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Welcome, Strangers

Welcome, reader, whoever you are.  This blog will largely consist of anything relating to travel, health, and spirituality.  Additionally, you can expect to see original poems, essays, and short stories. But before I begin, I would like to introduce myself.  

My name is Willow Noelle.  I am a writer by instinct, trade, and passion. I have an incurable case of wanderlust, and am a self-proclaimed hippy at heart. I’ve been wearing Birkenstocks since before they were trendy, and believe in the power of plants from green smoothies to psychoactives. Furthermore, I believe in exposing things for what they really are, and getting to the bottom of what it means to be human. I want to know why people struggle, and if it’s really necessary.

Three months ago I moved from my hometown of Anchorage, Alaska, to Charlotte, North Carolina.  This move consisted of dropping out of university for that life changing English degree, and quitting my jobs. It consisted of me having to ask myself what my definitions of happiness and success was. My answer didn’t coincide with the traditional route of career building, something I think is a dying field anyway. Instead, it forced me to follow my heart in order to focus on what I love most. It was a daunting feat, but has proved to be worthwhile.

 My motive for this blog is to share my work, since creating without sharing is being idle.  I have been idle for far too long.  My answer to happiness and success is to inspire people by creating art out of words, but to do that I need to get over my inexplicable fear of being exposed.  This blog will be a growing experience for me, and hopefully something inspiring and entertaining for you.  

I’ll try to take you places with my words and tell you things you’ve never known.  I’ll write about what I am most passionate about, in hopes that you might relate. I don’t know what type of blog this will be; but for now, it will just be me.  

 

Thoughts on a Plane

I haven’t written anything in a while. I’ve been feeling the peculiar feeling of being lost before I’ve even begun. Does that make sense? I couldn’t make much sense of it until a dear friend of mine gifted me The Short Stories by Ernest Hemingway. As I read The Snows of Kilimanjaro, this quote stood out to me:

“But, in yourself, you said that you would write… But he would never do it, because each day of not writing, of comfort, of being that which he despised, dulled his ability and softened his will to work so that, finally, he did no work at all.”

This quote resonated with me because it scared me. It’s about a writer who stopped writing because he got too comfortable in life. What struck me even more was this quote that came from his deathbed:

“Now he would never write the things that he had saved to write until he knew enough to write them well. Well, he would not have to fail at trying to write them either. Maybe you could never write them, and that was why you put them off and delayed the starting.”

Fear of failure is a real thing, but how can you justify being afraid of failure if you never give yourself the chance to fail?  I’ve determined that I’m not afraid of what other people will say. I’m afraid of what I won’t say – because I lack the courage to.

I once had a nightmare I was at a convention. Painters, musicians, photographers, dancers, and writers were all there, showing off their talents. I had a table that held my writings. But everyone there just passed me by. I started feeling very small, watching everyone laugh and cry at the other creations. Then someone came up to me, and told me I was wasting my time being there. Writing isn’t visual, and it isn’t audial. It’s not easy to consume. Who wants to take the time to read when there’s paintings and songs that can make you feel the same thing quicker?

I didn’t know what to say. I thought they were right, and I woke up feeling very sick inside. It’s been a fear I’ve carried around ever since. How do I entice people to read something that will be worth their while?

But all art is not, and should not be, purely for ease. Ease is entertainment. We are a culture of great ease. But writing goes further than entertainment. It has to, because it requires more attention and commitment. You open a book because you’re looking for something. Not something specific, but something that you can work with, something you can pick apart and put back together in your own way. It’s more than a new meaning. It’s a new feeling.

Some of my best creations  have come out of times of intense discomfort, because they produced intense thoughts and feelings. Instead of getting comfortable in fear, and worrying about form, strategy, and marketing, I had to remind myself that the form will come. The most important thing is to simply create. So, if you’ve stuck with me long enough to read this next part, I’d like to announce a new project I’ve committed myself to. It’s called “Thoughts on a Plane.”

“Thoughts on a Plane” began on an airplane, contemplating the world below. Since then, it has become every deep, meaningful conversation I’ve had. The plan is to take note of what was said, analyze it, explore it, and simply share it. It’s not to be about anything specific, only observations, ideas, insights,and theories. It’s about the things we talk about that move us to higher planes.

Communicating in a Foreign Country

A mural in Valencia, Spain. “No Importa El Color, Todos Somos Migrantes.”
“Color Doesn’t Matter, We Are All Migrants.”

