Writing while not travelling

I write nearly daily. Sometimes the ramblings are mere crap flung on a page, to unstop a dam and let the quality words out to play. Hopefully. [some of the less-crappy bits are HERE, if you’re curious]

Case in point: I finished this today, a mélange of exasperation, daydreaming and misfit ranting. I’m not sure I like it as much as other things I’ve penned, but the words badly wanted out and I like it enough.

The more I travel, the more I want to see and hear and learn and experience. The more I become a member of a larger sphere of experience and citizenship, the less I feel beholden or attached to this small (and shrinking) one from which I hail. This citizen of the world thing has merit: belonging is a mindset.

And if belonging is a mindset, I need to wonder whether one belongs because they strive to fit a mold. Or: if belonging is an effortless thing, where once you find that place, you won’t want to ever leave, will I find itHave I already?

And does it become a place to leave once you’re there?

As part of my inquiry, I’ve been writing (much crap flung in the process) about our capability to take things for granted, about the meaning of true friends, about being fromlessabout the insecurities of living in a really weird time.

And as I write, I read…in doing so, I stumble across inspiration for the next adventure (and the one after that); in the process, procrastinating by plotting points on a map or two (or 6) and planning the first leg of the next holiday.

Some of the best books read in the past few months (travel, fiction, fantasy that approximates our absurd reality…). Africa, Pakistan, Eastern Europe, Discworld:

2018-07-07 16.04.26Glorious Sundays such as today are meant for forest bathing. And so I go, to break in the new hiking boots, to contemplate my place amidst the trees and forest critters, to indulge my aging pup, to visit my secret cache of wild blueberries, to breathe in the mossy air in hopes of dislodging stagnant words…

I don’t know why, but this made me think of a brilliant Soul Asylum song:

On sister-friends and dork-shaming

Sometimes my travels cross-pollinate and spark essays…

As I write this, I’m on a plane pointed towards South Florida, where my best college friend, and the closest thing I know to a sister, lives; her youngest daughter graduates High School this weekend. It’s a mind-bending thought that we met when we were her age, and now we’re here, sending her off to flourish, and to wreak her fabulous self on the wild and woolly world at large. As we did.

[Click Here to read the rest of this essay on Medium]

Ode to the pre-travel freakout

IMG_20180418_150104_957It’s common, I think, to have a pre-trip freakout or two.

I pass through phases: a week or two out, a couple days out, and then of course the day I land: a jet-lagged, culture-shocked lump, just having been hurled through space and time in a giant flying metal tube, stepping foot on another continent, into a different climate; the concept of away hitting all senses at once.

And so, on a day that finally resembles springtime in New England, in my mind is a scene like this, a pristine beach and a turquoise horizon. The first of the faraway travel freakouts has subsided… the international wire transfer sorted, deposits deposited, visa acquired, travel advisories acknowledged, packing started, work delegated (and colleagues on board), lists checked.

I know I’m not the only one who goes through stages of freak-out before a trip, and it’s National Poetry Month here in the US, so I penned a silly ode to the things that run through my head as I prep for the next adventure.

Ode to the pre-travel freakout…

You’ll make your connection,
Your bags will get through,
The hotel won’t be awful,
The skies will be blue…
.
The orange asshat won’t wage war,
Your visa is fine,
The dog will be in good hands,
And the water heater won’t die…
.
A smiling co-adventurer will meet you,
The diving won’t suck,
Your French is somewhat passable,
So, monkey mind, STFU!

😊🐒🌴

 

Year of Africa: On wrapping up the year, elephants, and what comes next.

Towards the end of 2016 I sat, dumbfounded, unable to cobble together thoughts that weren’t alternately angry and helpless, or weren’t internal pleas for relief from who-knows-where. A certain level of resigned what-the-f*ck-ness filled and somehow glued me to my spot, writing blocked, spirit dampened.

