Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Writer Wednesday - Alison Watt

Alison Watt grew up in Victoria and nows live on Protection Island, Nanaimo, BC, where she and her husband have raised two children. She holds a BSc in Biology and an MFA in Creative Writing, and is represented by the Red Art Gallery in Victoria, BC. She says, "I am a painter who writes; I am a writer who paints. I am never sure exactly which comes first. Writing has been a way to express more accurately what I am drawn to express in the non-verbal language of painting. Both are equally important to me." I hope you enjoy the interview, and if you're a visual artist who would like to be interviewed yourself, please contact me!
Alison Watt artist writer

Who are you? I live on a small island (Protection Island) near Nanaimo, Vancouver Island. I have an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia but my first degree was biology; my work is shaped by my ardour for the natural world. I am a writer who paints; I am a painter who writes.


Where can you be found online? Do you have a blog or other online receptacle for your work? I kept an illustrated travel blog a few years ago when my husband and I were sailing in the Pacific. That year my art practice, adapted to the gypsy sailing life, simplified to watercolours and a sketchbook. My writing became the infinite space, within the nutshell of the sailboat, I could retreat to. I worked on a novel and I wrote for my travel blog. I loved writing the personal essay, something I had never done much of before, due to the lack of publishing venues (unless you are David Sedaris).

I continue to keep a blog on my professional website. It is mostly about drawing, painting and teaching at home and in France. I have been teaching plein air in southwest France for the last few summers and have fallen deeply for its food, landscape and sensibilities.
French Doorway

Why do you write? I wrote my first book, The Last Island, because I wanted to tell the story of a formative “moment” in my life, a remarkable person (the young Quebecois woman I worked with on the seabird island, who later fell and died there) and the lyrical natural history of seabirds. My next book, a collection of poetry, Circadia simply emerged on its own volition, as poetry does. At that point I was in my 40’s; life seemed to be in fast forward, kids growing, parents dying; poetry was a way I netted life, examined it, and pinned it down. I was meeting at the time with an incredible group of older women writers in my city; they were nurturing mentors and ruthless editors.

But mostly, I write because creative work pushes itself to the surface and the artist has no choice but to release it.

Who inspires you? Different writers have inspired me at different times of my life. When I was studying biology, Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek was my bible, scribbled with my earnest marginalia. Sylvia Plath continues to be a poetic touchstone for me. The Canadian poet Don McKay’s homespun sophistication, the loving clarity of his gaze when focused on the natural world, inspires. My favourite novel is Laurence Durrell’s The Alexandria Quartet.

If you could have an all-expenses paid trip anywhere in the world, where would you go? As a young woman I was all about adventure; the places where I worked and travelled were the stuff of wild dreams: the Amazon, the Galapagos, the remote reaches of the British Columbia coast. Now my desire is to explore time, culture and art. I would love to stay in a city like Venice or Paris for months. True luxury would not be travel but pause, to step away from all of the deadlines and self-imposed striving and simply "be." But I suspect, like many artists, I might find it impossible to leave my work behind.


What is your favorite place on earth? My favourite place on earth is near where I live. Mitlenatch Island is a seabird colony, a park where I once spent a whole summer, working as a solitary naturalist. Now I spend one week every summer there with one of my oldest, dearest friends, as a volunteer warden. It is a tiny, wind swept, sun bleached hub of concentrated life (birds, whales, seals, otters) at the centre of the Salish Sea.

Mitlenatch Island
Mitlenatch Island

Anything else you'd like us to know? I know artist/writers whose work is very integrated. My own writing and painting often feel like they occupy different wings of my mind. I suspect though that they connect in a subconscious way: for instance, a friend pointed out to me that I began painting abstract after I began writing poetry. I am fascinated by how different genres feed each other in the work of other creative artists.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Songs I Like

Do you know that I generally don't like music? When I tell people that, it's as if I've said I don't like babies and also one of my hobbies is kicking puppies.

Sometimes if I'm driving, I listen to songs on the radio, though I usually prefer NPR. At times, I find myself listening to the soundtrack of my childhood—the Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, Cat Stevens, a handful of others—on repeat. Sometimes I listen to hymns or classical music or chanting or Senegalese or Turkish or French music while I am working. I keep the volume very, very low.

