A hippie hostel full of striped hammocks. Pitch black sky contrasted with brightly colored railings and spray-painted walls, lighters sparking on pipes and guitars strumming in happy hands. It’s all good, man. A chessboard set up next to a long wooden table where the guy named after a bird and I talked for hours about everything under the sun. Jordan called and I told him I’d call him back because I needed to finish a conversation about paying for sex. Later, I swung in a rainbow striped hammock as I had the same discussion with him. We’ve both been so busy lately that I feel a little disconnected. Afterwards, clinking cups together while the hostel guys, one with dreadlocks, the other in a blue and red striped sweater, sing in Spanish — two others accompany them on guitars. Rain pattering against a tin and wooden roof and Robin and I say goodnight as we tuck ourselves in to our little twin beds and turn off the light.
some 2018 resolutions:
summit more mountains
read more nonfiction outside of class
hike and explore + appreciate nature
start going to fitness classes again
get rid of stuff
challenge myself intellectually, both with the courses I take and independently
take care of my skin (it’s our bodies’ biggest organ!!)
look for the best in people
examine + evaluate my moods before taking them out on others
hopefully inspire more people, especially my friends, to travel. there’s so much out there to see.
Her face is a map of a lifetime on well traveled roads.
I want to get better at photography. I want to paint pictures with my words and capture them with a lens. I want to post less about myself and more about the world around me. I’m just a symbol to remind you that there’s more to see. I want to travel for my own sake but do good for others’. Eventually I’ll have to find a purpose beyond my own cranium, my own type O+ blood and veins and jumbled mess of joints and organs. If I don’t, I fear I’ll look back on my life and see all the adventures but no purpose; see memories tainted with selfishness. Because what’s the point of seeing the world if I do nothing to better it? This is a concern for future Martha to worry about, because I have a lifetime to make a difference and find a calling, but it’s a thought to keep in mind now, next year, always. The world doesn’t wait; despite all its beauty, there are problems of such a completely overwhelming magnitude that I don’t even know where to begin.
It’s strange, how a dream can wreck you.
He was here last night. Upstairs in the loft. Why? I don’t know. Maybe because I’m quick to fall and slow to move on, maybe because I hate being misunderstood and yearn for a chance to explain. But most likely because, deep down, I’m an absolute masochist. Or at least my subconscious is. I asked him to leave and he just stared at me with ocean blue eyes that perhaps explain his love for the sea. What began as a midsummer night’s dream turned into a nightmare, and I flinched away from his phantom touch. Dreams sometimes tell us more about ourselves than reality, and I think the anger and confusion in that reaction is a good indicator of my headspace.
Is it not flattering, in a way, to affect someone so deeply that they write about it?
I wanna feel the way that we did that summer night
Drunk on a feeling, alone with the stars in the sky
In the last six months or so, I’ve grown increasingly interested in minimalism. Travel, in particular, has made me realize how little I need but there is still a compulsion to buy stuff, especially at home when I have a hole in my soul that I need to fill. It’s easy to live with very little on the road, but going home and actually parting with possessions is absurdly difficult. I watched a lot of documentaries in the cabin and one, called Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things, ended with a line that stuck with me: “Love people and use things, because the opposite never works.” We all have voids in our lives, and in Western society, where many don’t struggle for money but rather for society’s skewed definitions of success, these are caused by a severe lack of free time to explore our real passions and really connect with people beyond the monotony of the workplace. I think experiences are so much more valuable than things, but how many times have I procrastinated an assignment by online shopping instead of going out and doing something? Advertising and our society give us the illusion that if we have things, our lives will be better: glamorous, carefree, envied – just like the models appear in those ads. Well, newsflash: those models are real people with real problems too. They’re characters in the plot to sell us as much as possible, even though stuff doesn’t fix our broken lives or make us happy (for long, anyway). I realize that this is a very privileged problem, because in many parts of the world, people don’t have the spare change to constantly buy buy buy. But in regards to my own little corner of the universe, I think I’m happier when I’m consuming plane tickets and views rather than trendy t-shirts that were probably manufactured in a sweatshop, and which will end up in a landfill or back in a third-world country in a few years. (Someone, somewhere, is probably wearing a white t-shirt with a picture of eighth grade anorexic me sitting on an alligator, and that’s the strangest thing to think about.) For more on this, watch the documentary The True Cost.
