A Field Guide to Getting Lost

A Field Guide to Getting Lost

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I just finished devouring A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit and feel as though I am now seeing life more vividly. Effortlessly brilliant and a testament to Solnit’s intellect, this work of literature ostensibly wanders a landscape of ideas and anecdotes, creating a beautiful love letter to the physical, metaphysical, and emotional concept of loss.

For me this book was reminiscent of one of my favorite books of all time, To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, not only in its melancholy undertone and near-poetic prose, but also because it proves that a substantial plot is not the groundwork, or even an essential part of, a truly spectacular book. In fact, A Field Guide to Getting Lost contains no plot whatsoever but is merely a string of thoughts that have the power to change the way you perceive the world. Even without a continuous storyline, the book has an undeniable rhythm, and all Solnit’s ramblings are connected by the central them of getting lost as a means to find yourself, an idea that I have found myself enamored with ever since reading Wild. But Solnit takes the idea beyond the cliche, slipping into a world suspended between past, present, and future. She sets the tone at the beginning with a brilliant observation about the color blue that seems a universal principal about the unattainable; she states that “The world is blue at its edges and in its depths”, like the deep blue of the sky’s horizon, and the dreamy blue of the farthest reach of the ocean. “Blue is the color of longing for the distances you never arrive in, for the blue world”, Solnit observes. There seems to be a connection between distance and desire– nothing we desire will we ever inhabit fully.

In one chapter, Solnit seems to subtly reference the very book: “In essays, ideas are the protagonists, and they often develop much like characters down to the surprise denouement.” In A Field Guide to Getting Lost, it almost seems as though the idea oflostness is the protagonist, developing over the course of the book much like your favorite literary character. Solnit romanticizes the idea of lostness: “To lose yourself: a voluptuous surrender, lost in your arms, lost to the world, utterly immersed in what is present so that its surroundings fade away. To be lost is to be fully present, and to be fully present is to be capable of being in uncertainty and mystery.”

The best books answer questions that you never even thought to ask. A Field Guide to Getting Lost was one of those books. It made me find beauty in loss, mystery in nostalgia, and gave me the insatiable desire to wander– to get lost.

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Turning the Page

Turning the Page

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The only thing I dislike about reading is when a book ends. It’s only then that I realize just how emotionally invested I am with the story, the characters, the words, and I find myself going through the five stages of grief every time. Sometimes I even procrastinate reading the last 20 pages or so of a book I am particularly invested in simply because I don’t want it to end. I love how ink on paper has the power to bring an imaginary world and fictional characters to life, to evoke such strong emotions in the reader. I don’t necessarily read books for the plot. In fact, one of my favorite books of all time To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf hardly has any storyline at all- and yet Woolf’s beautifully intertwined elegiac language still manages to steal me away to another time and place. Personally, I love reading because of the beauty of words, and I love authors who have mastered the craft of the human language. Just like the lyrics of a song, the pages of a book are pure art.

So often I hear young people say they don’t “like” to read books. This is especially common in today’s world, where studies have shown that the way the younger generation finds and absorbs information has significantly changed. This generation is not necessarily reading less, but we are reading differently. The internet makes it much faster and easier to access information we desire, which in theory has made books obsolete. We can Google any topic that interests us and skim unlimited articles instead of flipping through hundreds of pages in a book. Furthermore, being constantly surrounded by iPhones, Netflix, and Youtube, has made us accustomed to overstimulation, and our attention spans have been conditioned to 140-character tweets. Of course reading a book seems as impossibly tedious task in a world of instant gratification. Recent studies have also shown that we are a highly visual generation. We are drawn to graphics because they allow us to interpret information far more quickly than a paragraph of text. Dishearteningly, researchers have found that gen-y’s and millennials read for information, not pleasure.

About a year ago, I heard about this new app that allows people to read a novel in under 90 minutes. Created by a company called Spritz, the app manipulates the format of words to line them up with the eye’s natural motion of reading; it eliminates the need to move your eyes while you read so you can process words instantaneously. Try it for yourself:

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While this may be appealing to a world that values efficiency- and a generation that gets bored by books- I believe it eliminates the *magic* of reading. It does not allow readers to truly savor the words. A book is an emotional journey that should not be crammed into the shortest possible time frame, but enjoyed over a relaxing interval, allowing the reader to reflect, dwell, and truly get lost in the story. This app may allow users to become “well-read” quickly, but does it maintain the integrity of the author’s delicately crafted work of art? I don’t think so.