Effective communication can be hard. It’s even harder in a foreign country. I never realized how much I relied on written words until street signs, menus, and directories meant nothing. My first trip abroad taught me when you’re lost, broke, exhausted, and out of battery power, nothing will get you further than acts of kindness.  

People appreciate it when you make an attempt to use their language. If Americans get a bad rap for being stupid or rude, it’s because of expecting someone to conform to your language when you’re in their country. Greet people in their language. Say hello. Show off your skills, even if they’re terrible. Sure, they might laugh at you, but that will get them smiling. I found people to be much more receptive after I showed them I was appreciating their culture.

A few words go a long way. All you really need to know is hello, yes, no, please, and thank you. The more you practice saying them with their native accent, the better. For more complicated situations, Google Translate will be your best friend.

Most importantly, have an understanding of context and body language. People are still people. We have the ability to speak a universal language. At a base level, we all think and feel the same. It’s only with advanced communication that we can express judgement and discrimination.

Being in the unknown is a growing experience everyone should experience at least once. It’s a great way to expand cultural perceptions.  My advice is to express your gratitude. Smile at people, say hello and thank you. Kindness starts with you. I couldn’t imagine moving to a foreign country, much less having to migrate to a new country, if there wasn’t kindness. It’s intense, not knowing where you are or what’s going on. It was kindness that helped me through as a traveler. At times it was the only language I understood.

Moscow

Last summer, I was fortunate enough to attend the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. I saw Belgium versus Tunisia play in Moscow, and Iceland versus Croatia play in Rostov-on-Don. When I told my friends and family I was going to Russia, some of them were concerned, given our current political climate.

But my impressions of Russia, specifically Moscow, challenged the negative perceptions I’ve heard. Though it was the World Cup, and people of all nationalities were there, I never experienced any problems with being an American. Everyone was just going about their day.  And though it was certainly much different than my American upbringing, it taught me a valuable lesson about traveling.

People are people, no matter where you go. Kindness is reciprocated with kindness. Most people aren’t going to take the time out of their day to ruin yours.  In fact, I was greeted with more kindness, generosity, and helpfulness there than any other country I’ve been to – including the one I live in. On more than one occasion a complete stranger saved me from getting lost, curbed my confusion, or even paid for my bus fare when I ran out of rubles.  

Overall, Moscow is definitely on my list to re-visit. If Moscow isn’t on your bucket list, it should be. Here are some things that surprised me the most: the first being Moscow’s sheer size.

View from Ostankino Tower

I knew Russia was the biggest country on the planet, but I hadn’t realized Moscow is among the top ten biggest cities by population in the world. It’s also the northernmost metropolis in the world, and Europe’s most populated inland city.  

If I had to describe Moscow in one word it would be expansive.  Around the city center, where old Moscow and the modern downtown is located, are multi-lane freeways that lead out to the thousands of uniform apartment buildings. The terrain around the city is flat for hundreds of miles, allowing the city to spread freely. It’s so large, it took us thirty minutes by train leaving Moscow to see single-family homes and acreage.

Modern Downtown

It was surprisingly hot and humid in the summer – just a little less terrible than New York City. It’s also dramatically cheaper than New York – one US dollar currently exchanges to 67 rubles.  Their metro system is also one of the most beautiful ones in the world – each station has a unique design made out of marble, granite, and tiles. One day we decided to just ride around aimlessly to check them all out. It was an all-day activity, seeing as how there are three levels of lines. I learned that they were designed to double as bomb-shelters in Soviet Times.

Russia is full of complex history, beautiful, unique architecture, and some great vodka. It was a mind-expanding and humbling experience. When you’re fortunate enough to go, note that Russians consider it strange to smile at strangers for no reason, and that whistling inside is considered bad luck.

Why We Should Meditate

It’s an age old practice. Everyone recommends it, so there must be something to it. But what?

I’m no stranger to meditation, though I’d only classify myself as a beginner. I’ve only ever meditating during distressing times of my life, and stopped as soon as I felt better about myself and my situation.

But after investigating into it, I’m definitely going to start again. There’s certainly a reason for it’s antiquity, and I content its something everyone should do, no matter their degree of happiness. Bad situations will always arise, but sustained meditation has the potential to help you through.

The physical and psychological benefits are beautiful.

Physical benefits include:

  • Improved blood circulation
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • A healthy, maintained heart rate
  • A stronger immune system
  • Improved control in dealing with stress and anxiety. Meditation decreases cortisol (the hormone that causes stress) production, and maintains lower production hours after meditation.
  • More restful sleep
  • Increased memory retention
  • Increased mental agility and alertness

Having a healthy mindset makes for a healthy body. Trapped stress and anxiety can accumulate into layers around your body’s energy field, and manifest into disease and illness. Meditation can help by releasing these stresses.

