Knowing Solitude


「我是一個站在甲板上的孤獨航海者,她是海。」Murakami, Kafka by the Shore.

Traveling with friends is a state of being always and never alone.
Like everything else in this world, there are two sides to the joys and trials that come with traveling this way.
Most interesting is the fact that traveling together does nothing to change the aloneness we each inhabit individually.
The cities we are crossing mean completely different things to us, and each day is a fabric of emotions, experiences, and memories that are united only by the intention of traveling together.

The presence of solitude in my days is recognisable,
anything that sparks a tiny flame of joy however brief is a welcome sojourner.
The egg blue walls of our room in the morning sunlight,
and the privilege of being the first one awake, three other steady sets of breathing.
The flat warm feeling of staircases, so much like another I know from many years ago.
A different kind of conversation with the same person.
and always, laughter.
The first spoonful of a meal.
The first respite for weary feet.
The first water drops on a sweatstained body.
Even grief and pain have their place.
Even anger and bitterness.

Solitude is rest because for a while the heart learns to stop being wary of the world, and tries to embrace all it is without fear.
And in this solitude we realize that the world embraces us back in fragments, while we feel ourselves in whole.
Fear of that realization is loneliness.

I am traveling with a Murakami,
Kafka by the Shore. a Chinese translation.
I read him most often on transit and in bed, and the entire opening of the novel occurs in transit.
What a profound solitude it is, to travel alone with a character, in two separate worlds at the same time.
What a profound solitude it is, to travel alone with a group of friends, in completely different cities at the same time.


The question of the moment

We’ve been traveling to some absolutely breathtaking places these past couple of days, and at every opportune moment the cameras are out and snapping.

I love photography. I love everything it can do. I love everything it remembers. I love the framing of a scene, the manipulation of it and its eventual evolution into a creation all its own.
Yet at almost every opportune moment this trip, I have either ran out of memory or battery early on,
never able to capture the exact shot I’m waiting for, or try the ideas I have in my head.

This is not a post that is interested in whether or not a camera ruins a moment.
It is a post interested in the question of a moment.
While watching the sun set among fresh clouds after a rainstorm in the mountains, my phone conveniently dead, I thought a lot about how to remember this moment.
Because the truth is I won’t.
Maybe something about the way the light hit everything from the peak all the way down to the valley will always trigger a rush of joy in my body.
Maybe something about the breeze and the friends and the excitement of a new experience will remain a savoury part of growing up.
But the sunset will fade. In the present and in my head.
And so will every other sunset, every sunrise, ocean shore, mist-filled forest, and city light.

Are photos our signposts to joy?
Are they our stored reminders for harsher times?
Are they tickets into nostalgia?
Are they messages with a point of view?
Are they our unspoken stories?

Maybe the question of the moment is ‘what will you do with me?’
And photos have become the answer closest to a deeper longing to not forget.
What can we do except try?
How else can we fight off our fear?

Having faced this question with no way to photograph, not once but a couple of times,
I have asked the moment back, ‘well what will you do with me?’

And in the ensuing silence there have been answers.
See, the sun is rising over a beautiful mountain and somewhere in the mountains are the dying and the dead, the living and the well, the sickly and the lonely.
The mist here is cool and grey but elsewhere black and dusty.
Under the bluest of skies lives the best and the worst,
all the broken history of time.

Nostalgia is a powerful emotion to get swept up in but these days, every picturesque moment greets me with a grand indifference,
‘nothing, I will do nothing with you. Who are you even?’
The thousand year old sacred trees know this.
They will be there long after I am gone.
The rising sun knows this, and descending clouds also know this,
‘what you see and feel is only what you have already always known.
living is just this. living is never just this.’

What is a photo in that moment then?
What is there to prove or capture?
What is there to know or say?

except maybe that is all we can do with the question in the moment,
and the longing to answer that moment correctly becomes what we call nostalgia.
a correct we all yearn for but cannot specify.
a correct that is corrupted and wearing away at the edges.
a correct we might want to call a desire for heaven now inside and around.

and maybe the photograph is just more honest.

For what are these words if not a signpost, a reminder, a ticket, a message and an unspoken story?
What else could I possibly be writing for?

The Art of Leisure


The last couple of days we have been talking a lot about traveling.
We’ve also begun to learn each other’s habits.

Everybody travels a specific way, with certain principles and for certain purposes.
In conversation, the question of how to travel tends to show up again and again.
Travel light? Travel prepared?
Travel without distraction? Travel and stay connected?
Travel alone? Travel together?

Why am I traveling?
How am I traveling?

These cities are wrapped in a language of delight.
The streets are full of my freedom.
And daily I am savouring the delight of each syllable.

This rhythm is my rest.
a stillness full of rewards to myself.
Thank you body for the last five years.
Thank you will for all your hard work.
Thank you soul for the painful growing.
Thank you life for all your fullness.

This moment is the bend in the river.
So I am remembering, I am tasting, I am seeing and I am floating.
there is a solitude that not even the sticky heat of midday sun can penetrate.
there is a joy that skips and laughs with each jerking movement of the train.

perhaps we are all carrying far more in us than the weight of our luggage.
these eyes see in the light of how far I’ve come and close in the dark of what is yet to be.
these veins are intersections full of sweaty mopeds and black dust, quiet waiting on the curbs.
these ears are hills and ravines on the edge of car windows hiding the sounds of a city.
these shoulders burnt as they are know the scraping pain of a passing story better now.
these legs know the black calligraphy of dirt lines punctuated with the hardness of swelling ankles.

there is a sun setting in this city and we have traveled to watch it.
what else is there to say?
I am only thankful to have time to turn my head upwards for that patch of rainbow in the sky and draw my name into the tideland with a stick.
I am only thankful to have noticed the lighthouse beginning its evening wink.

Tell me,
is there anything more like the art of leisure than a peach pink sky?

The Quietness of Feet

When I travel I always come a little closer to understanding my feet.
how they have grown.
how far they’ve come.

Traveling makes me more dependent on my feet than any other circumstance.
They alone decide my agenda and my schedule.
They take me where I need to go and help me find home in a unfamiliar city.
The stronger they are, the more I can see.

My soles have begun to crack and harden.
The side effect of slippers and the summers.
Today I hiked to a lighthouse in my slippers.
Today I ran, discarding them at the high tide line, bare feet and hot sand.
Today I tripped and scraped my skin.
Today they browned in the sun.

Yet my feet never say anything.
They throb with no drama, and grime with no complaint.
They ache at the last hour and still will carry on if I will.
They heal without attention.
Even in the shower they wash secondhand.

Today I bent down to love my feet.
Rubbed the skin soft in my fingers.
Decided to say,
your strength is my support.
your support is my strength.

Thank you for walking my life always, without fail.
Thank you for taking me forward.
How beautiful you are.
How beautiful.