Category Archives: Stories

A Love Letter to Humanity

(I wrote this letter last week for a class I’m taking on Love and Conflict Resolution and after writing it, decided I wanted to share it here-since really a love letter to humanity should probably be shared with people!)

Dear Humanity,

Let me begin by saying that this is a love letter, but before I can tell you why I love you I need to tell you how you have hurt me.

When I was very young, maybe 5 or 6 years old, I lived in rural Norther California. One day on my way to school, I looked out the car window and I watched a tree go down the road on the back of a logging truck; it was just one tree as that was all that would fit on that mammoth semi-truck. I watched in awe and horror as this once majestic tree that was older than anything else I knew to be living was transported down the road to its grave. I understood (even at that age), that that old growth redwood bound for one of the local lumber mills was an insult to the future of the environment and to humanity itself and in the blink of an eye I was turned into an activist.

From that day forward I began to learn all that I could about humanity’s impact on the environment and found comfort in studying science and history as a way to guide my path. While the peak of old-growth logging in the redwood forests was happening all around me, I began to learn that this was not an isolated incident. I discovered that globally, the tropical rainforests were being cut and burned at an alarming rate to clear land to raise cattle. I learned that plant and animal species were going extinct daily if not hourly (sometime even ones we had yet to discover!). And I learned that human beings were producing so many toxic chemicals that we were putting our own bodies at risk by constant exposure. The more I learned the more I couldn’t believe that we were letting these things happen. Why would we destroy the very ecosystems that we relied on for clean food, water and air? Why would we trade in our wild places for malls, cars and T.V.’s? Why would we allow for short term gain as a trade for long term survival? And why even when we knew that our behavior was problematic, would we keep doing what we were doing?

But, on the bright side I also found people and organizations that were doing things to stop the destruction of the environment and try to ensure a better future for us all. By the time I was 8 years old I was a member of Greenpeace, The World Wildlife Fund, and other activist non-profit organizations. In order to pay the membership fees to join these organizations, I began fundraising by making arts and crafts to sell in the community. I would set up a table with a donation jar and items for sale, as well as information on the cause I was fundraising for at the moment.

By the time I was in middle school (and had moved to Olympia, WA), I began to realize that, despite that hard work of activists across the globe, things were only getting worse. Of course there were many success and there are many things that have been saved as a result of activist work, but overall, on a global scale, our problems were increasing, not getting better. But, I still had hope. I believed that not enough time had passed to make the real kind of change that was necessary. I believed that things would get better, we just had to fight harder and educate more people. And I believed that people wanted to change, they just didn’t know how.

After high school, I went on to work professionally as an activist for various political organizations and personally began to engage in acts of non-violent civil disobedience during mass protests that had quickly spread across the country in the late 1990’s. I knew that I wasn’t just fighting for sea turtles, or trees, or air and water quality, I was fighting for our future; humanity’s future. I was fighting for a world where progress didn’t mean that some species got to keep living and some didn’t. I was fighting for a world were people didn’t have to question if the plastic bottle they drank from would give them cancer. And I was fighting for a world where people could still find peace and solace in wild places.

But, the crazy thing is humanity, you fought back. You kicked me and called me names. You pepper sprayed me and threatened to arrest me. You created T.V. shows to mock me and tell stories that questioned my intelligence. You even started to tell kids that to be like me meant that you were “un-American” and dangerous. And amazingly enough, you fought so hard to save your own destruction, that today, in 2013, you seem to be winning.

But, the crazy thing is that I’m fighting to save you because I love you. And I love you despite the three decades of fighting me back. I love you despite the threats and the harassment. I love you because you are the most beautiful thing I have ever known and I want future generations to get a chance at living.

Yes, life is difficult and not always pretty and there are horrible things that happen to people every day, many of them caused by other humans, but life is still beautiful and we owe it to future generations to let them experience it. And irrationally, the biggest reason that life is difficult and sometimes horrible is because of stuff that WE do to each other and to the planet, so helping to fix the problems in our environment is really about helping to fix problems within ourselves.

I don’t love humanity because of the terrible things we are capable of, I love humanity because despite these things, we mostly treat each other well and are capable of great love and empathy. I love that even though people experience unimaginable tragedies and sorrow, we still make art, poetry, and create deep connections again and again in our lives. I love that despite the fact that we are often separated by language, culture and tradition, we all still share common experiences and emotions that bring us together.