In December, hoping to move some energy, release some creative something…hoping to get my body out of a place where my mind sat traumatized, I planned two trips to Africa. If there were any hopes of surviving the next 6-12 months (let alone the next 4 years) in this new version of the land I call home, this year would require open spaces, breathtaking nature, empathy, awe, wonder and adventure…

But first, we marched. We marched, some wearing pink hats and some carrying rainbow flags; some hoisting signs and balloons and banners… I didn’t want to go; because a Women’s March seemed exclusionary to me (little did I know what was to come in the following months), but a small-yet-persuasive band of male friends, gay and straight, helped change my mind. I was marching for freedom of speech and body; for the rights of my friends near and far; for equal pay and equal respect and equal human-ness, regardless of colour, accent, sexual preference… I marched because in some ways I felt guilty to be among the privileged whose marriage or healthcare or way of life wasn’t immediately threatened by the disease now infecting the White House. I marched in solidarity. I marched to say f*ck you to the orange disaster.

And for a few weeks, it felt good to be outspoken about politics. And it felt okay to write some things and get some of the crushing inertia off my chest. And, slowly, like an ice floe might creep up on you to encase your ankles in its bone-chilling grasp, it became horrifying to read the news. Because Russia and misogyny and pee tapes and climate deniers and North Korea and Access Hollywood and lies and propaganda and golf outings in lieu of job responsibilities and resignations and firings and more lies…Look! Squirrel!

I lament that we’re in a time where one must be a carefully-crafted brand to get noticed; when quantity (of likes) wins over quality (of most everything); how the president of my country governs rules in 140-word gibberish, his sycophants eating up the doublespeak and rhetoric.

So, when January came and went, then February, and planning was in full gear for Africa trip #1 and Turkish Airlines changed my return flight to include a 2-day layover in Istanbul, I considered it a bonus. More-so in hindsight, now that my passport is worthless there. For the record, Turkey is gorgeous.

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Blue Mosque

Despite the political climate, I was determined to squeeze the most from this year. 2016’s angst would not become 2017’s tumour, if I had anything to do with it. And so 2017 was dubbed Year of Africa (tho only 2-1/2 weeks were spent there in total) …a series of adventures designed to escape a weirdening world and celebrate a half-century on it.

Milestones: I visited 7 countries, stepped foot on 3 foreign continents, experienced myriad cultures; I saw wild elephants, lions, zebras, ostriches, warthogs and more birds than I can name; I restocked my spice cabinet with Zanzibari cardamom (fantastic) and Turkish tea (not so much), cumin from Qatar, cloves from Pemba Island. I spent my 50th birthday in Paris with a favourite human. I named a spirit animal. There’s always an elephant.

D72_5250A couple of years ago, a friend asked me what I thought my spirit animal was. I didn’t have a good answer. Turtle, I wondered. I feel most free when diving. Turtles are remarkable creatures; humble and curious, diligent and persistent. Eagle? I am mesmerised by birds of prey, bald eagles most profoundly. Eagles represent freedom and power and keenness and precision. But the elephant has been a guiding light throughout my life and a recurring theme these last several years. Ganesha, my Hindu patron saint, represents the light of new beginnings; he’s the remover of obstacles. In other cultures, the elephant stands for power and strength; empathy, loyalty, wisdom… I had not seen one in the wild until this summer, yet only recently have I begun to notice the overriding ele theme in my flat. My last day in Botswana burned into my heart an experience I won’t soon forget. And so it’s now more than ever that I am humbled by the magic of elephants.

The doing part of this year was good. My hard work has paid off, duly rewarded with more work. Tho procrastination has paid off as well, rewarded with inner frustration and a book yet-to-be discovered (anyone know a good literary agent…or someone famous?). I gave my Nikon D80 to my niece and I’m excited that she’s got the camera bug too. I put more of my photography out in the world. Some of it, I’d even venture to consider decent. I feel more like a writer and a photographer than I have in ages, and with that comes responsibility: to have integrity, to resist publishing crap for popularity’s sake, to learn the difference between constructive criticism and trolling (and how to respond to each), to find my niche…

I’m ending this year feeling more vulnerable than I started. Like I’ve opened doors I need to walk through or be forever disgusted with my own inability to follow-through on something that has a 50/50 chance to end in disaster. Mind churns: What if I’m wrong? …But what if I’m right?

