“They keep thinking of my good, in their terms”

I may kick myself later for the brutal honesty that follows. Frankly, like Rhett Butler, I don’t give a damn. My 30th birthday is coming up and though age shouldn’t dictate action, goals, or mindset I am a numbers person. I love obsessing over numbers and making them play off each other to get the answers you want. So, I’m trying to attempt a major goal I’ve had for quite some time before I’m 30.

The only thing I ask in return is for your absolute, brutal honesty as well.  I write to ease my active, anxious mind and thread the many wires onto a page in neat, little avenues of clarification. I’ve written for years for myself. I’ve written to bring some method to my madness, but all along I hoped to provide some entertainment and education through my stories. Now is that time.

I’ve written articles for two years now on how the lives of locals are affected by tourism in New Orleans, Belize, and elsewhere. Now, I am looking to channel these interviews into a book. Yes, people have told me it’s a bad idea. That it’s a waste of time.

I am ignoring them anyway.

What I can’t ignore is what I need from you my dear readers. What I need is feedback.


Here is a sneak peek at a chapter. (Note: a few thing will be different in the final version, i.e. places mentioned expanded upon, cultural themes explained, but the general direction is the same. )

Sign-up for my newsletter to learn about pre-ordering and the release or skip to the questions at the bottom if you want to miss the backstory:

“Sometimes, travel is the elemental: the desire to replace the old molecules with new ones, familiarity with its opposite.” - Michael Paterniti

As I climbed the temple steps in the suffocating darkness of predawn I felt excited like never before. I was awoken only 30 minutes before with polite knocking on my hostel door from a German girl I had met the day before in Mandalay, Myanmar (also known as Burma). I met her along with two other foreigners on the rambling bus ride from the airport and its surrounding dusty, rural expansiveness to the city center where every vehicle (registered or not) chaotically avoided mishap while zooming around ancient temples and colonial buildings.

A group of four strangers - myself, the German, a Chinese girl, and a Polish firefighter named Piotr - linked up and were strung together like boats docked in the middle of a channel. It’s on the road as a traveler that you have experiences out of concept for real life. Rarely on a random day between work, the gym, my hobbies, or going out do I meet people randomly and attach myself to them. As a solo traveler however, this happens quite frequently.

The German knocked as soon as they got off their overnight bus to Bagan. She looked as surprised as I did and asked, “Did I wake you?”

“Yes, but I’ll be ready in a minute or two.”

“Oh”, she said, looking past me at my hostel bed, completely made and tucked into the corners, “Are you sure? It doesn’t look like you were.”

I found this peculiarly funny because of her brute honesty. “Well, I don’t sleep in the sheets if I can help it.” It’s true. As much as I travel I am still a germaphobe. I spent my entire month in Asia on top of the cover sheet wrapped in a sarong. Once again, an experience vastly different from “real life”.

We all met in the stillness and uncertainty of the unseen Bagan wilderness around our hostel to await our taxi. Our driver approached from around the corner with his rickshaw wagon attached to a dusty and sleepy looking mule. As we clamored into the back I took mental snapshots of the absurdity and excitement of traveling in a way I’m unaccustomed to and how Burmese locals did (besides walk everywhere) halfway around the world.


Time + Geography = Character


We arrived at one of the thousands of temples in Bagan. I don’t even remember the name of it. As we climbed up the steep steps just barely able to see our hands in front of us I realized how fortunate of an experience it was in. Not many people can say that they watched the sun rise over the “land of a thousand forgotten temples”.

As I watched my step going back down the temple my foot barely had time to make the “crunch” of weight hitting the top layer of crusty dirt before an 11 year-old girl and her younger brother approached me. “You buy, you buy, you buy” they said holding up a string of postcards in plastic sleeves. “No. No thank you.” I said hurriedly, used to the ever present salesmanship of tourist swag from my travels and from living in New Orleans. “You buy?” the girl said again, almost pushing the postcard into my belly.