I love you, humanity, because of love itself; the love between parents and children, the love between lovers, and love between friends. I love you because you write incredible books and cook amazing food. I love the way that you will get up early just to watch a sunrise and the way you will cry when your dog dies. I love that you love beautiful things like dancing, art, wild natural places, and flowers in the front yard. I love your sense of humor and your ability to see the best in the most unimaginably difficult situations. I love your diversity and the thousands of languages you speak. I love your celebrations and decadence as well as your ability to be humble and introspective. I love that you live in mud huts and wood houses, tents and high rise apartments. I love that you know how to track an animal across the plaines to feed your community and that you grow gardens on the rooftops of new buildings. I love the way you smell and that you have dreams larger than anything we have ever known to be possible.

And I love that even though things are getting worse and the fight seems impossible at times, some people are still fighting because they love you and they have hope that someday you will learn to love yourself enough to ensure the continuation of our collective future. For myself, I often loose hope and am not sure that anything will make a difference, but despite that, I know that I can never give up because I love you and without love there will be no humanity left worth saving.

Love,

The Perpetual Vagabond (AKA Lauriel~Arwen)

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The Beginning

I began this blog in May of 2011 in the wake of what felt like losing my mind. I was about to graduate with a Master’s Degree in a field I no longer wanted to work in, I was working in a job that was supposed to be my dream job, but I hated, and I had no idea who I was or where I was going. I was lonely, depressed and felt like I was slowly going mad. I began to have panic attacks daily and eventually ended up in the ER one evening with intense pain in my eyes, convinced that I had a brain tumor and was dying. Upon being discharged from the hospital and being told I was not dying, but was possibly suffering the side effects of severe stress, I realized that I was a mess and something needed to change.

A few weeks later I had an epiphany that led me to start this blog and I made my first entry. A year and a half later as I look back at where my life has gone, I realize how important this process of sharing my creative work with others has been for me as find my own inner strength and direction. I’m still learning and growing every day and often have moments that feel like I am sinking back into madness, but I also know that I now have a deep sense of self and have found immense joy in the creative process.

Below, is that very first blog post I published, and ultimately the beginning of this amazing journey I have been on this past year and a half. When I made that first entry I never could have imagined how far this process would take me. Up until that point I had never shared my creative work with anyone, due to immense fear and insecurity, and today I do it almost daily.

Now I once again feel like I’m at another crossroads in my life (but, this time I am starting from what I have already built, not at rock bottom) so I felt like acknowledging these first steps and how far I have come. Thank you to everyone who has taken an interest in my work and I hope to continue to create and share it with the world!

Today: (Originally Published May 2011)

Today, I began to mourn the loss of my creative self that so long ago I buried deep within the recesses of my mind; never even allowing myself to return to the grave site to pay my respects. The day of the burial I walked away without looking back, but could hear a faint cry for help as I had buried my artistic ambitions alive, left to suffocate beneath a mound of intellectualism, practicality, and cultural pressure. Instead I became a student, a teacher, a girlfriend and a traveler. I found artistic expression in nature and in my social circles, but never in myself. I retrained a passionate ambition to create, but with no outlet in my life, jumped from place to place, job to job, and vision to vision. Each new undertaking was only exciting as long as the initial newness and artistic imagery lasted. Not wanting to fully accept artistic death, I kept around a few hobbies, but routinely sabotaged my own work with self-doubt, distrust of others, and a wall of insecurity.

Today, my subconscious brought me back to the burial site and wouldn’t let me leave until I acknowledged what I had done. Now faced with the reality of my loss, I mourn, while at the same time fend off my inner voice that tells me to stop being silly and just let go once and for all. It tells me that I left behind my art for a reason and that it is a selfish and meaningless waste of time. I listen to these thoughts and weep at their cruelty.

Today as I grieve and question, I am also uplifted at the prospect of raising the dead and once again living an artistic life.

Today, I mourn, forgive and embrace the unknown.

