Sample 1: I Couldn't Escape This Time (original post)
The last six years I've been roaming around the world looking (unknowingly) for happiness. I packed up my cat and car and drove from New Jersey to San Francisco, where I lived so close to the ocean I could hear it from my bedroom window. I quit my day job and started an art and design business. I moved to New Zealand for a year. I bought a '97 Toyota Previa van, built it into a little apartment on wheels, and explored North America.
During these pursuits I never recognized how externally-dependent my happiness was. I didn't view any of my dreams as particularly superficial (like simply wanting to be rich or famous), so I didn't think twice about their origins.
Yet during or after each goal was fulfilled, I found myself in the same place — unsatisfied, unstable, and eagerly awaiting the next. And the next. And the next.
Deep down I knew I'd never find true fulfillment through any outside endeavor, but I refused to face this idea until I literally couldn't run away any more. Vanlife.
Everywhere I drove, from the humid mornings on Florida shores to bright blue alpine lakes of British Columbia, the insufficiency of my external happiness followed. I cried. I drowned my sorrows in quickly-melting pints of ice cream and infinitely-scrolling feeds of Instagram. There were good times, too. And after much avoidance, I reluctantly lifted my gaze and locked eyes with my suffering.
I should be happy, I said to it. I don't have a boss; I can travel anywhere I want; I get to be creative and adventurous every day. It's so many people's dream. And it's my dream. Why are you here?
A sneaking suspicion arose: What makes some days hard and some days easy? Could it be me? Pshhhh. But I can't just CHOOSE to be happy. I can't. It's too hard. It's IMPOSSIBLE.
Soon after this internal dialogue I listened to an interview with Tony Robbins while driving from Portland to the redwoods in Northern California. The road curved. A canopy of pines quickly collected overhead. And I'll never forget the words:
"The gist is this — there are two states of being — beautiful states and suffering states — and it's up to us to choose which one we live in right now."
Simple. We've all probably heard something like this a thousand times.
And it's true.
"We live in a world where most of us are looking for what's wrong. What's wrong is always available. So is what's right. Find what is beautiful in each moment, and I'm telling you, there is nothing on earth I've experienced that's brought more joy."
These words blatantly confirmed all I'd been avoiding, that nothing — no gorgeous mountain backdrop, no passionate relationship, no accolade or award — will truly fulfill me. That can be a hard truth to accept because there's no road map that'll show us the way. It's uncharted territory. Murky waters. An internal exploration, and you're diving solo.
Fulfillment is an art and a state of being. You don't stop having dreams or desiring relationships or travel. It simply means that happiness starts here and now, regardless.
Of course, I'm still figuring all this out, and there's always sooooo much more to learn, but for now it seems pretty straightforward:
You choose to be happy. That's it. So simple it's almost maddening, isn't it?
Nothing will ever be just right. Nothing on the outside will ever fulfill. So I'm choosing happiness. Because if not now, when?
Sample 2: The Case for a Non-Linear Life (original post)
Fall began to blow through New Mexico and I decided to take a break from living in my van. Instead of life on the road I spent a few weeks house-sitting in an Adobe country home in Santa Fe along with four pups, two cats, and two horses (the horses slept outside, though).
Waking up in an airy house in the hills surrounded by nature and animals immediately filled all the parts of my soul that constant movement and travel left vacant. At night I'd slide into my sleeping uniform of wool leggings, a thick sweater, and socks. I'd boil water for tea and bake all sorts of sugary goods. The pups would follow me from den to kitchen, playing rough as I'd trip over them in my path. It was complete chaos. And it was lovely. My heart hadn't felt so full in months.
The encroaching fall season made parts of the house cold out but the oven infused the kitchen with warmth and the scent of browning sweet dough. I danced around with the pups, having one of those moments where all you can think is This is exactly what I want.
Everything within me declared: "YES! It's time. Create a life of rootedness and animal companions, of local coffee shops and book collections." And then my head would butt in: "No, you're still too young. It would be a waste! Keep moving. You have your whole life to be still."
There is this widely-accepted idea of a linear life — be born; go to school; travel "while you can"; date around; get a job; get married; have kids; work more; save money; get promoted; retire; die. Or something like that.
But as I dodged cacti while walking up a colorful hill behind the house one evening with a cup of tea in my hand and pups following behind, I thought, What if life is not a linear progression of events as we might expect?
