Friday, December 16, 2011

Balancing Sotuba Camp with a Metronome

Until I was able to pick up a trumpet in 5th grade, I loved playing the piano. Never too fond of the houses/classrooms I took lessons in, I did enjoy the feel of the long, slender keys and the beautiful sounds that human hands could make. To this day, I relish in musical interludes when a piano solo balances out a good beat. I'd also say that other than hearing two or three people weave their voices together, or hearing a great percussion solo, hearing a piano hits a special chord (no pun intended).

A custom-engraved bracelet from a silversmith in Tombouctou (Timbuktu)!
Being in my host family's house here in the Sotuba area of Bamako produces a lot of feelings that bring me back to my younger years. I had a great upbringing with 99.9% positive memories, but the feeling of mixed sadness and anticipation of being left at a Lutheran bible summer camp when we were about eleven years old is one that I recalled recently, here in Bamako. Back then, I knew deep down it'd be fine in the end, and that I might even enjoy it at times. I really did. But I was never one for programs or what felt like dorky group things were being forced on me.

A few other examples of this feeling...

1) Talahi Elementary's after school "KidStop" program. I know for a fact I went on only one occasion. I cried the entire time. They had to bring me outside in the cold, drizzling rain to watch my brother play flag football instead of cut out an owl in the cafeteria.

2) Daycare - Also a one time event. I was younger, probably 7 or 8. We went about six houses down, at Beckman's. I walked in circles around the play area watching toddlers play and cry, not engaging with anyone. As soon as my mom got there, she knew it wasn't our thing.

3) Anything that involved trying to be insta-friends with a bands of kids who knew the world of uncomfortable socializing all too well. ie: Ringette: a "new sport" that was like hockey for girls, except without hockey sticks and pucks, you had a ring thing and a pole with a round end on it that shuffled the ring around ice. Haven't heard of it? Most haven't. It was season one, and season end.

Here in Bamako, I get these feelings every Sunday night when I'm dropped off here. Does this make me anti-social? Introverted? Maybe both. I try really hard to be upbeat in my role as an English tutor, so maybe it's the pressure of this new role along with being a foreigner where my actions are observed and many times, questioned.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, I feel a strange sense of calm when I'm in my bedroom here. It's a simple set up, with a bed, chair, armoire, nightstands, an exercise ball and a bathroom connected. Lovely, right? I think so. When I first moved in, Laura told me that the air conditioning is not to be used during daylight hours since there isn't enough electricity for the kitchen. The a/c can be used for sleeping at night. Daytime hours use ceiling fans that are set up in most rooms. Completely used to the heat while living in my uptown, non-air conditioned apartment this past summer, I have no problem with this.

The ceiling fan in my room acts as a metronome. Supposedly, it was poorly installed. After the initial danger of it spinning off completely and landing on my bed, I realized its just an imperfect install. And now, I'm in love with it's ability to drown out the shrieks, arguments, television theme songs, and the sound of large trucks that pass by every couple hours behind the house. Although I've been told it is obnoxious during skype calls with family and friends, my Solstar fan metronome is the perfect rhythmic connection that brings my central Minnesota piano-playing past into the present, wherever that is.

Oh, and Christmas is in a week? I want snow, but I've heard it's not even white in Minnesota yet. Is that right? Maybe I'll watch Love Actually (thanks Liana!) while indulging in a few pieces of Phemie's lefse with brown sugar with Mia's biscotti.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Dusting Off Mid-December

It's been difficult to come up with a general theme for this blogpost which is quite overdue. Partly because I've had malaria and ate something wretched two weeks ago, partly because I'm busy (yeah we all are, I know. blah blah blah) but largely because the daily explosion of random events make me think they each need their own post if not for the sensitivity of the subjects. That said, I'll write this up as a rough outline of major activity.
There is absolutely nothing unusual or ridiculous about this image... in Mali.
The part that I get stuck on here in Bamako, Mali is that there is little which makes any sense at all. I can't exactly speak for outside of the city - as I've heard life is quite different there and obviously, in other parts of Africa - but within the madness here, I find myself shaking my head a lot at people who risk their lives without batting an eye. Don't get me wrong, I'm not the most prudent law abiding citizen, but I do think I want to live. I don't want to turn right from the left lane in front of a large SUV, for instance, while on a scooter with no helmet. I don't want to cross the highway at strolling speed. Now multiply this by ten. Half on your left, half on your right. Your eyes dart between the two before realizing it's safer to look at nothing too carefully. Sort of like looking through blackness at night which becomes clearer if you don't focus. It's had me honestly wondering where on earth the phrase "common sense" ever came from.

