Turtle Poem

 

01 First steps into the unknown

First steps into the unknown,

 

02 Walk together

walk together,

 

03 Walk alone

walk alone.

 

04 It's a long road and we stray

It’s a long road and we stray,

 

05 And many times we wonder

many times we wonder,

 

06 Which way

which way.

 

07 Crossing hurdles and hills

Crossing hurdles and hills,

 

08 Its daunting

it’s daunting,

 

09 But daunting also thrills

but daunting also thrills.

 

10 So embrace the crazy ride

So we learn to embrace the crazy ride,

 

11 The magnificent unpredictability of life

the magnificent unpredictability of life,

 

12 And surf the tide

and surf its tide.

 

Connection

A couple of months ago, I moved to Phnom Penh, Cambodia and felt again that great rush of excitement as any new chapter reveals itself. This excitement hasn’t dissipated – it’s been an incredible experience so far. But it’s also been accompanied by a sense of real isolation from friends and family.

I am living alone for the first time in about 6 years. My friends are constantly posting photos of their lives in places that are not Phnom Penh. And for the first time, I’m starting to see really big changes happening within my immediate family – new members are being ‘recruited’ or born, homes are changing and we are all ageing. It’s provoked in me some existential questionings – if I’m feeling isolated, am I where I am supposed to be? Am I making the right life choices? Would I be better off abandoning my love of life abroad to return to my Australian roots? (i.e. What am I doing with my life?!?)

Last week I visited Germany for a close friend’s wedding. It was also a chance to rendezvous with Brighton-based Michaelle in Munich. We took a morning walk through the city. We sat at a cafe and over a spritz, we talked. We really talked. She listened and I talked. I talked and she listened. We talked about our relationships, our work, our families, our fears and our ever evolving philosophical ponderings. We could have continued just talking for hours, if I didn’t have to catch a flight.

Having returned to Cambodia, the fears I felt have started to ease and not because anything has actually changed, but because it felt so good to talk, to feel listened to and to feel understood by someone so close, someone who could relate. I felt real connection. ‘One of the most beautiful qualities of true friendship is to understand and be understood,’ said Senaca. And so I question whether the source of our fears might sometimes stem not solely from our problems themselves, but largely from the fact that we feel our problems go unknown to others, that they are un-shareable, and therefore that we are not understood, that we are alone.

It was a blessing then to see Michaelle in Munich, a reminder of the depth of our own friendship and how incredibly important friendship is. It was also a personal reminder that it’s so important invest time in the great friends and family I have regardless of the geographical distances between us, because feeling understood, feeling connected, feeling loved is so undeniably fundamental to feeling well.

Quality friendship helps ameliorate those seemingly un-shareable fears and it replaces them with perspective – nothing is more important, in my opinion, than the good we bring into the lives of the people around us and that starts just by listening. So for getting up at 3am to catch a flight into Munich, ‘just’ so we could talk, thanks Tauson.

Reunited over spritz in Munich

Reunited over spritz in Munich

Who are you? The Power of the Mind

One of the topics frequently being discussed in the “Everyday” Facebook chat between Michaelle, Rachel and I is the power of the mind. As all people, we have good days and we have bad days. We also have worse days. With influences from the likes of Louise Hay, we always try to encourage each other to be aware of the fact that we are very much in charge of our lives, and most importantly, our minds.

It’s so easy to fall into the habit of thinking I am this or I am that. I am shy. I am loud. I am a failure. I am ugly. I am not a happy person. But why are you all of these things? Let me tell you – something happened to you once and your reaction was to think that you were shy. Then something else happened, which reinforced that thought. Then maybe something else. All of a sudden, shy defined you and you knew that you had always been, and probably always would be, shy. “It’s just the way I am.”

Yes and no. If you want to give random external circumstances the power to decide who you are, then yes. But you also have an opportunity here; an opportunity which only reveals itself as soon as you realise that you are not defined by what happens to you, but how you react to it. If you are wearing blue tinted glasses you will see the world in blue, but you can just as easily decide to change to red.

