Living Life Creatively

Before a couple of months ago, “creativity” was not really a word in my vocabulary.  Well, other than to say, “Yeah, I’m not very creative.”  I always wanted to be creative – I begged my mom for sketch books, oil paints, how-to-knit-kits, music lessons, dance lessons – but nothing stuck.  Who knows why – that’s a question for another day.

I made it to my late twenties not really doing anything creative (writing, occasionally, but not often enough), and it didn’t really bother me.  But, one day in August, I got a tattoo.  I went to this rad artist, Jen Munford, and, just making conversation, she asked: “So what do you do that is creative?”  I was like, what?  What a weird question; a question no one had ever asked me, a question my friends don’t ponder, a question that had never wandered in while I went about my life.

At the time, it didn’t make a difference.  I laughed and told her that I didn’t really do anything creative, but that I liked to write, and the conversation went on from there.

Looking back on it now, that was a turning point for me.  Who knows if it was getting my first tattoo, or the question that Jen asked me, but it kind of sent me off on a tangent that hasn’t stopped and that I am loving the hell out of.

And it’s not, like, huge changes, you know?  It’s little things here and there that have pushed me to pursue hobbies and to view “creativity” differently.  Creativity is not this massive, all imposing, behemoth (though I used to think that it was).  It’s five minutes here, and an afternoon there, spent doing something that makes your soul sing.  Hell, it doesn’t even have to be anything related to “art.”

Since August, I’ve started to learn tarot reading, my rock collection has exploded, I have spent more time meditating, I’ve started ukulele lessons, I bought a bike and planned a 150-mile bike tour, I’ve severely decreased my TV/Netflix viewing, I’ve cut my hair shorter than it has ever been, I completely filled more journals in that short time than I ever had in my life….. Since August, I’ve explored myself, my heart, how I want to spend my days – and that, my friends, is what it means to live life creatively, that’s what creativity is.

What do you do that is creative?  How do you like to spend your time?  Share in the comments 🙂

exploringly yours,
Alaina

My Biography

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I grew up in an upper middle class suburb of Detroit.  Everything about the town – the people, the layout, the food – made me feel trapped.  My soul told me there was more to experience on this planet, an idea encouraged by my mom and my high school German teacher, Janie Barner.  My fondest memory of German class was a lesson Janie taught on travel vocabulary.  At the end she asked, “Now, who has been bitten by the travel bug?”  My heart swelled, and I knew I had been bitten, hard.  Within the next year, I travelled to Germany with my class, and the bug bit deeper.

I did not want to go to college.  Chiefly, I wanted to join the Peace Corps.  My parents pushed me toward the safer path of a four year degree.  I went away to school, earned a degree, a load of debt, and fell upon the perfect opportunity to work abroad.  After graduation, I spent two years teaching English in Austria and traveling Central and Eastern Europe.

I needed a special kind of courage to live and thrive on my own within a foreign country, system, and language.  I remember arriving in Bad Aussee, the small Austrian town where I would live and work.  It was dusk on a late summer day, and it had taken longer than anticipated to arrive.  I passed the address a couple of times before I found it.  My landlord stuck her head out of the window and greeted me.  I could barely understand a word from my landlord’s mouth!  Austrian German is different than the Hochdeutsch I had learned, and my landlord spoke in the unique Bad Aussee dialect.  With time, as the language became more comfortable, I learned to use dialect words in my German.

Months prior to my return to Michigan, I had doubts about how I would fit into my culture, my hometown, with my family and friends.  I moved back in with my parents, which provided a sense of comfort, and started nursing school.  Though, I missed Austria daily, my travels enabled me to see my hometown through a new filter.  I began to appreciate the quaint downtown and the nature trails.  But my desire to travel did not go away.  As the days marched on, and as nursing school became more of a nightmare, living with wanderlust was a lesson in patience.

Now, I am a nurse living in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and I have had to readjust my feelings about travel.  Through my adolescent and college years, I saw travel as an escape from what I perceived as a boring life.  While I still feel wanderlust, I am learning that travel is more a frame of mind than a location.  With a sense of exploration, travel can be as easy as walking out the front door.