I've struggled to define the days here as part of a culture shock. Of course the nuances hit me hard sometimes as I long for a day where I can go outside without being stared at incessantly for exercising, but it feels more like us Westerners get stuck in a crossfire of irritation, sickness and the upheaval of random adventures. I'd love one day without streets teeming with potholes and people wanting to be given money or things. Let's face it: I feel more foreign here than I did in all of California (laugh as you may, this had honestly been a huge culture shock for me at first!), Latin America, Canada and all European countries combined. Yep, I'm living in a massive dusty, dirty African village complaining. I sometimes get my head stuck on that weird Baz Luhrmann song from like senior year of high school that talks about life where it says "live in New York but more before it makes you hard; live in California but move before it makes you soft." Cliche as the idea is in theory, Luhrman, darling, you ain't seen or smelled a hospital in Mali. Point blank.

I've not yet seen anyone drop bundles four times this size (we're talking folded mattresses tied with twine).
4th graders.
Onto other topics...

I really adore the American International School of Bamako, or AISB. The two days a week I spend there are filled with art, ESOL and outdoor gym classes - with small class sizes of 8 to 15 kids - and really interesting young people from all over the world. (Literally, 200 students from over 30 nations.) Beside the younger grades where paper cutting, glitter, and pastels are popular, I also teach a few tech-savvy kids in the high school class about graphic design. The school director asked if I'd lead the creation of the new school brochure and literature for potential students and teacher recruits with them, so we're going nuts for Photoshop's less fortunate half-sister, a free program called Gimp.

Since I'm only at the school on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7:25 to 3:30pm, I do my writing on Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and as necessary on Tues/Thurs after tutoring my host sisters, Laura (12) and Iría (10), when they need help. Or maybe it's more like when I need entertainment. They're crazy cool chics, really smart and really confident.

Outside of AISB.
To make it even better, Laura and Iría are enthusiastic about learning English. Although the banter in the household remains in Portuguese and French (about 70/30), they explain things quite well to me which makes for good practice (I pretend I can't hear the latin roots).

Laura loves to help cook food in the kitchen, do her homework right when she gets home, and pick my brain about interior design and architecture. She's a gentle, thoughtful older sister but, like all big sisters, has her patience tried enough to bust out the discipline when necessary. Laura seems to be somewhat quiet and mellow with her classmates, and is very well-liked. But I love her ability to question everything. I could see her doing something in academia someday - challenging professors so much they'd need her to get on their team. She's going to be very tall too. Maybe I can convince her that sports aren't so bad...

Iría has a different personality than Laura even though they get along flowingly (when she's not singing at the top of her lungs). She bubbles over with so much infectious energy that she ignites a room. In public, she's quiet and polite, but at home, her laughter erupts at the dinner table on a nightly basis as she throws wigs on her dad and sings the latest LMFAO song while pushing the meat and vegetables around on her plate. I sometimes wonder how her huge personality got wrapped up into her tiny little frame...then you see her on the soccer field and it all makes sense. She's a spitfire and should be run nonstop. Before or after not eating dinner, she sneaks into the kitchen to make sweet treats, like crepes with globs of Nutella or lemonade with spoonfuls of sugar.
My host family: Laura (back), Emerithe and Iría (front). Not pictured: Mario.

I brought my yoga dvd to the house right after moving in and have done it a few times with Emerithe. The girls hated it. They said stretching hurt too much. Emerithe hits the gym each morning after dropping the girls (and I) off at school and somehow still has energy sometimes to do my 71-minute power yoga. If you met her, you'd understand how. She's a strong, gregarious, tall force to be reckoned with. A woman who loves to laugh and wear bright colors makes me adore this lady. A couple weeks back she fired their household help, Sali. Since the incident, all of her friends tell her they'll hire her to come take care of any type of issues that require "a firm backbone" since they're likely aware of the volume and opinions she has no problem sharing.