It is a powerful thought: your world is what you make it.  You can actually change the way you think to ultimately change the way you feel. You can choose to see failure or opportunity in everything that happens to you. You can choose to put the red tinted glasses on and they don’t tell you that you’re shy, they never have and they never will.

But how do you do it? Not to be discouraging, but it will probably be the greatest challenge of your life. I saw an excellent TED Talk the other day on how science suggests that we’re more perceptive to negative thoughts than positive ones, and how we tend to get stuck in a spiral of negative thinking. Although pretty basic, it was a revelation to me as I have always felt that negativity comes way too easily.

In fact, ever since Michaelle introduced me to Louise Hay (who’s ideas I take with a kilo of salt – I find it very difficult to believe that thoughts can cure all forms of disease) mid last year, I have been on a mission to reinvent the way I think. With a rather common yet nonetheless dysfunctional belief system about who I was (not “good enough” being the most prominent idea) it seemed impossible at first. You don’t wash away 31 years of beliefs just like that. But after a year, I’m amazed by how much easier it has become. And this TED Talk was another step in the right direction, because the more aware we are of how are brains work (or don’t work), the better capable we will be to manipulate them and improve them to our advantage.

Awareness is the first and most important step. Simply realising that you can change the way you think to change the way you feel has already taken you 50% of the way. That awareness will keep on reminding you, poking you and annoying you until your unwillingness to change is the only thing standing in your way.

Michaelle and Rachel are knights and guardians of my awareness (they’ll love that). Whenever I’m sad or upset about something, they tell me that I should choose to think and feel differently. It always frustrates me because it’s really not what you want to hear when you’re having a bad day – you want some pity, comfort and a truckload of chocolate, not someone telling you it’s actually your own fault you’re feeling this way. Even if it is.

One caveat here, it’s important to be self-aware enough to know when you’re being silly (and as long as you’re aware, why not have a pity party for a few hours, they’re fun!) and when things are serious. Because even if I do believe in the power of changing the way you think, I also believe that you should give your emotional intelligence some credit. If you feel sad, mistreated or unhappy, your feelings are probably trying to tell you that there is something you need to change in life. Ultimately, change in thinking also needs to be combined with action, because at the end of the day, you can’t think your way out of an unstable financial situation, an unhealthy lifestyle or a dysfunctional relationship.

How to sum this up? Use the awareness. Use your self-awareness. Use your emotional intelligence. Figure out what it is you need to change, both physically and mentally, and see it as an opportunity to create a better life for yourself. You don’t have to wear blue tinted glasses if you don’t want to, and the first step – really not as easy as it might sound – is to realise that they’re not attached to your face.

The Best of 2014

We started this blog in May 2014 when Michaelle was living in Bangkok, Rachel was living in San Fransisco, and Jennie in Rwanda. Now eight months later, Michaelle is in Brighton, Jennie moved to Tanzania and Rachel is keeping us represented in Bangkok (the place we all met).

To celebrate the fantastic year of 2014, we thought we’d do a joint Christmas post looking back on the highlights of year, what we’ve experienced and learnt.

We always hope that by sharing our experiences we are creating a space where people, especially people away from their families and homes of origin, can find some reassurance, comfort, empathy, or just some amusement. We hope you have been enjoying our random posts this year and will keep up with us in 2015, we promise to get into loads of trouble, maybe even jump out of an airplane again.

Without further ado, The Best of 2014!

The most valuable thing I learnt

Michaelle: It was the year of learning, but I guess the number one thing I learned is that life has a way of working itself out; the answer presents itself eventually to all perceived problems. This year I am going to try to keep that in mind instead of worrying so much!

Jennie: It was without doubt the best year of my life for new learnings, but the most valuable thing I learnt must be that it’s never exclusively a bad thing to find yourself in a difficult situation. With some determination and courage, hardships can open up doors to fantastic new opportunities and possibilities.

