About Me

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Born in the US, raised on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, lived in Italy, the US, and Canada. Lover of language, travel, colour, and the natural world.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The universe is abundant: part I

It is the last day of July. It is evening – the last golden light is distributing itself in geometric patterns across the marble floor of the entrance to my parent’s home that will soon be inhabited by a stranger. Outside the sound of birdcall is constant, and I wonder at the diversity of birdlife in suburban California. A cool breeze is blowing through the kitchen window, rustling the pages of my current novel, The Lost Girls: Three Friends. Four Continents. One Unconventional Detour Around the World.(which I loved and highly recommend, however consider yourself forewarned: if you have even a tinge of the adventure addict in you it will very likely—as the back cover suggests—induce an unshakable bout of chronic wanderlust).

When it was suggested to me that I start a blog I thought: yes, of course. I will write about my travels to exotic locations around the world. No problem. What had not occurred to me was that I am currently unemployed and that my last round the world trip ended almost three months ago and I have none planned in the foreseeable future. My days are currently saturated with surfing the Internet looking for job postings and companies that I can write to inquiring about possible job openings. Having had some awesome jobs and worked all over the world I know that I will eventually find my way, but at the moment to say I am feeling discouraged would be the understatement of the year. Last night a friend came by and asked how the job search was going and I erupted into a description worthy of a Shakespearean tragedy. My friend looked at me knowingly and said: “The universe is abundant. Keep telling yourself that. The bounties are unlimited.” Ok. So it doesn’t change my immediate employment status, but I do have awesome friends who are willing to put up with my seemingly endless string of complaints and amazingly stick around long enough to continuously shower me with a non-stop flow of inspiring and uplifting reflections. Thank you universe.

Although I have no immediate plans for future travel, I cannot really complain that I lack for international explorations. I was in Cyprus, Israel and London, England for a month in April and May. I made the trip for my pilgrimage to the Baha’i Holy Land, which is located in Israel. Baha’is are encouraged to go at least once during our lifetime, and more than once if we are able. I had gone with my parents when I was 19 and was right in the middle of my dyed jet-black hair and designer Italian shoes phase. My I am not sure what I believe phase. Not exactly the best time to be visiting what Baha’is consider to be the holiest spot on earth. I guess you are never really ready to be in the holiest spot on earth, but this spring I felt as though I was as ready as I ever expect to be. I had spent the last six years living on Prince Edward Island surrounded by people who had taught me humility, offered me deep meaningful friendships, and demonstrated to me the real meaning of service and sacrifice; had spent time serving my community and learning that this faith I had embraced was precious to me; and had begun to catch glimpses of what loving God meant in practical ways in my life.

Pilgrimage is usually a nine-day affair. Because there are so many people from all over the world wanting to make a pilgrimage to the Baha’i holy places, there is a formal application process, and a waiting list. I had applied just after moving to Canada five years earlier at the urging of some of my close friends despite my protests (“I am not ready.” “I will never be ready.” “What if my name comes to the top of the waiting list in the middle of my Master’s program?”) Of course five years later when the dates did arrive I had not only graduated with my Master’s degree, but had worked for almost two years and was ready to make some rather major life changes. So when I brought in the stack of mail and saw the invitation to go on pilgrimage sticking out of the pile I felt as though the gift of pilgrimage was coming at precisely the right moment.

