I can’t remember how I heard about Robyn Davidson or her extraordinary journey.
I just remember, the moment I heard about it, I was online hunting down her book.
Titled simply “Tracks: a Woman’s Solo Journey Across 1,700 Miles of Australian Outback,” the story she has to tell is simply mind-bending.
Davidson embarked upon her solo adventure in her mid-20’s.
When I was in my mid-20’s, I, too, was embarking upon a solo adventure. Mine was to India and Israel, hers through the Australian desert.
But I will confess it took me many more years since then to unpack even a portion of the wisdom she unearthed within herself during her 1,700 mile journey.
For the record, it also seems pertinent here to mention I have never once in my life had even the merest inkling of desire to walk across any large, hot, dangerous body of sand accompanied only by camels and a dog.
Clearly, my life is the poorer for it.
During the early stages of her journey, Davidson frequently gave in to bouts of panic, which, to hear her tell it, were largely initiated by intense inner battles between the order/regime/structure she had previously relied on and the freedom to live in the moment that desert life demanded.
As the desert’s ever-changing environment did its work on her and she slowly learned the wisdom of opting for the latter, her panic eased and inner wisdom arose in its place.
That inner wisdom was – is – as timeless and profound as the desert itself (click here for amazing vintage photos from her journey).
Davidson on her love of animals:
I am quite sure Diggity [her canine companion through the desert] was more than dog, or rather other than dog….She combined all the best qualities of dog and human and was a great listener…..The trip, of necessity, had brought me much closer to all the animals, but my relationship with Diggity was something special. There are very few humans with whom I could associate the word …
This was the title of a recent Time magazine article – more of an infographic, really.
The infographic spans the gamut from whether we use all our vacation days each year to how much time we spend checking email at home each night.
There are statistics for whether men or women watch more television daily (men), how much student debt the average graduate carries (far too much, IMO), whether we rent or own, and what we do with each 24-hour allotment.
There is also a preceding four-part infographic that attempts to summarize how SAT scores, education level, age of death, smoking, sex life, and drug use correlate with income earning potential.
Reading through this, I discovered I may have multiple personalities.
By which I mean, according to my SAT scores and level of higher education, among other aspects, I should be in a different class of folks than where I am income-wise.
Interesting. I guess.
By far the most actually interesting part of these infographics is the section labeled “time use.”
Here (in order of time spent) is how we – regardless of SAT scores, income level, drugs/cigarettes/sex/etc. – use our time each day:
While I’m not sure which category this falls into (other? household activities? leisure activities?), we only spent one-quarter hour per day making phone calls, checking (non-work, I assume) email, and sorting through our mail.
We spend three-quarters of an hour daily on the computer, which includes playing video games.
We watch just under three hours of television each day (guilty as charged).
And we leave an average of four vacation days unused annually (totaling 577,212,000 unused vacation days nationwide).
Finally – despite our so-called “workaholic” culture, average daily reported work hours hover between just 7.73 and 8.34 hours per day, which hardly gives us a nationwide case of burning the midnight oil.
I’ve revisited these statistics a few times now over a period of a few weeks.
What strikes me again and again is how much less extreme the numbers actually are than what much of the media likes to report.
Our “real” friendships and relationships are not …
My latest favorite read is called “Wild Connection: What Animal Courtship and Mating Tell Us About Human Relationships.”
Written by scientist Jennifer L. Verdolin, the book’s fundamental query is simple:
What can studying animal relationships teach us about our own?
Right from the start I identified with the author, who described her early experiences with the opposite sex as “a puzzle I couldn’t quite figure out.”
In the opening pages, she shares, “I realized that I knew the ins and outs of the mating behavior of the animals I studied, but I knew very little about my own species or even about myself.”
From the first chapter, years of confusion, frustration, and disillusionment about how my own species dates and mates began to melt away. I began to understand why things often feel so messed up – so complicated when they “should” be so simple.
I felt validated as well – if only through realizing I’m not the only human being who just “doesn’t get” how our species facilitates romance.
Here is one example.
The older I get, the more perspective I gain about what works for me – and also what doesn’t.
For instance, trying to manage the stressors of life by using eating disordered behaviors doesn’t work.
Drinking caffeine all day to keep my energy level at a consistent “high” doesn’t work.
Ruminating excessively on all possible “worst case scenario” outcomes doesn’t work.
Taking handfuls of over-the-counter mood management supplements doesn’t work.
These are just a few examples.
What works for me is quite simple: medication + meditation.
Specifically in that order.
Meditation without medication offers some benefits, as does medication without meditation.
But together, they have forged an alliance that has given me a quality of life I had no thought possible.
Such goes my favorite line from one of my new favorite movies, “The Sapphires” (2012).
The film is based on the true story of an all-girl singing troupe who entertained the troops during the Vietnam war.
As aborigines living in their native Australia, the girls were marginalized – even hated. They were not even classified as people by their own government, but instead were considered part of the “flora and fauna.”
A chance meeting with a white talent scout puts them on the road to stardom, but even before this occurs, it is so clear they already have what many stars-in-the-making (and people, for that matter) will never have – a solid foundation of self-esteem to live from.
In fact, when the film opens, one of the future girl singers has just been left at the altar. Even while crying it out in the presence of her mom and sisters, she looks at her face in a hand mirror and bravely says to her mother, “Who wouldn’t love this?” (technically, she names her former fiancé here, but one can substitute any name with the same effect).