Exploringly yours,

Alaina

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(This was originally written as my first assignment – a biography – for the online travel writing course, MatadorU.)

Music for Travel: Homecoming by Josh Ritter

In continuing my Music for Travel series, I offer Homecoming by Josh Ritter for your consideration.  Again, BBC Scotland (specifically, the Roddy Hart Show) played this gem.  I had heard of Josh Ritter, but never really heard his music, and gosh darn it, this song hit me right in the feels.  I heard it toward the end of my trip (in Edinburgh, Scotland) just about when the wanderlust transitions to homesickness.  So, naturally, I listened to it on repeat until two in the morning, drinking red wine, and dreaming of home.  Take a listen…

This song is about exactly what the title says: homecoming.  Coming home, in the epic sense, is a journey the hero completes once she has passed the test and been transformed.  In this song, Josh sings of a home from which he has been torn away, a girl, and the places they were together.

The intro is calming, like a lullaby.  After the melody kicks in, the drums really take off.  It’s a forceful ballad, one I turn up as loud as it goes.  I stamp my foot to it around the kitchen.

Josh tells a story more than sings a song.  In this way, he transports the listener back to his or her own hometown.  His hometown, he says, is his everything, it has his heart.  Josh calls upon memories in his listener, and, in a haze, they appear: the people – family and friends – the listener left there, the girl the listener kissed or the boy the listener touched.  It’s empowering and sad; the listener recalls the reckless invincibility of adolescence, while understanding, now, that everyone is mortal.  The season is changing in the song, but the listener knows that for everything there is a season.

What treasure would the listener find at home?  Josh sings of a girl who is “not like the other girls,” he sings of wine and nights shared.  He treats the details with sacred reverence, referencing the Tree of Good and Evil, miracles, and oracles.  Indeed the past, a dreamy confusion of the owner’s thoughts, has it’s own kind of spiritual mysticism.

I feel a change in the weather
I feel a change in me
The days are getting shorter, and the birds begin to leave
Even me, yes, yes, y’all
Who has been so long alone
I’m headed home, headed home.

The nights are getting colder now
The air is getting crisp
I first tasted the universe on a night like this.

Maybe it’s because it is fall now, or maybe because fall is my favorite season, but the promise, the thrill, the desire, of tasting the universe seems within my grasp.  (Though, I think for Josh, “the universe” might be a metaphor for something else….)

Returning home signifies the culmination of a journey, the end of travel.  Is home where we make it?  Or where we feel it?  Or somewhere we cannot ever really go back to?  If you return physically home, is it still “home” if you yourself are transformed?  Or is home the cozy place where your mom still does all your laundry? : )

Give the song a listen, and let me know what you feel.

Exploringly yours,

Alaina

(Also, check out Josh’s own notes on the song.)

Music for Travel: Astral Weeks by Van Morrison

I love having a soundtrack to my travels.  This way, I can hear the song at a later point in life and recall the memories and experiences I had while on the road.  Typically, the most poignant songs for me are the ones that have an aching or longing theme, particularly for home or a person.

There are a couple of songs that I loved during my trip to the United Kingdom, but the first song I’m going to showcase is… Astral Weeks by Van Morrison.  If you’ve never heard this work of art (or if you have) take a listen below…

I heard this song while I was staying in Edinburgh, Scotland (shout out to BBC Radio Scotland).  Having been raised on Van Morrison (shout out to my mama), he already holds a special place in my heart.  However, I only recently started to really explore his music catalogue.  When I heard this song on the radio, it blew me away.  I had heard it before, but never really listened.  The melody of the guitars, the flute chirping along in the background, the fluttering strings – it puts me in a mind for spring.  A blindingly sunny, bluebird skies kind of day.

And then the lyrics.  It’s a song about a woman that Van is watching as she goes about her domestic life and caring for her child.  It listens like a love song, but not a love that has happened in this place or time (“In another time, in another place” are lyrics Van repeats toward the end).  As such, the word “astral” is defined as relating to or resembling the stars.  In addition, the astral plane is “a supposed non-physical realm of existence to which various psychic and paranormal phenomena are ascribed, and in which the physical human body is said to have a counterpart.”  It’s a song about a deep desire for a love that is not of this world, time, or place.