Rachel: I’ve lived in three countries this year – Australia, the United States and Thailand. This experience exposed me to three very different cultures, very different communities of people and the very different values and beliefs of individuals living very different lives. What I’ve learnt is that our interests (and our obsessions) are not a given; we weren’t born with them, we were born into them – they are largely shaped by the environments in which we live. This is not surprising, but what is surprising is that despite the circumstantial (and therefore, arbitrary) shaping of our own values and beliefs, we cling to them with conviction, so much so that we often cannot identify with contradictory or differing perspectives. Many of us are willing to openly persecute, vilify or denigrate others to defend our own perspectives. Of course, civilized disagreement is good – it can lead to healthy debate, the readjustment of our thinking and ultimately, the advancement of human consciousness. My point is that we are pretty bad at adjusting our perspectives and even more simply, at respecting different ones. In 2014, I’ve witnessed the “great human disconnect” (which is arguably made worse communication technologies and social media platforms that seem to fortify communities of shared values). The most valuable thing I’ve learnt then is that at least on a personal level, I’ve really got to work on my listening skills.

2014’s Most Unexpected

Michaelle: I never would have expected to gain a brand new family. In 2014 I was so welcomed into the Palestinian-Syrian refugee community in Bangkok  and  I never could have expected so much love from a group of people. Also, after having faced a war in Syria and innumerable hardships in Bangkok, you could never imagine how much love they still have to give. They make me believe in the good in the world and I am proud and inspired by their strength.

Finding family everywhere

Finding family everywhere

Jennie: Everything about 2014 was unexpected. I started it off rather miserable, having recently split with my fiancé, more or less unemployed and temporarily living with my parents in a snowy and dark Sweden. I remember watching the fireworks on my own on New Year’s Eve – my parents at a party and my guests already home with their two small children. The future seemed a tad gloomy.

In the midst of it all, I had this nagging gut feeling telling me that I needed to go back to Rwanda for a volunteer opportunity. I didn’t have much money and no real plan B, but went anyway. Now, a year later, I’m looking back on 2014 and seeing some of the best times of my life. I have made a ridiculous amount of new friends, many which I’ll keep for life, and I’ve landed a dream job in Tanzania.

This New Year’s Eve, I spent in Dar es Salaam cooking up a storm with three (2014 new) good friends. I couldn’t be happier.

Jennie nye 2013

NYE 2013, not quite the party we had this year.

Rachel: Late one Monday night, I was lost in Los Gatos, California, with Terry Hershner. There was almost no charge left on his electric motorcycle – our only mode of transportation on a public holiday in this small isolated city. Cold, hungry, grumpy, lost, we stumbled across the only bar in town showing any sign of life – a group of beautiful, middle-aged women enjoying the remnants of a lavish meal. The restaurant had closed, but out of kindness, these women invited us to join their table and before we knew it, we were the centre of their attention, eating their leftovers, drinking their wine and sharing stories of our journeys across California on Terry’s electric motorcycle. This was the night I met Durga, an Indian, cricket playing venture capitalist with a gapingly open heart and open mind. After we’d finished eating, she invited us back to her house and almost 24 hours later, several Indian meals later, we were still there, sharing stories, exchanging beliefs and how we each hoped to impact the world. It was the most unexpected encounter of my life to date and it’s a day I’ll never forget. I think of Durga often and how wonderful it is to live so openly and without judgment to the strangers around us.

I spent too much time worrying/thinking about…

Michaelle: Men. They take up entirely too much time. On top of that, I have the worst taste in men. If I were the statue of liberty my sign would read “Give me your passive aggressive, your emotionally unavailable, your masses of idiots”. I have no general solution on the topic, however.

Jennie: Contract extensions. Job applications. Written tests for jobs. Job interviews. Those stupid things I said in job interviews. Hearing back from job interviews. Whether or not I would get job A, B or C and move to X, Y or Z. Whether or not I would die unemployed and penniless of exhaustion.

