stretched

For those of you worried, please don’t.

Writing, meditating, metaphor-chasing, psychoanalyzing – they are my ways of unwinding a tangled life. Yet my life hasn’t many knots in it these days. It’s blissfully simple. I used to love to pull out my tarot cards and do a quick reading. My eyes still occasionally fall upon the deck, but I flinch at the old adventures of digging into the past, etching at the future, and scratching for the surreal. My eyes flee from the deck as they do most things that threaten to steal me from the surprises of the present moment.

This is the happiest year of my existence – possibly my life. I’m certain there are knots and tangles ahead. And I’ll save all my trusty means of metaphor-seeking for assistance through those inevitable life trials and travels. For now, I’m resting in the shade of the tree I myself planted. For in the front of every travel journal I ever took abroad, starting with the first I took to Guatemala now nine years ago, I printed the following poem by Kahlil Gibran….

To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving;
To rest at the noon hour and meditate love’s ecstasy;
To return home at eventide with gratitude;
And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise upon your lips.

I’ll be on the road again soon, with upcoming adventures in India, Indonesia, and possibly Cambodia. And I have a new camera to find and tell more stories. I’ll be gone for longer than I’m comfortable, but I wake every morning and take account of the blessings in my life that allow for me to be so delicately stretched (not severed) between two worlds and loves.

A few recent stories from the “stitch” of my new Sony Alpha Nex-5

killer whales surfacing from the subconcious

That was the caption of my dream two nights ago.

Yesterday, encouraged by my partner, some of the bigger ideas of my subconscious, like in my dream, began to surface.

I don’t know, yet, what they mean. Even in my dream, it was too bright. And I shielded my vision with my hand, gifted only with a glimpse. A silhouette. Of something big.

But this morning I woke up early, ventured into the tiny, closed-off,  one-windowed room in the garage, and scouted out the direction of the sun and the corners of a room, that might better womb some creative writing and whim chasing.

This week I captioned some images and wrote a few paragraphs for the purpose of entry into a photography contest. You’ve seen these images before. But not the captions….

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India, Nepal, Tibet: borders and names, created and defined, only by the intruders that needed them.

Hindu. Himalayan. Buddhism. Hindustani; dimensionless cultures boxed into, and under, the convenient labels of Religions & Regions; paragraph entries into encyclopedias that finally fit into the narrow minds of the Western explores that claimed their discoveries. Names, filtered through the deaf ears of ego, clumsily wearing the clothes of the Western alphabet, pronounced and spelled, to this day, incorrectly.

Masala means, “mixture of spices.”  Curry is an British-invented word for a pre- mixed and packaged power of the spices the invader could never quite sort the individual ingredients out of, or back into. Correctly, anyway. Those three mystery ingredients are: Coriander, Cumin, Tumeric.

India, Nepal, Tibet.

Can we let it simply be.

A way of life.

And a masala of people?

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As I was asking for permission from a family to photograph some young children playing within a bicycle school bus, these three boys pulled me and my camera deeper into the tent town (located near the Ganga river in Varanasi, U.P.) Inside this concrete section, they proudly presented their community gym; a tiny room full of heavy weights and furious fans to combat the equally furious Indian heat. The posters of Hindu gods, flexing their multiple sets of arms, alongside American WWF champs in strikingly similar costume, charmed me to no end. I returned later and handed out the photos. The next day, as a cycle school bus whipped around a corner, a known smile and muscled arm waved me onto the bus for a complimentary ride home. It was the highlight of my week.

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Varanasi’s Ghat’s, or steps of stairs leading into the sacred Ganga-ji (often mispronounced, “Ganges”) is the one place in India where I can begin to comprehend the number 1.1 billion (the population of the country). However what astonishes me most about the staggering turn out to these regular river festivals, is the amazing fluidity and organization of what, in any other country or culture, would constitute utter chaos.

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Westerns love to say, “thank you”; To which I often get the response, in South Asia, “but why? It is, of course, my duty.” In the shadows of the pictured homestay, I finally stepped out of my American shoes, and leaned that “content”; is hardly a bad, but blessed word. That to do, “one’s duty” is an honor, that needs no added expression of worth or appreciation outside of its simple doing. In the Dolpa of rural Nepal, on the edge of the Tibetan plateau, at 15,500 feet, I found simple crops, simple structures, simple landscape, simple doing, simple being and simple understanding of what comprises simple beauty. And learned that just as essential as exploring, is breaking it down.