The following lyrics solidify my love of this song, and highlight my longing feelings of home and the people I love while I’m traveling.

From the far side of the ocean
If I put the wheels in motion
And I stand with my arms behind me
And I’m pushin’ on the door
Could you find me?
Would you kiss-a my eyes?

This song conveys the desire for love, the desire to want to be with someone that you cannot be with in this very moment.

Give the song a listen and let me know what you think.

Exploringly yours,

Alaina

Quick Tips for Solo Female Travel

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Hey guys!  Most often, I travel on my own and I love it.  When I’m on the road alone, I can operate under my own schedule, with only my own tastes and preferences to take in to consideration.  I find traveling alone to be empowering, particularly for females, and also exciting.  However, there are not many woman in my life who have traveled alone.  In talking about my trips with others, the comment I most hear is about how the other women could not travel on their own.  I am here to tell you that traveling solo takes not-much-more initiative than it would to travel with another person and that, in my experience, solo travel is quite safe.

I do not want to belittle the fact that terrible things can and do happen to any one, any where, and I am not immune to this fact.  However, I use the following tips nearly every day when I’m traveling alone and nothing disastrous has happened.  With a little insight, a bit of common sense, and a dash of confidence anyone can travel alone and have a great time.  While these tips are geared toward females, anyone can use them!

1.  First and foremost, you must be prepared.

The three most important things to know when going on a trip are: where you are going, how you are getting there, and where you are staying once you get there.  Once you have that set, you are good to go.

I strictly use WiFi when I’m abroad, so when I do have WiFi, I map out where I’m going – for example, my route from the train station to my accommodation – and screenshot it on my iPhone so that I can use it for reference later.  I also use this tip when I’m going out for the day: I make a map to a site I want to see or restaurant I want to check out.

These screenshoted maps will help you from getting lost, but it’s important to be aware of some good landmarks in your new city to use as another reference.  Figure out where you are staying in relation to that landmark in case you get turned around.  I’ve found it’s more difficult to get completely lost in a big city like London because you’re almost always within walking distance of a tube station (just make sure you know what tube station you’re staying near as well!).  And, in a walkable city like Edinburgh, knowing your landmarks will help you to walk your way out of being lost.

If you do get totally lost, don’t get scared – this will make you more vulnerable.  Stop, take a look around, reference your screenshoted maps, and see if you can get your bearings.  If not, walk until you see a Starbucks or McDonalds (one will almost always be close by!) and use the free WiFi there to figure out where you are.  If all of that fails, ask a local, as they can be quite helpful!

Remember: always have local cash, your smartphone, and your passport on you in case of an emergency.

2.  Don’t be too casual when traveling alone.

It’s important to always keep your wits about you when traveling solo.  Stay vigilant, and be aware of what is going on around you.  Have fun, but don’t throw caution entirely to the wind.

When traveling alone, trust your gut instincts.  If something feels fishy, it probably is. Turn the other way, politely excuse yourself – just make sure, if you aren’t comfortable, to get out of that situation.

Don’t overdrink!  Of course, it’s ok (and encouraged!) to go out and have a couple drinks, but don’t over consume.  This is when mistakes are made, and bad choices seem like good ones.

Keep all your valuables in your bag and not in your pockets.  Your bag should be something that is not entirely conspicuous, but it should be secure.  For example, I use a Timbuk2 extra small messenger bag, and when I’m out, I secure the front flap with the two straps on the bottom so that it would be difficult for anyone to get in.

3.  Finally, on a less serious note – always have a book with you!

The book will keep you good company in pubs, restaurants, on public transport, or anywhere else you don’t want to feel so alone.

I fully advocate for solo travel, for anyone.  It’s when I do my best exploration, self-reflection, and creative thinking and hope that you would find the same.  I hope these little, but important, tips make solo travel seem a little less daunting.  Do you have anything that you would add?  Let me know if you have any questions about traveling solo!

Exploringly yours,

Alaina