument he showed me. It’s deep, dreamlike color, uneven brush strokes, pearly silver pegs, and the elegant hardware.

“A year from now, we’ll all be gone,
All our friends will move away.
And they’re going to better places,
But our friends will be gone away.”

My heart nearly skipped a beat with happiness as he began to sing “Rivers and Roads” by The Head and the Heart. The little mandolin rang and I let my voice join their song.

For the next hour or so, I plopped on the carpet and learned chords until my fingers were indented by the strings.

“So what would you suggest I look for if I were to buy my own mandolin?”

“Well. You know what?…one second.” I watched as he scrolled through his phone for a moment. “So I would ultimately like a mandolin that I can plug into an amp and I have a bid on one right now. If you like, you can buy that one off me.”

Holy shit. Really?!

So uh. I am now traveling with a mandolin.

And I could not be happier about it.

I’m working on learning to play “Rivers and Roads” and “What Do You Do with a Drunken Sailor” because what’s life without variety?

Thankfully I was taught the latter song and told to wing the strumming pattern for the former. (“It gives it more soul.”)

Multiple hours later, I was still curled up with my new instrument and my friend had made a rack for all of his other instruments.

Oh. He plays the didgeridoo. Coolest freaking instrument ever and it sounds otherworldly beautiful.

“By the time I get to America, you can come with me and we’ll go play our mandolins at some music sessions.”

That’ll be f*cking awesome.

Welcome to the Whānau

The past few days I have sat wondering if I’m truly a traveling type. I seem to have a hard time with the whole “3 days here, 1 night here, just keep moving” thing. Maybe I’ll get better at it as I move on, but I have a deep need to feel at home. I spent a month in Wellington, three months in National Park, and almost two weeks in Rotorua. Each place I have cultivated friendships and connections and a feeling of home.

I sat and worried myself into a corner, trying to figure out why I can’t bring myself to just take my backpack and stick my thumb out to the next spot.

Today I learned why.

“Abiel would you like to come to my women’s meeting? It’s just a small group of us learning how to rediscover ourselves through this program.”

Of course!

I found myself in a cozy church with a bowl of candies, a pile of magazines, and a large orange piece of paper set out on the table. The semi circle of five ladies each greeted me and settled into the next hour with a curious mixture of obligation and enthusiasm, cutting out clippings representing our identity. (I greatly enjoy things of that nature.)

At the end of the meeting, the things I had said in the middle of it apparently hit home and I got some of the biggest hugs I’d ever received.

From there I went to Anthea’s grandmother’s house.

Upon leaving National Park, I had been given a beautiful NZ jade necklace from my manager and her family. “Have it blessed by a minister and it will never leave you.”

It just so happened that Anthea’s grandmother and aunt were both ministers.

I walked into a home lit by yellow bulbs and papered with photographs of a family stretching further than my Western understanding could grasp.

Five minutes later, my hands were held by the soft weathered palms of two Maori women pouring their belief in God into my necklace and life.

“Would you like a cup of tea? Biscuits? I’ll pick you and Judaea up for church on Sunday. You’re how old?!”

Tears came to my eyes as I pondered the privilege of these moments. Were I simply to move on, drifting only with the wind, the roots I cherish would never land. I could not find myself in situations such as these: cared for by some of the most interesting and beautiful people, willing to love me as I love them.

“You’re whānau (family) now. You’re never getting rid of us,” Judaea chuckled at me when I told her of my evening.

Whānau. I think I’m just fine with that.

Practice Dying

“What is the hardest part of being on the trail with people?”

“They get boring.”

I have been reading The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. It basically talks about death, life, and meditation. I’ve been thinking a lot about these topics and the futility of ignoring and avoiding death. At literally any moment we could die. I had a person tell a suicidal friend that they didn’t want to continue a close friendship because they didn’t want to become close to someone who could die at any moment.
I swear if I was in America that person would not be having a good day right now.
But that’s not the point of this. The point is death is inevitable, anyone could die at any moment, and everything Western culture perpetuates is a facade trying to help us forget that fact.

As I was talking to a new friend who is in the process of hiking the length of New Zealand, I realized that so many people choose to find themselves in the clutches of futile worry and allow themselves to become uninterested in the world around them.

I don’t quite understand.

Perhaps it is because we feel that if we allow ourselves to find everything fascinating, we reduce our problems to the rather minuscule thing they are. (I understand that there are many people who are dealing with actual very difficult problems. Trying to survive war, starvation, natural disasters, and many other things are not small problems. My readership though is primarily made up of individuals privileged enough to avoid such things.)

Nor am I trying to say that life is easy. It isn’t. It hasn’t been. It never will be. Period. Life is change and change is our chance to practice dying. Therefore, life isn’t easy.

But,

Our world is overwhelmingly full of beautiful things and interesting things to learn. I have had two people ask me if I feel fully alive now that I am in New Zealand. I responded that yes I do feel fully alive, but I did before I came. Before coming to New Zealand I was trying to learn guitar (work in progress-will update next time I actually pick one up to practice). I pointed out every butterfly I saw and complimented people with cool hair. I planned a day trip up to Sequoia National Park on the $15 shuttle with my best friend. I let myself love where I was and made it beautiful, even when I was ready to be in New Zealand.

Now I’m in New Zealand, I’ve taught myself to longboard. I weaseled my way into volunteer firefighter training. I still point out every butterfly I see and I compliment people on their hair.

