Archive for the ‘travel’ Category
Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.
Last week, a New York Times opinion piece, The ‘Busy’ Trap, made the rounds on the Internet. And nearly everyone who shared it (myself included) did so with a sort of perverse pride. “Hah, this is so me. Busted!”
Which is ironic, given the article’s thesis. We’re not busy out of necessity. We’re busy out of hubris – it makes us feel more important when our every waking hour is spent on work or an extracurricular. And while I’d argue that some of the busiest people I know are genuinely busy doing genuinely valuable things, overall the author presents a solid (and damning) case. When prompted, we enjoy lamenting about the insane pace of our lives. In fact, these days we don’t even have to wait to be asked. Thanks to Twitter, Facebook, etc, we can now volunteer commentary on how busy and important we are at any hour to an ever-available audience. And often, that audience responds. Instant validation.
I suck at carving out free time for myself. And yes, this admission is half humility, half brag (#humblebrag). But I tell myself that it’s okay, because my current busyness is a conscious, measured choice. Just like I’ll later choose to counterbalance these sleep-deprived years by embracing the opposite extreme. Take a year or two to live on some remote, exotic beach. Write a novel. Meditate and do yoga daily.
But here’s the problem with that plan, as charming as it sounds (aside from the obvious economic challenges). Relaxation isn’t merely the absence of busyness. It’s an art, a skill. It takes as much practice to learn to calibrate to an agenda-less existence as it does to a 16-hour workday.
When I studied abroad in Seville, Spain my junior year of college, I was initially enamored with the slow pace of life and a relative absence of responsibility. Classes were a joke and warranted attendance about a third of the time. My host family only hosted for financial benefit, and didn’t care to see me outside of meals. Every day was the same: some combination of napping, attending a class (or not), tanning alongside the Gaudalquivir river, binging on pirated episodes of 24 (Spanish TV is flat-out awful, sorry), eating too much fried food and drinking too much wine, and hitting the discotecas until sunrise.
But after the novelty of it all subsided, I began to go a little insane. My days had no purpose, no structure. I’d invent random tasks for myself, like reading The Economist – one of the few English-language magazines I could get my hands on – cover to cover each week. I planned and took trips to stay occupied, and probably (okay, definitely) drank way too much. My surroundings were exotic, my days were wide open, and I couldn’t wait to return to my overscheduled, goal-oriented life.
If I had a difficult time making the transition in college, I can only imagine how hard it would be for me now. Back then, I had no iPhone, no Twitter. I’d check my email maybe once or twice a day. Today, I am incessantly, obsessively connected. And by extension, busy. And oh-so important.
I think most of us who’ve fallen into the “busy trap” like to kid ourselves that we could crawl out of it at will. We go on vacation and read in the sun and pat ourselves on the back for only checking email once a day. Busyness is a choice, and we can choose to disconnect. It’s that simple.
Except that it’s not. We measure our self worth by what we do each day, and in what volume. Vacations don’t change that equation, they merely hit pause on the calculation.
I have to imagine that this is why some women who decide to stay at home and raise children have a difficult time with that transition. Or why people who lose their jobs fall into such deep depression. Obvious challenges associated with both those scenarios aside, the entire way we value ourselves (and assume others value us) crumbles.
Is our generation going to be capable of appreciating retirement, or will we be too far gone?
Let’s say I do find a way to make my beachy retreat from the world work. Would I even know how to feel good about myself in those circumstances? Could I survive without structure, ubiquitous connection and constant feedback? Or would I falsely build those into my new life?
It might be worth the agony of an exotic ex-pat adventure to find out. Someday.
So I’m sitting in the Seattle-Tacoma airport, and I’m pretty pissed. Our gate says that our flight to San Francisco is on time, but the internet says otherwise. And the internet always knows best.
Only now – five minutes before we are supposed to depart – does a human representative of Virgin America finally confirm what we already knew. We’ll be lucky if we get out of here tonight. Which is unfortunate, because the quickest way to come down from a weekend high is with a flight delay. Also, I’m now going to have to find and consume something made of dark chocolate.