Rachel: I want to help create educational resources for kids. At some point in the process of creating these resources, I started to question my own motivation  – was I doing this because I believed in the cause, or because I wanted to prove myself and my own capabilities? I had definitely taken a fairly significant stand in moving away from the UN system to go it on my own. But was this about ego or conviction? Once the idea entered my head, I found it hard to erase and I could not easily separate these two driving forces. In the end, worrying about this has held me back from doing something important. As Mark Twain famously penned, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” There is no point stalling. In 2015, it’s time to start creating.

I particularly remember this one happy moment…

Michaelle: I was getting into bed one night in Bangkok in the flat I shared with a wonderful woman named Erin. I yelled goodnight to her through my open door into the neighbouring kitchen. She responds with, “Did you just say I love you?”

“Haha, no,” I said, “but I do!” And we started saying I love you before bed each night. It sounds ridiculous, I know, but it always felt like a real home there, and when you are so far from your roots, it is all you need.

Jennie: 2014 was the year of road trips. I think it was in September, three good friends and I travelled up to Musanze and Burera in Rwanda. We found some stunning spots with views over lakes, mountains and volcanoes. We took silly photos of ourselves surveying the lands and came up with inside jokes we’re still laughing about. We ate home-made pasta at a small Italian restaurant, drank tequila shots and played semi-drunken “would you rather”. Having recently gotten a new job, I knew I’d soon have to leave beautiful Rwanda and these friends behind. Rather than feeling sad, it made me appreciate the time we had together so much more.

jennie tanzania

Rachel: I was in Barcelona on the Feast Day of St Joan, the start of Summer and the longest day of the year for the Spaniards. It was also my final day in Spain after a three week holiday. I remember reflecting on my state of mind and I realized that I could not remember feeling happier than I had over those past few months and especially those past few weeks holidaying in Spain. My happiness was tied to the beautiful company, the weather, the tastes and smells of Spain and then also the perfect dosage of alone time for necessary contemplation and appreciation. As I wrote then: “It’s late and I’m sitting beside an 85 year old women in a wheelchair who is drinking wine and laughing her head off. I don’t understand a word she says. Sometimes I fear that I’ve reached peak happiness. Watching her tonight, and with all that lies ahead, I doubt that could be true. So with firecrackers all around, salud to you Espana, for reminding me that happiness is always right here right now and that life – for it’s a jagged edges – is beautiful.”

Three people I would like to thank and why

Michaelle: There are too many. Can I group them into threes?

1.Fouad, Shouaq, Ibrahim for helping me with my PhD and becoming my family.

2. Dave Green and Erin Bodnar for emotionally supporting me through a super tough year.

3. Jennie and Rachel for always, always listening.

There are too many more people to thank and I am so grateful for all of them.

Jennie: I will only mention two: Michaelle and Rachel. Although I could easily write a 10 page essay about why, I will settle with them just being there, every step of the journey, always. Crying with me, laughing with me, telling me off, giving me advice and letting me do the same for them.

Rachel: Aside from Jennie and Michaelle, you have become like sisters to me, here’s mine:

Terry. In 2014, I spent two months with the wonderful Terry Hershner, helping promote the film Kick Gas and also learning a lot more about electric vehicle technology from one of the greatest EV enthusiasts in the world. Intellectually, Terry is far superior to me – I could not pretend to keep pace with his brilliant mind. Nonetheless, we have a beautiful connection and he has a beautiful heart. For all that he hopes to achieve in pushing electric vehicle technology and for all his crazy ideas, I admire Terry immensely. My life is richer simply for having met him.

Azin. Michaelle and I were playing tinder one night in Bangkok when Azin popped up as a match. She grabbed my phone and starting texting him. We met Azin that night and while he was only passing through the city and looking for friends to meet, for us, this was anything but a momentary passing. Since we met in July, I’ve come to regard Azin as one of the greatest listeners I’ve ever known. He’s also one of the most driven and most ambitious. For the something within that drives his entrepreneurial spirit, Azin has inspired in me a greater confidence in my own capability.