“Though we travel the world over in search of the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Travel does not automatically make you interesting. As someone around a LOT of travelers, I can verify this. It is what you pull from your travels. How are you at conversation? Can you listen? Do you need a drink in your hand in order to be comfortable or can you be drawn into the life experience of people ten years older, or younger, than you? What do you love? You think birds are cool? Awesome! What’s your favorite? Please please please get excited about it!

Have you ever watched someone in love with something talk? Not someone, but something. They smile and gesture and laugh as they speak of clouds, Jazz, herbs, fitness, food, baking, life.

Read. Watch butterflies or documentaries. Be bad at something. Color your hair. Look up a YouTube tutorial on hip hop dance and shut the bathroom door as you move. Go for a walk and wander into a random store. Find a moment and watch the sunset.

Be alone.

If you can be alone, without music, without a person, without a device, you will watch the world and even as we find ourselves barreling towards a death we do not understand, we will be living.

Poetic Bastards

We are travelers.

Souls who refuse to be restrained by bodies designed to stay in one space.

We are poetic bastards, the children of vanity and curiosity, cheating on stability and small mindedness to pursue our affair with the unknown.

And oh what a glorious affair it is, unrestrained by “shoulds” as our kisses of hope pull us further into this being we can’t understand.

Volcanic slopes

This past week I have sincerely missed home. Not just people there, but Visalia, California. I miss the river and oak trees. I miss the citrus and Mexican food. I miss my Quaker community and the lovely downtown. I miss my cat. At one point I considered that I could simply go home. The thing is, going home means…what? I have all of those things that I long for. I have family who love and accept me. I have my cat.

But then I find a job. I start classes at COS. I struggle as I build another friend group from the ground up. I try find my place in the world.

When I think about that fact, I take a deep breath and remind myself that things are changing for me soon.

I leave National Park in one week. I go north to Rotorua to visit a lovely friend. At some point after that, I return to National Park to do a 4-5 day trek around Ruapehu before heading south to Wellington. From there I venture to the South Island. There is no timeline on this and when I reach the South Island, I have no plans, I know no one, and I will be going where the wind takes me. After all, I came here to wing it.

And here I f*cking go.

 

Superfluously So

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I am exactly one week away from having been in New Zealand for three months. As is typical with such things, it feels much longer and much shorter than the time it has been.

Before I left, my mom told me that the first three months is where you sit there going “What the hell am I doing?”

She was right. As usual.

About two weeks ago, I felt myself settle. Things aren’t feeling quite so urgent. My ideas and plans are stretching themselves to fit into the flow I have created around me. My overarching state of mind is no longer bent on relating my present to the past, but on deciding how I could associate it with my future.

The other day, someone asked me about my plans after New Zealand. I was rattling off four or five ideas I had, when my coworker informed me of a totally new option in a place I had been considering. “That is also something I might do.”

As one of my favorite people here has been telling me “You have time.”

I’m finally getting myself to believe it.

Some days it feels like I tumble head over heels into all the possibilities or places I create in my mind. I lay on my bed and curl up with a pillow, doing exactly nothing, thinking about how I could be learning to do this or that or walking here or practicing this. My mind propels me as I lean against it, wondering if perhaps I’m alright without all this ambitious desire to be, in some cases, superfluously multifaceted.

You know all in all I just get to laugh. I have time. I have the moment. I have a sometimes ridiculously poetic brain, framing my experiences in words that sound nice when typed out.

And I get to make more cookies this afternoon! Gingerbread. It’s my Christmas contribution for the summer.

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Welcome to National Park
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I love watching the trains go by.
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Mt. Ruapehu looks different in every photo I take as the lighting shifts, the snow melts, and my perspective is altered.
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If rainbows mean promise, than I am promised beautiful things. If the end of the rainbow means gold, than National Park is the perfect pot of gold. If rainbows mean gay as frick, than I have some really awesome people to meet. 
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Bush walks and flower crowns
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An unedited photo of a fern. The fern is the unofficial national symbol of New Zealand, and for good reason as the tree ferns can be several meters tall and make up a good portion of the local foliage.
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Icy blue in boiling temperatures
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A cave harboring heated water at the bottom
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Geothermal places

 

 

Well, Have a Good Life

A Swede, Nederlander, Frenchman, Australian, and American walk into a bar to solve the world’s problems…

Whoever can come up with a punchline wins a high five sent from New Zealand.

Living at a hostel presents a lot of interesting challenges. It is basically one giant sociology experiment.

To be a backpacker means you are alone. You may be constantly surrounded by people. You may be in the middle of nowhere and completely without human contact.

Guess which one often feels the loneliest?

To be a backpacker means you are being shoved in and out of friendships that may span two hours total. Time becomes both everything and nothing in your relationships. You have listened to yourself say where you are from, where you are heading, how long you have been here, what you are doing, and why you’re here over and over. You say goodbye to people by saying “have a nice life,” often certain you will never speak to them again. You are constantly surrounded by the interesting so many degenerate into finding nothing interesting. Life becomes “life” again. Even as they are in amazing places, I have met individuals who somehow manage to sound as though they are in a terribly boring situation.

How you see the world is everything.

So how do you find the people who sound like the start of a bad joke when you go out to eat? How do you find the people to kiss under the stars and talk deep without drink? How do you find the ones who you walk into a conversation with them and think “I am going to make sure our friendship lasts longer than a moment”?

I’m not entirely sure.

But I’m determined to keep making it happen.

This post is dedicated to Stuart, George, Sonja, Viktor, and Pierre. I wish you all the homemade cookies you can find.