Friday, September 14, 2018

Of Palapas, Caves & Medinas

Sunset in Moulay Idriss, Morocco from the terrace of Scorpion House
If you use a hardcopy calendar, you’ve probably already begun to write down events for 2019. If you’re digital, some of those pixel squares are likely filling. As you plan your coming year, consider penciling in (or typing in!) a Deep Travel adventure or two. Imagine an afternoon beneath a seaside palapa in Mexico, watching a flamenco puro performance in a Spanish cave, or watching the sun set over the Fez Medina and the mountain village of Moulay Idriss in Morocco. DeepTravel not only gets you to these places, we also introduce you to the artists, writers, and change-makers who live there. As one of our alumni said of her time in Morocco, “I fell a bit in love with everyone I met.” We invite you to do the same.

Deep Travel Mexico: The Art of Tranquilo
January 3-7: Yelapa, Mexico

Come enjoy a writing retreat in the rugged-and-wonderful, car-free village of Yelapa on Mexico's Bay of Banderas.  Beloved travel writer Tim Cahill will be our instructor, inspiring us in this unpolished paradiso fueled by sun, cerveza, and seafood. After waking in your open-air casita, amble down the beach for a session of guided writing with Tim, and then enjoy the day sketching, swimming, hiking, boating—or all of the above! This trip will balance rest and adventure. Want to sip margaritas in a hammock? Want to salsa dance in the moonlight? Want to enjoy Huichol art? How about fishing? Whatever your interests, you will find plenty of inspiration for your journal. Register here 

Deep Travel Andalusia: In Search of Duende
March 22-28: Granada, Spain

What is duende and where do we find it? The great Spanish poet Federico García Lorca defined it as the dark beauty found in Andalusian art: the bullfight, the fierce flamenco dancing, and the strains of a guitar. You might recognize it closer to home in the haunting chords of your favorite Leonard Cohen song. Wherever we find it, duende can transform struggle into art and sorrow into revelation. This spring, Deep Travel will journey to Lorca’s hometown of Granada, Spain to explore duende at its source. We will visit the gitano caves, hold readings by candlelight, marvel at the Alhambra, and enjoy a sunset paella party with local flamenco dancers in the Sacromonte. Along the way, author and musician Nick Jaina will spark your writing with the cante jondo—the deep song at the heart of duende. Register here

Deep Travel Morocco: The Art of Adventure
March 31-April 8: Fez & Moulay Idriss, Morocco

Can writing about the world make it a better place? It can, insists Lavinia Spalding, author of Writing Away and series editor of The Best Women’s Travel Writing. For this immersive workshop, Lavinia helps us to explore how writing the stories of people and places can seed change—both in others and in ourselves. Our eight-day journey takes us inside the mesmerizing Fez Medina with its 9,000 byways and into Morocco’s holiest city, Moulay Idriss, in the Middle Atlas mountains. We’ll gather with Sufis, listen to the tales of traditional storytellers, connect with inspired artists, and dine with local friends who will invite us deeply into their culture. In daily sessions, we’ll articulate the places behind the headlines and the individuals behind the stereotypes. This trip is for anyone who wants to see inside the heart and soul of Morocco. Join us! Register here

Bonus: if you come on both the Spain and Morocco trips, we cover the days in between: accommodation and transit from Granada, Spain, a ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar, a night in Tangier, the train to Fez, and the night in Fez before the workshop begins. Contact us with any questions. 

Saturday, August 25, 2018

A Penny for Our Thoughts of Thanks

I found a shiny penny on the ground last week—a penny so bright it looked fake. As I picked it up, I noticed it’s a new one: 2018.

Yes, I pick up pennies. They remind me to not take little things for granted—to instead be grateful for them. As I pocketed the penny, I thought of the phrase, “both sides of the same coin” and wondered if a coin might work as a metaphor for gratitude.

At first I didn’t like the coin comparison—it implies commodification. But then again, maybe gratitude is a kind of currency.

As I’ve shared most everywhere, on the first of August, I was accepted for a writing residency at the Vermont Studio Center. Delight! Heel-clicking glee! Small problem: even though VSC awarded me a partial grant, the balance due was still big. Since my residency was awarded at the start of their season, I only had two weeks to pay in full, and that wasn’t enough time to apply for more grants. So I swallowed my pride and asked for help. Art orders, book orders, and donations poured in. (PS: Thanks for your patience on commissioned paintings!)