For some, this structure may be just what they truly want. To each her own. But maybe... you'll go back to school in your 60s and reinvent your career. Or you'll sell a huge business and retire at 30. Or you'll get married at 18. Adopt a kid at 50. Become single again when you're 45. Travel full-time with your family of five at 30.
I have a self-imposed pressure to be constantly traveling because I'm young. I've heard so many people say, "Do it while you can!"
I'm calling BS.
Travel isn't just for the young! Putting down roots isn't only for the established (I did NOT say old)! Nothing ever has to be IT — your one chance, your one moment to do X. Nothing is permanent. You can always change your mind and change your life. One decision or facet of your life does not define it.
We are each spectrums of adventure and creativity and rooting and love and service and joy. And way more. So let's shake off the pressure and expectations. I'm 27 and I have this crazy dream to buy a house. (I feel so vulnerable and weird saying that.) Maybe I'll have it for five years and sell it to move somewhere else or live on the road full-time again. Maybe I'll live in it part-time and travel the other. Maybe I'll even realize it's not all I thought it would be.
Make decisions. Take risks. Try something new. Go up and down and around and backward and sideways. Start again. Let people think you're nuts. YES. Create that precious, beautiful (perhaps non-linear) life you love!
Sample 3: On Being a Solo Woman Traveling (original post)
As a single woman, I feel that media often paints a picture of reality for me that’s doused in vulnerability and fear. The world is not safe for you, woman. You are a vulnerable creature in need of constant protection.
Movies, TV, the news — they all seem to echo: Stay safe; stay inside! Stay close to your man.
I am not naive. I know bad things happen to good women every day, and I am not immune to any of the inherent dangers that come with not being a man.
But ultimately, I choose to believe that most people are good, and nothing constitutes the true danger of an unlived life. That’s why I chose to face one of my greatest fears — to live in a van and travel across North America. By myself.
I did not always believe or act this way. Just a few months into planning the experience I was scared to walk out to my car alone at night. Then I lived in one.
A friend of mine built out her Honda Element to travel around the country alone for one year. At the time I, too, was embarking on an adventure — I was moving to New Zealand with my boyfriend (at the time) — but the idea of being a solo woman on the road rooted in me, to be uncovered nearly a year later.
I could never do that by myself, I thought. I pictured being alone in a van dark at night, heart racing at every shuffle that sounded through the thin van walls. Maybe I could do it one day — with my boyfriend.
I hated that I felt that way. I wanted to be independent, free, confident and brave. But I was just so… scared. When the opportunity to live on the road appeared, I was intrigued but fearful. Nightmares and severe anxiety plagued me daily. Still, the idea persisted.
While I mulled it over for months, a personality — a mentor, of sorts — began forming. A woman. She was bold and brave and so sure of herself. She rose above all of the smallness of fear-mongering and shame. She adventured on her own regularly. She stood tall in who she was. She wouldn’t become small for anyone. She was wild.
She is the At Wild Woman.
The first time I created her by putting pen to paper, I felt a huge mental shift. I began researching how to turn a minivan into a home on wheels. I set a budget and saved. I spent 30 days drawing the At Wild Woman in different shapes and sizes and discovered she isn’t one person, but a spirit of gumption and wildness that lives in all of us. Her existence may not be apparent, but she’s there, perhaps under layers of stories, half-truths, and fear.
As I learned more about her, I found myself doing things I never thought I could. I went on climbing trips without my boyfriend. I hiked alone. I bought a van. I learned how to use a saw. I cut and drilled and glued wood. I installed a ceiling and created a floor plan and built furniture. I slept in Walmart parking lots and talked with strangers and, despite a bit of social anxiety, met with people I’d followed online and looked up to for years.
But even more than all of this doing and action, I’ve learned from the #atwildwoman that courage sometimes looks very quiet, like softening.
I’m realizing that braveness has another side, perhaps one more innately feminine. It looks like allowing tears and fears and doubt to co-exist with my gumption, my pride, my power.
Courage sometimes comes in the form of accepting rejection and being one with a broken heart. Letting yourself cry so hard and have a nervous breakdown on a dark country road. Feeling total unrelenting fear. Letting all that bubble to the surface and choosing to to continue, to keep accepting and loving yourself despite what society may dub as a failure or shortcoming.