Image: Young Tibetan woman in the Dolpa of rural Nepal, grinding barley (the staple food) grown in the fields outside the clay house. Barley powder is often eaten dry. When sitting down to lunch in the fields, each person pulls our her own bag. Before taking a handful of the dry power to your mouth, however, it is custom that every person in the circle first eat a handful of your food. And so all bags are rotated, handfuls taken, a few playfully straying onto the faces of others, till your bag finally returns to your lap, before heading around the circle again.

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Travel. Words. Images. Story.

In that order, I picked up the elements that have come to define my way of life, my personal culture if you will; or at least that which was left, as the common denominator, in the absence of any other society- or country-based.

Travel. Well that now, is too easy for me; my brier patch. Drop me off in Mumbai, but please not Manhattan. Let me homestay in a rural village where I know not a word of the language, but don’t make me navigate the foreign language of an extended family reunion. The path of the pilgrim graduates to elevated levels of challenge, and back home, congruently. No one promised it would be the same. Or that I would. It took me 7 years of of movement to teach me the profound beauty in the words “compromise” and “contentment,” which are only found in stillness.

Words. I’ve promised myself that I will write a book by the age of 52, the age of enlightenment by the Mayan calendar; the only age at which you are finally allowed to teach and speak as if you actually know something. In the meantime, I promise to practice. To practice stringing words together in ways that glimmer at truth. To compose sentences with notes of harmony. To pick up my pen as would an oil painter his brush. Thank god I am far from 52. For I have, only, so much more practicing to do.

Images. A later addition to my backpack, as evidenced by my work. I have something. But I need help. I’ve learned to photograph purely by experiential education. By trial and error. By tried and trusted intuition. By a few moments of bravery. But I have lost all my greatest shots. I don’t shoot a face unless I know his or her first name. I am afraid. I am afraid to shoot the shot without the story. Yes. To some degree this helps my angle. But I think by many degrees it also hides it. By my nature as a writer, I am an introvert. I hate hearing my voice. To express myself, I listen, then contemplate, compose and create a reflection of that which I truly feel is not adequate for the spoken word. Pictures, for me, are poetry. But in neither subject have I ever had any training. None. Blindly I both babble and search through my images for something that speaks better than I do. I know I’ve got it in me somewhere, warming, nesting, waiting for the necessary tension to build up, and crack.

Story. Oh story. And subject of the sentence that is my life mission statement. Even if my pictures are poor, I bet you can still feel it; my connection to, and profound love for, the story of my subject. The Buddhists have it right on Compassion; which, for me, is nothing less that the spark of recognition of you in me, me in you. Story is that link; the mirror that holds up the reflection. The more stories that can been narrated and seen through the first person, the more lifetimes we can live within this one, and the more momentum our species will have towards its highest evolution.

If I am one for whom travel is easy, connecting is fluid, stories feel safe to unravel, and compositions come together, well then I have found my “vocation,” where the term is defined (by Frederick Buechner) as, “the place where your great gladness and the world’s needs meet.” It only took me 7 or 8 years to gather the ingredients. Now, how to put them together….

an orange american dot in a sky of tibetan clouds

How can almost a year have flown while my words still stumble?

It’s a messy thing. Catching the processing of experiences down to something real, that happened, while at the same catching experience up to something, well, describable.

I hold the photo in my hand and wonder, without it, what evidence would I have?

Oh yes! A journal. Let me see here. Let’s see if this brings anything back…

In black pen I’ve squared a box that says, “18th,” supposing, at the time and wrongly, that at the very least, of this trip, I’d remember the month. Ha!

Anyway. There are bullet points:

* We stop at a goat and sheep herder’s tent, fold our legs and huddle in. We break and share Chinese military cookies, cook noodles and accept or reject, endless cups of salty butter tea.

* When we walk again, we collide like a creek into a stream heading downriver, and become part of a train of young and colorful pilgrims. Mothers with babies in baskets. Men with red ribbons on ponies. Young boys, as always, self-entertaining with sticks and stones, as they stumble along behind.

*One boy watches me carefully. I’ve fallen behind my group and I can see he’s concerned with how I’ll cross the river on my own. In a sagging, leather-belted and weathered jacket lined with animal fur, with a dangling earring of turquoise and coral, he approaches me. With childlike disregard for our obvious difference, he speaks fast and fluently in Tibetan, never doubting that I might not return the same. When I only smile in response, his world, for the first time, widens to contain more than one language. Finally, he points to my pony crew and motions for me to follow him over a carefully chosen course of river stones.


* We pop up our tiny tent. An orange American dot in a sky of Tibetan clouds.

* Children play. Adolescents flirt. Some are fighting. Some are fleeing. All in what I gather to be a rare event of permission to tumble, unsupervised, with each other. There’s a lot a grooming going on.