“I wish everybody could become rich and famous so they could realize it’s not the answer.” – Jim Carey
one day I’ll paint the perfect sunset – if only I can find the words.
I’ve noticed that when I don’t take pictures with a camera, my mind remembers the moment better. I saw the most breathtaking sunset today and no lens could pick up on the richness of the yellow and orange, the lightness of the pink, the deepness of the blue, or the way the clouds and light all mixed together to form the most stunning shade of lavender. I still have the image in my head, long after the sun has set. I only wish I knew how to paint, so I could bring it to life the way an iPhone camera never could.
Tonight we visited a mausoleum. We drove on winding roads and hiked a path through the snow, our way lit only by a headlamp as we trekked to stand upon the grave of nearly 2,500 German soldiers. All the names were engraved into the stone walls and floors, their ranks next to meaningless as I realized that nearly all of them were around my age when they died. Early, mid-twenties. It was strange being there. I’m a history major concentrating in twentieth century Germany – I find the Nazis and the Third Reich fascinating, but twisted. As I walked among the graves, I wondered whether I should feel sorry for these men. They had fought for what we now deem an awful cause (well, I guess that depends on who “we” are), but many of them were likely drafted or enlisted without knowing what they were fighting for. They were so young, and isn’t the death of youth always a tragedy?
As we emerged, I looked up and stared at the stars. It was so dark, with no light pollution or clouds to disrupt our view of the universe. I wish I could adequately describe the majesty of that picture, ingrained in my mind but invisible to a camera lens. The snow-topped trees opened up to a dome of inky blue-black sky speckled with thousands of twinkling balls of incandescent light. I saw the two Dippers, Orion’s Belt, Scorpius, the North Star. Even the Milky Way. Although we didn’t see the aurora borealis like I’d hoped, I felt an incredible sense of wonder. How small we are, down here at the bottom of a snow globe, just specks of dust living on a slightly larger speck of dust in an enormous galaxy of fire and ice, darkness and light.
There are moments of doubt when traveling, of course. Periods of loneliness, lack of sleep, the drudge of physically moving myself and the stuff on my back from one place to another, over and over again, take their toll. It’s easy to miss my own bed, or my mom’s voice, or the pure happiness with which my dog greets me when I come home. It’s easy to feel alone. But all these moments are just that: moments. Brief blips in a grand adventure that I want to become my life. Back home, it’s easier to settle or convince myself that I could travel for holidays and live a “normal” life. But then I step on a plane and a day later I’m in a different world, yet it’s the same one and I’m reminded of why I love this and why it’s so important for me to do. If I were diagnosed with cancer tomorrow and the doctors told me there was little chance of surviving, I’d pack my bags and see as much of the world as I could before departing it. Because not exploring, not adventuring, not meeting people from other continents and cultures and seeing where they come from for myself – that would kill me faster than any disease. It would destroy my spirit, and I don’t want to live or die with regrets. That says something, doesn’t it? After all, wasn’t it Ghandi who said we should live as if we’ll die tomorrow? (But learn as if we’ll live forever; hence, I’m finishing my degree.)
I keep finding myself pulled back to a conversation I had in Amsterdam. It began with a simple request to watch my stuff, then an introduction, then two hours of talking about every topic under the sun. And to Brussels, where I found someone who shares my dream of moving to Australia to live in a camper van for awhile, and who faces the same problem of people back home just not wanting or being enough for those of us with stars in our eyes and the world in our souls. Then to Tallinn, where I went upstairs to order a taxi and ended up learning about an old Prussian train outside an abandoned sugar factory in Germany, the origin of cashews, and that a 5,000,000,000 note during Yugoslavia’s inflation would’ve only bought me a week’s worth of groceries. The coolest, happiest, most inquisitive, positive, and easygoing people I’ve met are travelers and I cannot explain how much they inspire me to be more, do more. To give my curiosity and all the experiences this world has to offer my very best. To create a free, happy, and fulfilling life, even if that life isn’t one society deems acceptable.