I’m ending this year feeling conflicted. I’m afraid that the future of intimacy might be at stake. I wonder whether all the good men are walking on eggshells each day, not knowing what to say (or what to do with their hands), lest they be branded a predator. I wonder if we’re overreacting, and in the same breath or thought, I wonder if we’re not reacting loudly enough. Yes, #metoo. And, yes, many of the most fantastic people in my world are men. Yet there are so many assholes in power who still think the rules don’t apply to them, it’s unfathomable. It’s not really all that hard, is it? No means no. Permission must be granted. Call me daft, but most women still don’t like unsolicited dick pix or catcalls or when you talk to our boobs or grab our ass on the subway or use your power to make us feel like we haven’t got any. The men I’ve got in my world already subscribe to this, yet I fear they’re the ones who will pay for #metoo exposing pervasive asshat behaviour.

And I’m ending this year more dedicated than ever to bring what I learn on the mat, off it. To think and feel and do in equal measure; balancing the head and the heart and the body to stay sane in a time where each day’s news bulletins are more absurd and frightening than the previous. To not let equanimity cancel out passion, and let iccha guide the fork-in-the-road decisions: What feels right, usually is. Right isn’t always easy. Easy isn’t always the most fun. The most fun isn’t always the right path. The right path will make itself known if you allow it. Then the journey becomes brighter…

Who’s with me in calling for peace and love and compassion and empathy and fairness and kindness and humility and integrity to be the prevailing tendencies in 2018?

Do you know Oprah?

I posted this request on Facebook tonight. I thought I’d spread to the outer InterWebs and see what pans out…

>>Dear Facebook Friend(s),

I’ve known many of you since I’ve had friends, the real kind… I’ve known some of you for only months or maybe just a few years. So I thought I’d give this social network thing a chance to do what it’s intended to. I’m going out on a bit of a limb here to ask you all for your help.

Those of you who have known me for a while, know I’ve always been a writer. I’ve always thought I’d do this. And I have: I’ve written a thing. And as strange as it feels to articulate, this thing is actually a book with chapters and 275 or so pages and a glossary. Some of you have even read early versions (thank you!); I’m encouraged.

So here’s what I’m hoping the Magic of Facebook can help me with: I need a literary agent. I need a publisher. I need some high-profile endorsements.

What I’m asking is this: do you have someone I can talk to in the publishing industry? Do you have a friend who is an agent? Do you have a friend/colleague/family member who might be the right kind of person (well-known human, celeb, influencer, famous smarty-pants, Oprah?) to read my book proposal or the whole thing if they’re so inclined and write something favorable about it? I promise you I’d be eternally grateful for a connection, a lead, a small leg up. I also promise that it does not suck. And I’m really good at knowing when my own words suck.

So…The working title is The Art of Being (Human). I’ve been studying yoga and yogic philosophy for the past 10 years. I’m not a teacher (by choice), but a student who has gotten through some really tough stuff with the aid of my yoga practice. It’s not a book about yoga, per se. It’s about applying this wisdom that has been around for thousands of years to the things we face every day. I went through a divorce, I lost a job, I got through grad school, I stopped relying on other people to determine my personal worth. I met a guy. I went to India. I opened my eyes to the present like I’ve never done before.

The Art of Being (Human) is about creating a Practice. It’s about how to be vulnerable. It’s about how to create stability amidst chaos. It’s about picking your battles and fighting personal demons. It’s about patience and balance and action and timing. In it, I intermingled references to mythology, philosophy, literature, fiction, film and tales from everyday life. It’s narrative non-fiction with philosophical themes and teachings braided throughout, via travelogues, memoirs and a love(ish) story.