I had planned on arriving in Israel a few days before my pilgrimage began so that I could make a long-awaited visit to Jerusalem, but plumes of ash from Iceland’s volcanic eruption necessitated a change of plan, so I arrived in Tel Aviv the night before I had to be in Haifa. After collecting my bag and changing some money I made my way to the exit, and spent twenty minutes in a heated argument with a fire-spitting taxi driver over the rate he was demanding to drive me to my hotel in downtown Tel Aviv. After a long drawn out battle that accomplished nothing because he was speaking Hebrew and I was speaking English, I finally gave in. He was charging too much, but it was after midnight and I was exhausted and ready for bed. As we sped down the chaotic highway and into the city I rolled down my window to inhale the cool, salty spring air. Tel Aviv was dead. Shop grates were pulled down; falafel joints were dark; a few late night partiers stumbled down the otherwise empty pavements. Miniature Israeli flags fluttered from all the buildings and crisscrossed in chains over the road, winding around streetlamps. It looked like I was arriving at the end of a national holiday. Neon lights in Hebrew glowed and flashed as we sped past, and I wished yet again that I had had the foresight to study Hebrew earlier on in life. Pulling up outside my hotel I quickly realized that the photos on the website must have been taken years earlier. The lobby reminded me of a post-communist era government building – shabby and forlorn. The elevator was questionable, but much to my relief after shuddering slightly it proceeded to deliver me safely to my destination on the third floor. My room was a shoebox. The bathroom had not been cleaned. The bed was hard. But at that point I would have slept on the stained carpet. I pushed open the tiny window to let in the breeze, lay down fully dressed, and immediately fell asleep.

In the morning I rose early and caught a taxi to the train station. My taxi driver was friendly and charged me fairly, and was full of stories about how his father and uncle were the only ones in a family of eight children who manage to survive World War II and settle in Israel. I reflected on how common this story must be in Israel while he went on to explain the intricacies of current Israeli politics and the widespread lack of belief in God. He was, he firmly assured me, still a believer. Something, he told me, had gotten his father as far as Israel, right? Still talking, he deposited me and my suitcase outside the train station and pointed me towards the busy front door.

After purchasing a ticket and dragging my bag down to platform 1, I sat and observed the ease with which young male and female soldiers holding machine guns (and still managing somehow to look hip) blended in with professionals on their way to work, students heading to university and devout Orthodox Jewish men huddle in small groups, their black hats and curls bobbing as they exchanged animated bursts of conversation. The train pulled into the station on time and a young man around my age helped me yank my embarrassingly heavy suitcase up the steps into the train before the doors slid closed. Not wanting to drag my suitcase the length of the train, I decided to occupy the closest seat to the door, which coincidentally was right next to my new suitcase-lifting friend. He turned and introduced himself with a smile, asking if I was in the rock importing business. We talked all the way to Haifa, watching the lush agricultural fields rush past us – fields of wheat, fruit orchards – all lined with the long rows of tall dark graceful Cypress trees that also lined many of the agricultural fields in Cyprus, and that I had been told as a child had been planted by the Jews as windbreaks and were so effective that they still serve that purpose today.

We arrived at our destination and my new friend found me a taxi and agreed upon a price with the driver before saying goodbye, heading off to work at Intel, which to my surprise had a large factory in Israel. The last Intel factory I had seen was in Costa Rica—a location chosen for the ready availability of cheap labour—so I had asked my friend why Intel would maintain such a large factory in Israel—a country known for its affluence and high cost of living. His response was fascinating to me: Apparently Israelis are highly skilled cartographers due to all of the land disputes they have been involved in. The skills necessary to create highly detailed topographic maps also make the Israelis excellent at manufacturing computer parts that require great attention to the finest microscopic details. The Israelis are so good at producing consistently high quality detailed products that Intel is willing to pay higher wages and operating costs in order to maintain a factory there.

Haifa is a port city built on the slope of Mount Carmel looking out over the blue Mediterranean Sea. The city is a chaotic mass of narrow winding streets that snake their way erratically up the steep face of the mountain, ancient mosques and Turkish baths and stone houses that are hundreds of years old mixed up with modern apartment blocks and restaurants, cafes, clubs and falafel stands that punctuate almost every block. Haphazardly constructed staircases sandwiched between high rises and lush, shady gardens climb the mountain, ending abruptly for no obvious reason and then rising up the mountain again further up or down the street. The call to prayer reverberates along the streets and walls five times a day, mixing with the never ending exchange of exasperated horn pumping, the screech of brakes, and the sound of birdcall that seems to float like a fine mist over the city. Without the Baha’i gardens—that rise from the foot of the mountain all the way to its top—the city might resemble an abstract grey painting of industrial clamour; of constant motion and noise. The gardens, which seem to be embroidered across the chest of the mountain, are a paradise of exuberant colour and fragrance, drawing tourists from all over the world to bask in the meditative beauty that seems to hang suspended like a surreal, splendid dream over the city. An intoxicating dream from which it is fortunate to never have to wake up.