Fresh air but uninviting appearances - the outskirts of Bamako. 

Last week there was some confusion about if and when the family would be leaving Bamako for good, for a holiday vacation, or not at all. I had spoken with people about finding a new homestay this week since they'd be flying out late on the 14th (Wednesday). But as soon as I informed Mario and Emerithe of my finding a more stable living situation, they said only Mario and possibly Emerithe are now leaving. We shall see what happens. Clearly I wouldn't be able to act as head of household in their absence - driving, grocery shopping and managing the place while they're gone - and also, that is not the reason I am staying here with them in the first place. Needless to say, I've maintained sanity being as flexible as I can with the seesaw of staying and moving, as well as the hit-or-miss understanding of mixing languages.

Besides this, I'm getting very excited for the holiday season to come! The school has a break from the 23rd of December until classes begin again on the 9th of January. I look forward to relaxing a little, focusing on my writing and enjoying the time off before I get the students as a full-time art teacher for the month. I'll likely work day and night for those few weeks, but that's okay in the short-term.

I wish I could talk more about everything - since there are plenty of great stories, great kids at AISB, and memorable experiences that surround my weekends with American folks in the ACI 2000 neighborhood - but I'll leave those to emails and skype sessions. For now, know that we miss the snowfalls and holiday decorations that are light the chilly U.S. skies and wish that snowboarding, cross-country skiing, lefse-making and thick sweater-wearing coffee mornings would be in our cards so badly. But alas, it's still 90-100F... and I'll never complain about not shivering, promise. 

Thankfully, we're feeling all powered up by the incredible goodies from the care package that came over the past couple of weeks (you know who you are!). There is nothing better than knowing there's a piece of home in my back pocket as I start each day in this faraway land.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Merry Tabaski!

Just like in the states, there is never a dull moment during the week prior to the Malian Christmas of Tabaski.

Some sheep are wrapped around people on scooters, others are led by a rope down the boulevards of highways. The rest are amass along dirt ditches into the thousands. I didn't want to eat them. In my silent protest to the mass slaughtering, we offered to throw the Tabaski party at our house for a bunch of traditional, young Tabaski-celebrating friends so I wouldn't offend the chef. On top of it, they'd get to partake in some delicious, vegetable-filled side dishes :)

Backing up though...

It all began on a warm Friday afternoon at 2:30pm.

I arrived in 100 degree dry heat after the SUV meandered through congested highways and then onto dirt roads before entering into the enclosed estate. Upon walking through the front door I was greeted by my friends Mariam and Rahma. I wandered after them through the dimly lit, cavernous hallways of their home. Supposedly, we were heading to an area dedicated to only women. The walls are purposely left stark - apart from the portrait or two of women in their family dressed in traditional Tuareg attire.

Upon entering, I noticed the following:
1) a lengthy wall-lined sofa that sits 6 inches off of the floor
2) the TV playing "The Biggest Loser" in English with Arabic subtitles
3) the fan pumping fresh 100 degree air through the large screened-in window.
4) a small orange cat named Bush-bush that they say so quickly it comes out "bshbsh" in one syllable.
5) Mariam's mother and the other elderly woman talking in what seemed to be a constant, beautiful flow of Arabic and Tamasheq.

A woman was getting her henna done when I arrived, so I snapped a couple pics. I hadn't met her, but she smiled at me and laughed a lot. We all did actually, this was the tone set for the entire day. Between their storytelling and reactions, and my hand gesturing to say I didn't need more rice, more stew, more bread, more water, or more juice - I couldn't help but smile thinking of Liana's warning me of the custom to fill up the guest even when she eats to be polite and respectful.

The woman in the swirls who did the henna for us is from Mauritania. She seemed like a sassy diva, making sly, doubtful faces at the girls talking. Sometimes she'd click her tongue and shake her henna covered fingers at them, or say "tsk tsk tsk" while shaking her head back and forth. It was as if she didn't agree with anything they said. Then again, she seemed do that sometimes when she nodded too. I think she saw it as co-miseration if they were maybe talking about how frustrating it is to drive around - then she shake her head in agreement.