There are new songs I like, too, because I really love dancing. This is one of them:

And there are others. I keep a list of them, saved in my email, so when we have a dance party, I can remember to make a playlist of them. The email is called "Songs I Like."

But for the most time, I live in silence or I live with the news. I don't know why I have a hard time with music. I think that, like certain smells, because I'm un-used to it, I have trouble with it. I find myself emotionally all tied up in it when I'm meant to be working or relaxing or talking to friends. The first time I cried at a song was listening to "Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road" alone on the floor of my room with my boombox in third grade. I'm an old soul, friends. It's only gotten worse from there.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Backpacking Tips for the Aspiring Adventurer - Ten Hints to Get Started

This is a guest post by Cynthia Stewart, writer, teacher, and adventurer extraordinaire.  I've known Cynthia since she was just a baby (in my head, she still looks like this, and you might recognize her from a certain wedding I attended this summer), and it's been so awesome to see the incredible things she's done as an adult. Right now, she's teaching in Korea and hiking when she can. You should definitely follow her adventures on Instagram (that's where all of the following images are from). I selfishly asked her to write this feature because I'm interested in trying out a bit of backpacking, and she's the person I know with the most experience and knowledge about it. I hope her suggestions will encourage you to get out there and start your own adventures!

I’ve trekked the Adirondack and Catskill mountains in New York, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in New Zealand and have hiked about a thousand miles of the Appalachian Trail. These days, I’m exploring the mountains of Gangwon-do, South Korea. I’ve learned all I know about backpacking through visiting and living in the woods. You don’t need to be an expert, rich or in optimum physical shape to go backpacking. These tips are my best advice for beginners.

Cynthia herself.

1. Hike Your Own Hike
“Hike your own hike” is the golden rule of any adventure. When choosing a journey, challenge yourself, but choose a realistic hike. Start small and train for your expedition. Discover what pace and distance are comfortable for you. Some people approach backpacking like a sport they want to win. Others backpack for the chance to be close to nature and other outdoorsy folk. Why do you want to go backpacking? Keep your intention in mind and appreciate your unique journey. People less daring than you may admire you or think you’re crazy. Hikers more hardcore than you may have a superior attitude, but who cares, hike your own hike, man.

New Hampshire

2. “OMG Shoes”
From bare feet to heavy boots, there are a variety of ways to walk in the woods. Ultralight everything is trendy now, but I believe sturdy boots will endure. Find a shoe that is comfortable for you and break it in before your trip. Bring a pair of lightweight camp shoes. Your hiking shoes will grow gnarly, and camp shoes are great for letting your feet breath. The wilderness is the one place where Crocs are the height of fashion, but flip flops work, too.

Sock liners and foot powder prevent blisters. Keep your feet as dry as possible. Take off your shoes and socks during breaks and soak sore feet in cold streams. A sturdy shoe, insoles and trekking poles minimize the stress of hiking on your knees and feet.

Cynthia and her gear.

3. Gear Talk
Interior vs. exterior frames, lumbars, Gore-Tex, even the metric system! Don’t let gear jargon confound you. Read blogs of people who’ve hiked your intended trail or in a similar region to find what equipment is relevant. If possible, borrow gear from a friend or an Outing Club for your first excursions. Don’t splurge on gear until you know you enjoy backpacking and understand what you need.

If you decide to buy gear, have an idea of what you want before you go shopping. Read product reviews and choose brands with good reputations. Some outdoor companies have excellent warranties and will happily replace damaged gear. Invest in some quality items, but scrimp when you can. Beware of $12 dollar glorified Pasta Sides and $40 dollar polyester T-shirts sold at outfitters. Exercise clothing from department stores are excellent for backpacking. Choose clothing with synthetic material that will dry quickly to help prevent hypothermia when sweat or weather happen. Remember, “cotton kills” and if you wear denim in the woods, you may be shunned.

I bring a backpack, trekking poles, hiking boots with orthopedic insoles, camp shoes, synthetic socks and sock liners, a synthetic T-shirt, convertible pants, a thermal shirt and pants, a fleece sweater, dirty red bandana, warm hat, rain gear, a tent with a rain-fly and ground mat, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, a small propane stove, a spork, a first aid kit, a bladder and nalgene. For me, these items are necessities, but some backpackers camp without shelter and forage for their food. Other backpackers prefer a little more glamour in the wilderness. Start with the basic necessities and discover your own style of backpacking.