Psychological benefits of meditation:

  • Bodily awareness and acceptance
  • Increased confidence
  • Increased self-awareness, acceptance, and empathy
  • Feelings of contentedness with the present
  • Peace from disturbing thoughts
  • Revelation of your true self by letting the subconscious mind speak

When you meditate, your mind takes a vacation from all external and internal commotion. By allowing your mind to rest, even for just ten or twenty minutes a day, you’ll come back feeling better prepared to deal with the commotion. We let our body rest when we sleep – we should take our mental well-being into consideration as well.

Now that I’ve explained why you should meditate, I’ll describe how to meditate, for those of you unfamiliar with it.

Find a quiet space and get cozy. It’s best to sit cross-legged, back straight, and palms facing up. I generally stay in meditation until I feel my legs fall asleep. If your back starts hurting, it may be a sign you need to stretch more – or yoga. Since mediation is all about being present and mindful, listen to the pain. Is it trying to alert you of an emotional connection to it?

Start by taking deep breaths. Focus on feeling the air enter and leave your body. Thoughts, feelings, and daydreams might distract you as your mind tries to stimulate itself. Just keep focusing on your breathing, and eventually they’ll fade away. It might take you several tries, or even weeks of practice to clear your mind. All that matters is your will.

Advice for Creative Entrepreneurs

The best piece of advice I ever got was from my short story professor.  He told me my writing was stiff and unemotional, like I was trying to hide behind it. He was right. I was. If I wanted to connect with people, I had to write like how I spoke. With emotion.

It was this advice to essentially “be more real” that convinced me to take the leap to focus on my creative career more intensely.  I consider myself a creative entrepreneur, but that doesn’t mean I know what I’m doing. Who does? There’s no rules in this field, and that’s the beauty of it.

To make creative entrepreneurship less daunting, I wanted to share some advice I’ve learned so far for anyone pursuing or thinking about pursuing their creative dreams seriously.

I wanted to make a cheat-cheat for what qualifies as advice versus criticism, but the difference isn’t black and white. There’s good advice and bad advice, just as there’s constructive criticism and plain old criticism. In my experience, anything that makes you see things in a new perspective is worth exploring. But if it makes you feel defensive, personally attacked, or confused, don’t listen. A lot of people don’t know what they’re talking about.

Listen to people who are familiar with you or the industry you’re in. Seek them out for advice.

As my best friend in high school said, “you wouldn’t take weight loss advice from a fat person.”

Nobody criticizes you more than yourself.

Why are artists notoriously hard on themselves? Because our success is dependent on our ability, our will, and our hearts and souls – that’s a scary, fragile thing to carry.

Learn to manage your anxiety and stress.

This is key. Do whatever you have to do, because it will never go away.

Watercolor therapy, one of my more healthy ways of coping.

Follow your ideas through.

Talk about them, record them, write them down – anything to get them out of your head into a physical form. Now you have a rough draft you can work with.

Share your content.

Even if you think it sucks or isn’t perfect.  Remember, you can’t be afraid of failing if you don’t give yourself the chance to fail.

Treat it like a job.

That is, if it isn’t your job already. Putting in the time will make you feel more disciplined and accomplished.

Be a nerd.

People appreciate someone who is passionate about something they know well. If you’re a nerd, you’ll meet other nerds who are nerdy about the same things. Now you have friends – or a network, as fancy, official people like to call it.

Disconnect yourself from your work.

In creative fields, the artist is the product, because art is the extension of the artist. I can be a terribly shy person, so I have to think of my work as separate from me. I tell myself it’s a business I just happen to be running. If I didn’t, nothing would ever get posted.

You can’t care about what people think of you personally.  

This is why making that disconnect is important. Let people say what they will about your work, but you can’t let if feel like they’re saying it about you. This is a tricky one, since our work is our art and our art is ourselves. I wish I could say I truly don’t care what people think about me, but I’ve got a lot of heavy meditating to do until I reach that level of freedom.

Recognize your accomplishments.

They may not be monetary. That’s okay. They might just be you completed a to-do list, or posted something, or overcame any of the personal dilemmas listed above. That’s an accomplishment. Recognize it.

Accept the struggle, and love it.

This whole creative hustle is one vague, agonizing process. It’s hard not knowing if all the time you put into your projects will ever be worth it. It’s hard not knowing when, how, or if you’ll ever get paid. But you have to love it because it’s you doing what you love.  Love it because it’s you being you. And if you create work that you like, chances are other people will like it too. They’ll recognize that it’s “real.”