It’s yoga, but not just for yogis. It’s for my friend going through a divorce, and for my friend coping with depression, and for another coming back from addiction and another one not being taken seriously at his job and another friend who lost her husband. And for one whose parent is suffering from mid-stage Alzheimer’s. Also, they’ve got teenagers, so now there’s that. We’re at this age, Friends, where this shit is real and it’s happening to us, whether we like it or not.

I wrote this book because there are some simple practices that saved me, and in these crazy times I think we need to go back to the basics.

Again, I’m asking for help. Will you introduce me to someone who can get me farther along the path to making this book a reality?

Thank you so much for reading this. Your encouragement is appreciated, whether or not you know Oprah. 

–Lesli. 

CLICK HERE to read some of my non-travel writing on Medium.

Countering my own Earth Day rant

It’s Earth Day, 2017. This morning, I felt like writing a rant about the things we’ve done to fuck up this beloved planet of ours, and to complain about the egomaniacal, thing-filled greed that fuels the raping and pillaging of Planet Earth and the butchering of its wild animals, the slow execution of our reef systems, and the rampant willful ignorance that paralyses a government from acting to save ourselves from ourselves.

This will continue for as long as corporations keep the heroin needle of constant consumption in our arms, necessitating individually wrapped everything; ubiquitous use of convenient, single-use plastic bottles and wrappers and bags and cups; easy, convenient, processed consumables, disguised as food, laced with deforesting palm oil; absurdly low gas prices, “disposable” electronics, a government-subsidized diabetes epidemic, funded in part by a corn syrup industry and a PAC-funded government denial of the merits of real food. Corporate pockets will get deeper in direct correlation with the width of our waistlines; they will grow richer in inverse proportion to the level of natural resources remaining; they will get more resolute and change their doublespeak as our majestic wildlife, our tropical fauna, dwindles and fades into mere memory… paradise paved to put up a parking lot (or office park or housing tract), as it were; they will point fingers as coral reefs bleach, then die, and watch as the base of our planet’s ecosystem fails in an ignorant dismissal of science at all costs.

I wanted to rant about all this, but then got sidetracked by a quest for beauty this afternoon. A self-posed question of what I love about Planet Earth. What have I seen that has taken my breath away? If the only will or want I can control is my own: what can I share that might change someone else’s?

So on this Earth Day, I share some photos of the things on Planet Earth I’ve seen in my near half-century, as ocean temperatures rise and carbon levels increase and sugar-induced disease becomes endemic; these are the things that give me pause every day to stop and appreciate the Wonder that is inherent in this magnificent ball of rock that we inhabit, for as long as she will have us.

Happy Earth Day 2017.

A Year of Dog Wisdom: Reflections on what this year had in store.

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Last year, I wrote an article called On Messing Up the Bed and Other Things I’ve Learnt From My Dog. Having an aging companion, we begin to reflect upon the things they add to our lives and the things we learn as our days with them become of the numbered variety. And so, on January 1st I tasked myself with a project. Seemingly simple, I was going to take one picture of my dog each day and post on Instagram. Lest I become boring or, gods forbid, that crazy dog lady, I began to add anecdotes and, as the weeks marched on, Dog Wisdom. And so began the #instagus project.

In June, I wrote a story, A Month (or so) of Dog Wisdom, reflecting on the first leg of the journey. Several weeks later, I was asked to write about the project for Pup Journal, and the result was an essay on the whys and hows of embarking (get it?) on this year-long photo essay.

Against a backdrop of fear, name-calling, hate-mongering, loss (So. Many. Untimely. Deaths.), frustration, exhaustion, disbelief, anger, resentment, uncertainty, instability (…) this year, I was determined to focus on the simple truths of what was known, the realities of what lay in front of me and the notion that I am only able to change myself, how I view the world and how I interact with it each day. Dog wisdom channels Yogic wisdom, and one wonders where each begins and ends. Perhaps dogs are, in fact, the ultimate yogis.