Ibrahim. If my year has been wild and carefree, Ibrahim’s has been the complete opposite. Some people have real problems and I am not one of them. But some of those that do have the inner resilience to not only overcome real challenges in their personal lives, but to pull the rest of us along with them, empowering us and inspiring us too. Ibrahim doesn’t judge a soul and in his humility and openness, he inspires me to be a better person. I don’t believe it’s coincidence that he and I have crossed paths in this life. Ibrahim has taught me a lot about the real challenges of so many in this world and about human connection.

Rachel and Terry on their many adventures

Rachel on one of her many adventures

2014 described with three words

Michaelle: Challenging. Eye-opening. Over (thankfully).

Jennie: Metamorphosis. Friendship. Adventure.

Rachel: Painful. Exhilarating. Joyous.

Michaelle's 2014 summarized here.

In Summary: Michaelle’s 2014

What I’m looking forward to in 2015

Michaelle: Finishing my PhD, writing a book, the conflict ending in Syria. I also hope to just go with it a bit more this year, I am on the right path, this much I am certain, I just need to stay on it and enjoy the ride.

Jennie: Seeing my parents again after more than a year and taking them on an epic holiday through East Africa: gorillas, safaris, craters, beaches, mountains and lakes. Showing them where I’ve lived and where I’m living, watching them also fall in love with these stunning places. It’s long overdue.

And while 2014 was a year of personal growth, transformation and change, I think 2015 will “institutionalise” these changes, slow things down and make the ride a bit more comfortable. Yet not any less fun!

Rachel: In 2014, I existed like a feather in the wind, floating by observing the lives of those around me, and occasionally getting sucked into them. I’ll be 30 in 2015 and I consider that an age of marked maturity and a time to transition from the role of passive student to proactive instigator. I’m feeling wiser for my wild and carefree 2014 and I think I needed this year off to reevaluate my values. Floating through so many very different communities in so many different countries has been critical to this. Ultimately it’s strengthened the convictions I’ve always held and with a stronger sense of self, I’m excited to see what I’m capable of creating.

Why are you so unhappy? The Paradox of Choice

PoC3A few months prior, when I was trying to make what I thought at the time was a tough decision, a good friend of mine introduced me to the theory of the Paradox of Choice (you may have heard of this before; if you haven’t, please do have a listen- it is pretty spot on). As an economist I am very familiar with this idea. The theory is akin to that of opportunity cost; when you choose one thing, you are giving up another. Basically, you can’t have it all.

The feelings that result from giving up option A over option B can be rather dissatisfying. I can go to the movies with Rachel, but that means I choose to not have that coffee with Jennie. The result is sadness, frustration, and a general ‘grass is always greener’ sentiment, especially if my perception of my outing was unfavourable (AKA the movie sucked or Rachel would not share the popcorn – she never does). When a decision is more difficult the opportunity cost is higher, and the feelings of frustration and loss can be more dramatic.

PoC6We are faced with a million decisions a day, and it can be overwhelming. Some scholars are blaming this phenomenon for the general discontent and sort of neurotic behaviour of the individuals of our generation; bottom line, we have too many choices. We make so many decisions every single day, and irrelevant of our life situation, most decisions seem life altering. Even if they are, are they really that important? Do we really have THAT much choice, or do things just sort of work out?

PoC4I feel that many of my friends spend their days wondering if they made the right decisions, if they are currently making the right decisions. I ran into a friend at yoga who had decided to pick up and move to Australia. I asked her if she was excited and she said she wasn’t sleeping, thinking about whether or not it was the right thing to do; she was worried it was not going to work out. I have heard many of my friends complaining, complaints that would make anyone cringe if they heard them in the company of disadvantaged individuals. They are deciding if they should work or get a PhD, if they should live on this continent or that, or if they should take this great job or that great job.