In short, I believe that anyone who doesn’t like to read simply hasn’t found a book they truly love yet. They haven’t experienced what it’s like to fall in love with characters, to become part of a carefully constructed imaginary world, to relish in emotional undertones and imagery. Reading is not just about finding information, it’s about opening your mind to another person’s reality. It’s about basking in the beauty of words. It’s not all Hemingway and Thoreau anymore, either. Plenty of modern authors are capable of captivating you more than you can even imagine, pulling you in so deep that you are essentially gasping for air as you turn the last page. A library is your wardrobe to Narnia, and books are the easiest way to *see* the world.

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World Elephant Day

World Elephant Day

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As humans, we have so much to learn from elephants. Scientists are constantly in awe of the mindful altruism the world’s largest land mammal extends not only to fellow elephants, but also to many other species in distress, including people, proving that animals are not slaves to instinct, but morally-functioning creatures like ourselves. Elephants also possess extraordinarily complex thoughts and emotions, exuberantly displaying feelings of joy, anger, grief (they have been known to shed tears and mourn their dead), compassion, and love.

Elephants are the most magnificent animals that have ever walked the Earth. The beauty of these creatures embraces you like your oldest friend, evoking a sublime sense of majestic mystery. Look into an elephant’s eye and you will catch a glimpse of all the world’s ancient secrets. Today, on World Elephant Day, I share the warmest hope that they will stay on this planet long enough to fascinate us for generations to come.

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“We admire elephants in part because they demonstrate what we consider the finest human traits: empathy, self-awareness, and social intelligence. But the way we treat them puts on display the very worst of human behavior.” – Graydon Carter

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“If elephants didn’t exist, you couldn’t invent one. They belong to a small group of living things so unlikely they challenge credulity and common sense.” – Lyall Watson

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“Nature’s great masterpiece, an elephant – the only harmless great thing.” – John Donne

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“Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.” – Albert Einstein

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What do elephants mean to you? Share with me in a comment below!

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No Bad Days

No Bad Days

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It’s 8:15am when we descend upon the leisurely 1 mile trail from the Cristianitos Road exit off the 5 in San Clemente down to Trestles, the last of Southern California beaches to maintain it’s sense of escape. The marine layer has yet to burn off, confusing tourists from the east expecting a sunny Orange County vacation, and giving us some much-needed relief from the humid July heat. Along the hike we are passed by weathered old time surfers and bleach-blond groms alike; most are skating or riding rusty beach cruisers with their surf boards by their side. They throw out a Shaka- the “namaste” of the surf world- as they pass. We walk underneath the train tracks between the S and T of the graffiti-tagged concrete Trestles sign, removing our Rainbows to feel the warm sand beneath our toes. The beach is deserted and wide- sea walls have yet to destroy this patch of paradise. We gaze out upon the glassy green water dotted by a row of surfers in black wetsuits; they look like seals in the overcast light. It is probably one of the few places in the world where there are more people in the water than on the land.

You can hear the force of the 2-foot waves as they crash onto the shore, beautifully juxtaposing power with peacefulness. Every so often there is a slight pause between one wave and the next, filling the entire beach with an eery sense of stillness, as if the entire world stops moving for a quarter of a second. The occasional Amtrak train gently rumbles the beach like thunder, competing with the crash of the waves. Just thirty minutes later the marine later begins to burn off and the sun peeks it’s hopeful rays through the clouds.

Beyond the lineup we spot the arch of a dolphin’s back, playfully skipping through the water. The beautiful animal is soon joined by three more dolphins, all blissfully galloping towards Lower Trestles. I wonder if this particular pod comes here often, if Trestles holds a special place in their hearts as it does mine.

I wish I could collect this moment in a snow globe and revisit it forever.