At the top of the mountain I was deposited in the marble lobby of my hotel, and promptly escorted to my room on the seventh floor. After my experience the previous night in Tel Aviv, my expectations were rather low, but when the heavy door fell closed and I turned to take in my surroundings my jaw dropped. The whole front wall of my room was glass; I had a bird’s eye view of the entire city of Haifa, the gardens stretching out below me down to the Mediterranean like a mirage, and a spectacular view of the coast line as it curved around the bay all the way to the prison city of Akka. I melted into the large comfy chair facing my windows, a broad smile spreading across my face. The universe is abundant indeed!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

From my lips to the ears of God

This past week I joined a motley crew of folks who are volunteering their time to renovate the barn at the home of a good friend of mine and turn it into an art studio for another friend who has recently returned to the US after many years in Israel. There was John, a chiropractor who paid his way through school by doing contracting work; Jack, an artist who sculpts graceful nudes out of bronze and marble; Chris, who is currently working on replacing the gold tiles on the dome of the Shrine of the Bab at the Baha’i World Centre in Haifa, Israel; Rebecca, a teacher whose knowledge about automobiles has made her my new car repair guru; Jose—an El Salvadorian contractor whose energy on the job began at 7am and was still going strong when the rest of us were far beyond lagging, and me.

We started with a barn that had no insulation and was all open save a loft area at the back. We started by stapling insulation to the walls and ceiling, and then cutting and mounting sheetrock on the walls. After three days of working we had finished the sheet rocking and started putting mud in the screw holes, inserting a door into the back of the barn, and getting the bathroom ready for tiling. Let me be clear. I am not a handywoman. Until two years ago my hammering skills ended with putting a nail into the wall to hang a painting, and my proudest carpentry creation was a spice rack I made with pinewood when I was eight. Balancing on scaffolding fifteen feet off the ground wielding a power drill and was not something that I had ever envisioned myself doing. At least not in this life. But here I was attempting not only to not fall off the scaffolding and plunge to the hard cement floor beneath me, but to actually make myself useful in some small way among the crew of handy folks around me.

After three days of work, punctuated by breaks for delicious meals of Persian rice filled with chicken and pork being prepared and delivered by some amazingly generous women in the community, I was finally managing to get my screws into the sheetrock without driving them so far through that the wall surface was crushed and crumbling; was becoming more adept at how to use a jack to get the panels hoisted up to the ceiling to be mounted; and was learning how to locate the wooden beams of the barn to which I was mounting the sheetrock even when I could not see what was happening behind the panels. Perhaps rather basic skills in comparison to the more experienced crew around me, but I am working on celebrating small successes these days. I was also learning the immense amount of patience required to get this sort of job done, and done well; and that it was going to take time until I had the strength to lift heavy equipment on my own or mount panels to the ceiling holding the drill with one hand. Humility was the virtue of the week. Renovating the barn was going to be just as much about flexibility (putting the door in the wrong place and then having to move it) as it was about building skills.

One afternoon, far after my hands had moved past being sore and into the unexplored territory of swollen aching, John (the chiropractor and king of carpentry) asked me what I was filling my time with while I hunted for jobs. I mumbled something about assisting with a children’s class that was going through some challenging times before falling silent, and he started suggesting other areas of service that I could get involved with while I was here. I explained that I was reluctant to take things that might prevent me from leaving as soon as I found work. “So what you really are saying is that you are already gone,” he said. I started to protest, and then realized he was right. All those yoga classes and I had still not figured out how to be present. I spent the rest of the day trying to focus on the smell of wood, the vibration of the power drill against my palm and the satisfaction of watching the space around be slowly be transformed into something that would soon be an art studio.