I’ve read two really good books recently, both of which I picked up spontaneously at an independent bookstore in South Kensington. Silence in the Age of Noise really made me consider and reflect upon disconnecting in order to more deeply connect with ourselves and the world around us. And The Descent of Man was an illuminating read on masculinity and how it is not only harmful to women but also to the men who emulate it (as well as those who don’t); it made me want to read more books on gender studies. I know so many smart people who know so much about so many different things, all because they’re inquisitive and not lazy with their curiosity; instead, they foster it and pursue knowledge wherever they can. I want to be more like that, instead of drudging through what’s required of me at school and stopping there with the halfhearted excuse that there’ll be plenty of time after my university years are over to become wise and learn the things I want to learn. That’s bullshit; there will always be a reason not to seek more knowledge and it’s stupid to continue stifling my curiosity out of laziness or exhaustion. I’ve ignored it for so long that I rarely register it rising to the surface anymore, and that’s been an incredibly disturbing realization over the course of this trip. Luckily, at the ripe young age of nineteen, I can correct my mistake and turn a bad habit into a better one with practice and rearranging my priorities in this hectic thing we call life.
It’s sad that I might have lost a friend through this. I write for many reasons – for the practice, the release, the fun of it – but I never write for others’ hurt or benefit, and I don’t write at anyone. I like when people tell me they relate to my words or that I articulated something they couldn’t. I like to write and I like to help people. Both, in turn, help me. So I won’t apologize for being human and having emotions and sharing them through words in order to relate to others and have others relate to me. But I am sorry if any of those words have been misconstrued or hurt anyone, because that is never ever my intention. And if anyone felt uncomfortable by me working myself out on my own platform, I’m sorry that was enough to lose them. Because it’s never really about anyone else; it’s about me. Our words are a reflection of who we are and above most things, I value honesty. I’m thankful to a friend who told me recently, in more or less these words, “You write for yourself. You don’t owe anyone an explanation for that.” It was reassurance that echoed nineteenth century British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli: “Never apologize for showing feeling. When you do so, you apologize for the truth.”
So with that long and scattered update of my headspace, it’s time for bed. xx
“Goodnight and great love to you. We see the same stars.” – George Mallory, from a letter to his wife Ruth during the 1921 Everest Reconnaissance Expedition
‘If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.’ – J.R.R. Tolkien
My skin is crawling with the feel of the city. I’m in London, a city that just a few days ago I would have described as one of my favorites in the world, and I can’t bear it. It’s too loud, too crowded, too full when all I want is green space and open skies and some bloody peace and quiet. The hostel hasn’t helped; it’s obnoxiously noisy and evidently none of my roommates understand basic hostel etiquette. I think I liked Edinburgh better, but it’s too late – I’m stuck here.
I’m used to feeling dissatisfied with places. I want to be elsewhere all the time, which I think is the definition of the metaphor “itchy feet.” But it’s different when you are elsewhere, when you’re on what’s supposed to be a grand, albeit short, adventure and you’re not happy with where you are, or the choice you made to be there. I hate feeling stuck, but I’m having dinner with my dad’s friend tomorrow night and I fly to Estonia early Monday morning, so I don’t have much wiggle room and I hate that. Not to mention, the friends I’d hoped to see here in London haven’t been too keen on nailing down a plan and the Warner Bros studio tour I’ve wanted to do for years is booked until February (sometimes you really shouldn’t wing it).
I’ve prioritized written journaling so far on this trip, but I guess I’m writing here because I need someone to tell me, “I’ve been there.” Why I don’t just reach out to my travel friends, I don’t know; perhaps because it feels a bit less whiny to complain in my own forum rather than to someone else. The last time I felt this way was in Vienna, but at least there I had an entire modern flat to myself and it didn’t get dark at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. It’s hard because my favorite thing to do is wander and end up in a park with a book in my hands, but it’s just too fecking cold for that. I need to get more into coffee culture, but sitting in a cafe isn’t the same as feeling the sun on your face and fresh air in your lungs.
It amazes me, how kind people can be. Today I was so sick. I stayed in bed for 19 hours straight, only getting up to hydrate. A Lithuanian guy arrived late in the afternoon and we chatted a bit before falling asleep. I was going to go to the city center with him tonight but didn’t feel up to it, and instead of being disappointed or just leaving, he went and got me a cup of tea. Then the guy sleeping next to me gave me some decongestant medicine. It’s small but significant acts of kindness like these that overwhelm my heart. The compassion people go out of their way to show is incredible and reminds me that, at their core, most people are really good.