Solstice Means Stillness

Photo by Wibeke Bruland

Nearly a decade ago, I promised myself I’d spend summer solstice in the brightest part of the world. It wasn’t so much a bucket-list thing—not sure I have one of those—but more a kind of calling. At the time, I’d been visiting one of the darker parts of the world: Denmark in December. I’ve since craved light in its most potent form.

When a writing residency took me to Iceland during this year’s summer solstice, then, I relished not only the time to write, but the fulfillment of that promise. (No, neither Iceland nor Denmark are part of the Arctic Circle, where light and dark would be most extreme. But I’m calling it “close enough”.) I’ve just returned from that trip, after a month of soaking up the brightest light I’ve known. Continue reading

“It’s important to find your lens.” In conversation with writer Cathy Huyghe

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Cathy Huyghe is an author with an appetite.

In Cavalier Career, we explore the will to do good work. So what kind of work does it take–really–to bring wine to the table?  Consider:.

  • A harvest crew skilled not only at picking fruit, but hunting rabbits.
  • Courage enough to traverse war-torn Syria in a taxicab full of ripening grapes.
  • Nerve to skirt the law, particularly in Turkey, where it is illegal to market wine and the consequences may be harsh.
  • Patience as long as the life cycle of a koala bear: If eight years pass before you bottle your wine, then so be it.
  • Hunger. Voracious hunger.

That last bit, according to writer Cathy Huyghe, is key. Whether the ache of passion or of physical appetite, hunger drives the wine business. It also drives our own private pursuits. 

RedCoverHFW-1In Hungry for Wine: Seeing the World through the Lens of a Wine Glass, Huyghe uncorks bottles
and stories from around the world. With uncommon curiosity, she looks past the luxe labels and technical tasting notes to global socioeconomics. The resulting twelve “conversations about wine” (as she calls them) reveal the humanity behind one of the world’s most celebrated beverages–and the drive it takes to pursue one’s hunger. 
Continue reading

Bird’s Eye View

It’s nearly Halloween, and time for a spooky story…

20141012_185122I don’t write a lot of fiction, but have experimented with flash storytelling. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I also really enjoy playing with voice over. So this was a fun project to approach with my sound engineer friend, Jesse.

Bird‘s-Eye View” traces a young girl’s thoughts as she struggles to gain perspective on her isolated life in Appalachia. For its narrator, a quick trip over the mountain is an epic journey, and a seemingly trivial encounter might change her life. (Well, a girl can dream, anyway.) Anyone who knows me well, knows that I spent a great deal of my life dreaming about the other side of the mountain, or at least the state line.

It’s not actually a ghost story, but the “haunted” element felt important to me.

Thanks for listening!

Storm-Chasing & Peace-Seeking

My migration across the country fifteen years ago was a pivotal point in my life. It constituted a great leap toward dreams I’d held since I was a little girl–and the beginning of my Cavalier Career.

For all the gifts of that move (and they have been countless) it also brought chaos. This week, my essay “Dock of the Bay” reflects on the ongoing quest for peace amid unrest, and the lessons of a life in motion. Thanks to Misadventures magazine for the publication.

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10 Reasons Why Making Your First Wine is Like Traveling to an Unfamiliar Country

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Misty jungle, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Over time, I’ve become familiar with certain steps in the winemaking process by working with my employer–sampling grapes, doing punchdowns, or cleaning tanks. Yet I had never experienced it in such detail until last week, when I harvested my own fruit and began my own winemaking project.

In my mind, I’m on a journey. I’ve landed in a thick jungle and I’ve gotta make my own path out. In the spirit of adventure, then, I give you:

10 Reasons Why Making Your First Wine is Like Traveling to an Unfamiliar Country

  1. You are excited! Now scared. Now excited! Now scared. Now …
  2. You are spending waaaay too much money. And it’s worth every penny.
  3. Friends who’ve been where you are going wanna tell you exactly how to get there and what to do. Now, should you take their advice?
  4. Once you set off on the trip, you realize you really should’ve packed some nutrients—like trail mix, or maybe some Ferm-Aid.
  5. You knew in your gut you were taking a wrong turn, and you did it anyway. Now you are lost and it’s a little scary. Always trust your gut!
  6. Where you least expect it, you find a like-minded friend to help you on your way.
  7. You speak the language, and blend in pretty well—but you’re not a local. And there’s always someone reminding you of that.
  8. As an outsider, you discover things even the locals don’t know.
  9. When the day is over, you’re gonna kick off your boots and have a cold beer.
  10. You don’t know what’s next on the itinerary, but you can’t wait to find out…

View from The Wayback

What is the force that drives us ahead–compels us to move forward, even without promise of a safe destination? Where do we find the gumption to keep going when we have absolutely no idea where we’re headed? Does it matter?

I think so. That force–my mom called it faith, but I can’t quite name it– is a fire I want to stoke, to tend carefully now and always.

At the risk of adding to the flood of recession porn, let me offer a half-hypothetical picture, woven from some truths I know: Continue reading

Self-Employees of the Month: Andrea Enright & Michael Boudreaux

Andrea Enright and Michael Boudreaux

A man may have lived all of his life in the gray, and the land and trees of him dark and somber. The events, even the important ones, may have trooped by faceless and pale. And then … the glory … a man pours outward, a torrent of him, and yet he is not diminished. And I guess a man’s importance in the world can be measured by the quality and number of his glories.”