And throughout the film, in similar fashion, the girls pull no punches with one another, their scout-turned-manager, or themselves.
They may be young….they may be inexperienced in the ways of the world….but they are not letting any of that get under their skin.
Recently, I happened across a post on marine ecologist and author Carl Safina’s website called “How to Be Important After Graduation (Anytime Really).”
I wish I could remember anything – even a single word – our commencement speaker shared the day I graduated.
If any of the words had been these words, I know I would still remember them.
Carl begins his speech by saying “graduation is always a joyful time.”
It wasn’t joyful for me.
It was scary, and strange, and artificial.
I felt lonely and very much unprepared.
I wasn’t ready for any of it, but it wouldn’t wait any longer. I could hear it in the background stamping its increasingly impatient little foot, telling me I’d better hurry up and get ready….”or else.”
If you’ve been following this blog for longer than five minutes, you already know I’m a staunch champion of mentoring (plus the blog title kind of gives it away).
And not just for eating disorders recovery, either, or even for recovery in general – I’m also a huge fan of mentoring just for living life.
Mentoring (like feathers) makes everything better.
From the moment I met my first mentor, the alienation I had always felt from everyone and everything else began to fade.
At last, another being SAW me.
A single other soul really LOOKED at me – into me – noticed me.
I felt known – like my name suddenly took on greater meaning, and so did my life.
If I tripped and fell, someone else would care (and bring a band-aid and antiseptic wipes).
If I had a great day (or even a great minute) someone would cheer and celebrate with me.
The gift of mentoring changed my life – my whole world.
Since founding MentorCONNECT in 2009, I have been working with a wonderful researcher, Dr. Marisol Perez, and her team at Texas A&M University to quantify the value of mentoring as a source of support during the eating disorders recovery process.
I wonder if there has ever been a time in history when human beings have not been fascinated by the human body – our own and others’.
According to various sources, the “mirror” was invented sometime around the first century.
Depending on how you define “camera,” the first one was invented either in 1000 A.D., 1827, or still later.
All that to say, human beings have had access to the means for examining our visual selves for thousands of years.
Even before mirrors or cameras (let alone “selfies”), there were ponds and paintings, poetry and prose.
Recently I came across a photo montage entitled “Rare Pinups: Vintage Bikini Models.”
The montage contains images from as early as 1902 – just a few decades after the camera itself became widely accessible.
Some of the models’ costumes must be seen to be believed. It is hard to imagine bathing in these outfits – even walking in some of them must have been difficult.
Alongside the usual assortment of film and show stars are un-named models. Very few appear to be re-touched after the fact (aka the widespread use of tools like Photoshop today).
The two photos that most captivated me are #30 and #34 (just scroll through the montage – each photo is numbered).
I noticed a few key things after I completed my viewing of the full montage.
In a way, the montage had gently mentored me without me even realizing it – giving me a glimpse of what it might be like to live in a culture where beauty ideals more closely match my own body.
There was a time in my life when I thought my worth 100% relied upon my body shape and size.
In late 2013, the word “selfie” won “Word of the Year” – a somewhat dubious award given out annually by the Oxford English Dictionary.
The selfie – at least as it is recognized today – is also totally dependent on photography.
In other words, no camera, no selfie.
Interestingly, a “selfie friendly” camera has only been available to the masses (i.e. people like me with no photographic talent) since 2010, when Apple released the iPhone 4 with its turnaround front-facing camera feature.
Yet, just a few short years later, opinions about selfies are so polarized that, on any given day, we have an entire country scrabbling for founder’s rights, journalists claiming selfies are already on their way out in pop culture, and a French photographer named JR installing his 4,000 portrait tribute to selfies in none other than Paris’ Pantheon.
“French photographer JR thinks selfies can change the world,” a Time magazine headline proclaims.
At first the photographer (who sticks to his initials and won’t reveal any personal details beyond his French nationality) participated as bio-photographer in capturing people’s “selfie” images … a move which technically violates the spirit of what selfies are all about.
However, once he received TED funding ($100,000 worth), his role shifted firmly into one of documenting independently-snapped selfies voluntarily uploaded to his website.
JR believes selfies help us connect face to face and empathize with one another in a world that feels increasingly wide and impersonal.
On that note, in the spirit of writing a balanced post (gotta love being a writer) I did a little online sleuthing using the term “selfie.”
I first became aware that outer differences do not equal inner differences when I was six.
At the time, we attended a local church, and every so often we had special lessons to teach us about different religious practices.
I don’t remember what the lesson was on this particular day. I only remember that the story (parable) our teacher shared from a different religion sounded just like one of “our” stories, only with different costumes and character names.
I went home and told my mom, “Hey, guess what – our teacher told a story from a different religion but it sounded exactly like ours!”
Mom, busy fixing lunch for a hungry family, simply murmured something suitable and went back to building sandwiches.
But I was transfixed.
Thereafter, I have been on a lifelong search for at least one single shared point of connection common to us all….something tangible and powerful enough to make all the surface differences dissolve to reveal our shared humanity.
I know a lot about parrots but very little about tortoises, so lately I’ve been reading everything I can get my hands on (which isn’t actually all that much).
My newest read is called “Voyage of the Turtle: in pursuit of the Earth’s last dinosaur,” by Carl Safina.
I will admit I did not expect to find that single point of connection I’ve been searching for these last 37 years in a book about sea turtles, but then all of a sudden there it was.