That is when it hit me. This girl was not unlike many, and not unlike myself. I represented opportunity. I was her way of bringing home money to her family. She was out here hustling in a section of town where all the customers are. Back home I was a marketing director for hospitality and tourism companies. Although not out on the pavement pushing cards, I too was seeking visitors to extract their money during their stay. Her country had just opened up their borders to others to come and spend money as visitors. She was hustling her culture. Exactly what I did.

This is when the real tension of the relationship between visitor and local hit me. I imagined myself as a passive passenger, traveling through Asia under the radar, and simply taking everything in. I didn’t want to insert myself into the surroundings or even necessarily “travel like a local”. I looked back at the whiter faces descending the temple steps and the Burmese children waiting below. There was a visual line of separation between worlds. On top of that, I was picked out of the crowd as someone to haggle with instead of someone out for a sightseeing stroll before breakfast.

Any feeling of “local” I had in the back of the rickshaw was weighted now with a feeling that if something wasn’t done, if people weren’t made aware, if people didn’t care, then this beautiful, tranquil city would soon look like its neighbor, Thailand. Not that there's anything wrong with Thailand, a country that has adapted rapidly to a more East-meets-West way of life with smiling, hospitable locals, neon lights, beautiful history, and loose moral tourism.

Those torn apart “local” feelings also simmered with the rare feeling of awareness. Who was I to say how this city progressed? I was emotional about the experience and the chance I was afforded and wanted others to share it, yes, but did others want the same? Did the girl and her brother want tranquil mornings and to continue to push paper souvenirs? Or, did they see themselves using the opportunity of tourism to build a life they envisioned that was different?  What I lacked was not a general awareness of myself, but of others’ perspectives.

“...what we all want to do, which is find a way to capture things before they dissolve, to not lose our lives to the relentless pace that keeps us from knowing who we are and what we want.” - Michael Paterniti

All of this is to say that after I returned from Asia my lens on tourism had changed. In New Orleans I watched a city struggle to find its story on a changing landscape. With the influx of money came “cleaner” streets, “nicer” homes, and “cultural praise”. What also attached itself were genuine concerns over gentrification, unethical work environments in hospitality, and cultural exploitation.

I love this city and consider it more of a home than anywhere I’ve been. As Kim, a New Orleanian local, proudly claimed, to live in New Orleans you have to be “comfortable with being uncomfortable.” There is always tension. The good with the bad. The floods with the festivals. The tourists with the tourism money.

So, I started thinking, what makes New Orleans a tourism mecca? Is it the way of life? Is it the ease with which visitors become guests? Is it the simplistic veneer the city has that makes it look easy to live here, while underneath the tumultuous undercurrent are as expressive and multifaceted as any other city in the world?

When people talk about tourism in New Orleans they are usually employed in the industry. They see virtue in increasing visitor numbers, hotel room numbers, and attractions. They aren’t wrong, but they occupy a majority (nay, all) of the spotlight. The numbers around how tourism economically helps the city are encouraged to make the news right beside the article describing how our pump stations fail and the SWBNO is going through executive house cleaning.

Recently, the party buses, painted midnight black so their neon lights are more visible, blaring bounce music while careening through the streets as revelers swig from Solo cups and wave out the windows or lean half their body off the side are under scrutiny. Personally, I have never enjoyed time on one, but that does not negate the fact that a modern expression of black culture is being questioned yet again. New Orleans is a bed of creativity which draws people into its web. The city however has a certain picture in mind of what that looks like.

When the city cannot think about how to monetize a culture’s exaltation they critique. When they see it as a hindrance to the antebellum and Jazz decades they depict in tourism marketing they revolt.

“They keep thinking of my good, in their terms” - Wallace Stegner

How can I help? By telling the stories of locals whose voices are dimly lit compared to the tourism marketing companies.

Who should care? You! If you visit New Orleans you should care. If you travel at all and care about culture in a destination you should care. If you live in New Orleans you should care what your neighbors are saying.