I know I sound like a spoiled child of the first world (which, I suppose, I am). And Virgin America is certainly a lesser evil than its indisputably evil airline counterparts. And, of course, we can’t control the weather (yet). But as I sit here, glaring at the departures board, I can’t help but feel like we’re stuck in this horrible, awkward, acne-ridden transition period for air travel, where flying commercial is no longer glamorous, but not yet convenient enough to make up for it.
Today, I had a glimpse into what flying must have been like in its earlier, sexier days. My sister and I embarked on our first ever seaplane adventure this afternoon, from Orcas Island (San Juan Islands) to Lake Union (Seattle). The stated departure time was 3:00pm, so only at 2:50pm did we motor on over to the designated dock. Our plane was 15 minutes late, but no one gave a damn. We just sat on the dock in the sun, eyes on the horizon so we wouldn’t miss the water landing.
And once the plane did make its dramatic approach, there was no jostling for position in line. There were only a dozen of us, after all, sun-soaked and giddy. And with no physical tickets or assigned seating, our “check-in” was merely a quick roll call from a wonderfully jolly pilot, and a request for a volunteer co-pilot. Which a very chivalrous (and not unattractive) dude from Los Angeles ceded to my sister. The pilot then helped each and every one of us aboard.
The plane itself was from another era. Which is to say, it was old. Old seats, old seat belts, old safety instruction cards. And an old control board, which my sister, fortunately, did not need to use, her role as copilot being more decorative than functional.
But despite the disheveled surroundings, the flight itself was incredible. And intimate. These days, when I fly, I don’t even really think about the fact that I’m, well, flying. And how ridiculously amazing that is. Sure, on a 747 you can peer through that tiny, oval window with two-inch thick glass and see some clouds and stuff. But it may as well be a screen showing a video of clouds. The experience of flying has long been abstracted from the experience of flying. If ya know what I mean.
And serious bonus: our pilot didn’t give a damn about our “electronic devices.” Meaning I didn’t even have to be sneaky about taking the pictures shown here, and uploading them from the plane. Which reaffirms my (and many others’) belief that the safety threat that our phones supposedly pose to planes during takeoff and landing is bullshit.
Anyway, this was the first flight in a really, really long time where I actually looked out the window for more than seconds at a time. I wasn’t alone: everyone was glued to his or her respective (very large) window. The descent into Seattle’s Lake Union was beautiful, and we all held our breath when the plane touched down (with barely a splash). And then our gallant pilot helped us each off the plane.
I am willing to accept that glamour and excitement and intimacy are not things we should expect from today’s commercial airlines. Honestly, they’re not even things I think we should want. Given the volume and frequency of air travel today, what we need are efficiency, predictability and convenience.
But these are not things we are getting. It can take an hour to get through security. Flights are delayed more often than not. And how is it possible that the majority of airplanes are still not equipped with Wi-Fi?? I get that there are factors – like national security – that trump my desire to spend as little time in an airport as humanly possible. I guess I’m just venting in the hope that in five/ten years, we’ll look back on this awkward, preteen period in the history of long-distance travel and laugh. Like we laugh at those horrible (still painful) middle school photos. Because the future will have its shit together.
And when we’re done laughing, we’ll teleport ourselves wherever the hell we want to go.
Last week, I had the privilege of attending Fortune’s Most Powerful Women dinner in New York.
Now, before you declare that the most obnoxious and unlikely sentence ever written, let’s be clear. I wasn’t exactly invited. Alas, my evil plans for power accrual have been stalled by the remodel of my underground lair.
I didn’t crash the party, either. Rather, my awesome (and far more powerful) boss couldn’t make it at the last minute, and she graciously allowed me to go in her place. How lucky am I?!