Supposedly, she is quite the hot commodity for doing henna. Before coming to their home, she was doing henna for the female Prime Minister!

Tuaregs are different than anyone I've met. They're special. Proud, super friendly, extremely polite, respectful, observant, and disciplined. They don't get along that well with many Bambera people for some reason. I haven't figured that out completely. Other than knowing there has been tension in the past, when slavery took place, it seems they just kind of avoid each other without being rude. Nomadic by nature (they often discuss their "need to roam") the Tuareg people spread themselves through much of West Africa - in Mali, Niger, Algeria, Libya, and Burkina Faso - as well as other areas of the middle East.

After getting the henna done over the course of an hour, plastic bags covered my tissue paper-wrapped hands for two more hours as I waited in their large living room. We had tea and  ate watermelon while listening to the stories of when their father worked abroad in Nigeria and the middle east.

Rahma said my henna would not be complete for Tabaski without wearing one of her special dresses.

She placed the long, flowing chute of a dress over my head. My arms found the two arm holes well, but from there, I was lost. Rahma leaped up and managed to flip the long, 10-12ft sideways piece of linen-like fabric up and over, forming the elbow-length sleeves and head piece before whooshing it across my chest and neck like a glamorous scarf. All of this took her approximately 8 seconds. Deep indigo, this dress was beautiful - with silver and sky blue details.

For the big meal on Sunday, I chopped up a ton of vegetables for Liana's recipe of a spicy peanut soup. I spread out two crusts for spinach tortes and baked them individually in an oven I later found out only broils. Resourcefulness to the rescue... I carefully slid them onto skillets and got the crust hard from the bottom up this way, but it took for-eh-ver.

By this time it was 6:30pm. Our guests were to arrive. I dressed into my indigo robe with henna intact and noticed the dye rubs off onto your skin by merely touching the fabric.

Ten minutes later, the full, cooked lamb arrived in a huge tub... and I lost my appetite. But the night got better!

After food, where the vegetarian dishes were a screaming hit, we headed to the Tumast Center in Bamako where a couple of famous Tuareg bands played. Rahma and Mariam took me onto the dance floor after a few songs. I had watched for long enough beforehand to know what was the acceptable dance - lots of swirling wrists, gentle swaying, heads held high. I looked around. During this dance, only women were up there. Other dances, only men went up. And later, everyone danced together. I stood out as the blond-haired, blue-eyed one of the bunch, but I was definitely not the tallest. Tuareg women are, for the most part, tall. Like 5'9" to 6' tall, if not more.

Upon the completion of the night, my entire body was a deep shade of indigo blue. From head to toe. anywhere that I had touched my face? Yes, also streaking blue. I showered for 15 minutes, trying to scrub the dye off. I think I got the last of it off today (Thursday). 

Since that Sunday night, I've spent most of the week working inside, avoiding the pollution in the air. Sometimes I spend an hour with a book on the rooftop to get some vitamin D, but the city itself doesn't appeal to me sometimes. It's exhausting being in the traffic, watching scooters and cars nearly get killed everywhere you turn, and having to shake your head "no" at every stop when the kids and beggars press their faces up to the windows. Even with the exhausting traffic however, Bamako is a thrilling place to call home for the next couple of months. I'll be starting to volunteer at the school in a few days, and will move into my homestay also. I look forward to updating more frequently, hopefully, with shorter posts then.

For now, my friends, cheers to the weekend!

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Imperfect Trifecta: Foot, Bike and Automobile

Today, I snapped a few pics while heading to a Bamako grocery store.

These images depict the arduous struggle that is Bamako traffic.
They were taken a few hours ago here in Mali's capital city.

The cars, scooters, people selling goods on the street, bike riders, and open air taxi-cab-van-bus things speak no common traffic law language. The only thing you can know for sure is that if you don't drive with a vengeance, you will not move.

No one really has road rage because, as it's been explained to me, "you must live in the next moment, not the past one". Although it sounds like a catchy quote about forgiveness from a spiritual leader, it's really much more simple. They continued, "as soon as you react, seventeen non-helmet wearing scooters and a woman with child (this will always be an odd phrase for me to say outloud) are crossing oncoming traffic within inches of your bumper."