It is better to be a guest than to be a visitor. Tourism is hospitality and New Orleanians are some of the most gracious hosts. To cut through the tension of relationships developing in the tourism industry my book will describe different perspectives so we can become aware of the many sides of truth.

“Travel is mostly boredom - and if you’re not bored, you’re pretty sure everyone else is having more fun.” - Thomas Swick

The most important portion of this plea has now come. Thank you for bearing with me. Before I travel I have my own preferences of how to research a place, but I want to know what YOU want to read about a place.

Please read the following and feel free to leave a comment, text me, call me, write me a long letter. Again, who gives a damn what you say or how you say it but I want to hear from you.

Do you want to see a guidebook?

What is it about travel you like?

What do you not like?

Should I include my personal stories in the book?

Would you like inclusions of local colloquiums, history, etc?

Would you pre-order a book?


The thing with travel is that it’s not the place, the meal, or the souvenirs. It’s the story that goes with it.

Thank you for helping me tell others’ stories.

Sign up here to receive news of this project in progress.

Tallying the Newlywed Game

There are lots of stereotypes when people find out you are a woman in a relationship with another woman. Commonly heard: “Oh, that’s so nice! I bet your wardrobe doubles.” “Man, is getting dressed up to go out way more fun?” These questions and statements, however, are factually incorrect.

My girlfriend and I are entirely different people as most individuals are in relationships. We fight over who used up all the butter or who has to take out the trash. We can’t wear each others clothes because we are two completely different body types. One slight difference is that we also hold grudges if we think the other used the last of the tampons, which is….every month.

The other morning while showering I glanced around the tub and couldn’t find face wash. ‘I have face wash’, I thought, ‘So where is it? This tub is only like 5 sq. ft.’

I couldn’t see it because as I did a scouting glance to all four corners I counted the bottles. Four bottles were shampoo. Three bottles were conditioner. Nestled up on our hanger was my face wash crushed behind yet another new bottle of face wash. ‘What is happening?’

I called to my girlfriend to come to the bathroom and asked her about the excessive amounts of similar products. Without stopping a beat she went into detail about each individual conditioner, wash, and shampoo. Some were for the days immediately after coloring her hair (a $150 expense), some were to tone it a few weeks later, and the new face wash felt better on her skin. “But don’t use any,” she finished up saying, “They are for people with colored hair.” I stood almost dumbfounded because I knew that each one costs approximately $22.

Four bottles of shampoo +

three bottles of conditioner +

one bottle of face wash =

roughly $176.

All contained within 5 sq. ft.

“Health and beauty” (and sometimes “clothing”) products cover a variety of items found in stores from lotions and bath items to hair necessities and nutritional powders. At times, I dare say, I have an Amazon Prime addiction. It’s so easy to be writing at the computer and think “Oh, I need a new sports bra!” or “I need more X for my workouts.” I click to order and boom! within 24-36 hours it’s at my house. That is where my “health and beauty” can lean down the slippery slope.

While my girlfriends’ version of health is more on the grooming side mine is centered around food, nutrition, and working out. (I’m a self-defense instructor so I justify a lot of expenses to myself.) She buys manicures, dresses, and wine. I buy running shoes, protein powders, and...wine.

My girlfriend and I do not see eye to eye on a lot of financial decisions either. She is the “let’s go on a date” to my “let’s have a date at home so in 5 years we can have the passive income we want”. It’s certainly at the polar ends of the financial spectrum.

As I stand dripping with shampoo I shouldn’t have used she asks me, “Another package just came. You need to stop ordering stuff. What is it this time?” I proceeded to gleefully explain that, “THIS time I ordered a protein powder with BCAAs and no sugar so it’s a pre-made post workout treat.” It costs $45. It’s more expensive but now instead of the Frankenstein mess I concocted out of all the other supplements in out kitchen I can keep up with one large tub. She looks unamused, but that is when it happens.

It is the untold, born in silence, fully understood truce between couples. When one can see the argument they are making thrown back in their face by the other not out of spite, but because as two individuals we have different sets of needs.

