Wednesday, June 29, 2016

We Get On The Road


When we practice something, we become better at that thing that we're practicing, and we're always practicing something.

When I travel, I practice awareness and attentiveness and adventurousness and I become more aware, more attentive, and more adventurous.  When I'm home, I practice complacency, I practice familiarity, I practice at assumptions, and I become more complacent, more familiar, more assuming.

When I travel, I practice not knowing.  When I'm home, I practice knowing (and no one likes a know-it-all).

Of course, we don't need to book expensive and time-consuming trips to practice the traveling attributes.  With a little bit of training, we can practice awareness and attentiveness and adventurous right here at home, right now (this very moment).  

And as for complacency, familiarity, and assumptiveness, we can instead substitute the practice of intimacy, contentment, and being centered, and doesn't becoming more intimate, content and centered sound a lot nicer than complacent, familiar, and assuming?

Tuesday, June 28, 2016


At one point in the film True Stories, David Byrne says  "When I first come to a place, I notice all the little details. I notice the way the sky looks. The color of white paper. The way people walk. Doorknobs. Everything. Then I get used to the place and I don't notice those things anymore. So only by forgetting can I see the place again as it really is."

We're more observant when we travel, we're more open to new ideas.  I'm less shy and more extroverted, and I tend to do things I would never dream of doing back home.

When we travel, we practice awareness and attentiveness and adventurousness, and by that practice we become more aware, more attentive, more adventurous.  With some training, we can bring those virtues back home with us and practice them even after we return.  We can notice the quality of light back home, the color of white paper.

This kind of observant, mindful travel is very different than travel as a status symbol, or travel merely for the sake of bragging about where we've been.  We should travel for the sake of the journey, not for the destination.

And that journey can be right here at home.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Ethics of Travel, Part II


Another thing I've noticed about the debate over the ethics of travel:  those who complain the most are those who travel the least. While they acknowledged that their gripes were rooted in envy, they resent those who appear to be bragging on Facebook and other social media about their ability to take long vacations and to travel to exotic locales.

I don't believe that I consciously do it to show off, but on those occasions when I travel I usually post more on Facebook than I do on a typical work day.  I don't think I do it as a display of conspicuous consumption, but merely because the travel experience seems inherently more interesting to me and, well, more post-worthy, than an average day at the office.  I rarely stop to think that my post might make someone else feel worse about their life.

It's fairly well known by now that studies have shown that those who spend a lot of time on social media like Facebook are often more unhappy and more prone to depression than those who are casual users. Everyone else is posting their best and happiest experiences on Facebook, creating the impression that everyone, except for the reader, is having a wonderful time and the reader somehow got left out of the fun.  "Look at us!," the others are saying, "We're on a boat!" "Here we are with the five best friends ever having drinks at that cool new club!"  "Guess who just got engaged!  I did!" and so on in a relentless, merciless parade of success and achievement.

No one posts "I'm up a 3 a.m. having a difficult bowel movement," or "Another hour passed at work and yet it seems like quitting time is only getting farther away" or "Marcus doesn't love me anymore - he's found someone more interesting."  That's the part of life we all experience but no one posts about.

Some people use social media like Facebook in order to create the illusion of a better, more successful, more fulfilled, and happier self than they actually are.  It's advertising - deceptive advertising - but it's done by many people to make themselves look better, possibly for social status, possibly for self esteem.  Going through 25 pics to post the one where the wife is not scowling at you.  Posting a profile pic from 10 years ago to look younger and better. Quoting and retweeting those whose coolness or elan you want to emulate.

These people are phonies, but that's not my point.  My point is that we're all guilty of it to one degree or another.  No one's off the hook here, it's just a matter of how much we do it.  Even those who go the other way and post disarmingly candid and honest snapshots of their real lives are guilty to some extent or another of trying to look good by, well, not trying so hard to look good.  Facebook's just a big fiction anthology when you think of it.

So back to those people feeling hurt by the travel posts - don't the other displays of personal and financial success upset you?  Why is travel worse than exuberant socialization? Or accumulation of material things?  Or physical beauty?

But most importantly, why are you measuring yourself by the yardstick of the lives of others?

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Is Tourism Ethical?


I saw an interesting on-line forum today about the ethics of tourism and travel.

Some argued that tourism is inherently elitist.  Not only are tourists outside spectators into the lives and the lands of the places they're visiting, but travel for the sake of leisure is a privilege of the relatively wealthy - the working poor can't afford the time off, much less the airfare and lodging costs of a European holiday.  A much-stamped passport is a status symbol, a sign that one can afford the time and the expense of international travel.

The rich are different:  I've noticed in the tabloid press that when celebrities and the very wealthy are upset or depressed, they fly to some far-off exotic location to recover.  When we working people are upset or depressed, we have to endure it in the same location as our day-to-day lives, often the very source of the anxiety and heartache in the first place, and only travel to some foreign location when we're celebrating something, not mourning something.

It's said that travel broadens one's horizons, makes one a better informed, more tolerant human being, and so on.  But that's elitism again - one travels for the sake of one's own betterment, but does next to nothing the the betterment of others.

Some argued that travel and tourism is an unjustifiable source of carbon emissions to the atmosphere. It's bad enough to release hydrocarbons in the necessary commute to and from work, as well as out and about for our daily lives, but do we really need to pack an airplane full of yuppies from New York and fly them off to New Zealand, just so they can come back and tell their neighbors that they saw the very waterfall that was in their favorite scene of Lord of the Rings

On the other hand, it can be argued that there are certain economies that rely on tourism, and many third-world occupants would face a far harder time making a living if travel to their homelands suddenly stopped.  If we really care about the starving people in India, perhaps we should go there and visit and put some money into the local economy.  Sure, we could just send some money and not go there and visit, but that kind of unrequited charity is rarely sustainable.

One can also face the reality that under the present system, a plane is going to be flying to New Zealand or India anyway, regardless of whether or not you decide to be on it, so it's probably better that the plane be as full as possible in order to justify its carbon footprint.

I've considered the issue of the carbon footprint when I've flown from Atlanta to Seattle just to attend a weekend music festival.  I've felt somewhat guilty about it, but rationalized it by the fact that my overall carbon footprint is relatively small, so how much is a little annual splurge going to hurt?  But, yes, I realize that's just a rationalization.

Overall, I think wisdom is in the middle way.  Moderation.  Don't jet around the country or the globe out of mere boredom or for status, but don't refrain from travel and tourism altogether.  Take a few, modest trips, take lots of photographs while you're there, and be kind and generous to those you meet abroad.  And don't brag about it to your neighbors later.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

And So It Ends


So what was the point of all that?  All those Lambchop pictures in different locations?

The point was there is no point.  It was an exercise in imagination, to see what I could come up with by putting limitations on myself, such as "each day, post a different picture of this silly little toy I have hanging around the house for some reason." Try to keep it interesting, and see where my imagination takes me.

I ran the experiment for a full month, and in the process undoubtedly lost a few readers, who probably assumed I'd finally lost my mind.  Well, the joke's on the ones who come back now that the experiment's over - I may post some new pictures in the future if new ideas come to me.  So, there!

The challenge now is where do we go from here?