My Gratitude-O-Meter entered the stratosphere. It was a whirlwind of what Anne Lamott calls the three main prayers: Help! Thanks! Wow!  (The exclamation marks are my addition!)

What I didn’t mention when I shared my news was that I had been accepted to VSC almost ten years before. But that heel-clicking glee tripped on the curb of lack. Or perceived lack. I told myself a residency was too expensive. I invested more heavily in limitation than in gratitude, and I got what I “bought.”

Aside #1: I’ve turned down many opportunities I couldn’t afford. But for those, I didn’t feel a powerful “yes!” followed by a self-imposed, hope-killing “no.”  I’ve learned that though I can’t do everything, I can listen for the things I am meant to do. Aside #2: I practice gratitude daily, for mostly mundane things. Some days, my gratitude journal is filled with uninspired entries like, “I’m grateful for a roof over my head.” But then, in wildfire season when friends have lost homes, I write that like I mean it, because I do. I believe that consistent gratefulness in the littles leads to exponential gratefulness in the bigs.

In other words: investing in gratitude yields many happy returns—for ourselves and for others.

One of my many freelance jobs is working with my dear friend, Christina Ammon, for her company, Deep Travel Workshops. We take people on writing adventures around the world. This year, Deep Travel was able to do a pretty marvelous thing: at Book Passage’s annual Travel Writers and Photographers Conference, it offered a free international trip as the award for the conference’s essay contest winner. More glee! More bubbly! We were as happy as the recipient.

Within days of receiving big good, I was able to help give big good. Even though one event didn’t cause the other, they were linked by hefty prayers of Thanks!

Some days, we get the chance to up our own gratitude, and some days we get to give that chance—and not necessarily in that order. Gratitude works whichever way the coin is facing when we reach for it.

To get punny, I could say that this year has minted a new coin of gratitude in my life. But I won’t (winky face here).

Speaking of winking, perhaps the coin of gratitude is doing that right now, as if it knows its multifaceted power and is waiting for us to discover it in new ways. Perhaps the rest of 2018 is gleaming with shiny new ways to give thanks—if we’re willing to look for them. If gratitude is currency, then we have bottomless treasuries.

Thank you and you’re welcome,

Anna

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Adventure of Quiet (Or: Sabbatical with Two Gum Grafts, One Unintentional Fast, and Zero Jet Skis)

In the US, July is the big, shiny, monster car of summer, revving up with lots of sparkly, high-octane adventures involving fireworks, waterproof SPF 50, and lifejackets. But my idea of summer fun has always been the quieter kind: a book in the shade. A swim in the lake. I’m a gear-free seeker of quiet where my thoughts can unspool long enough to hear Spirit speak.

You might say poetry is my jet ski. It’s all the adrenaline rush I need. And this July has been my writing sabbatical, so it’s been a good ride.

At the beginning of the month, I had another gum graft over two teeth, and that has meant soft food only. But for the first few days after the procedure, eating anything more solid than a liquid hurt, so I ended up fasting for a bit. Without much energy, I pretty much just laid on a blanket on the lawn beneath the trees, watching the leaves and clearing my mind and heart to write.

Those three days on the blanket are the highlight of my summer so far (even though one of them was spent with a bag of frozen peas on my swollen face). In that time and quiet, I let a year’s worth of worry dissolve in the breezes, caught up on forgiveness, and recommitted to my quietude. 

Alas, I had reached that point I thought I’d finally grown wise enough to avoid; needing an external circumstance to slow myself down. Without the gum graft, I would have written, sure. But I doubt I would have given myself permission to take the lengthy stretches of silence that exponentially fed my writing for the rest of the month.

As of today, my last day of sabbatical, I have a working manuscript of poetry (as in: the poetry still needs work, but it’s a manuscript!). I am positive that much of its inspiration and creation came from those three days of complete chilling.  