On the Appalachian Trail

4. The Shake Down
Examine your gear before you embark. Set aside everything you don’t absolutely need. Do not bring extra cardboard, plastic or wrappers.Take the cardboard tube out of your toilet paper roll. Repack items in smaller bags like zip locks. Some backpackers even cut their toothbrush in half. Luxury items should be kept to a minimum, but do bring stuff that will make you happy. I once hiked with a foldable light-up hula hoop; it was worth it. Weigh your backpack before your trip. Your base weight is the value before food and water. Have a friend or a seasoned backpacker look over your gear and offer advice. Post adventure, go through your gear and consider what you didn’t use so you can better prepare for your next trip. The lighter your backpack, the happier your hike will be.

Hikers Welcome in New Hampshire

5. Listen to Your Body, not Your Brain
Backpacking is a physical and mental challenge. Expect to have good days and bad days, especially on longer trips. Keep your outlook positive and listen to your body. If you feel thirsty, drink. If you are craving salt or sugar, eat the corresponding snack. If your body says, “there is no way I’m climbing this hill if you don’t feed me a candy bar,” eat a candy bar. Take breaks when you’re tired. Address pain and blisters immediately. Your body will adjust to the trial, if you keep your attitude positive. This means sometimes telling your brain to shut up. Your brain may say, “I hate hiking.” Don’t listen. Know your limits, but continue challenging yourself. Reward yourself for departing from your comfort zone. Hike, but also hang out in the woods. Enjoy nature and talk to strangers. After your trip, you will feel accomplished and your brain will be like, “I’m so happy we did this, I never doubted you.”

Cynthia, gazing at her accomplishment on the Appalachian Trail

6. “Water, I Need It!”
Collect water from flowing sources. Treat water with chemicals and filters. Know the water sources on your trail. Water sources are sometimes unreliable and may dry up depending on the season. Have a backup plan.

I recommend having a 2 to 3 liter bladder with an accessible hose you can drink from without stopping on the trail. Water is necessary, but monotonous. Drink mixes are a fantastic treat. I carry a separate container like a nalgene bottle or reused plastic bottle for flavored drinks. Hot cocoa, coffee and even iced coffee mixes go well with camp meals.

Some of Cynthia's trail munchies

7. Munchies
While backpacking, I eat three meals a day with snacks in between. Snacks are very important to me in the woods because they inspire me to keep hiking. I cook a hot breakfast and dinner and have a cold lunch on the go. I use a camp stove that boils water over propane. You can also cook over a campfire, but check if fires are allowed in the area.

Backpacking food is anything that will last without a refrigerator. Dehydrated food like pasta or rice, hard fruits, preserved meat, hard cheese and sealed snacks work for backpacking. Plan enough food for your trip. Don’t over pack, but expect to eat more than usual. I like to have a backup food like peanut butter for hunger emergencies. Bring food you enjoy eating in real life and get creative. Sharing food in the woods is an easy way to make friends. Just don’t feed the animals.

On the trail in New Hampshire

8. Respect Nature
You are a guest in nature, so do not leave a mess. Carry out what you’ve carried in. Take precautions in bear country, but understand that humans are a bigger threat to bears than vice versa. Many state parks have a low tolerance for bears and will exterminate one that is spotted too many times or approaches a human. Minimize the danger for humans and bears by cleaning up after yourself. Food or scented items should be placed in a bear bag or bear canister at night. Brushing your teeth and spitting over a fire will burn off the smell. Minimize your potential garbage during your shakedown. I like to store my trash in a plastic bag that seals to contain the smell. I keep my garbage Ziplock in a colored plastic shopping bag, so I don’t have to look at it.

9. Hygiene
Leave the deodorant at home, it’s just a placebo at this point. Use wet wipes and hand sanitizer to clean, especially before meals. Do not wash your hands, dishes or go to the bathroom near a stream. Carry stream water to another location with a plastic pouch.

Some trails have privies that will decompose your waste. Privies are usually for #2. Most nature conservancies want you to pee in the woods. Do not dispose of feminine products in the privy or you will ruin the decomposition and an unpaid intern will have to carry out the mess. I recommend a reusable silicone menstrual cup for the environmentally concerned backpacker lady. You can boil your cup in a separate container over your camp stove to sanitize it during your trip. Even if there are privies, learn to go in the woods. Find a private spot, especially if there are a lot of boy scouts on your trail. Watch out for spots that are too good, particularly if there are white flags on the ground. Do not go to the bathroom above the tree line or you may damage unique alpine species left over from the ice age. When you use the nature toilet, bury your waste like a cat. Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it.