She spends almost $200 every month on hair “necessities” and finding her way to health and beauty. I find my own way to health and beauty and although every month may not be the same financially it all equals out in the end.

 

Originally written for Billfold.

Finding Perspective in the Most Unlikely Place

This time last year I was stuck on a highway I didn’t know the name of. Luckily, I was stuck between the only small hill cut through by this highway or else the Arizona sun would have cooked me alive in my shockingly yellow rental car. Hour one was humorous and would have been a story in itself. In hour two, when the truck behind me flashed his lights to warn of oncoming pedestrians as I tried to pee into my water bottle, was much less idyllic.

I was on a solo journey through the state of Arizona. It’s not the most exciting trip or exotic location unless you are someone who has never spent time among the red clay or Southwestern territories.

The choice to go to Arizona didn’t fall out of the sky one dreary New Orleans winter day. When I look at a map of the United States I’m proud to remember grueling summer days in the southern states, oysters and beer in Florida, or kayaking in Pugent Sound. There are some wide swaths of America unfortunately I have not been to. Why else would a Southern girl go to Arizona if not on a whim?

The highway adventure was three hours of sitting, watching, and waiting for a brush fire to be qualmed. I was at a vantage point where I could see the firefighters working and all I could do was read, write, and eventually get out of my car and talk to the other highway captives. An older lady with three dogs in the back of her SUV started up a conversation with me.

“Do you have enough water?” (That is the customary expression for “Hello” in Arizona.)

“Yes mam. I am fortunately packed to go camping.”

Throughout our conversation I learned that this is Arizona’s form of natural disaster equivalent to heavy thunderstorms back in New Orleans. They happen frequently yet are part of the backdrop of Southwestern life. There are Twitter handles for updates and procedures in place although, come to find out, this type of highway abandonment is rarely experienced.

The question both the older lady and her serendipitous friend from another vehicle asked was, “So, why come visit Arizona?” This question seemed odd to me at the time as I live in a place typically mentioned with fervent eagerness and “Oh, I LOVE New Orleans.”  

As a general rule I am a penny pincher in everyday life so I can be independent in my adventures. After saving money for two years while I was unemployed, working kitchen jobs, or giving away shots of rum in supermarkets across New Orleans, I had booked a solo trip to Asia. It was a blissful month at the age of 25. I combed the streets of Thailand looking for food, avoided little boys with an enormous zeal for fireworks in Chang Mai, and biked along sandy shepherd's paths in Bagan, Myanmar.

Asia was a place to lose yourself. I had saved money and when I told my girlfriend that I was going she replied with, “Well I can’t go right now.”

“I wasn’t inviting you.” I unsympathetically replied. “This is a solo journey.”

Many Westerners go to Asia  attempting to produce the closest (and safest) theater of exotic lifestyle. In Asia, no one asked why I was there. It was understood. I was traveling in order to find myself in my independence and durability.

Back in Arizona three years later, my host in Phoenix is a little too tall for his apartment front door. As he greeted me he bent over and smiled to lean in for a hug. “It’s so nice to meet you,” he said as he pulled back to move out of the door frame. His teeth had recently been brightened, almost to a frightening level. We sat in his kitchen talking about my plans and why I was in Arizona. Like most people, he didn’t understand why I had come.

“So, where’s your girlfriend?”

“Oh, this is a solo trip. Just me.”

“That sounds healthy. I’m way too co-dependent for that.”

“Um, yeah. I find it a good thing to get away for a breather every now and then. She understands. And I don’t really give it a choice for better or worse.”

“Well, that can’t be good for a relationship.”

My toe digs a little deeper into the kitchen tile.

“So, what are you doing out here?”

“Oh, just traveling a bit. I’ve never seen Arizona’s landscape. I want to see red rocks and desert and mountains.”

My answers seem to fall short of expectation or of any interest to him. I thought about how he didn’t understand my need for down time. How I need the space to be myself and to ruminate on my thoughts.

