A Night on Jabal Shams

A couple of weeks ago we spent the night on Oman’s highest mountain, Jabal Shams (in English, that means The Sun Mountain). It was a remarkable experience and one I won’t soon forget. I haven’t had the chance to show you photos yet but, as I finally have my new laptop (yay!), I can now give you a glimpse into our camping adventure. Enjoy!

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This road doesn’t mess around. While the grade on the sign might be slightly hyperbolic, it wasn’t too far off.

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Chris does the driving on these roads. I am a huge wuss about them, particularly when we’re going down. I don’t do well with edges.

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Once we made it to the top, we got our first glimpse of the Grand Canyon of Oman. They say it’s over a kilometer from where we’re standing to the bottom of Wadi Ghul.

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To get to our campsite (that’s our little blue tent there), we hiked a trail called the Balcony Walk, which took us down from the top and along the edge of the canyon into an old, abandoned village. It’s a long way in and we kept thinking about just how remarkable it was that people used to live here, particularly when we finally got a glimpse of their farming strategy. If you see look at the last terrace there on the bottom of the farm above, the next step from would drop you off a sheer cliff thousands of feet long. From our first vantage point of the village, we could barely even make out that it was there, it is so small in comparison to the grandeur around it. Our tent is even less significant.

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I must say, the heights did lend themselves to spectacular views and we got the best camp site in the canyon. This was what we saw out of our tent.

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After we set up camp, we roamed around in the abandoned village for a while. I still don’t know how people managed to live here.

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The next morning, we woke up to this. Clouds formed in the canyon and floated up as the sun warmed the air.

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Above our campsite was the water source that made this whole village viable. Water drips from the rocks constantly, filling this pool with fresh, clear water. When the rains come, the pool overflows and cascades in a waterfall to the village below. There they collect it and distribute it out to the farms. Quite a handy system.

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My favorite part of the whole adventure may have been the caves behind the pool. They were so surreal and out of place in Oman. Nothing is that wet here. There were ferns and moss and I am almost certain I even saw a fig tree. It was gorgeous.

We only stayed one night but it was such a perfect experience and so deeply relaxing we felt like we’d been out of the city for a week.

Sigh.

Until next time, Jabal Shams.

Know Your Agenda

Last week I realised that I have the power to take on work that aligns with my agenda. What I had a hard time pinning down was exactly what my agenda is.

I’m a creative person so, at any given time, I have about a billion and one ideas about what I could spend my energy on. I’ve got ideas for blog posts, podcasts, videos, books, products, businesses, you name it, rolling around in my head constantly. I never have a hard time filling my time.

What I do have a hard time filling my time with is things that are actually important to my life overall. I’ve gone off the rails a bit recently and started bingeing on junk food projects instead of focusing on the meat and potatoes that will sustain me emotionally, physically, mentally and creatively long term.

The thing about meat and potatoes projects is that they fall into the icky category. Not icky in their purpose but icky in their execution. They matter more, but they take more time. Lots of time, usually. They need to be broken down into smaller chunks and you need to be patient and keep your eye on the prize. I would rather eat a whole tube of Pringles, Cookie Monster-style*, than wait for a pot roast to simmer for seven hours. I’m not a patient person.

If you’ve ever read Wait But Why – particularly his posts on procrastination (links here for 1, 2 and 3) – you might pin me down as an Impostinator. And you’d be totally right. I can find a dozen things that I want to be doing right now because they feel urgent for one reason or another. It often cripples me from doing the actually important things for my life as a whole.

So this week, I sat down and really looked at the important stuff in my life, the big-ticket items that will take some time but that ultimately provide a well-rounded diet for my life.

Here are the Top 3 things I came up with:
  • Opening our dive centre – This is huge for us. Chris and I have talked about it for ages and it is something we both want in a very real way. We’ve started laying out our plans and making decisions that will take us in this direction. It’s scary, it’s complicated, it’s exciting, it’s the biggest, most important thing in our lives right now. I’m crazy excited about it.
  • Enjoying our time in Oman – Things here are slightly unstable, not for us so much as for the country as a whole. While low gas prices are great for many people, for those selling the gas it means a huge financial strain. We know we’ll be here for this year. We don’t know what will happen after that in the job market. That means we want to really explore and enjoy the country for the time we know we have in it. There’s still so much to do!
  • Quality time with my peeps – This one is slightly tricky as most of my peeps live across a really big pond. It is incredibly important for me to nurture my relationships with my friends and family, no matter how far away they are. It means a lot of Skype dates, a lot of texting at inconvenient times, and a lot of navigating through the world of keeping-in-touch apps that never seem to do exactly what I need them to do for everyone I talk to. It’s a pain. But I love them enormously and I can’t do any of the other things in my life that matter without them in it.