A Must Read for any Creative Entrepreneur


Carolina Gold

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a life-long Alaskan and a newcomer to North Carolina. Instead of explaining the differences I’ve noticed, I’ll save you your time by explaining the similarities instead:

There are none. Except for gold.

Over the weekend, I went to my friend’s house who lives just beyond the South Carolina border, some forty minutes from Charlotte. Cheaper property taxes has allowed them to live on several beautiful acres right on the edge of Kings Mountain National Military Park. A small creek runs through their backyard, where they’ve been prospecting  gold.

After a couple of hours of pumping water through prospecting equipment, I saw a couple, tiny gold flecks.  

I was intrigued by this Carolinian gold, and surprised to learn that the first gold discovery in the United States took place in North Carolina.  I had no idea they were the leading producers of gold until its discovery in California and Alaska. They never taught me that in Alaskan schools.

In Alaska, there’s volcanoes and earthquakes – two things that hint towards gold. But North Carolina is pretty flat, and therefore geologically boring. Or so I thought. Being the geology nerd that I am, I was curious to learn about the ground underneath me and to find out how this gold came to be here.

For those of you unfamiliar with geology 101, I’ve included a list of terms that will help you understand what I’m talking about.

Tectonic Plates




Divergent Plate Boundaries



Convergent Plate Boundaries



Lithosphere




Subduction Zone



Faults & Fractures

Lode Gold

Placer Gold

7 pieces of Earth’s crust that travel independently around the globe, causing seismic and volcanic activity. The three plates of interest here are the Eurasian, North American, and Pacific.

A boundary along two plates that are being pushed apart. The Eurasian and North American plates are being
pushed apart by the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

A boundary along two plates that crush the plates into
each other. The Pacific plate is moving into the
western/northwestern part of the North American plate.

The layer underneath the earth’s crust that is brittle
(composed of solid rock), and above the asthenosphere –
the layer where rocks are molten from the earth’s
magma.

The area where one convergent plate moves under the
other, causing seismic activity, mountain building, and
volcanism.

Breaks in the earth’s crust

The original, large deposit of gold

Fragments of lode gold carried away by streams or
glaciers into alluvial deposits

When I decided to investigate the origins of Carolinian gold, I didn’t realize how complicated it would be.  My head has been wrapped around time tables that extend billions of years, trying to make sense of what happened when and how.

In the process, I made interesting discoveries about the Appalachians.  I’d always lacked an appreciation for the soft hills I considered subpar to the ‘true mountains’ of the West Coast. But now, my appreciation has grown, having had realized the vast amount of geologic activity this region has seen.  I never knew the Appalachians were an ancient mountain range that has been eroding away. I never knew they once resembled the mountains I grew up with.

Appalachians, near Asheville, NC

The foothills of the Appalachians is a plateau called the Piedmont. Within the Piedmont is the Carolina slate belt that runs parallel to the coast from Virginia to Georgia. The largest portion of it lays underneath Mecklenburg county.  It is in the slate belt that the gold is found.

While there is no set formula for finding gold, lode deposits are typically found along convergent plate boundaries.  Molten gold rises up through the faults and fractures caused by subduction until it cools and crystallizes in chambers underneath bedrock. As the earth around the lode erodes, placer gold is carried down moderate slopes until it settles.

Now I’m no geology major – I’m just a nerd who took a couple classes in college. But from my understanding, the Piedmont used to be a rift basin caused by divergent plate boundaries when the Earth’s geography looked much different than it does today. These rifts were then filled with sediment from the eroding Appalachians and material uprooted from subduction zones.

Sometimes I wish I’d decided to focus more seriously on geology. Then I’d really be able to tell you how Charlotte is built on top of a massive gold deposit. But, one of the things I love the most about writing is that it allows me to explore and learn about all sorts of things. Writing is a great way to find the common denominator between two things that are seemingly uncorrelated.

I liked geology for that reason. Before I got into it, I assumed rocks were stationary and boring. Then I learned about metamorphosis.  Rocks are constantly being recycled into new types of rocks. If the earth can go through changes and produce a beautiful result at the end, then so can people.  

A couple years ago I wrote an essay titled “The Metamorphosis.” It’s about the life changes I was going through at the time from a geologic perspective. I have included an excerpt here that I hope you will enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed writing it.