PoC5Earlier this year I was dating a guy who was ready to jump feet first into a serious relationship. I was apprehensive and this was causing major strife between us. I ended the relationship, then got back with him, then ended it, then got back with him. I was a mess. I could not make a decision, did I want to try to make a time consuming long distance relationship work with a great, albeit intense guy? Or did I want to have my freedom and focus on my PhD? At the end of the day, the entire thing came to a screeching halt in what, in retrospect, is probably the most comical ending of all time: enraged by my refusal to strip for him on Skype, he called me selfish and ended whatever the heck was going on between us. Clearly this was not ever going to be the relationship for me, and my gut told me to end it, but then I was so scared that I had made the wrong decision, that I went back. I did this twice, even though, ultimately, the outcome would have been the exact same.

At the end of the day, everything we choose leaves us feeling like we are giving up so much, missing out on everything we could have had, leaving us resentful and unsatisfied.

We need to knock this off, and this is how I suggest we do that – Remember the following:

1)      Listen to your instinct. I know, I know, we are supposed to be highly evolved creatures who think everything through and make rational decisions. Listening to our rational mind is what separates us from the animals, right? Sure, but that does not mean your gut is lying to you. My rational mind almost got me stuck in a relationship that was so very wrong for me!

2)      Sometimes decisions don’t matter, at all. You can’t know what would have happened if you had taken choice A instead of choice B. If you take that job in city X versus city Y, you will never ever know who you would have met in city Y, and you will never ever be able to compare. Maybe you would have gotten hit by a bus upon stepping out of the airport.

3)      Take your decision and make it work. In American English we say “make a decision” in most of the rest of the world they say  “take a decision.” I prefer the latter. Taking a decision means taking responsibility and ownership of your decisions. You could be happy in so many different cities, with so many different people, doing so many different things. If you only like one person and only like to eat one thing and only like to do one thing, then maybe I am wrong, but I doubt it. So take your decision, own it, be it, do it. Be happy you are where you are, be grateful you have had the experiences you have had because they make you the person you are, and quit your bitching, you are fine.

27375 days on earth. But how to spend them?

“I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The proper function of man [woman] is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.” – Jack London

IMG_0876I recently headed to the USA and came across this quote during my travels. I embraced it as a kind of guiding wisdom for two reasons. Firstly, I was stepping outside my comfort zone and entering the world of electric motorcycles in the hope of building a series of youtube clips about an incredible friend, Terry Hershner. Our journeys would involve dashing all over California on his motorcycle for a two-month period of filming. I felt this bold wisdom might help inspire.

Secondly, this wisdom challenges my views on how to build a happy life. As I’ve grown older, I’ve consciously slowed down and focused less on bold achievement and more on simply feeling content. I’ve worked at appreciating beauty in every moment, even the most simple, most mundane. I’ve focused more on yoga, meditation and eating well. My morning rituals have involved walks, pilates, coffee and quality time with my retired dad. Unlike my dad, however, I am not retired. I am young, I’m full of energy and there is much I have yet to give. So I starting wondering…  Had I prematurely become a ‘sleepy planet’? Do I really live or do I just exist?

To all my friends in the Southern Hemisphere, Terry needs an introduction. Terry Hershner is an extreme motorcycling adventurist who knows more about electric vehicles, battery technology and charging infrastructure in the United States than just about anyone on the planet. Given the urgent need to move away from our gas guzzling, fossil fuel dependent ways, he’s knowledgeable about some pretty critical stuff. He’s gained this knowledge over decades of pushing the extreme limits, both in terms of his own capabilities and the technology he’s working to develop and promote. Oh, and he has the most ridiculously bad ass electric motorcycle you’ve ever seen.IMG_1034

Terry doesn’t love electric vehicles; he is obsessed with them. When he wakes, his electric motorcycle is the first thing on his mind. His nightly dreams are full of ideas on how to improve the efficiency of his motorcycle, the new world records he is yet to claim and who he might work with to achieve his great ambitions (which are, you know, just the small things like ridding the earth of its addiction to oil before it’s all gone and combating climate change). For Terry, brilliant ideas spring forward as if they were transmitted to him overnight by some sort of celestial sleep being.