I, probably like most people, fall under the disgustingly-modern title of “extrovert-introvert”. On most occasions I feed off of people’s energy and bounce from location to location, person to person. I love newness and surprise and the fast-paced exercise of life. However, there are some occasions where I need to get away from it all. Maybe it’s to process the information or maybe it’s to simply recharge the energy bank.

Regardless of whether it’s right or wrong, I take it upon myself every so often to escape the routine and venture out on my own. No significant other, no friends, no groups. Just me.

After climbing Camelback in Phoenix, admiring the engineering of Montezuma’s Castle, and learning about Montezuma’s Well, I made my way into Sedona.

The shopkeeper in a studio tucked into the lower level of a newly constructed log cabin had a long gray mane that was speckled throughout with dark strands and pure white hair. Her long skirt brushed against her ankles as she walked around the store holding her self-made pottery mug of tea. She was Sedona.

I figured that as long as I brought back a present to my girlfriend that all would be cemented as “good”. That’s what people are supposed to do right? Bring gifts back from trips, apologize instead of ask for permission.

Like a hornet to a picnic she flowed over to me, the sole customer in her small, Western outpost.

“Is there something you are looking for in particular?” she asked over her glasses.

“Not really, just browsing.”

“Is it just you?”

“Yes, just me. I’m doing a little solo ‘walk in the woods’-type of endeavor. I just visited Montezuma’s Castle”

“I used to travel by myself a lot when I was your age. Now I’ve been married for 40 years. I couldn’t imagine doing anything without my husband. I’m so used to it now. That’s why I tell visitors, ‘If you see a couple, talk to them. Odds are they want someone else to break the monotony.’”

Odd sayings like this were expected at this point in Arizona, a land very alien in its American lifestyle. It was there, in that shop however, that the weight came down. Hard.  Through all of my efforts of trying to understand life more I was in actuality missing it.

I missed everyone while I was away. Maybe solo travel can - at times - be a form of filling that void of curiosity.  As Franz Kafta put it; “Isolation is a way to know ourselves.”

At the same time, there is something liberating about moving at your own pace, making decisions and having to own up to them, putting yourself out there to make new acquaintances.

Time is the only thing worth fighting for right? Time with loved ones, time to yourself, time to study/work/play/travel, time for what is important to you. Time is the only finite thing in our lives. It determines how many sunrises we see or kisses we receive or the amount of money we earn. You can’t do anything without time.

As I hiked around Bell Rock and Templeton Trial that I realized the importance of sharing travel. Truly sharing it. Not with pictures or presents but in time and meals and sunrises.

Or, maybe the vortexes simply had a hold over me.





 

Start Acting Like the Person You Already Are

“I heard Natalie Goldberg, the author of Writing Down the Bones, speak on writing once. Someone asked her for the best possible writing advice she had to offer, and she held up a yellow legal pad, pretended her fingers held a pen, and scribbled away.” - Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

The sun blasted down through the windshield of my aunt’s Taurus. The Alabama heat accentuated the leather car interior providing musty, hot smells even as the A/C pelted my eyes with Arctic chill. My aunt, the youngest of my mom’s four sisters, was taking me only god knows where. As a kid we normally spent a lot of time together running errands, seeing the sights around Birmingham, or generally having fun. As philosophically as a 10 year-old gets I remember saying to her [in loose verbatim], “In Sister Act, Whoopi said to a student, (Lauryn Hill) that ‘Don’t ask me about being a writer. If when you wake up in the morning, you can think of nothing but writing…then you’re a writer. If you wake up in the morning and the first thing you think about is singing, you’re supposed to be a singer.”

At ten years old my fascination with the Sister Act movies was at an all-time high. Every day I would get home from school and pour half a cup of Hershey’s chocolate syrup into a pint of 2% milk. I believe nowadays health blogs could consider this as “bulking”. As a child, this repetitive non-nutritious snack was seen as normal. As the chocolate and dairy mingled as new friends I would make the one snack item that I didn’t burn...most of the time. Popcorn packets melted away in the microwave into large bags of hot, oily movie food.