But then the plane ticket purchasing high subsided. And it hit me: I was about to be the Least Powerful Woman at a Most Powerful Women dinner. By about 20 rungs. And let’s be real here, I’m probably not even on the same ladder.
Oh. Em. Gee.
Panicked, I immediately began: a) scouring the interwebs for an outfit so perfect it would compensate for all other deficiencies, and b) preemptively drafting a series of self-deprecating tweets to have on hand. Ya know, the standard coping mechanisms.
Why the freak out? It’s not like I’m totally unaccustomed to hanging out with a more powerful set. The Valley is filled with brilliant people, and I’m often the least impressive and intelligent person in a room. I legit love that.
But it’s different when it’s an invite-only event, and the people invited have all earned the right to be there. Would they (politely) question my right? Would they even want to talk to me at all? And if not, could I overcome my chronic networking paralysis and summon the courage to talk to them? Standing in a corner and praying to be hit on for the sake of conversation was unlikely to work, given the obvious lack of Y chromosomes. Er, not that I’ve ever done that.
Well, the big night arrived. And the women milling about during the cocktail hour were, as expected, crazy impressive in every way imaginable. Some I knew by name, others I had to surreptitiously google later in the bathroom. You’ll have to take my word for it, though, because it doesn’t seem right to namedrop anyone here.
Except maybe when it comes to Martha Stewart. I think she’s fair game. And she was positively regal. As soon as she entered the room, the volume dropped and every head turned. And even though my commitment to the domestic arts has dropped precipitously since the age of eight, I just had to meet her.
Which never would have happened, if the powerful woman I was chatting with at the time hadn’t pulled me across the room, depositing me firmly in front of the Queen of Homemaking herself.
“Martha, this is Ashley,” she said.
“Hello dear,” Martha cooed. “Are you an intern?”
Staring into Martha’s impossibly tan, impossibly smooth face (holy skincare regimen, isn’t this woman sixty-something??), I was so nervous I almost said yes. Whatever you want me to be, Martha.
I did, I think, manage to get out one word.
Martha nodded politely, and my escort provided a few more helpful details about my identity. And then Martha was gone, her earth tone-clad body gliding through the crowd.
(I think I made a good impression.)
The dinner portion of the evening was fantastic. Everyone was chatty and friendly and interesting. The speakers were truly inspiring, and amazingly humble. They’d overcome some crazy shit, and many of them – despite their near-omnipotence – seemed to have far more balanced lives than I.
They also killed – or at least challenged – some assumptions of mine. I’ll admit to being wary of the effect that power can have on women. Rising to the top ranks in Corporate America seems to require a pretty substantial degree of aggression and ego (not to mention pantsuits, barf). The same goes for men, but these traits are already in line with the accepted male stereotype. I guess I just don’t like the idea of femininity and power being inversely related, which is one of the reasons why I’m such a Sheryl Sandberg fangirl.
So anyway, I did it. Great success, as Borat would say.
To celebrate my survival, I headed straight into another terrifying situation: karaoke-ing. Eek. And who happened to be getting his sing on in the East Village, but the one and only Adrian Grenier (sans any sort of entourage).
Funnily enough, I wasn’t even fazed. Perhaps I’d accrued some power at the prior event. And by power, I mean booze, natch.
A few weeks ago, I ventured into the desert to frolic with 90,000 other souls in celebration of an insanely awesome music lineup. Also known as Coachella.
Normally I avoid such gatherings like the plague. A single afternoon of navigating the teeming masses at Outside Lands or Hardly Strictly Blue Grass in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, and I invariably swear off human contact for a week. I love love live music, but I hate hate large crowds. Hence, enormous music festivals really aren’t my bag.
But alas, the allure of donning of a sparkly headband across my forehead proved too powerful to resist, so off to Indio I went.
(And lest you believe this prior statement to be in jest, know that this accessory was purchased weeks in advance; my plane ticket: days. #priorities.)