In the evenings we had people drop by for visits. One night we had seven people come by for a “fireside” or discussion group (the first fireside took place next to an actual fireplace, hence the name) focused on a particular topic. That night the topic of choice was fear. I was silently amazed, and equally amused at my surprise that maybe I was in the right place at exactly the right time. Radical. At the end of the evening we walked outside among the enormous oak trees that arched over my friends’ home to see the guests off. I walked beside a woman from Ethiopia who asked me what I was doing with my life. I explained that I was thinking of moving to Greece to offer service in the Baha’i community there. “Just like that?” she asked me. “You will just pack up like that and move to the other side of the world?” As she spoke I could hear my doubts and fears growing like a giant dark shadow inside my chest. “Yes, I said,” trying to sound confident. “Just like that. If I manage to find work...” Registering my concern with finding employment in a country that is experiencing an economic collapse, the effects of which are rippling across Europe, she smiled reassuringly and said: “If it is the right thing, an opportunity will come up. Your intention goes right from your lips to the ears of God.” She pointed at her lips for emphasis and then gazed up at the moon – just starting to rise up over the full leafy tops of the oaks, quivering slightly in the cool summer breeze.

Later that night my friends and I went for a midnight swim, a round, crisp yellow moon hung high in the clear, star strung sky. Floating on my back in the sun-warmed water gazing up at the ever-constant moon, I reflected on her words, and for one of the few times since arriving on the west coast felt a certainty that she was right. I might not find work in Greece. But I had voiced my intention, so if it was meant to be an opportunity was sure to emerge.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Little gifts of summer

I woke up this morning to sunshine streaming in my windows and the sound of birdcall outside in the garden. There are many things I find challenging about life in California, but the weather is not one of them. Having grown up with hot summers characterized by long lazy days hanging out on the beach and swimming in the crystal clear turquoise waters of the Mediterranean, sitting in cafes sipping cold Nescafe frappes and long nights out at outdoor bars until the wee hours of the morning, anything less than scorching hot weather makes me feel like I have skipped a season altogether. A glance at the newspaper tells me it is going to be my kind of day: 40 and counting.

I have been living, or as I tend to tell people, “visiting” California since May, having decided to uproot myself from my home of the last six years on Prince Edward Island, Canada at the beginning of February and blaze a trail through the snow covered contours of the continent in my Toyota Corolla, visiting friends and places of significance to me along the way. I moved to Prince Edward Island to do my Master’s degree in Island Studies in 2004, graduated in 2008 and then stayed on past graduation to get hands on experience working on Raymond Loo’s Springwillow Farms and Anne’s PEI Farm, a group of innovative and creative farmers scattered across the Island who are developing new markets for Island produce. The grant that was supporting me ended in January 2010 and something in me kept telling me that it was time for a change.

Despite the objections of my family and a number of friends (“Alone? You are driving a used vehicle across the country in the middle of winter alone?”) and my own uncertainty about leaving a community I had come to love and appreciate so deeply, I left Canada on the heels of a snowstorm, spending the next six weeks weaving my way through northern Maine, Montreal, Connecticut, Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison, rural Iowa and Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Arizona and California. My first stop that was not snow-covered was Tucson. My destination was my parents’ home in Sacramento, California.

I have been in California for about three months now. I intended to use this as a base to catapult me into my next adventure: farming in Latin America or teaching English in China. Instead, after my initial push to send out my resume and connect to potential work opportunities yielded no results, I have spent the last three months spinning my wheels in a seemingly ever-deeper rut in the road.

This past week the news of the death of a very close friend, Ruth Hampson, helped me to realize that it was time to change my approach to my new surroundings and situation. I had driven out of my way on my journey west to see Ruth. I had been visiting a friend in Boulder, Colorado, and intended to head from there to Prescott Arizona. Ruth was living in an elderly people’s home in Salt Lake City, Utah. I was starting to get a bit tired of all the intense driving in bad weather conditions, so driving into prime ski country was not terribly appealing at the time, but I had not seen Ruth in years, and at 90, I was not sure when I would get to see her again, so I took the detour and stopped to see her for a weekend.