Once I got to the market, I was pleasantly surprised to find the ultra thin, unbaked crusts I used to buy for these ultra-healthy, super delicious spinach tortes I made in Italy. They don't sell the crusts in the states, but supposedly this specific grocer lends itself to ex-pats from Europe. (And now, also to Minnesotans who value the art of NOT frying everything in palm oil.) They even have the fresh Activia yogurt with the pineapple chunks. Mmm. My absolute favorite.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Mali: Day Three

In a state of pure observance makes writing anything concrete seem premature. Somehow, I feel that recounting a little list of things I've seen and done is appropriate to shine a little light on first impressions from Mali's capital city of Bamako.

Before I go any further, the most common question I received before leaving for Africa is "Where is Mali?" Below is a map that should be more informative than cupping both of my hands into the continent of Africa, with a finger trying to point to Mali's land-locked locale.

Within Mali, there are a few different landscapes that are important to note:

In the southern region, the weather is heavily affected by the Niger river that flows SW to NE before curving down SE after it's appearance in the well-known city the call Tombouctou (also known as Timbuktu). Everything that thrives in this southern part of the country - part Sahel and part Savanna - does so thanks to the Niger and a couple of its tributaries.

In the northern region, the Sahara desert makes the weather dry, super dusty, and impossible for many to live. Except for the nomadic Tuaregs and their desert music.

But onto the adventure thus far...

1) Bamako by night is cooler, so people walk the streets then as much as they do during the working, daytime hours. In fact, at any hour of the day, Bamako's streets are lined with occupied folding chairs of people chatting, women elegantly carrying bundles and baskets twice their size atop their heads (with no hands), and these days - with flocks and flocks of tall, bony, spindly-horned sheep tied to trees and stakes.

2) Tabaski explains the sheep. Tabaski, also known as Eid al-Adha, is significant because it celebrates the Muslim commemoration of Ibrahim's willingness to sacrifice his eldest son Ishmael in obedience to a command from Allah - and Ishmael's acceptance of this command.

This will happen in approximately one week - the 10th day of the 12th Islamic month. For now, the sheep will be congregated for those celebrating to use on this special day, but camels, goats, and cows can also be used. The meat is divided up into three parts: one for the family, one for relatives and friends, and one for the poor and needy.

Upon seeing the Tabaski from inside of a vehicle, it has so far consisted of the sheep in flocks that are then wrapped around waists on the back of scooters, leashed and walked to people's homes, tied to a tire on the top of a semi trailer, etc. to be brought back to their families and used on the holiday of Tabaski.

3) Night life: Not to be confused with the fact that people stay up late and hang out, the scene is definitely a part of Bamako living. In just three days I've seen some of the coolest - and the smokiest - bars out there. La Terrasse, Obama, and Le Domino were spots we hit up my first and second night in the city.

- La Terrasse is a rooftop, open air bar with a dance floor that is partly covered by high, thatched roofs. It's Thursday night scene is Salsa night. Nothing like hopping to the beats of cumbia tunes after a three-leg, 20 hour flight and no sleep.

- Obama is a dingy local dancehall with a lively atmosphere, a massive pop art Obama we grew to love during his election behind the dance floor, and on the other side of the room, abstract art of a topless woman and the first president of Mali next to MLK Jr. But in no way did the impression of the wall art take away from the smoke-filled space with a stench of sweat. The putrid scent combo that will no doubt be present in the majority of non-open air bars, but seems to be a package deal here in Mali. Taken lightly - as in small doses and with little judgment - the bar is still a fun place to see the culture liven up.

- Le Domino is also an even smaller dancehall. In fact, my furniture-based work would deduce that the dance floor in the center of the room is no bigger than a California King bed. Everyone surrounding the dance floor watches while sitting on low couches and chairs. And the music - it beats the rest, hands down. A funky mix of African hip hop with a little Sean Paul or Lil Wayne in the mix makes everyone want to shake a shoulder.
Unfortunately, Le Domino's DJ likes to talk every few seconds to make sure we all understand his position of control and the level of his ego. Nevertheless, we danced here for a couple hours, saw some pretty great outfits and booty-bumping dance styles, as well as the typical cloud of smoke that may prevent one from going out more than once a week.