Not everyone gets excited about a quiet month to write poetry—or even about quiet itself. But it might be worth trying the mellow way when the chance arises. In the past, I’ve tried a few of the louder and splashier and gear-laden adventures—not my cup of tea, but glad I tried. Hey, if neoprene and wingsuits float your speedboat, knock yourself out (but not literally!).

It’s great to enjoy adventures of motion, but it’s also great to enjoy adventures of stillness. Quiet doesn’t make much noise, so it doesn’t get much press. But oh, the power of it!

I’ll be in motion again soon—a little journey that I’ve been prepping for, like I do all journeys, big or small. That prepping reminded me to put the same effort into planning times of stillness in the future. May I never need another gum graft to remind me!

We all have our ways of moving through this world. Personally, I’m thrilled to lie still and watch a tree on a summer afternoon—a tree so full of leaves, it would take days just to truly see each one, let alone imagine the story of their growth. I highly recommend it.

Here’s to hearing the quiet things,

Anna

Monday, June 11, 2018

Pie in the Sky

The other day, I was hunting for a file deep in the recesses of my Dropbox folders when I found a document from over twenty years ago. It was a self-assessment essay, written for my senior portfolio as an undergraduate.

At some point, I must have transferred it from a floppy disk, and I hadn’t read it since I wrote it. I winced before clicking “open,” wondering what young Anna had “assessed.” I started to scan the double-spaced, Times New Roman font. Two paragraphs in, and it wasn’t as terrible as I’d thought. I read on. In one section, I detailed the then-highlights of my writing education. One was a seventh-grade project on The Odyssey. Calypso’s fire of the future inspired me, and I wrote an essay musing on my grown-up life.  

I was simultaneously back in my college basement apartment writing that memory and back in the grade-school classroom writing the original. Meta-historical-memory, maybe.

Toward the end of my nine-page self-assessment came this paragraph about my post-graduation dreams: “Once I have the diploma in my hands, I could find myself teaching, working on the staff of a literary magazine, publishing, curating…or even traveling as a freelance artist and poet. I cannot predict what will burn in Calypso’s fire this time, and I do not want to. Through serendipity and grace, the right things come. I am willing to wait.”

I blinked. I hadn’t realized my twenty-year-old self had known all the things she wanted to do. And then I realized I had done them all—including the “or even” of being a traveling freelance artist and poet—the least likely element on the list at the time, especially since I had no role model for that in pre-social-media 1997. It was my pie-in-the-sky dream.

Young me just reminded middle-aged me of serendipity and grace: Thank you, Anna.

Let’s remind ourselves of our dreams, live them, and keep hatching new ones. Apparently, it’s time I hatch some new dreams....

And apparently, there’s pie in the sky after all!




Monday, May 28, 2018

Growing Roses


I did not inherit my Grandmother’s green thumb. Alas, the extent of my gardening skills is buying basil plants from Trader Joe’s in the spring, plunking them into clay pots filled with soil, and watering them. Somewhat to my surprise, they are bright and abundant and flavorful—often well into October.

My basil’s success (or the fact that it doesn’t shrivel and die) is largely due to good soil from the Grange. The rich, composty stuff that kind of smells when you upend it from its unwieldy bag.  It’s all in the soil. I take zero credit for my basil.

You might be wondering why I called this post “Growing Roses” if I can barely keep a store-bought basil start alive. Well, I grow supernatural roses, if you will. And from seed, no less.

In short—as in short enough to fit on the back of a seed packet: Life is full of shit. You can either sit in and complain about the smell, or you can choose to grow roses in it.

Me? After trying both options through many seasons, I far prefer growing roses. And though I recommend this choice highly, I would add to this “seed packet’s” suggestions for care, along with the proper watering, pruning, et cetera: once you’ve made this choice—once you set your attitude out in full sunshine, don’t be surprised if you encounter people who want to stand over your new start, casting over it the shadow of their own unhappiness.

Years ago, I stood in a kitchen, cooking with a friend and her sister. I shared a story of a lesson I’d learned from a bad circumstance and how it had turned into something beautiful. My friends sister turned to me and said, “Well, don’t you just shit and it comes out roses.”

Nope. But I have learned to grow ‘em. And my secret isn’t Miracle-Gro or Garden Organics. It’s choice.