* We make soup on a propane burner underneath an audiences’ hushed and cross-cultural murmur of, “magic.”

* We make tea, and in answer to the pointing fingers, we dip a spoon in honey and drip a slow drool across a dozen fingers. Eyes and smiles light up to the universal language of sugar.

* I make the mistake of sharing my sweet biscuit with a small one, and as a rumor spreads of handouts, we slip underneath the zip of our tent. But it’s too late. The thumping of muddy boots ends at our door. A dozen tiny fingers and eyes start pulling at the corner of our tent. And even an arm or two manages to sneak in. Sangeetha freaks out. She yells for, “Gombu!” who is unusually talented at schooling unruly children. But he doesn’t hear or come. Instead a chorus from outside our tent picks up in the exact same tone of desperation, and in faux American accents, begins chanting…”Gombu! Gombu! Gombu!”


I try to lay down a game of Gin to secure parameters for our thoughts smaller that the walls of our tent. Thirty minutes later, we can still hear the new foreign word, in foreign intonations, being echoed off of Himalayan walls and returned with laughter….”Gombu! Gombu! Gombu!”

*The Gin score is: Kavita 546, Sangeetha 410

non-dualism


*show of dualism on Ganga-ji’s ghats*

For the third time in a year, I’m in India. I feel ourselves in something of a desperate love affair; one, and just as often the other, on her knees, begging the other to come back, just go, or not leave.

Four months ago, in a dizzy spell in Delhi, I realized that my eyes no longer wandered. That in terms of travels, I’d become blinded by my loyalty and love for only one city: and nothing less than the, “oldest continually inhabited in the world”: Varanasi. This devotion I scribbled into a journal, confessed to a best friend, put the contract on my heart in fact and pen. Twenty-four hours later, an email arrived under the subject title, “when direction finds you” and in it, a job with outstretched hand and ring, proposing to marry all my passion-trodden directions, at the crossroads of my favorite city. Yes. The very same. Varanasi.

So here I am again. Hindi finally finding a more confident, or at least playful, place on my tongue. Swooping wide circles around the bull whose horns I know to catch those walking unaware and pull them, with a flash of adrenaline, to the present. Identifying which ghat I walk on by the very same cesspool I remember hop-scotching even five years ago. Waving hellos and bowing namastes to the shop-keepers, rickshaw-wallas, and restaurant owners, who no longer need to scratch heads long, before finding my name. My Hindi teacher, he knows exactly when I need the umph of chai to push me through the end of class. My host family, they know that my task list is endlessly long and that I’ll fall asleep on their bed once the Bollywood flick trespasses nine. The restaurants, they specially serve me the dishes no longer on their menus but still on mine.

And just as much as Banaras remembers me, I remember it. From the mantras chanting from loud speakers in devotion to the Ganga-ji, to the orange globe of India’s ever dusty sun. From the yappy white dogs with red tikkas on their foreheads to the smell of detol and scream of wedding speaker bollywood beats. On every corner, a principle of non-dualism in demonstration: jasmine and cowdung, temple bells and techno, cell phones and water buffalo, purification rites and pollution, saris and jeans, the city with the longest timeline in the world, living tightly confined to the present moment. Timelessness wordlessly understood by all as same, same, but different. Varanasi. Banaras. Two names. One place. Same, same but…..yes. Non-dualism. You get it.

Anyway. It’s just like me to ramble on. But lucky for me, at least in India, I can get away with it; where the baba might even agree that one endless, run-on sentence we are all living, writing, weaving. Still, for your relief, I know I saw a period around here somewhere…

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freelancin’

If you ever, in the midst of this economic crisis, find yourself wondering:

1. what would look great on that blank wall or holiday greeting card?

2. how can I support poor broke solbeam?

You now have a few dozen options:

If anything is purchased, I’ll turn it around and invest in a proper account on imagekind.com that allows me to upload more than 20 photos. A vicious cycle! 🙂


making like a tree

a lot of sky

a lot of sky

I’m moving to a yurt for the weekend; where a lot of sky and silence will provide the slate for composition; where I’ll chose my colors from the crayon box of aspens; where I’ll study change underneath the mentorship of Fall. Wish my words luck, that they may fall on this page with an inch of that grace.


and, finally, more photos

It was an exhausting search, but for all those other seekers out there, it’s the KATHMANDU GUEST HOUSE (in Thamel) that has the best internet connection in town.

It still took me hours to upload, but at least we finally have something to show for it…

The *new* Nepal Photo Album is now open.

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*sol bows her “namaste” and gratitude to World Nomads Travel Insurance, ThinkHost and Merc for their ever-supporting roles in the realization of her dream.