IMG_0554

Terry is to me like London’s proverbial meteor in magnificent glow, acutely aware of his own impermanence and in his burning desire to make a difference, destined for that brilliant blaze. Emboldened by Jack London, I found myself swept up by the urgency of his Terry’s ‘earthly assignment’. I found myself desperately craving to be more, live more, do more. I felt the anxiety of wasting my own life because of indecision or laziness or what felt like a lame preference for comfort over challenge. When in the company of Terry, I would – like Jack London – launch myself out into the unknown because I too would rather be ashes than dust! I would see the immeasurable richness of life pulsating with endless energy, I felt boundlessly wild and I could not but want to taste and feel everything.

So during my two months in America, and in the true spirit of Jack London, I surrendered my usual preference for yoga and meditation and became like Indiana Jones,  scurrying around as if the earth was about to melt and there was not a second to lose. We rushed from one electric vehicle event to another. I traversed California with him, helping film and document his journeys, his frustrations, his challenges in pushing boundaries, I met other incredible electric vehicle pioneers and I felt as though I travelled more, saw more, met more, tasted more, argued more, cried more and laughed more in a two-month span than most people do in a lifetime. Seriously. IMG_0975

Two months passed quickly and I left America feeling mentally exhausted, in desperate need for a meditation retreat, intensive daily yoga and the serenity of existing like an old sleepy planet. I left craving numbness and anonymity. I left feeling utterly exhausted, derailed of my focus and a bit scattered in my goals. And so I left for a little holiday. Now as I write, I’m facing backward on the Eurostar train in Spain, so that the coastal scenery flows calmly past me. This calmness could not be in sharper contrast to the days I spent squeezed into the back of Terry’s motorcycle, exposed to all the elements as we dashed about at stupid speeds through California’s mountain ranges.IMG_0312

I’m completely comfortable now and perhaps I instinctively prefer my sleepy Spanish carriage to the utterly exhausting journeys across California with extreme adventurist Terry.  But the funny thing is, while I left feeling exhausted and scattered, these two months were also ridiculously joyous. I loved learning about electric motorcycles. I loved meeting other pioneers in the field and I loved exploring new lands. In retrospect, I even loved the moments that were physically or emotionally hard. These moments brought a different kind of happiness, the kind of temporarily euphoric happiness that comes from doing something you didn’t ever imagine you would, or could. It’s the happiness that comes from feeling truly alive, even if momentarily it hurts. I miss California, I miss all the talk about electric motorcycles I became a part of and most of all, I miss Terry and his bold, irrepressible spirit.

So, Jack London: to live life as a superb meteor or to live life as a sleepy planet? You were neither right nor wrong, for it cannot – at least for me – be one or the other. What I’ve learnt from this experience is that in my own life, I absolutely must have both.

IMG_0715

In Memory

This piece was performed at the Bangkok Poetry’s Event entitled “In Memory.” It was held May 22nd at WTF Gallery in Bangkok. The audience turnout was low due to the coup, so I thought to share it here.

Earlier this month, a friend of ours was killed in Cambodia. What struck me so hard about losing her was that, while I only knew her from a few encounters, quite a few years back, I felt her loss very strongly. My sense of loss was so intense that it got me questioning what really makes a memory? When I saw the “In Memory” theme come up just a few days after, I felt compelled to write and perform something in her honour. I am not much of a writer or a performer, but I felt the need to do something. So this is for Daphna Beerdsen and her daughter Dana. May they live on, not in our memories, but in our DNA.

“In Memory”

I don’t care for this term, this idea that we carry people in our minds after they leave us, it just doesn’t sit well with me.  You see, memory is the retrieval of encoded and stored data from the hippocampus located in the temporal lobe of the brain.