Like any good adventurer, I did zero research before arriving at my destination. Turns out La Quinta Resort is quite different than La Quinta Motel (a welcome surprise), and that the concert grounds are comprised of nicely manicured grass, not the expected desert sand (also good – fewer snakes, perhaps?). I did get a few things right, though. My newly purchased neon jorts (jean shorts) and aforementioned headband created sweet, sweet fashion harmony with the very LA, very tan, very seventeen-year-old Coachella set.
Also, as one might imagine, very high.
Now, I’m far too square to do any interesting drugs, but to be fair, I can see why one might be tempted to indulge at Coachella. Drinking simply isn’t pragmatic. And yes, I realize that makes me sound absurdly lame for a twenty-something without a baby or mortgage to her name, but hear me out. Even if you kick it poolside for the first part of the day (rough life), you’re still spending a good eight to ten hours on the Coachella grounds. Maintaining a buzz throughout and still having the requisite energy and hand-eye coordination to rock out to Swedish House Mafia at midnight with the fervor they merit is far beyond my (admittedly fading) super powers.
So, after downing a few delicious breakfast mojitos by the pool, I would coast into sobriety for the remainder of the day.
And wander defenseless amongst the masses. God help me.
Well, not entirely defenseless. I had some awesome friends with me. And friends of friends. And friends of friends of friends.
But eventually, all these degrees of friendship and the small talk they required were more dizzying than the giant Burning Man-esque orchid that swiveled 100+ feet above the ground. (Hello Alice in Wonderland, no blue or red pills required.)
So when my social capacity hit its sadly limited limit, I did what any rational introvert would do. I wandered straight into the thick of the densest, danciest group of people I could find.
The first time it happened by accident. Coachella has the cellular reception you’d expect from a barren dessert overburdened by smartphone-wielding narcissists uploading Facebook photos in real-time (for the record, I include myself in this group). Stray from your crew without a preordained meeting place, and you are – in a word – fucked.
Which is how I learned that dancing anonymously in a crowd is almost as rejuvenating as being stranded all alone in the desert. And certainly more rejuvenating than trying to be charming among the other humans without the conversational lubricant that is alcohol.
Admittedly, getting your groove on in a throbbing throng of strangers with a BAC of zero entails some awkward ramp-up (think Dr. Evil and the Macarena*). But then you realize that no one gives a damn, and furthermore, no one is all that good at dancing anyway. And the music is frickin AWESOME. This blanket statement applies to Fitz & the Tantrums, Calvin Harris, The Rapture and a bunch of other acts I rocked out to solo.
I was even on my own for the final act, separated following Florence and the Machine. Snoop and Dre and every possible guest appearance you could ever hope for: Warren G, Fiddy, Eminem, TUPAC’S HOLOGRAM ZOMG.
And by “on my own,” I mean I was surrounded by new and equally dance-minded friends. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten down so hard in my life, sober or otherwise.
So overall, it was a very good exercise in embracing an overwhelming experience, dispensing with dignity, and loving it. It was also a good reminder that there’s solitude to be found in anonymity, and I should never ever leave the city for suburbia, where supermarket small talk reigns supreme.
And last but not least, Coachella reaffirmed that jorts rule, something I’d forgotten after my age hit double digits.
Until next year, Coa.
*If you get this reference, marry me?
On the first day of vacation, myth invariably meets reality. After weeks, maybe months, of build-up, you’re suddenly there – albeit horribly jetlagged and disheveled.
Not surprisingly, my first order of business upon touching down in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, was to get my pale, groggy self to Ipanema beach. A beach whose female occupants are so effortlessly lovely that they’re immortalized in the ever-so-catchy “The Girl from Ipanema,” a song I haven’t stopped humming since arriving in Brazil (much to the annoyance of its over-exposed residents, I’m sure).
But fear not: I was fully prepared for my ego-obliterating encounter with The Girl(s). For weeks, I’d visualized my arrival at Ipanema: something along the lines of being dropped conspicuously into the middle of a Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue photo shoot, surrounded by dozens of bronzed, naturally airbrushed Gisele clones in barely-there Brazilian bikinis. (And, hopefully, their equally tan and toned, speedo-clad male counterparts, to help soften the blow.)