I’m sure there are many — endless, really — layers and sides to courage I have yet to discover, but so far, I keep hearing these two pieces of advice from the At Wild Woman.
She tells me: “Press on.” and then “Let it be.”
And with these two messages ringing strong and true, I do just that. Not fearlessly, but with conviction and hope that there really is nothing left to fear.
Sample 4: The Day I Threw All of My Artwork in the Trash (original post)
The days leading up to my departure from New Zealand, back to the United States, I had a bit of a creative breakdown. I'd spent the last year pouring my soul into my work, investing in new tools and paints, experimenting with all kinds of mediums, and following every whim and gut feeling surrounding my art. I loved what I was discovering, but no one else did.
The day before I flew out, I sat down with all of the artwork I'd made over the past year and decided to let it go. With love, of course. I felt so grateful to have made it. Each piece taught me something, but I knew it was time to let it go. The canvas wouldn't fit in my suitcase back to the US and it felt strangely poetic to leave the work I'd made on the other side of the world.
So I rolled them up, filled six trash bags, and placed them on the curb for trash day. I released all expectations of my art right there. A bit emotional but satisfied with my decision, I went to bed feeling a few pounds lighter.
"Maybe I'm not meant to be a working artist. I'm okay with that," I said to myself as I dozed off.
The next day I woke up, noticing all the white space in my apartment. Bags were packed, and it started to settle in — I was leaving Wellington that day. I poured boiling water into a French press and looked out over the city as I pulled out my phone and checked emails.
After tossing all of my artwork in the trash I forgot to take their listings down from my Etsy shop. And guess what happened. Have a hunch? Yep, I sold my first piece of art. The morning after I threw it all in the trash. Of course.
My heart soared. I jumped, cried, celebrated, danced, screamed. And then my heart dropped. Shit shit shit shit shit. I looked out to the curb — the garbage truck didn't come by yet! Spilling my coffee everywhere I leapt up and scrambled to put on boots. I ran down the long concrete staircase to the curb and tore through all the trash bags. I finally found the one small piece I'd sold, still perfectly in tact.
I sat back on the wet curb, catching my breath. And thought: I hear you, Universe.
A few hours later, the mystery and magnitude of the experience made me a bit weepy as I finished packing and walked out the door, where I'd met so many lows and highs and breakthroughs and battles. And finishing on a solid high note.
Funny how what you need shows up right when you show up.
Sample 5: I Don't Have It All Figured Out. Actually, I'm Dealing with Depression. (original post)
It was a breezy fall day and my task list resembled the leaves on the maple tree outside my window — bright red and begging to be looked at. I was supposed to launch a whole collection of art that day. My body felt melded to the bed; I hadn't even made one piece of it.
My editorial calendar said I was supposed to publish a blog post that week on the topic of "going BIG". I couldn't write it. I felt the opposite of big. Invisible.
My Instagram followers had grown substantially after being interviewed by a popular blog about vanlife. The photos, the description of what I'd been doing — traveling across North America by myself — made my life look incredibly full and filled with beauty of the natural world. Little did everyone know, the day it was published I was lying in a dark basement bedroom and couldn't stop crying.
Every time I receive a comment like "You are everything I want to be" or "What a perfect life" or "You seem to have it all figured out", first, I am so flattered. And then I want to say "Noooo! Don't be fooled. Not everything is as it seems."
Truth: I regularly deal with depression and anxiety.
(You won't believe how many times I tried to rewrite that statement.)
I have been dealing with these symptoms, off and on, for the past decade. It comes and goes in waves. Certain situations exacerbate it. Like, say, living in a van by myself for half a year.
The week it all came to a head I woke up in Boulder, Colorado in the middle of a month-long house sit. The weight of intense, built-up emotions from the trip came crashing. It felt like the universe saw me standing still for a hot second and was like, "Here ya go, here's all this crap! Good luck."
It felt like sitting at the bottom of a very big, steep mountain, and I didn't want to climb it. I didn't even want to put on shoes. I wanted to go back to bed and never have to make another decision again.
It wasn't all dark, though. I smiled every time I took my new pup, Dewey, for a walk or watch him awkwardly leap onto the sofa. I laughed at Internet memes and in conversations with funny friends. But when all of the external stimulation ceased, and it was just me, I felt paralyzed.
I found myself wishing I could be one of those girls who had big, exciting plans and "everything figured out". But I wasn't. And I still am not.