–John Steinbeck

In 2005, Andrea Enright was living a golden, idyllic freelancer’s lifestyle, her communications portfolio fattening ever with contracts from well-known clients that ranged from Boston Market to Planned Parenthood. She had already successfully escaped the proverbial grind … but something was still missing. Her husband, Michael Boudreaux, a tech maestro for DIRECTV, thought so too. After a bit of soul-searching, they blew out of Denver and joined the Peace Corps.

When their two years of service in Bulgaria came to a close, Andrea and Michael kept going. On a mission they call “Wanderlust or Bust” they continued across the globe, including Syria, Lebanon, and Kurdistan (yeah, that’s Northern Iraq), couchsurfing, blogging, videoing and volunteering as they went. Continue reading

Self-Employee of the Month: Jennifer Baljko

Jenn Baljko

“It’s just another gamble, right? I mean, you throw the dice, and if it doesn’t work … I’ll start over again somewhere else.

On New Year’s Eve 2003, I hosted a dinner party and served up slow-cooked collard greens and black-eyed peas—a soul food combo that, according to Southern superstition, brings wealth and happiness in the coming year. As technology trade reporter Jennifer Baljko joined the table, none of us gathered could have guessed the wealth and happiness that would soon come her way.

Jennifer’s name didn’t pop up on my radar again until 2007, when I noticed that she had beat out stiff literary competition to win the Traveler’s Tales Solas Contest. I was intrigued: Where has this woman been for the past four years?

Apparently, mere months after those collards and peas worked their magic, divorce and the dotcom bust sparked Jennifer’s search for a new life and livelihood. On the very day that the U.S. first declared war on Iraq, she declared war on life as she knew it, buying a ticket for an extended international journey and soon thereafter quitting her job. “I knew I needed to set my priorities straight,” she says.

Continue reading

On Top of the World

Arctic Sweden

For the duration of this trip, I’ve been obsessed with the notion of going to Sweden. I had this sweet idea to visit long-lost relatives in Skåne on December 13, as the country celebrates the fairly major holiday of Santa Lucia Day. I’ve been slow to implement a travel plan, due to my own noncommittal modus operandi and the overdue payment from a client needed to fund the trip. Today I learned that the impressive Geminid meteor shower takes place on that very same day, and is best viewed from points north–particularly the Arctic Circle.

If I abandoned this post now to traipse down the cobbled, centuries-old streets of Viborg and board a train, then by Friday I literally could be on the top of the world during one of the most cosmically powerful times of the year, under my star sign of Gemini. So why am I sitting here staring at a computer screen when I could be stargazing with the Sami instead?

Maybe I am kidding myself, but I like to think I am cultivating focus. Continue reading

Spanish Shock Therapy

 

 

“She wants to hear
wine pouring.
She wants to taste
change.”

Rita Dove

For all the value I’d placed on travel in earlier posts, I confess that prior to this excursion to Spain, I’d failed to see the true power of a good trip. Sure, I understood that travel afforded loads of perspective, adventure, and relaxation. But I didn’t know how vital and transformative that could all be—because I’d never needed it as desperately as when I boarded the plane last week.

I had never been depressed before, which I suppose is pretty damned lucky after 32 years. But 3 months in the ‘burbs of Atlanta—with its14-lane highways and looming McMansions—slowed me down to an utter standstill. Every cell in my body huddled drearily in my skin, organs, teeth and bones until my body felt like some kind of shelter for the weak and weary. Believe it or not, I was hesitant to even take the trip at all. I was certain I’d lost any trace of a sharp, agile mind (which every traveller needs) to the seemingly endless logistics of my recent relocation.

But as the plane sped up and lifted off last Tuesday, I was physically shocked into a whole new mindset.

“Look, honey,” my partner pointed to the gargantuan strip mall where we’d inevitably been doing our shopping. He knew I hated the place, but was trying to raise my ire. “Camp Creek Parkway!”

I did not look back. Instead, I vowed that I would never set foot on that patch of asphalt again. In fact, I didn’t (and still don’t) know what I’d do when I landed again, but there would be no more life as usual. If I go back to Atlanta, it won’t be for long.

Landing in Barcelona, even my walk through the airport was electrifying. I was jolted into light, sound, and motion. God, I love motion. When we came upon the medieval streets of Barri Gotic, we stopped to sip our first café con leche—the first coffee drink I’d purchased in months that did not come from a corporate chain, thanks to Atlanta’s severe lack of independent coffeehouses. Hours later we were cocking our heads up at the wild spires of the famous cathedral, then feasting on cuttlefish and jamon, then sipping cava (with free refills, mind you) at a dark bar.

But it wasn’t the hedonistic indulgences that rocked me out of paralysis and back into my own true self. Lord knows I enjoyed our sunny day on the ancient ruins on La Costa Brava, and crashing at the quaint farmhouse in the Catalonian countryside. But it was simply the experience of that flight—the dramatic separation from the humdrum of everyday life—that made me feel the power of travel, the shift in perspective that I so needed. The rest has been gravy (… or should I say salsa).

That I’d harboured such deep doubts about this trip reminded me that sometimes closing my eyes and leaping is not such a bad idea. I suppose that sometimes that can lead to disaster—it certainly has before—but more often than not, it leads to new eschalons of opportunity and wonder.

On the surface, travel is a temporary escape that can squander loads of moolah and jack up your carbon output. But luckily, there’s more to life than what’s on the surface.