Our playroom was the kids zone. The carpet needed to be replaced due to all the spills. The couch was from when my dad was a bachelor. The TV was an analog, rotary box with wood paneling. I would already have Sister Act, Sister Act 2, or the Little Rascals in the VHS and would rewind it impatiently. (I understand my cinematic picks are not envious or flattering, but they were a part of almost every afternoon of 4th grade.)

As the back of my thighs stuck to the passenger seat and I looked up at my aunt, my childhood idol, and was crestfallen when her response was, “Well, I don’t believe that.” She went on more about how that was inaccurate, but I couldn’t hear. My little childhood world had taken a big blow. I offered up one of my favorite lines, from my favorite movie, to my favorite friend and the response was a resounding, “That isn’t correct.”

Now, this scenario didn’t send me reeling back in time and convince me never to pursue writing. It didn’t cause me to like my aunt less. What it did do, however, was put judgemental boxes around professions and people’s habits. As an adult I see my peers constantly struggle with defining themselves through careers while more excitedly explaining their side hustles or hobbies. It’s not easy to be a creative mind in a world built for efficiency and making money to support those hobbies and hustles.

A now famous quote by Colonel John Boyd, an Air Force pilot superstar, goes, “To be somebody or to do something. In life there is often a roll call. That’s when you will have to make a decision. To be or to do? Which way will you go?” Ask yourself, will you simply “be” something or will you “do” something. I see it as earning my stripes to “be through doing”. In the acts of work we become what we see ourselves as.

Before I took time for this summer to be dedicated to writing my book I never called myself a “writer”. Writing was something I did all the time either for myself or to negate travel expenses, but never something I consider earth-shattering or genre-moving. It was my partner who took my hand, looked me in the eye and said, “You’re a writer so start acting like one.”

When you wake up in the morning, what is the first thing you think about? When you have down time on the weekends or at night or in the morning what do you do? What hobbies do you have that create that special spark of creativity or belonging to a greater presence than yourself in this world?

To me, that is what we are. We are the persistent pursuits, the constant challenges we present ourselves with, and the small wins that feel like major accomplishments. As I write this now I am using my morning before packing for Mexico to write about a thought that popped into my head while I was driving around town yesterday. It flows onto this page, but is also a struggle to focus in its entirety. Yet, I proceed because getting this up on my blog that few people may read is a win. It is an accomplishment. Because I work on my craft of writing I am a writer.

I am a writer. It’s about time I start acting like one.

Who are you?

An Essay Winner

This essay was written for a competition created by RIVA after the Qualitative Research Consultants Association conference in January 2018. I won one of the three awards and received funding for advanced certification.

At a previous conference (for business ethnographers) my handwritten notes spelled out “REVA. Qual training to look up”. Little did I know how influential the correctly-spelled “RIVA” is in the world of qualitative. After winning the YPG grant I attended QRCA conference for the first time. Currently, I am pivoting from a career as a marketing director towards a more empathetic, ethical path in research.

I believe in the ability of researchers to be the spokespeople for human behavior, needs, wants, and customer journeys. Through our work we can bring empathy into the boardroom. As my mentor always says, “Context is everything”. It’s this mindset that sets qualies apart.

My goal is to become a qualitative researcher structured in theory and practice. In doing so I will not only benefit myself but the industry as a whole. I believe the RIVA course is the next step in continuing my career as a video ethnographer and qualitative researcher.

I am a new independent professional and new to qualitative. My daily focuses are generally in secondary research and research management. I sit in occasionally on video and in-person interviews, but am excited and energetic to begin moderating on my own. Qualifying for a free training course would help me tremendously financially and professionally.

If I am offered the chance to train in the RIVA system I know that my time and RIVA’s investment will be well-spent. At 29, my career is at the critical point of expulsion through the stratosphere of personal and professional achievement. I would gladly accept RIVA’s assistance and give full recognition in their help.