“Let us turn back towards the mountains.  There they stand, exposed and old – a sight to place aspirations upon.  Anyone who’s ever laced up hiking boots knows what it takes to summit one, but what about what it takes for a mountain to become a mountain? The minerals that make up Earth are subject to intense heat, pressure, and stress, all by the force of the planet recycling itself – the living attitude of inorganic material.  And so, these mountains stand, brutal in their creation, beautiful in their being. The rocks once laid on the surface untouched, then pushed down into the heart of the earth, not to be exposed again until their metamorphism was complete.”

Seward, Alaska


Manipulation…and Cats.

I love cats. I always have. I feel like I relate to them more than any other animal, for whatever reason. Growing up I had two cats, Oliver and Yang. They’ve long since passed, but now I have a new kitten. His name is Jasper. He is all black, has blue eyes, and a kink in his tail. He’s adorable, playful, and sweet, though taking care of an animal means a lot more than it did as a kid.

For starters, Oliver and Yang were outside cats. They ate and did their business out there. They could expel their energy freely, thus making them overall less bothersome. Jasper is confined to our apartment. His bathroom is in our bathroom.

It’s up to me to pay for his well-being, and clean up his messes. At least he provides me with entertainment, cuteness, and the sound of purrs to lull me to sleep. However, newfound information has me wondering if the traits I consider to be love are really manipulation.

Cats were never domesticated by humans. They domesticated themselves. Just like how wolves developed a symbiotic relationship with nomadic hunters, cats capitalized off of the agrarian Natufians in Mesopotamia. Cats served beneficial to the crops by ridding them of pests. Since then, cats have accompanied every major society by serving the same purpose.

They are highly adaptable creatures, capable of remarkable independence. But, if given the opportunity, they can be gluttons. I think the cat philosophy would be something like: ‘why work hard if you don’t have to?’

The truth is that cats have learned to manipulate humans. They were able to do so by their cognitive intelligence, and their mental similarity to us.

The feline brain is 90% similar to the human brain. Both brain regions are connected in the same way to the cerebral cortex – the part of the brain responsible for processing sensory data. This implies that cats have similar emotions to us, and therefore enables them to read human facial expressions. They can also solve complex cognitive problems, and have short term and long term memories that can recall up to 16 hours.

Basically, this means that cats understand what we feel, and why we feel that way by documenting and analyzing our actions leading up to said feeling. They have all the tools they need for manipulation.

Manipulation by Cuteness Overload

A perfect example is the meow. Cats don’t meow to other cats. They communicate by body language and by marking territories. They only meow for humans because they realized that when a baby cries, the parents pick it up, and give it food. Jasper squeaks and chirps like a little bird. I always thought it sounded adorable. Now it sounds like he’s playing on my primal maternal instincts.

Cats are generally liked because of playfulness, cuddliness, and bonding. But have you ever noticed how a cat’s favorite game is anything that stimulates hunting and killing? Their practicing their skills. They might be cuddling you, not because they love you, but because they can’t effectively regulate their own body heat. And by rubbing up against you, they’re marking you as their territory, because they own you, and not the other way around.

As I said, cats are gluttons if given the opportunity. But so are people. My question is, did cat’s learn manipulation from us? Are the observations that Mesopotamian cats made and passed down in their DNA a direct reflection of human nature?

Manipulation is not about making someone do what you want them to do, but making them want to do what you want them to do. It’s the art of convincing someone that your idea is theirs. By learning their deepest desires, you reverse engineer it against them. The trick is to lead them to the understanding that by doing something, they will be rewarded with something they desire.

Take two people and one piece of cake. The first person wants to lose weight and look better, but also wants cake. The second person wants the cake all to themselves. So they point out how nice the first person’s skin looks since they cut back on sweets. This person will feel pleased even if it’s not true, and become more inclined to decline. The second person is then left to enjoy the cake all by themselves, which is what they wanted all along.

Maybe the cats have gotten to me, since manipulation is generally considered a psychotic and evil trait. Though I’d argue it’s a natural part of survival, at least to an extent. Sometimes you have to be smarter than the other person – or the cat. The cats have demonstrated this by thriving to the point of becoming a registered invasive species. But hey, aren’t humans kind of invasive too? Like, a lot?

There’s things to learn from cats, and things to unlearn. In the meantime, I just want a yard.  I don’t want to deal with Jasper’s excrements ever again, or subject my african violets to his terrorizing. But mostly, I just want to be able to throw him outside when he decides to start purring in my ear and sitting on my head at four in the morning, because he knows I’m weak enough to feed him just so he’ll shut the hell up and leave me alone. I’m onto you, kitten.

probably reading up about all his secrets.