On Being “Freshly Pressed”

Last week when I decided to publish my Essay, The Swifts, Conflict, Decision Making and Following My Dreams, it was with trepidation. It was clearly quite personal and I wasn’t entirely sure I was comfortable with hundreds of people I didn’t know reading it. But, in the end I thought that it was valuable to put it out into the world in order to hold myself accountable to beginning the process of facing my fears. So when four hours after posting I received an email from an editor at WordPress congratulating me on being “Freshly Pressed”, I was in shock. Now my very personal essay would not just be read by my small group of followers, but by hundreds and maybe thousands of new people. I almost panicked and took the post down. But, after taking a few deep breaths I decided that this was clearly a sign that I could no longer hide from confronting these issues and that this was an opportunity to throw the door wide open on a new path in my life.

What I never expected though, was the incredible response I got from so many of you on how the essay impacted your own life and reflective process. I couldn’t believe how many people expressed gratitude for my words and could relate to my story. Every person who commented on my post telling me how much my story resonated with them was one more affirmation that sharing this essay was important for my own growth and healing and now the growth and healing of many others.

I would like to thank everyone who took the time to read my words and to those of you who shared your own personal stories with me. It’s always nice to know that we are not alone on our journey and that by being willing to express ourselves authentically we can help each other through difficult times. I hope to continue to share more thoughts on life as well as continue to share my photography, which is ultimately my outlet for expressing how I see the world.

Thank you again and be well~

The Swifts, Conflict, Decision Making, and Following My Dreams

Last night I went to watch the swifts in Portland, who every September on their fall migration roost in the chimney of Chapman School in NW Portland. Watching the swifts is one of my favorite fall activities in this city, as hundreds of people come out with their families and friends and have picnic dinners on the steeply sloped hill, while watching thousands of birds swirl into the chimney at sunset. It’s a beautiful community event and I try to go see it at least a few times during the season.

But, last night turned out to be more than just a nice night of watching the beauty of nature and the strength of community. I learned something about myself that took me by surprise and has left me a bit unsure of where to go next. It came about during a conversation about past relationships, in which I said to my friend, “we broke up because we fought too much…although I have never fought with anyone else I’ve dated…” and then it hit me; I haven’t fought with ANYONE else since we broke up, not boyfriends, not friends, not bosses, not my mother, not anyone. Suddenly I was slapped in the face with the realization that for the past 4 years I have been avoiding conflict at all costs.

I knew that I had changed quite a bit since the summer of 2008, and I often liked my new amicable self, but I also had slowing been losing my path, unable to make decisions, developing patterns of self isolation and becoming even more flighty than before. I had many potential explanations for my behavior; my most important long-term relationship had ended, I was in graduate school, the economic recession was making opportunity sparse, and I was dealing with issues of self worth and confidence. All normal things that happen in life, but for 4 years I had been trying to address these issues so that my life could be better and I could maybe discover some idea of how to live my dreams, but nothing ever worked.

So over the last 4 years I have looked at everything in this quest for clarity; my jobs, my living situations, my diet, my hobbies, my friends, my spirituality, everything. I have sought out therapy, Naturopaths, energy work, new friends, new adventures, new jobs and homes, but still nothing brought me to a place that felt right. It was like I forgot who I was and I was now just trying on different lives to see if they fit. I developed an inability to make real decisions instead opting for whatever presented itself to me in the moment. But, it never occurred to me that most of this might be the result of developing a pervasive avoidance of conflict.

Now I think it is reasonable to avoid unnecessary conflict, but when you avoid conflict at all costs you become willing to give up just about everything in order to keep the peace. You give up your hopes, desires, and the things that are most important to you. You isolate yourself from any situation that might evoke deep emotions. And you find ways to justify people’s bad behavior so as not to have to confront it. Avoiding conflict makes you begin to think that being nice is more important than being authentic.

Over the years I have started to feel successful in my interpersonal life because people began to perceive me as nice and pleasant to be around. I no longer got comments that I was “opinionated” and “bitchy”. People would talk about how kind and diplomatic I was. Which are all great things to be and it felt good to be this way, but it has all been at the expense of pursing my passions and dreams. I have not found a balance; I just swung from one extreme to the other.

And now I can see so clearly how it all started and it had nothing to do with my ex boyfriend that I did all the fighting with (it just occurred around the same time we broke up). It was during my second year serving in AmeriCorps, where I worked as an environmental educator in the mountains of Idaho. For the first three months everything was great, I loved my coworkers, my job and the town. As a group we worked well together and had a great dynamic. We did however avoid any real conflict which left things stewing under the surface, unaddressed. Then, just after winter break everything changed; the group finally let what was simmering come out and conflict erupted into an all out battle. And as an opinionated, stubborn, process oriented person I met it head on with dire consequences. I became the group’s scapegoat for all conflict; everything was my fault, which it sometimes was, but definitely not always.