Beside the necessity of being an offensive driver, witnessing the sheep herds of Tabaski, and taking in the sights and smells of the dancing scene, I've been taking it easy. Adapting to the time change, the food, and the heat (90-105F each day - no exaggeration) has been tough enough before I start a new work week.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Freelancing with Clive and Judo

As grateful as I've been for the opportunity to taste the financial freedom my recent post at BLACK: A Retail Brand Agency provided, there was something essential missing. Given our relatively short time on this earth, I knew I had to act on my desire to change things up (again) and get back to true clairvoyance.
That said, today is the first day of a brand new freelancing adventure. Soon I will be writing from Stuttgart, Germany, but before I go, I'm living up the best feeling in the world: relaxing over fresh, homemade espresso with Clive (above) and Judo (below). Already this morning they've shown me the true bliss that goes along with working independently.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

My Life As a Shark Feeder

With the weather warming up in my revisited home of Minneapolis these days, there's little I don't want to do. Every single day feels full. Especially with my new job at BLACK: a boutique design firm downtown. I really enjoy the office, my new co-workers, and especially feeding the sharks.

That's right. I went from freelance writing - doing everything on a computer during the day besides my bike rides or runs for 2+ years - to sticking my fingers into raw sea creatures in order to make sure our four precious sharks get their proper vitamins mixed in with their health food.

Here's a typical day, besides my other job duties:
I defrost four small bags of raw squid and shrimp in hot water for 30 minutes before feeding. While the water is heating up for the shark food, I also put water into two separate glasses. There are three containers altogether for the three separate tanks in our office. One of the glasses will be used to defrost 2-3 frozen cubes of blood worm while the other defrosts some krill. The latter is fed throughout the entire day to the always hungry Clown Fish which resides next to the men's bathroom. He's got a friend in there too. A strange red fish that hops around on the ground with feet. He looks like a mermaid. I should find out what kind that is.

As I've come to take on a marine biologist role in my Jack-of-all-Trades (Executive Assistant/Office Manager/Copywriter/Powerpoint presentation creator/Fish Feeder), I feel a bit like a dolphin trainer. As they've come to know me, realizing that I am the the one responsible for their happiness each day at around 2pm, they are starting to recognize me and get excited as I prop up my step ladder to the 30+ft long tank and peer in through the iron gate on top. As I peer inside, I speak to them in Spanish or Italian usually, and greet the bonnethead shark, Marty, and the three black tip sharks, Claire, Shark, and Sulaimania.

Even though Franz (our aquarist) says that it is bad luck to name a shark, I just had to. Everyone likes a name. Marty: he's got a head sort of like a hammerhead shark, with his big eyes on the top edges of it. Except instead of it being flat on the snout (what the heck do you call a shark snout? maybe a nose?) it is perfectly round, like a fan, or a bonnet, I guess. With much more personality than the others as the eldest of the group, this silvery smooth Marty is by far the best at finding the food. He's a veteran in the tank and rarely gets worked up when the feisty ones finally smell it. Besides that, he's smart. If I stand next to the glass during the day and he sees me, I get a mouth hung open (it looks like Babe the pig, no lie) and tummy-against-glass, figure-eight-swimming as a salutation. Somehow a shark manages to be adorable. Don't ask.

The other three have slight differences that most cannot tell apart. They are very similar to one another, but it has become quite easy for me after watching the change in their shape and skin colorings.

To start with, sweet little Sulaimania is the newest and the most elegant of the black tips. She's the smallest by far and has a pale gray skin which makes her easy to pick out. She used to get picked on a lot for being the young'un, but has since become brave and fights for her place in the pecking order.

Then there is Claire, who had a bit of a spell with a skin sickness for a short time. She's coming back to a normal weight and her skin is healing quickly, but she's lost the reins in what used to be minimal difference in size with the third shark, named Shark.

Shark is in perfect health. Like the perfect physical specimen of, well, a gorgeous shark like Jaws. If not for the fact that he's only 1.5 ft long or so, he could be a movie star. For some reason, a standardized testing statement comes to mind: Prince is to pop music as Shark is to the underwater world. But I'm talking about Shark himself. He and Prince just fit together.