 

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The Earth is the Ocean

The Earth is the Ocean

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The ocean’s surface is a facade. The Pacific’s peaceful ripples seem to flow off the end of the Earth like an infinity pool, changing colors with the horizon or glistening like the Koh-i-Noor diamond under the summer sun. In a way, beaches are a borderland between peace and chaos- separating our human world of concrete from a seemingly endless sea of tranquility. People escape to the ocean, people find peace in the ocean. But in reality, the ocean is far from calm. Underneath its gentle facade, the ocean is in constant commotion, a chaotic container of life.

The ocean is home to the greatest diversity and most complex ecosystems of plants and animals on this planet. Scientists estimate that 80% of all life on Earth is found beneath the ocean’s surface. The most amazing part is that we have only explored a mere 5% of the ocean, and it is predicted that a million or more species that dwell in the ocean depths remain unknown, yet to be discovered. The ocean, with an average depth of over 12,450 feet, holds 99% of the planet’s living space.

Funny, isn’t it? That humans- who occupy less than 1% of the planet’s living space- feel so entitled to its resources? People seem to view Earth as a collection of continents surrounded by bodies of water we call oceans. But we are fooling ourselves in thinking that this planet was created for land-dwelling creatures like ourselves. The surface of the Earth is 71% ocean, while land barely accounts for three-tenths of the globe, eroded by water at a rate of up to six feet per year in some places such as the Gulf (one foot in my home of San Diego). We are “the water planet”, and the oceans are the lungs of the Earth, providing us with up to 70% of our oxygen. Life on this planet would not be possible without the ocean. The Earth is the ocean.

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What Does a Smile Really Mean?

What Does a Smile Really Mean?

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The past few days I have been on the hunt for a new dentist (oh, the joys of moving to a new state), and it has suddenly become apparent to me the lengths people go through to obtain that perfect, sparkling white smile. Teeth whitening, cosmetic dentistry, Invisalign- endless procedures exist just to improve the appearance of your smile. So why is a smile so important, anyway? What does a smile actually mean?

Image: The World Smiley FoundationLet’s talk about the smiley face. Designed by Harvey Ball in 1963, this famed icon took off as a feelgood fad in the post-Vietnam 1970s, appearing alongside the phrase “Have a nice day” on t-shirts, mugs, bumper stickers, etc. It encapsulated the American spirit of friendship, childlike contentment, and peace. To this day it remains the most common symbol of happiness. We can therefore infer that a smile is synonymous with happiness, right? Well…

Do you smile when you’re alone? Probably not, unless you’re a crazed psychopath or something. That is because feelings of happiness are not automatically linked with smiling. Smiling is actually at the mercy of our conscious, voluntary control. Most people do not smile unless there is someone around to see it. Additionally, think about all the times you’ve faked a smile when you were not actually happy. Smiles are not an indication of happiness, but actually a culturally-conditioned status symbol. People (Americans anyway) flash their pearly whites as a way to be positively perceived by others, because “happy” people are generally friendly, well-liked, and pleasant to be around. When someone goes into a job interview or first date, they make an effort to smile- even if they are not experiencing feelings of bliss. Smiles are commonly referred to as one’s “secret weapon” or best first impression, often feigned out of politeness, or in an effort to make one’s self appear happy to others.

While smiling is mostly a voluntary effort, one batch of muscles related to smiling is actually beyond our control- but it does not have to do with the mouth or lips. Theorbicularis oculi surrounds the eyes and is responsible for raising your cheek up to pinch the lower eyelid when you are smiling out of genuine, heartfelt happiness- this muscle is what gives you that gleam in you eye when you are truly happy. In a way, genuine bliss is not indicated by a smile of the mouth, but a smile of the eye, since only about 5% of the population can actually control these muscles. This is the kind of smile infants activate when their mothers approach, and studies have shown that when people see this kind of smile on others, they feel calmer, more relaxed, and even happier. This is the kind of smile that indicates happiness, not the upward turn from the corners of the mouth. Eyes truly are the window to the soul.

While smiling is not a direct indication of happiness, studies have revealed that smiling can actually improve the happiness of those around you. Likewise, other studies show that our emotions are reinforced, sometimes even driven, by our facial expressions- in other words, a smile can actually make the person who dons it happier. I think we can all agree that smiling- genuinely or otherwise- can make the world a truly happier place. Maybe even a place full of heartfelt eye smiles.

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