I had met Ruth when I was about 8 years old when she and her husband Arthur moved to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus from the US in their 70s. They made a strong impression on me as a child, moving around the world to a country where they did not speak the language, buying mopeds as their primary means of transportation and bringing along their mountain bikes for when they felt the need for more vigorous exercise. Ruth was a beautiful, classy and mentally sharp woman with a courage that seemed unshakeable. She had been approached to do movies as a young woman but decided to turn away from the world of film because she wanted to have the time to dedicate herself to serving humanity in her day-to-day life. Ruth was a Baha’i, and she taught a childrens class that I attended as a child. She was an excellent baker and cook, loved to read, and had no qualms about jumping off the top of a waterfall, speeding along mountain roads on her moped or learning Greek in her 70s. Ruth taught me was that we only get one chance at this life, so we had better seize the day and get out there and live it. She had no patience for people who wallowed or felt sorry for themselves, and more than once gave me a rather sharp piece of her mind when I made me mistake of complaining about a situation that I felt I wad enduring that did not seem fair or pleasant.

Ruth and her husband Arthur left Cyprus years ago to return to the US because he had had a stroke that left him paralysed on one side of his body. I continued to visit them over the years: in Cortez, Colorado; in Eloy, Arizona, and elsewhere. When I visited Ruth this last time she was suffering from Alzheimer’s, so our conversations followed a cycle of reminding her who I was followed by a period of very deep discussion about life, love (“I miss Arthur a lot. I love him very much. He was a wonderful man”); friendship (“Who did we know when we were in Cyprus? Tell me about the friends we had in Cyprus”) and God and death (I really feel I am ready to die, but I am still here so apparently God is not ready for me yet. He must still have something He thinks I should be doing, but I just cannot figure out what that might be”) and then back to determining who I was again (“who are you again?” “I am Ariana.” “Really? Well I knew an Ariana once, but she was just a little girl.” “Yes, I am that little girl. All grown up.” “How old are you now?” “I am 31.” “Really? Well then how old does that make me?” “You are 90.” “Oh dear. Am I really? That is just too old. I really should be dead. You really are a very kind lady, Ariana. Thank you so much for coming to visit me and saying prayers with me"). Despite her memory loss, we discussed deeper themes than I usually reflect upon with my completely lucid friends. I had no idea that five months later Ruth would pass away, but I was deeply impressed by the fact that despite being incapacitated by age and memory loss she was not content to just pass her days idly in bed. She was still asking herself what God wanted her to do in this life in the brief time she had left.

When I received the news of Ruth’s passing I was in the midst of a wild wheel spinning party, wondering where I had gone wrong and why I had still not found my next step in life after all the heartfelt prayers I had sent out to the universe to direct me on my way. The news of her passing made me realize it was time to stop wallowing in self-pity and make some positive changes in my daily activities.

The first thing I did was sign up for ten days of unlimited yoga classes at a local studio. I have never been all that into yoga. I have always preferred activities that are more vigorous, like running. But many of my closest friends are yoga teachers, and have explained to me that one of the primary focuses of yoga practice is to learn how to be present in the here and now so that you can really focus your life’s energies towards living the richest, fullest life you are capable of. I figured it was worth a try. I started on a perfect hot sticky Monday evening with a meditation class and then decided to challenge myself to doing two yoga classes a day: a dynamic class at 6am, and a balanced or mellow evening class to stretch out my sore muscles so that getting up the next day and doing it all again was even an option.

I have been doing yoga for four days now, and somehow managed to drag myself out of bed at 5.15am four days in a row and be in class at 6 sharp despite not being a morning person by any stretch of the imagination. The morning classes are intense and require my body to do things that I have not asked it to do in a long time. We do sun salutations; we balance on one foot with one hand reaching towards the floor and the other towards the ceiling and our other leg floating out behind us parallel to the floor; we do all sorts of headstand varieties; downward dog; sphinx; cobra; we kneel on our elbows and balance on our wrists; we do push-ups masquerading as releases from other poses; we do back bends and back arches and side bends and child’s pose. We challenge our bodies to be strong and flexible and our minds to be courageous and open to the unfamiliar. Most importantly we practice presence through focusing on deep breathing and letting go of the constant chatter that fills my mind all day long. It has been so long since I did these types of movements that I have to learn to rebuild the strength I used to have. Accepting where I am and finding compassion for where I am while still being willing to push myself through moments of discomfort and struggle is humbling. Experiencing my body grow stronger and more sure of itself reminds me how grateful I am for a strong healthy body.