And honestly, I don't think anyone is always that girl.
We all have our moments. Clarity and confusion. Thrill and dread. I'm sure many of us have struggled with some form of depression or anxiety at some point. For me, the struggle comes when I am not in my body, and consequently, not in the present moment. When I stop taking care of myself and get too much in my head, it gets dark.
I'm not sharing this because I want sympathy. No. I want you to know that if you're struggling, you're not alone. I've said it probably a thousand times, and I'll say it again — nothing is just as it seems.
Suicide rates in the U.S. are increasing across the board. Disturbingly, in girls ages 10-14, it's tripled. I have to suspect this has something to do with social media (along with media in general) — its omnipresence and pressure to be perfect, positive, cool, collected.
I don't know the answer, but I want us all to be happy, healthy, and honest. I want to create a space where we can be real with each other. Knowing I'm not alone has been one of my greatest reliefs.
There is nothing to be ashamed of. There is nothing wrong with you. Just like we take care of our bodies, we also need to take care of our minds. What does this look like to you? Therapy? Meditating? Sharing with a friend? Exercise? Seeking further professional help?
Okay, let's start there. Stay safe, and take care of that beautiful mind.
I am also open to the idea of incorporating some bulleted lists, poems, and other styles of content into the book. I could see these being handwritten. Please find a few examples below.
27 Things the At Wild Woman Has Taught Me in My 27 Years
- When something makes you feel, follow it. No matter what.
- Some friendships aren’t meant to last forever.
- Never feel embarrassed for being ‘too much’. Be proud to go all in.
- Internet and long-distance friends are lovely, but a real life community is crucial.
- Death is inevitable, and truly living is optional.
- You don’t have to quit your job or constantly be on the move to live spectacularly.
- There is no shame in depression, anxiety, or any other mental issues. Awareness and acceptance will help them lose their grip on you.
- You don’t NEED a man (or woman), but it’s okay to want one.
- Don’t waste your time forcing what isn’t flowing.
- You don’t have to be afraid to be a woman alone in the world.
- Trust your instincts about everything, especially people.
- Be careful projecting your hopes for a relationship onto someone. They are not necessarily that person you're hoping for.
- It’s okay to work less and earn less. You can also work less and earn more.
- Self-care does not always look like rest. Sometimes you need to take your heart by the hand and say, "It's time to get up."
- Lots of little things turn into big things. Just start.
- Keep at least one art form ‘sacred’ — don’t focus on profiting from it. Just do it for the love.
- Visualization is one of the most powerful practices in crafting a life you love. Do it every day.
- Fear lives under hate. Dig deeper.
- Ego isn’t to be fought, but embraced.
- It’s important to have relationships and conversations with people who aren’t just like you.
- You deserve to realize that you can do the thing you want to do.
- Trust is essential to happiness.
- Holding on is a kind of poison.
- You can’t always think your way into the right decision. You’re going to have to just start at some point.
- Burning things down is easy, building them up is hard.
- Being an artist is as much about feeling as it is about making.
- There is special beauty in learning to love slowly.
give me a life
of discomfort and growth
of sweat and tears
and dirt and grime
of magical canyons that are hard to get to
this thick ocean air
rocks me like a mother.
it is my kin, my flesh,
my blood, now.
you are all I have,
“no,” she says,
that is you.
turn around, ship!
steer to the horizon,
the blue one.
where my mind blanks
like the space where the ocean meets the sky.
solid and steady
straight and full of promise yet empty
and everything awaits
but all i can think is
the sea, the sea, the sea.
a funny study
in the art of trying to make things grow
where they are not supposed to
the winter desert bites.
my right hip juts in the sleeping bag,
thinning what little fibers cover it anyway.
so small, we rest under a towering red earth
red like blood, like rosy cheeks, a too-ripe peach
like so many things, it is and we are, too.
freezing temps, tears, and a thumb nail cut too short
shake me out of the dream’s belly
that anything is ordinary.
i’m awake! I remember!
to love truly, to ask questions
to live in a state of miracles
to lie on the floor next to you
and say how we are.
isn’t it spectacular?
alive and seeing each other, finally
it takes a nip from the desert to remember.
wonder is here, or near, and strung together
by the knowing that it never stays
it fleets — the cold, the tears, the arid love.
i eventually fall back asleep.