That moment in my friend’s kitchen, I saw how many connections are established in commiseration. Group lament, even when staked with humorous sarcasm, is stenchy decay at best.

But spend enough time with others who are growing roses, and before you know it, you’ve got a riotous swath of them, and the air begins to fill with their sweet fragrance.

Just as I can learn to keep plants healthy and happy in my garden if I really want to, I can learn to keep my attitude healthy and happy if I really want to. Even when things are shitty—or especially when they are.

May we all choose to cultivate green thumbs in the spirit.

Happy gardening,

Anna

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

These Beautiful Blues

From a visit to Yves Saint Laurent's Jardin Majorelle a couple of trips back
In March, Deep Travel Workshops enjoyed Larry Habegger as our instructor in Morocco. For one of his sessions, Larry asked us to write about our intention as writers—what did we hope to convey to others?

I hadn’t exactly articulated that before, and this is what came out:

“As a child, I wondered if we all saw the same colors. Is my green your blue? Is your red my yellow? With my writing, I think I want to figure out what I see, taste, feel...and to share it. To hear back what you see, taste, feel. To compare notes and knowing. To shimmy about in a synesthesia of experience—borrowing and lending. Giving and taking. Eventually, I imagine that what I write could be a color of my own mixing—a new pigment that someone else can use like I learned to use the colors of others. Maybe I hope to concoct a Majorelle blue like that of Yves Saint Laurent in Marrakech. A blue I fell so deeply in love with, I took its powdered pigment home, not knowing that by merely unscrewing the lid, the particles of color would rise up and land everywhere, turning everything I touched the color of distant seas and skies. I want to make and share an indelible reminder of unexpected beauty.”

Thanks for that prompt, Larry! (And I’m still trying to figure out what to do with that pigment….)

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Travel Philosophy with Bathtub

Fun with Photoshop: Silly Illustrations!
I was recently asked to share my travel philosophy. I couldn’t remember ever having articulated one. For years, the closest I came was a maxim I’d heard from a friend: “Take only photos, leave only footprints.”

I followed that advice as best I could, even though for many pre-smart phone years I traveled without a camera. Thankfully, I took notes. Then I started sketching and painting.  My souvenir rule for most of my 20s: whatever I brought home had to fit in the pages of my journal.

But that maxim only addresses the moments of being in a place, and I realized that if I have a philosophy of travel, it starts well before I leave home. So I decided to borrow another friend’s idea, one she passed on to me in the form of the John O’Donohue poem, “For the Traveler.” Here’s my favorite part:

Make sure, before you go,
To take the time
To bless your going forth,
To free your heart of ballast
So that the compass of your soul
Might direct you toward
The territories of spirit
Where you will discover
More of your hidden life…

The whole poem is beautiful, but I found myself drawn to this section about preparing for the journey. As someone who loves to plan, I’m not surprised this resonated with me. And it’s good advice whether you’re heading to the new coffee shop around the corner or to the ancient medina of Fez.

There is no one way to travel—as evidenced by the diversity of our seatmates on an airplane or the camels carrying us across sand dunes. But the beauty of taking time to bless our journey before we go is that we’ll have grace to deal with those seatmates, whether they have bad breath or bump around a lot (which applies to both plane passengers and camels, come to think of it). Preparing our hearts opens us up to discoveries that can get lost when we haul the ballast of our hearts around with us, leaving no room for treasures.

I have several pre-departure rituals. One is to take a bath before a long journey, even if that means turning on the tap at 4 am. The bath helps me to do several things: to choose to make moments of stillness in the busiest times in my life. To metaphorically wash away any anxieties and limiting mindsets I don’t want to bring with me. To literally be as clean as I can before hours or days of airports and unreliable hot water. And to bless the journey so that when I return home and next sink into my claw-foot tub, I’ll be a kinder and wiser traveler than when I left. Ideally, I’ll have changed my own world to better love the wider world.

Many grand quotes turn into clichés (what a wonderful problem for a truth to become familiar, right?). So I’ll end by borrowing yet another travel philosophy for daily living, this one from Proust. You’ve heard it before, but then you’ve also bathed before—some things are worth repeating on a regular basis!

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

Bon voyage to all our comings & goings, near & far!