The evening classes are more about breathing and learning to surrender, to be vulnerable and to accept my present reality and who I am in this moment without being critical or judgmental. As we move through a series of slow poses our teachers share thoughts, ideas and reflections with us to help us focus our minds and hearts. My first evening class the teacher shared: “Maybe you are exactly where you need to be. Maybe you don’t know what is best for you right now and you just need to trust that whatever is happening – wherever you are – is precisely what you need right now to help you move forward to where you are supposed to be going.” Last night I went to a mellow yoga class that was very quiet and meditative. Lying on my back with my eyes shut my teacher came around the room placing smooth hot black stones in the centre of our bellies, and asked us to visualize planting a seed in our body and then watching it grow and turn into a tree and blossom. Holding the hot stone in my palm took me back to an early evening walk I had taken on Brackley beach on Prince Edward Island a year ago. I had found a beautiful swirling olive green pebble that I carried cool against my palm as I walked along the shore. When it came time to go, I did not want to take it with me. I was already wondering where I was headed and had been praying for inspiration. Before leaving, I knelt down facing the ocean, dug a hole in the sand and ‘planted’ my stone as a seed of hope. Lying on my back in the yoga studio, the smooth black rock in my hands seemed to be a confirmation that although I could not see how, I was on the right track.

After leaving my Friday evening yoga class I floated across the city to join my parents and some friends at the Shakespeare in the Park festival for a picnic supper followed by A Midsummer Night’s Dream outside under the clear starry summer sky. Lying back against pillows on my back, my laughter merging with the laughter of those around me, I recalled the many hours I spent over the last two summers nestled in tall grasses on Prince Edward Island watching the black vault above get streaked by shooting star after shooting star and the moon wading her way through silver clouds.

This morning while I was eating breakfast barefoot in the kitchen I heard the sound of mail being slid into the mailbox. Louise Mould, a close friend living on Prince Edward Island had told me I should be expecting something in the mail so I had been expectantly dashing to the mailbox every morning hoping that the mysterious envelope had arrived. This morning I was lucky. Sitting at the kitchen table I sliced open the envelope and reached inside, drawing out a tiny notebook that looked familiar and a handmade card with a print of one of Louise’s beautiful paintings on the front of it. The notebook, it turned out, was one I had discarded in my rush to get out of my house on the Island in January. Louise had picked it up, taken it home and filled the pages with beautiful, intricately patterned and textured pen and ink drawings. Having filled the last page, her note in the front cover said, she thought I “might like it back.” I have been flipping through the pages all day soaking up the shapes that shift through the seasons, noting the incorporation of southwestern shapes during the time Louise had been in New Mexico and the lotus and flowering shapes that slowly emerge as she moved through spring. Louise is always full of beauty and wisdom that seem to float like water lilies upon a deep green pond in late summer. Her brightly coloured paintings swirl blinding sunshine, saturated lush vegetation, rolling hills and swaying Cypresses across the walls of my parents’ house.

Opening my email I find more inspiration. An email from Andy Adams from Prince Edward Island – a reincarnation of the BFG (Big Friendly Giant) from Roald Dahl’s children’s books who mastered the art of gluten free baking while I was living on the Island so that he could bake pumpkin scones (his specialty) that I could eat. Andy, a tall man with a big beard and a booming laugh, is one of the most gentle and loving souls I have ever met. He is also a supportive husband, a loving father and an enthusiastic and active volunteer, always stepping up to help out with cooking and catering, hosting and making everyone feel welcome at community events. Andy’s email was full of encouragement for me on my journey, and I finish reading feeling awe at the brilliant friends I have made during my six years in Canada.

I also have an email from my friend Rafael who is visiting her boyfriend in Chile before heading to Mexico to continue her PhD research on desert oases; Ahava, a woman who is in equal measure a writer, story teller, healer, mediator and organic farmer who, having just completed her PhD is establishing a centre for women on her organic farm on Saltspring Island in British Columbia and who was writing to invite me to come up to the farm; Margie Loo, an organic farmer on Prince Edward Island and woman of immense power, grace and strength who has taught and continues to teach me the beauty to be found in following my heart, and Daniel, a newfound friend whose enthusiasm and commitment to serving and growing in new directions and his light hearted approach to everything is a constant delight to me as I watch him teach yoga, learn about green architecture, write children’s stories and spend weeks of his summer volunteering in Bulgaria to help restore an old farm and turn it into an artists retreat.