From one of Cynthia's recent hikes in Korea

10. Safety and Bravery 
Know what danger to expect and be prepared. Let someone know where you’re backpacking and when you expect to return. GPS tracking devices like the Spot Satellite messenger can contact help in an emergency. Do not depend on cell phone service in the woods. Know if your trail is well marked and what color blazes to follow. Use a map, guidebook and possibly a compass. Prepare for injuries with a small first aid kit. A blister kit, Vitamin I, aka Advil, and duct tape are essentials. Check for ticks in infested areas. Consult the weather report if possible. Stay below tree line during storms. Summit mountains early in the day to avoid dangerous weather. Night hiking is fun, but prepare for the dark with a flashlight or bright moon. Be safe, but don’t let fear keep you from your adventure. Backpacking means being brave. Old fears you may have overcome while in civilization, like fear of the dark, may revive in the wilderness. The woods may feel unfamiliar at first, but after backpacking you’ll learn that you are no less safe in the woods than you are in the suburbs or cities. Don’t be afraid of hiking alone, either. I’ve backpacked solo and found that being by oneself in nature is wonderful. But whether alone or with friends, backpacking is an enchanting way to become better acquainted with nature and yourself.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Writer Wednesday - Franziska of Franish

Franziska is a mid-twenties second year medical student documenting her way through the journey of becoming a physician. She started blogging about her outfits at Franish when she was working for a pharmaceutical development company where she was required to wear flat, closed toed shoes and pants, as well as a lab coat. Now that she's traded in her lab coat for a white coat, she has a whole new set of clothing rules. I love that the clothes she features look like they would fit me - my personality, my body, and my budget. It can be hard to find a blog that does all three, but Franish is one of the proud few! 

Who are you? My name is Franziska. I'm a second year medical student, owner of two little rascals, and a chronic sale shopper.

Where can you be found online? Do you have a blog or other online receptacle for your work? If so, how would you describe it to a stranger you've just met while on vacation? Remember, you're in a hot tub with them on a clear cold night, stars twinkling above you. They want all the details. If not, tell the hot-tub-stranger about your writing in such a way that makes them urge you to get an online receptacle for it. I write the blog Franish, which I started about two and a half years ago. I initially started it just to document some of my outfits that I wore to work. It has since morphed into a place where I share what I wear to school (our school has a dress code), how I budget my money, and what is going on in school.

What inspired you to start writing/blogging? When did it happen? I was reading a ton of blogs at the time, and after reading some blogs from the beginning and seeing their own style transformations, I thought starting a blog would be a great way to do the same for myself. I just took a picture with my macbook one day in the bathroom, and it has spiraled from there!

Why do you write? I started writing my blog because I was bored (that's truly the reason). I was working at a job that didn't fulfill me, all of my friends had moved away after we graduated from college, and my boyfriend at the time was in medical school and rarely home. My life has changed drastically since then, so now I write because it lets me connect with people - my mom reads my blog every day, as do my friends from all stages of my life. There are women I've been "friends" with through blogging from the beginning, and so I like to stay caught up with them. Style or fashion blogging may seem frivolous, but there's so much to learn through what people are wearing and what they are doing while wearing those clothes.

Your writing inspires me. Who inspires you? My parents - my mom is the sharpest woman around, with a style I could only dream about having. My dad is the hardest worker, and never a complainer.

In keeping with the admittedly loose travel theme of Not Intent On Arriving, if you could have an all-expenses paid trip anywhere in the world, where would you go? Fiji!

What is your favorite place on earth? Camp Randall - I was in the UW Marching Band for 5 years, and that place holds so many great memories.

Anything else you'd like us to know? Thank you so much for having me!

Friday, October 17, 2014

{This Moment}

A Friday ritual inspired by Amanda Soule & many others.
Please feel free to share a link to your own moment in the comments.

Recap of this week on Not Intent On Arriving:
Writing Elsewhere:
I hope you have a lovely weekend! I'll be home, running the furthest I've ever run (17 miles!), brunching, interviewing, and hopefully getting some cider and doughnuts from the farmer's market.