The way I feel when I think of the people that I have lost, I am sure that this description is less than sufficient.

Every day, in one way or another, we interact with 100s, maybe thousands of individuals- all day, every day, for most of us- from grocery store clerks to fellow commuters. This does not even take into account friends, family and acquaintances.

We see people, we hear people, and receive numerous electronic messages from people all day long, every day. Roughly, if you were to add it up, you would count, at minimum, 40,000 encounters a year. At the end of our lives we will have experienced millions and millions of interactions with other humans.

I have come to realize over the years, that when you interact, in anyway with someone, whether you pick up their change on the side of the road, yell at them for jumping the queue, or tell them your life story, you make them a part of you. What I mean by this is that these interactions shape us, they build us, as if they were restructuring our entire DNA sequence, whether we remember these individuals or not. These interactions are embedded in our subconscious forever, resulting in how we see the world.

With all these interactions, we remember some so strongly. THAT “data” is stored in the conscious mind, but for others, these encounters will slip by unnoticed. By this logic, if every interaction is life changing, and so damn important, why do we only remember a select few?

Now, over the course of my life I have lost many people, in one way or another, just due to prolonged travel, arguments and obstinance, and when people leave this life for good. What I have come to realise is that, when these people leave us, we can hold onto memories, and that is all well and good. We can retrieve all kinds of encoded and stored data: names, faces, laughs, smiles, acts of kindness, conversations, etc. But for those that we miss the most, is it the remembering itself that causes us so much anguish? Or is there something else?

In life there are times when you truly let someone in, when you are truly open to people, whether you interact with someone on a continual basis or just once. What’s left when they’re gone is more than a memory, more than data. There are these people that are open to us, that let us in, that let us take parts of them, even though the risks are great. These people will receive you, they invite you in. You don’t have to know them for long, sometimes you can spend a night drinking with them, or meet them on a long bus ride. These people are open, and ready to let you transform their DNA, for better or worse. And when this happens, they don’t just remain in your brain, they take over your whole heart and soul.

This openness, it is the key, it brings us together, it elucidates the infinite connections all around us, it reminds us that no matter where we are from, or what we are carrying around, we are connected. These people mark your soul and permeate your being. When these people leave your presence, something remains behind and it is not a damn memory, it is so much more.

The thing about memories is, they fade. When your brain no longer needs the stored data it shifts it just out of your reach to make space for things like Katie Perry’s song lyrics and other useless information. That, however, does not mean the indelible mark that people leave on your heart and soul will ever go away. Under this logic you can change the world by kindness, compassion and, by opening your heart, by not being afraid to give a piece of you away with every encounter. By doing this you will receive love in return, which will fill the void and that is the connection that makes life worth living, and that is what you are leaving behind.

And so to Daphna, and all the others that have left long before I wish they would have,

I am sorry, you will not live on in my memory, my data encoding and storing hippocampus will let you go one day, but you will live in every part of my heart and soul. I hope keeping a part of you here on earth is ok with you because you left behind a lot with me and with everyone else who was lucky enough to receive your love and kindness.

Thoughts on Nomadic Friendship III

I’m drinking a glass of wine. I’m in bed. I’m in Santa Cruz, California and I’m alone. I’m here for two months working on a film project. After this, it’s off to Spain for a wedding and then Bangkok to see friends. And after that? Not a clue. This really is, as Michaelle says, a nomadic existence and while the idea of living without a permanent address is not for everyone – my mother is a prime example – the experience of living a modern day nomadic lifestyle can also be extremely rewarding. Continue reading

Fear No More

I used to be scared of the future. No, that’s not true, I used to be absolutely terrified of the future and the prospect of it not panning out the way I had imagined. Well, surprise surprise, one day my world was turned upside down (as it is for most people more than a few times in life) and of course I was distraught. Terribly so. For a while. Until I realised that was the best thing that ever happened to me. Continue reading