For months every time the group had an issue I would be placed in the central point of blame and criticized for anything I said or did. It was horrible and I didn’t know what to do to fix it. I was in a constant state of anxiety and defensiveness. It wasn’t until I came down with a fortunate (yes I said fortunate) case of food-poisoning in which I was out of commission for a whole week and the group (in my absence) continued to have conflict and therefore had to acknowledge that maybe it wasn’t always my fault. A few of my coworkers decided to stand up for me and bring the issue of how I was being treated to the group. So, after months of dealing with conflict by making me the scapegoat, we finally had to address the real issues that were plaguing our group and I was finally allowed to move on with my life without constant harassment and negativity.

Unfortunately by this point, I had already completely shut down and must have subconsciously vowed never to do anything that would put me in that position again. I turned inward, began to avoid groups, and quickly lost my ability to make decisions. I became paralyzed with anxiety over doing anything that might upset someone or make someone think I was being contrary. I stopped speaking up or asking for what I wanted. And unfortunately, I was never able to make the connection that my sudden change in personality and behavior came from this very difficult experience and the resulting subconscious coping strategies.

And I now realize that my coping strategies have consumed my life. Being unable to make decisions, I stared to create predictable patterns that make my decisions for me. I go to the same restaurants, order the same foods, do the same things with the same people on a regular basis, wear the same clothes and generally leave the rest up to chance. I have learned to always be ok with whatever anyone else chooses, I no longer am a picky eater, I reserve my opinions for groups of people I know agree with me (and I can always see the opposition’s side and understand why they feel the way they do), I avoid people who I know have strong beliefs and tend to get worked up over them, and I spend more and more time alone.

I even recently decided that I wanted to live alone (even though I have a great, affordable house, with great roommates) because I feel like I’m always having to compromise, never acknowledging though that I never ask for what I want, never being willing to address my concerns or feelings with the people I live with. I would rather move out than discuss something that might not be pleasant. I’d rather run away than make things work.

So, that brings me to today. This whole realization just came crashing down in a torrent of insight and clarity, but now I don’t know what to do with it. Seeking out conflict doesn’t seem like the answer, but I clearly need to face my fear and maybe learn about strategies for effective conflict resolution instead of conflict avoidance. I know I don’t want to go through the rest of my life not authentically living with purpose because I am too afraid of being criticized or attacked for my choices. I want to have the courage to follow my dreams even if it may involve some unpleasantness. And I want to find a balance between being kind and diplomatic and being strong and living with conviction.

It’s gotten to the point where I don’t even know what I want anymore because it has just been easier to go with the flow and let things happen, than to risk being confronted for my choices. The problem is that this is incredibly uninspiring and leaves me feeling lost and confused most of the time as well as dependent on the spontaneity of others to keep my life interesting and fulfilled. And it makes my relationships unbalanced and inauthentic and leaves me feeling isolated from those I care about.

So, I guess my lesson is that sometimes going and watching the swifts is just a nice way to pass the time, but sometimes watching animals live out their purpose in life makes us question our own and helps us better understand our true nature. Fear is an amazingly powerful thing that can bury us under its weight if we don’t keep it in check. If the swifts were afraid of coming home to roost because of the peregrine falcons that prey on them each season, then the whole ecosystem would collapse. The swifts don’t avoid their journey because of the battle that awaits them at that chimney, they show up every year without fail and remind us that the journey is hard, but we have to go on it anyway.

 

All Packed and Ready to Go!

I don’t leave for Spain and the Camino de Santiago for another 2 weeks…but my bag is packed and I am ready to go!

The good thing about packing so early is that it gives me time to make sure I am not forgetting anything important and not bringing more than I need. The bad thing is that I keep looking at my bag and desperately wanting to leave tomorrow.

But, to be honest I’m also a little nervous. I may be a vagabond, but I tend to stick close to people I know. I’ve never spent 6 weeks traveling entirely solo. I’ve never hiked 600 miles. I’ve never even been to Spain. I’ve done many challenging things in my life, but this is new and different and is making me feel a little uncertain as to what will happen.