Narrowing my agenda down to these three actually important things means that I can now check any opportunities or project ideas I have against this list. If they push these things forward, I’m on it. If they take away from them, no way. It’s a really useful tool for knowing what to say yes to and, much harder for me, knowing what to say no to.

It also lets me see how I can double up on my energy. For example, if I had an opportunity to work at a dive shop in Oman it would benefit both our future dive shop and my enjoyment of Oman. Bonus! If I had a chance to explore Oman with my friends here, it would be a double win. Sweet! And opening our dive centre means having a place where friends and family can come visit on the cheap. Fabulous!

Knowing what my agenda is has made it crystal clear what I need to be working on – and what I don’t. It gives my work a focus and my energy a direction. It cuts through the crap and gets to the heart of my desires and hopes for the future.

It also makes me feel exposed. Seeing what actually matters to me has highlighted how much energy I’ve spent on other things in an attempt to avoid diving into some icky jobs. It’s so much easier to sit on the couch and eat junk food than spend hours in the kitchen slaving away. But I’m finally hungry for some meat and potatoes, no matter how much work it takes to make them happen.

*Cookie Monster knows his agenda.

Being an Expat – The Real Deal

There are a lot of things people don’t tell you about being an expat. You see these world travellers, people out there “living their dreams” and it seems like the most romantic, fulfilling life in the world. I’m not here to tell you it sucks. I’m here to tell you it’s just another way of living life.

Expats get a lot of, “Yeah, but you live in London!” or “Yeah, but you live in Oman!” or “Yeah, but you live in Bali!” The key word there being live. We live in those places. We have jobs in those places. We pay rent in those places. We get stuck in traffic jams in those places. It’s life. It’s our actual life. We don’t spend every minute of every day gallivanting about barefoot on the beach or backpacking our way through the countryside. We do those things on the weekend. When we have enough time and money. Like everyone else in the world who has to work for a living.

And another thing. We don’t just plop down and live somewhere. No, no. There are visas. There are papers that need stamping. There are rules that change at the drop of a hat. There are hidden fees and shady deals and who-you-knows. We have to purposefully commit to being the places we are. We have to decide that we want to be somewhere badly enough that we are willing to put up with all the shit that comes as part of the package. Visa runs. Hiring moratoriums. Regulatory chaos.

I put up with more crap, more bureaucracy living abroad than I ever did or ever would at home. In many, many ways it’s far easier to stay home where you know the system, where you are part of it and not an outsider, where your voice might actually have an impact on the rules that govern you.

It’s not an easy life. It’s not a stable life. Friends come and go in waves. You will come and go, having to get your feet under you again every time. Places that were easy to live in, full of opportunity and growth can turn. The industries propping up the country can break down and the whole game can change over night.

Being an expat isn’t a wonderful, magical escape from the frustrations and inequalities of life at home. If anything, there are more of both. Enough more to sometimes make you question why you do it at all.

But then you remember that every day you meet people who make you see the world in a new way. You laugh with them about how you’re completely different. You smile with them about how you are exactly the same. And every once in a while you have enough free time to explore the majestic landscapes that brought you here in the first place.

Those are the things that make it all worth it.

Have Your Own Agenda

Ira Glass wrote something that stuck out to me. Have your own agenda.

We all want to work for ourselves. That’s the dream. But even when we are working for other people, we can still have our own agenda.

I used to do this all the time. I saw my jobs as tools that I leveraged to get the things I wanted. I got a nearly-free Bachelor’s degree from one, cheap hotels from another and all the chocolate I could eat from yet another. I always took jobs that  gave me more than a paycheck. Even my application decisions were calculated. I didn’t see any other way of doing it. If I was going to give them my time and my energy, I wanted to get things back that added to my life as a whole. Free books. Free public transport. Whatever it was, I always had an agenda. There was always an angle I was working. And why not?

Now that I am not working in a traditional way, however, I find that I am all over the map. I throw out energy hither and thither with no real reason or purpose. I have things I want to achieve, yes, but I seem to latch on to anything that promises a little bit of money in the short term and I no longer weigh big picture factors as heavily.

I haven’t had as much choice in my jobs lately, so much of it has been a matter of survival. I get that. But I realised today that even in the midst of this situation, even when I really need a job just to pay the bills and save up for the future, I still have a choice. I can still find ways to get more than a paycheck out of the jobs I am doing. And if a potential job doesn’t match my agenda, I can say no to it and use my energy more effectively, putting it into things that serve the bigger picture, not just the next paycheck.

Our Big Dream

There’s something I’ve wanted to share with you for a long time, a story I want you to be a part of,  involved in, helping to direct. But I’ve been really freaked out that it is not that interesting for you, that it is me just talking about my life and that’s not a very exciting or meaningful thing when you’ve got all kinds of other things going on in yours.

