This Turn In The Road

One of the most powerful experiences of my recent life was an international trip I took during a great transition. I say great because it came on the heels of a profound and painful personal loss. It came in the window between two worlds; the east coast world of a twenty year life living in the bosom of a vibrant Vermont community and the west coast world of large water, open sky, breaking the mold culture of San Francisco. It came as an assignment to shake my foundations to the core, walk-about-a-bit and let the inspiration in.

I highly recommend the option. And it won’t do to plead about the cost of it. If you can save for a decent used car, just once in your life, and take a strategic chunk of time off, just once in your life you can do this. You can afford a budget travel experience that will land you riches beyond the sacrifice of using that “must have” electronic device a little longer. An adult Gap Year is better than any shopping therapy or even most clinical therapies (which after all are treating stress) and I personally think it should be a constitutional right. It takes only a little discipline and planning to set up. In fact, don’t get caught up in the concept of planning it at all. The world is full of kind, enlivened destinations where, if you are reading this, then most people speak your language, and perfectly lovely rooms are $15 a night, while incredible food is the cost of a Starbucks Grande. The deep release of waking up, day after day, and choosing to explore what’s in front of you or what’s around the next bend is priceless. There is a deep re-wiring of your soul that follows the pathways of radical alertness, attention and acceptance. These being the daily A’s of walking in new culture and feeling it open to you.

I had two agendas beyond the substantial goal of deep healing. One was to fall more deeply in love with life, and by extension my mate and travel partner Alan, and one was to find a fresher artistic voice out in the “wilderness”. Both were achieved. We split the time between (besides Alaska and Hawaii) Costa Rica, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Nepal, India and Bali… colorful worlds all. The window on those worlds that “flashpacking” afforded me wasn’t a complete one but it was flooded with a visual culture that knocked me out of my muted New England earth tones forever. I really wanted to infuse my creative language with the exotic. There is something about highly saturated color in every day life that permeates clothing, ornament, architectural façade, and even down to food – that unlocks an unused gear in ones aesthetic transmission. I just never found the colors of that part of the world outside of my western fringe and flash Burning Man exposure. So having months of it made me giddy. We are taught to cultivate restraint in our art education but really, large parts of our human family just don’t buy into this paradigm at all. It allows them a certain inexplicable freedom to ride what could be perceived as lives of material deprivation with exuberant material expressionism.

The textiles were especially meaningful to me. I grew enamored of the Hill Tribe textiles of Northern Thailand Laos and Vietnam. I shipped back boxes and plan to create a line of household alter pieces around them. The beauty of a sea of silk saris undid me during the 2010 Kumbh Mela (a pilgrimage of millions) in Haridwar, India.

The door hangings on the poorest huts in Nepal gave me such an uplifting of spirit. And Bali must be the most decorated place on the planet, with every nook and cranny adorned in some loving expression of transcendent pattern. The wood panels looks like fabric patterning and the ikat weaving looks like wood block printing though they’re made of conscious thread placement and not dyed after the fact! It was a daily museum trip just to pass through market stalls where I could touch anything if I could bear the sing-song entreaties of… “you buy for me?” I did. I think I have pages and pages of styleboard ideas in my head now. I can’t wait to create out of them.

Alan and I never computed the kilometers we flew/walked but it was constant and included a trek in the Lang Tang region of Nepal that helped me reassess my strengths and capacity for pushing my comfort zone. Everything was stretched and held at the same time if that’s possible. I am grateful to be a citizen of this delightful world and in my body experiencing it. I came back taking nothing for granted. I remain in gratitude for the gift of humanity. There were so many times on the road when a curious but seemingly stern stare bubbled up into a beaming smile just because I took the moment to hold the gaze and smile my grateful greeting back. Often warm conversations would start but sometimes just pleasant nods of “welcome to my world”.

I wonder if we appear like that to visitors here. Or if we naturally make time for these exchanges as we rush from tour bus to hotel room enclaves in our limited drop down versions of traveling foreign lands. What a turn in the road we could imagine in our geopolitical strife if we had regular opportunities for slow cooked immersion into each other’s lives and cultures. It goes without saying of course but I think I want to say it all the same. Take a Gap Year!