But, I guess that is the journey. I’m looking for something new in my life and in my travels and I can’t stick to what I already know to find it. So for the next 2 weeks I will wait with anticipation while my bag sits there nicely packed and reminding me of the adventure ahead!

 

 

In Search of Adventure Abroad and Community at Home: Thoughts on Being a Vagabond

I am a vagabond; that much is clear to me. But I am also drawn to building creative and meaningful community at home. This makes me feel torn on a near constant basis and the process of fuzing these two realities together seems to be more alchemy than a hard science. At least I have yet to discover the secret. It seems that the life of a vagabond is lonely and isolated from stability, while filled with adventure and personal growth; while life in community is repetitive and predictable, but gives the opportunity to know others and a place intimately. Now these two realities are not necessarily mutually exclusive, or even reflective of what I describe above, but for me it feels this way. And of course while traveling I dream of my life at home and while at home I can’t stop thinking of getting back into the unknown.

This time around I made it just over a month in Portland before the itch set in. An itch that I couldn’t scratch without buying a plane ticket. After returning from Korea and Japan this past May I was excited about being home for some time, putting in my garden, maybe further developing my romantic relationship and hopefully finding a job. I figured I could at least go for another year before needing to travel again. But, the good feeling of being home only lasted about a month. The vibrant green of spring in the Pacific Northwest began to fade, my garden went untended, my relationship spoiled and only rejection letters from potential employers found their way to my inbox. My new dream of living a full and exciting life while remaining still dissolved…

…Now to be fair, I probably didn’t give things enough time. I expected stability while demanding excitement. I didn’t allow things to flourish from a place of newness, but allowed them to stagnate though a place of the familiar. Instead of holding tight and allowing for a new chapter to emerge, I chose to escape. It’s what I do best. So, I decided that I would spend 6 weeks in Spain in order to walk the Camino de Santiago, something I have wanted to do for years. I figured this would buy me some more time to try my hand once again at growing roots when I return.

While I desire some of what stability offers and often find myself attracted to staying put, the feeling never lasts. Some people find the idea of traveling frightening, but exciting; I feel that way about being stable and in one place. But, just like people who are afraid to travel and would benefit from facing their fears, I should probably face my fear of staying still for a time in order to gain the lessons of that experience. So now I intend to try again when I return from this trip. Although I wouldn’t be surprised if in the end it turns out that I am destined to be a wandering vagabond and will have to find my desire for community and stability in other ways.

But, I am excited to embark on this next adventure in search of clarity and to have the opportunity to do more travel photography in a part of the world I have never been. Who knows if I will find any answers on my journey, but I know it will help fulfill my wanderlust while giving me time to contemplate my next steps at home.

I leave August 2nd, so stay tuned for photos and stories from the road!

Cheers!

Tour de Ireland and France, 2006

In the Summer of 2006, my travel partner Daniel and I spent 40 days cycling through Ireland and France. Neither of us had any significant experience traveling by bike and we undertook this journey on used mountain bikes we bought in Ireland (not nescesarily recommended but doable!). Anytime “real” cyclists would see us and our bikes they would exclaim, “you can’t tour on those!”. But, that is exactly what we did and without too much fanfare made it with only minor hiccups. We did experienced crazy weather, broken-down bikes, and terrifying roads, but we also experienced beautiful scenery, the kindness of strangers and life in the countryside of Europe in places where many travelers never go. In total we traversed 1000 miles down and across the the west and south coast of Ireland, through NW France and finally through the French Alps.

We traveled slowly favoring seeing an area over gaining ground and had little agenda or plan as we went. The experience of self propelled travel was incredibly rewarding and I would recommend it to most anyone.

Some of the trips highlights were: The WHOLE West Coast of Ireland, seeing standing stones in NW France, watching the World Cup during mid-afternoon breaks at local pubs, ending up on the Tour de France route in the Alps, amazing food, “luxury” campgrounds (with pools, kitchens and bars) and seeing things just slow enough to enjoy them but just fast enough to stay interested.

At the end of our tour we were forced to sell our bikes in a hour window of time in Lyon when we discovered we would not be permitted to take them on the train to Germany. Letting go of that bike was one of the hardest things I have ever done, although I’m sure my tears were as much about the end of the journey as they were about saying goodbye to my trusty steed.

All of the following photos are scanned from film prints and the quality is pretty poor, but they still tell a story of an incredible journey that I will never forget. Hope you enjoy!

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