I don’t know why I’ve cared so much, but I have.

Maybe it’s because I really want to include you in the story, make you a part of it, get your ideas and your insights, learn from you, share with you and interact with you along the way. The idea that you might not find it remotely interesting, that you will be bored to tears by it is just too much for me to handle.

I’ve finally decided to tell you anyway.

What I want to share with you is our dream. Chris and I have a dream that we have talked about for years. It’s something that lights us both up in a way that nothing else ever has. When we start talking about it, the vision is so clear, the purpose of it so strong that it feels like it is anchored in my chemical makeup. It feels like the thing I am meant to do with my life. It feels like what I was put here for. But, it is not going to be easy. It’s going to take some time. It’s going to take some dedication, and it’s going to take a lot of pushing when we might feel like we’re out of gas.

What we want is to create a place that makes a positive difference to a community (two communities, actually) and the surrounding environment. We want to create a home away from home for travellers – a place where they can feel completely at ease and where they can reconnect with nature. We also want to create a place that adds value to the surrounding area –  a place that builds up the people who are associated with it and puts that value back into the community and environment.

Our dream is to open a small guest house (maybe 10 rooms or so) and accompanying dive centre somewhere in east Asia (probably). We don’t know where yet, that will depend on timing and funds. We don’t know how yet – we are both totally freaked out but crazy excited at the same time to see how it unfolds.

We do know a few things though. We know we want it to embody some fundamental concepts:

  • It will support the local economy. We will hire locals and use local vendors. We will decorate with local artists. We will support local businesses by teaming up with them. We will tap into the knowledge of the people who have been there forever and give them fair compensation for their time and effort.
  • It will be as eco-friendly, sustainable, etc as possible. We have a lot of ideas about this and we have a lot to learn to make them happen, but we want to eliminate plastic at our hotel, organise clean up dives for the reefs,  and educate locals and visitors alike in the value of respecting nature.
  • We want it to be about people. We will create a welcoming environment that helps people unwind and relax but also helps them meet new people, learn about new places and cultures, and feel at home no matter how far they have come to get there. We will treat our staff well, pay them fairly, give them holidays and sick leave, ask only for reasonable working hours and give them an education that they can build on in the future.

That’s it. That’s our dream. That’s where we’re headed and where we hope to end up. We mostly don’t know what we’re doing, but we know we want to do this. We also know that we’ll need a lot of ideas and support from other people to make it happen.

My big dream in sharing this with you is that you will journey along with us and help us make it the place we envision – help us choose our location, cast your votes for the hotel design, share your ideas for eco-friendly systems we can use to make it even more green, maybe even come and visit us when it’s all said and done.

Who knows. Maybe it’s possible to do it without you, but it would be a whole lot more fun to have you along for the ride.

See you next week,

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You Are Here

http://dornob.com/you-are-here-3-real-life-works-of-digital-map-inspired-art/

Apparently some really nerdy (aka awesome) artists do projects based on digital map graphics. Check out more here.

You are here.

For the last few months this has been a kind of mantra for me, something I go back to when I am feeling lost or overwhelmed. It centers me and reminds me of my place in the world, the space I take up in it. It gives me perspective. It gives me freedom. It makes me appreciate what is around me and it makes me feel like I’m part of something that matters. Plus, it’s map nerd-ery – always a bonus in my eyes.

You are here reminds me that I take up space in the world – actual, physical space. That I am part of the world – glued to it by gravity, breathing it in, pooping it out. No matter how much time I spend in my head, the reality is that I am here, physically present in the world, taking part in it and sharing it with everyone else –  even on the days I wish I wasn’t.

You are here reminds me that the space I take up is a space that no one else can. I am the only collection of these molecules and these experiences in all of time and space (Maybe. I guess statistically and astrophysically speaking there might be another one of me. I’d really like to meet her). At moments that perspective makes me feel entitled, but more often it makes me feel like part of a much bigger picture. It makes me feel a responsibility to respect the fact that I am here, that I do exist, that I have a presence and that it’s my job to make the most of it. It makes me very grateful.

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You are here reminds me that I have choice. I imagine myself on one of the walks I did in London and remember the excitement and overwhelming sense of curiosity I felt when I came to an intersection full of streets I’d never seen before. You are here means I have the choice. At any given time, in any given part of my life, I am always standing at the intersection of choice. I can dive into whichever option looks the most appealing or exciting to me at that exact moment. That’s insanely liberating.