Taking a break from writing this blog, I find that the lettuce seeds I planted only a few days ago are already sprouting, tiny green shoots pushing up through the soil. The fine line of green reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend last summer who was struggling through a rough patch in life. We wandered out into his olive grove under which he had planted a vegetable garden, most of which was dead due to lack of watering. Usually very conscientious, I asked him why he was not watering it and he replied that he just didn’t see the point. The only thing still alive were his hardy onions, their green stalks a tribute to the ability of living things to survive even the harshest conditions. An avid farmer, I pointed out that the onions were still alive, and that even that little bit of green was worth hoping for. As we watered the onions, the hot dusty wind blowing through the grove I remember thinking how inspiring and healing working the earth can be. We nicknamed his onions “onions of hope.”

I have no idea where I am headed, but I am learning gratitude for the gift of rich, inspiring friendships, the miracle of planting a seed and watching it grow, and the process of learning to remain present with my heart, my mind and my body.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Humble beginnings

A few years ago, while in the thick of writing my Master’s thesis, I finally gave in to peer pressure and joined the masses of Facebook users. Thinking it a useful tool to keep track of my what my friends were up to around the world, I dutifully logged on once a day (or more depending on how much I needed to procrastinate) and caught up on everyone’s news. I was living on Prince Edward Island, a stunningly beautiful but nevertheless rather remote Canadian province in the north Atlantic. Living as I did, in a rather chilly climate come winter and never having adapted terribly well to the cold, I spent considerable amounts of time during the winter hunkered down in my comfy little house pretending to be hammering out my Master’s thesis. In reality, the only thing I was become a master at was developing new, creative and not-so-creative ways of avoiding working on my unruly Master’s thesis.

One day while waiting out a snow storm (or as they say in Atlantic Canada, being ‘storm-stayed’) and long after my eyes had glazed over from staring at the same paragraph of my Master’s thesis that I had been writing for four hours, I took a Facebook break, and found myself reading status updates. What occurred to me at first was what an interesting method of sharing a slice of thought or snapshot of a person’s present reality status updates are. Sure, they could be mundane, but they could also capture a piece of humour or a reflection or inspiration from lives scattered all over the globe and make someone clear on the other side of the world laugh out loud or get out a pen and write down a thought or idea that they connected to. Status updates are a cross section of social reality across the globe; tiny sparks of connections being created by slivers of images, quotes and experiences. I was impressed by how much could be shared in so little space (there is a 420 character limit). If emails were like letters, status updates were postcards. Being a lover of poetry, and, as one of my friends would put it, “vehemently disliking” postcards that arrive with five meaningless words scrawled across the tiny window of opportunity available to record an experience from halfway around the world, I decided to experiment with my status updates, turning them into miniature electronic postcards. Hey – at the time it seemed like an excellent, and conveniently endless source of procrastination material!

I started recording snapshots of landscapes I was moving through, memorable lines from novels that I was reading, frustrations, hopes, reflections and ideas that I found inspiring. Initially it was just for fun. Then friends started telling me that they were really enjoying reading my status updates. A few told me that when they knew I was travelling they checked Facebook just to read what I was up to that day. Over time many of my friends started telling me I really should start a blog that expanded on my Facebook updates. So after a great deal of persistent urging from a multitude of wonderfully supportive and loving friends who have been reading and responding to what they have termed “poetic status updates” on Facebook for the past few years, I am finally doing it.

I have named this blog Routes of Presence because so much of my experience of life has been about searching for connection with community and the natural world around me. There are many routes to becoming fully present with ones surroundings and with our life’s purpose. Routes of Presence is a record of some of the routes I have drawn and am drawing; the questions I have asked and continue to ask; the challenges I have faced and continue pressing up against, and those precious moments of sheer magic, passion and laughter I share with the incredibly inspiring people I meet wherever I go.