Well, the famed itsy bitsy bikinis were out in full force. But contrary to my Travel Channel-informed expectations, the itsy bitsiness of the bikini was in no way proportional to the itsy bitsiness of its wearer (if anything, there was an inverse relationship). By comparison, my small-by-US-standards bikini was strikingly conservative, especially in the derriere. For those of you unfamiliar with the Brazilian cut for bikini bottoms, let’s just say that you get two (or three) for the price of one, as far as fabric is concerned. Which looks ab-fab on Gisele or Adriana Lima, but was slightly more jarring to my prude American eyes when modeled by ladies of all ages and all sizes with significantly more junk in the trunk. And when it comes to Brazilian ladies, baby got back, yo.
Fear not, boys: as promised by Victoria’s Secret catalogs, the mythic Brazilian women with impossibly perfect bone structure and killer curves do, in fact, exist. But they’re very much in the minority. Meaning that after four days in Rio (and two and counting in Florianópolis), my ego is still intact. Amazing.
So instead of being awed by universal beauty, I guess I’m in awe of universal confidence? Of course, my American narrow-mindedness still surfaces when people watching. I know what works – and what doesn’t – on my body. A thong bikini on a generously proportioned 70-year-old? Hmm.
But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t terribly envious of that devil-may-care acceptance – and flaunting – of one’s imperfections. Whether strutting their stuff on the beach or shaking it in Lapa’s samba clubs, Brazilian women have this impossibly carefree sex appeal.
I’m hoping a bit of it will rub off on me. Watch out, San Francisco
Remind me to go play expat in some exotic, tropical location before I’m too old to properly rock a bikini. Something like the Bali portion of Eat Pray Love, Brazilian lover included, please.
I consider myself to be very fulfilled, very lucky. Awesome job, friends, city, etc. But after a week+ in Negril, Jamaica, I’m now aware that I’m missing out on a few dimensions.
Things like sleep, sun and water (of the swimming, not drinking, variety). A glorious tan! Time away from my much beloved but overly demanding iPhone. Uninterrupted reading. These days, I digest books as if I’m reading a series of blog posts — which is to say, I don’t digest them very well. The last time I spent more than ten minutes reading without checking my phone was, well, my last vacation.
For better or worse, I’m not really a find-balance-in-moderation kind of girl. I gravitate towards extremes. I’ve made a very conscious decision to work my ass off for the next several years, or as long as I continue to love what I do and the people I do it with. There are some inevitable costs: sleep, happy hours (5pm wtf??), long-term relationships (oops). But as Cheryl Sandberg says, “Don’t lean back; lean in,” and all that jazz. And it’s not like I’m not having a blast. (Whoa double negative.)
So if I am going to make myself chill the f*ck out, I am going to have to do it in a big way. A year minimum surfing, yoga-ing, beach-ing, etc. Maybe finishing one of the many novels I’ve “started” (read: written ten pages in a fit of inspiration and never touched again). I’ll meditate and rock sarongs. I’ll eat quinoa, whatever that is.
And I’ll invariably go through serious civilization (as I know it) withdrawals at the onset. When I was without my iPhone the other month for five days (FIVE DAYS!), I was shaky and lost weight. I can only imagine what prolonged deprivation from constant Internet access will do to me. I’ll have no reason to read TechCrunch. I survived a full week in Jamaica, but only barely (and I wasn’t entirely without the interwebs).
Fingers crossed I get to put myself through this torture followed by euphoria. Jamaica is a possible destination, but the guys there are absurdly aggressive. The accents are fun, but the novelty of being called Beyonce wore off very quickly (yeah, yeah, #humblebrag). So I return with skin three shades darker, hair one shade lighter, and a very real appreciation for good ol’ American boys.
Anyway, recommendations welcome! For destinations, not boys.