Friday, January 21, 2011


I've got this new plan taking shape. It begins at the Rustica Coffee Shop in the mornings anywhere between 9 and 10 am when I open my satchel, take out my computer, big Panasonic headphones, and this awesome paper tablet that flips vertically. I guess it sort of brings me back to college, reminding me of big white pads of paper that professors use with faded sharpies to list important themes or ideas from films that rarely deserved that part of a tree. Thankfully, my hardcover tablet perfectly houses one-day-per page lists of my freelance writing priorities, future plans, and of course, the occasional yoga class schedule. Oh yeah, and always comes with a ballpoint pen to make life seem more fluid.

Life has changed a great deal since 2010. One month. That's all you need. Maybe only a day, in fact. That seems a bit more accurate. In just 24 hours my life smacked me upside the head, emptying out any loose parts and leaving me with the bare minimum - something I've grown quite accustomed to over the past two years with no home or security.

To be honest, I'm enjoying the transition a little bit. Going from a very random life overseas that focused a lot on the world of cycling, pizza, and a lack of friends, the move back to Minnesota has been a joy. I rarely think about how most of my life is packed into two suitcases that still reside in Lucca, Italy since there is no use in stressing about stuff. I've learned that incrementally, with time. Part of my plan has resulted in my having little to nothing to worry about other than writing about design and outdoor living to survive. Literally, just to survive - not to have things at all. Just great days, great people, and the occasional good coffee - followed by more great things.

For those of you who think this sounds like a glamorous lifestyle, I must have a way with words. Either that or you've watched too many movies where the protagonist is a writer who sits at cafes and drinks a martini with friends every other night. On the contrary, there's nothing lovely about penny-pinching. The cool thing is that I can pick up and go anywhere that has an internet connection. I may spend all of my hard-earned freelance cash just getting there though, which means I feel like my job is half writing and half trying to figure out how to pay my student loans. I've considered a full-time position or two, but to be honest, I can still afford a Rustica chocolate croissant each day.

I guess this post is just a checking in point. I've been off the radar for some time now - posting nothing but images of soul-searching travels through California and Minnesota in December and crazy experiences that my friend Dre has gone through lately. Maybe someday I'll explain more about what's really happening in my world, but for right now, it's not exactly public. It doesn't belong to facebook, to twitter, to any of my Designer Pages blogposts. This information is mine and mine alone unless included is some form of ancient communication - like coming to visit me for a coffee, a tea, or maybe just a walk around the frozen lake. It is then and only then when I will feel comfortable sharing the whole story.

That said, if I were a person who preached anything to anyone... ever... I would suggest that we all reconnect with our purpose for 2011 instead of distracting our already busy lives with counter-intuitive actions like spending too much time in front of screens - unless of course you're learning something. And if you are, awesome. Just invest in a small pad of paper and a good pen. It's about the little things after all, isn't it?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

'Til the Next Big Show...

Andrea "Dre" "Wiley One 1982" Wiley and I have been friends since the moment I moved to San Francisco. Although I wasn't sure we'd get along right off the bat, since the girl is so absolutely cool - and I was, well, not - we bonded over busy Medjool nights of high maintenance, tapa-consuming guests.

You see, Dre has this outgoing Bay Area style that's colorful and vibrant, with cool high sneakers and insane Halloween costumes, not to mention her undying devotion to being in attendance of each and every worthy show that came to the Bay Area. Lest I forget her collection of Simpsons (and other) memorabilia, her love for hiding easter eggs and having us search for them dressed in pimped out fur coats, and her innate ability to talk to everyone she meets with ease. I was a bright-eyed SF newbie who looked up to the confidence and vigor for life that Dre so candidly expressed minute by minute.

That is Dre in a nutshell. She, just like the colors of hoodies and high tops she owns, is the definition of an epic friend. Recently, Dre informed the world that she has been fighting breast cancer. At 28 years old. Living without health care down in Venice Beach, she has documented her story for the world to see.

In each and every minute of her first two videos shown below, you'll see the strength and comedic relief of the Dre I've grown to adore shine through in the only way this woman knows how...unedited, and bursting with a love for living life everyday.

This one's for you, Dre. Stay amazing.