You are here reminds me not to push myself too hard. I want to be really good at everything and I very regularly compare myself to people who are way ahead of me in the game (based on my completely arbitrary calculation) – much to my emotional detriment. You are here reminds me that everything is a process, that I am where I am at, no more, no less. Sometimes I can settle into that, be comfortable being where I am. Other times it causes ridiculous frustration. But you are here is a fact. It’s a reality check. It doesn’t judge or enable. It just is. You just are. You can’t argue with it, which I find huge relief in.

You are here reminds me that there is no competition in life, there is no final destination to which we are all running, trying to beat each other along the way. There really isn’t. There are billions of us, all with our own goals, prospects and concepts of success and achievement. There is no race, there is no competition, therefore there is no need for comparison. I am where I am at. You are where you are at. We are. We can help each other out or share our story, but we are not going the same places. And that’s a good thing.

It’s a good thing, maybe the most important thing, because you are here reminds me that I am not alone. I am one pin on the map. One person moving around, living my life, trying to improve myself and the lives of the people around me. I take up the space I take up, I am a unique individual with my own set of choices and challenges. But so is everyone else. We are all doing the same thing. We are all finding our way, making our mark on the map. When I zoom out and see it all, when I let myself be one tiny dot in the confetti of beautiful people living perfectly ordinary lives, I get a true sense of what it actually means to be.

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Choose Three Things….any three things

Hello again.

It’s me again.

And I need your help.

I’ve been tinkering around a lot with the book I mentioned last time – making lists of people whose work I admire and lists of the people they find inspiring so I can read them all as soon as possible; spending excessive amounts of time perusing graphic novels and making note of which styles appeal to me most; sketching a very rough layout of the key points of my story…I’ve been busy.

As I mentioned previously, I have no real history in illustration. I doodled a lot when I was younger and I sketch here and there when I journal, but I haven’t really tried to publicly express myself in a visual form before.

This is where you come in.

I need practice drawing. And I want it to be a real challenge – something that will push me forward by changing my frame of reference and force me to work with new concepts while I learn this new skill. I don’t want to get boxed in. I want to play with different forms, different styles, different ways of drawing. I want to try lots of things.

So.

I have 24 postcards sitting on my desk. I want to send one to you. All I ask of you is that you tell me three things to draw on the postcard. Any three things (obviously within socially appropriate bounds) for me to ponder on and decide how to stick together on one card.

Two examples so far are:

  • a mermaid, a hula hoop and a glass of wine
  • bunting, One Direction and Marmite.

I’m still working on that last one…

Anyway. I would love to make a card for you and use it as a way to practice this whole drawing thing. So click this link and tell me three things (any three things) I can draw for you. The sky’s the limit.

I look forward to staring at the screen in bemusement and trepidation when I receive your request.

Love,

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PS. For those of you who have requested cards already but haven’t received them, first, my apologies. Secondly, I will use the ideas from the brilliant descriptions of yourselves you gave me to make a special card for you.

Thanks for sharing about yourselves, by the way. Your stories make my day every time!


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Fluffy Sofas and Domestic Bliss (or not)

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A strange thing happened this morning. I woke up giddily excited about the day. The day. Not anything it contains, not anything that will happen in particular. Just the day itself. The fact that it exists. I haven’t felt that way for a very long time and I am pretty excited about it.

There are a few reasons I think this might have happened (and hopefully will continue happening). I’ve been really focusing lately on the way I think about the events in my life and how I chose what things I do (and don’t do). I have learned a few things since moving here (ok, re-learned the same things again, for the millionth time) that have made me approach my life and my attitude differently. It feels good. It feels fresh. It feels like I am walking through a forest, smelling the pine trees and fresh dirt and feeling happy to be alive. It’s really nice.

I’ve been wanting to share a few of these ideas with you (I’ve missed our chats!), but as I started writing about each one they got long enough to be their own post. So I will just start with the one that is on my mind most today: expectations.

Moving to London

When I moved to London, I was SO freaking excited. I could barely contain myself. But in the last couple of months leading up to the move, I also felt some serious fear and frustration because, although I was DYING to get there, I couldn’t picture what my life would look like at all. I had no idea how to envision it. I knew I would be studying and that’s about it. I had no idea where I would live, who I would live with, what friends I might meet, what my classes would be like, what my university would look like, nothing. Absolutely nothing. And looking back, although that really caused me a huge amount of stress in the lead-up to the move, it was the greatest gift I could have been given.

I walked into London with no expectations at all. Not one. It was amazing. I truly made every day my own. Everyone was a new friend waiting to be met. Every street was a little present waiting to be unwrapped. Every walk was an adventure. I watched every day play out however it chose to and not only appreciated that I was there for it but experienced unbridled joy at the thought that I was lucky enough to be in the middle of it all. It was really one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had.

Now, let’s compare that to my most recent change. Continue reading