During the year, what emanated from the posts were pleas for introspection, for kindness, for an adherence to values. Dogs teach us that there is magic in simplicity, that a methodical butt-sniff tells us if we’re dealing with friend or foe (regardless of breed or gender or silly dog attire), that kindness exists regardless of pedigree or socioeconomic status. And in this surreal year, a year in which humans tried to teach us that we must deceive and humiliate and pimp out our values in order to win; that a book should not be read, and moreover, should be judged by its cover; that some lives are more important than others; that money trumps pretty much everything, I’ve been compelled to live by Dog Wisdom rather than emulate these human actions. If I’m frank, humans have not been good for humanity this year.

I thought it fitting to wrap up this chaotic, merciless, infamous 2016 with a some of my favourite Dog Wisdom posts and reflections on how this galumphing, snoring, sometimes smelly-headed, fart machine helped me get through this year…

While uncertainty reigns, hold fast to the values of truth, integrity, humanity, kindness; appreciate natural beauty. Satya. Ahimsa. Asteya. Bramacharya. Aparigraha.

Dogs don’t see uncertainty around them, the world is just what it is. We humans project our fears, biases and ignorance on the world we encounter each day, while dogs see (and seek) love, food, shelter and kindness. Yoga teaches us 5 Yamas — Satya (truth); Ahimsa (non-harming); Asteya (non-stealing); Bramacharya (restraint); Aparigraha (non-grasping) — I’ve found these to be powerfully simple guides to help get through the overwhelming barrage of negativity that 2016 flung at us.

Dogs help us see that happiness is a good stick, a walk in the woods on a perfectly crisp fall day, and a warm place to sleep. They teach us to cherish the little things and seek adventure (or at least the spirit of it) in the everyday routine. 2016 sucked in countless ways. But there were highlights, too. There were parties and friends coming to visit; faraway holidays and European chocolates; neighbors helping neighbors and free concerts; hiking and kayaking and swimming in the ocean and beautiful sunrises…

Set intention, allow for the unknown, and the Universe responds in interesting ways.

Ever notice that when you stop fighting and yearning for something very specific, if you really identify what it is you’d like to see realised and stop making things so complicated, that opportunities and ideas and resources make themselves available? Dogs seem to go at their days with the intention of a nice romp or a long walk or simply earning a treat. The chased squirrels and found tennis balls and random dogish interactions are part of the journey. Canines show us that it’s our job to conjure up a willingness to explore every day, and embrace a belief that there’s just a little bit of magic left in the Universe to help things work out.

Focus intently on that which is in front of you. Expect bumps because there are no perfectly smooth paths; in doing so, distractions won’t warrant that much attention when they arise.

Yoga sutra 1.30 says that there are several kinds of obstacles that can be expected (doubt, carelessness, laziness, failure to detach from want, ungroundedness, illness, etc.) that distract us and get in the way of our path. By focusing on the immediate, the real, the stuff going on in front of our eyes, we can live less mired by the “what-ifs” that usually don’t come to fruition unless we let them. By paying attention, we can get more out of what we’ve got instead of attaching expectation (or anticipation of failure) to what may never come to pass. In this way, we don’t take for granted the good, we can let go of what isn’t serving us, and most of all, we can appreciate the cosmic humour in daily life.

Dog Wisdom: 99% of car rides result in an adventure. Our minds get mired in the “what-ifs” of misadventure that detract from the possibility of great adventures ahead.

This is the important stuff: Taking time to sniff out the truth. Listening to the heart. Letting go of what keeps us small and fearful. Surrounding yourself with those who care about your imperfect self. Giving to, or doing for, those who need it more than you do. Laughing at, and learning from, your mistakes. Sharing what makes you feel strong. Spending an afternoon in the forest. Listening to the soft snoring of a woods-weary pup…


Happy 2017, my friends… here’s to a new year full of possibility and new adventures.

And to 2016: You’ve been unceremoniously unfriended. Please don’t write.

[this essay cross-posted on Medium]