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I am coming to the end of The Artist’s Way, a creative self help book by Julia Cameron. There is a part of me that does not want to finish it. I get that way with books, feeling attached to them like a person, not wanting the relationship to be over. I remember reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy as a child wanting so badly to know the end, but not quite ready to say good-bye to the characters. Those last pages go so fast, and before you know it, the story is finished. The Artist’s Way is not a novel but a book to help you explore and embrace your creative potential, and while there are no characters to say good-bye to, ending this book is kind of like saying good-bye to myself as it is the story of my creative journey that will soon be coming to an end. I started reading this book after my travels in Europe, the recommendation of a young Irish woman about my age that I met at Dzogchen Beara Buddhist retreat center. Each week, the book contains reflections and tasks to be done to help you on “a spiritual path to higher creativity.” My weeks looked more like months, and I adapted the exercises to my own schedule pulling away from the book and returning to it as I felt drawn, but it always seemed that when I did come back to The Artist’s Way I found myself in a section that fit my current experiences perfectly giving me new insights. Reading this book was a spiritual journey for me of looking at my life and experiences honestly so that I could learn from them and get rid of the road blocks I had placed around me. I tapped into an unknown creative resource, drawing, and found that my writing opportunities blossomed as well. Most importantly though I realized that “discovering and recovering” my “creative self” was more than just an artistic experience but a spiritual path to healing and self love, an opportunity to forgive myself and those who had hurt me and let all the bitterness seep away. Part of the process towards the end of the book is rereading the daily “morning pages,” stream of consciousness writings done every day upon waking. Looking back on them, I am forced to come to terms with feelings and thoughts easily forgotten or left behind when traveling, but in reading them, I also come to realize how my travels have transformed me and helped me along the way as well helping me see things clearer and faster. I find myself wanting to return to Dzogchen Beara to send a thank you to this magical place and the people who inspired me there, especially the one who introduced such a wonderful source of growth and inspiration into my life. The Artist’s Way has become my daily companion, and I do not think ending the book will be the end of our relationship. I am sure this book will continue to encourage and shape me as I refer back to it and write my morning pages in the years to come.

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I had a lovely visit in Oregon spending quality time with friends, enjoying Cathedral Park Jazz Festival, and relaxing at Gleneden beach with family. I was so inspired by all the people who supported Casita Copán, the non-profit day care and women’s support center I have been volunteering at here in Copán Ruinas, Honduras. So far Casita Copán’s In Her Shoes Challenge has raised $1,841 thanks largely to people in Salem and Portland, Oregon who came to Honduran culture and art fundraising events.

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The In Her Shoes Challenge is more than just a fundraiser and takes donating to the next step of participation and interaction. People who have more fortunate financial circumstances are challenged to feed themselves on the $21 average salary/week of mothers at Casita for one week starting October 6th, 2013 to build solidarity and to receive pledges leading up to the event to help reach the $10,000 goal. This money will help continue the work of Casita Copán and develop new health and education programs for the mothers, children, and other women within the community. It is also an opportunity to learn more about the people donors are giving money to. These women and children may have financial struggles and can use help but those participating in the Challenge can learn something from these people whose culture is rich and beautiful as well. We all have something to share, and I have found that the good and bad aspects of the USA are the opposite here in Honduras. Every day in Honduras, I am reminded what is good about my home country and I appreciate it more while at the same time realizing what I was missing in the USA. It feels good to call a second country home where children are playing in the streets and people still have a connection to the earth that sustains them. Want to join the In Her Shoes Challenge and learn more about Casita Copán? Go to: http://www.crowdrise.com/inhershoespovertychallenge/fundraiser/casitacopaninc

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I ventured out to Santa Lucia this past weekend to visit a dear Honduran friend and her family. The little town reminded me of some of my favorite places in Italy with steep cobblestone roads, quaint cafes, and breathtaking views. I love the endless forest and mountains; there are so many places to enjoy nature while still being close to the city.

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I received a tour of the whole city by motorcycle, weaving around hills overlooking endless forest and the misty covered city of Tegucigalpa and its surrounding towns.

ImageI got word there was a winery near by which is a rarity in Honduras and was pleasantly surprised by the delicious blackberry wine and the beautiful view from the vineyard.

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Right now is the rainy season, and while wandering around a Tegucigalpa park overlooking the city, my friend’s family and I got caught in a torrential down pour and were soaked in a matter of seconds. Outrunning it was pointless but it didn’t keep us from trying to escape nature’s bath.

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I really enjoyed getting to know my friend’s daughters ,who are beautiful and sweet, while playing Monopoly and Bingo. While my friend was at work, they and their grandmother showed me around the city, and I got to see some great street art.

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Pisco Sour night! We made our own…mmmm muy rico!

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We went into Tegucigalpa for some dancing, and I had a blast. It was nice to dance without feeling like a piece of meat. In general the men of Tegucigalpa and Santa Lucia were more respectful than those of Copan, and it was such a relief not to be harassed. I sometimes forget that Copan Ruinas is not representative of all of Honduras. In Copan, my roommate and I have been contemplating making shirts that say “¡No soy tu bebé!” y “¡No soy tu muñeca!” and wearing them when we go running. In English, that is “I am not your baby!” and “I am not your doll!” Words that are used daily to greet us in the streets.

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Most days in Santa Lucia, I did some reading while relaxing in the hammock. I am currently reading my first novel in Spanish which is a challenge but improving my vocabulary quite a bit.

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My friend and her family were so generous and kind, and it was nice to be pampered for a weekend while exploring other parts of Honduras.

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IMG_20121122_000000Coming to Germany at three o’clock in the morning by car share and desperately tired, I thought it was time to treat myself to a little luxury, so I stayed four days in a hotel with a swimming pool and sauna. The first two days were divine in my private room. I only left the hotel to take a quick peek at the East Berlin Wall Gallery which was conveniently located across the street. The third day I decided to venture from my cozy bed and made up for my lack of tourist activities by visiting three museums in one day. I was impressed by the museum selection in Berlin. They have a whole island dedicated to them here. My last night was spent treating myself to an extravagant meal at the restaurant Gendarmerie, where the largest wood sculpture in the world resides. The warm lighting of the interior drew me in and made it stand out from the rest of the renowned Michelin restaurants lining the street. I made friends with the waiter while swapping observations about the other diners who I found entertaining to watch and ease-drop on while savoring my delicious meal.

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After Berlin, I headed to Bad Soden-Salmünster to meet with a friend from high school I haven’t seen in ten years. I enjoyed this little town with its forest walks and morning snow, but most of all I loved feeling so part of a family. Her mother reminded me of my own making me new gluten-free creations every day. I went for morning runs with the dog, listened to her father’s jazz band, drank hot spiced wine at a Christmas market, cooked Thanksgiving dinner for the first time, caught up over tea and chocolate, discovered a new favorite author, Kazuo Ishiguro, and went on road trip adventures to Frankfurt, Würzburg, Fulda and Heidelberg. They made me feel loved on my first birthday away from home, and it meant so much to me.

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Dark Romanticism Exhibit at Städel Museum in Frankfurt

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“The death of a beautiful woman is the most poetic topic in the world.”~Edger Allan Poe

“I believe in the future resolution of these two states, dream and reality, which are seemingly so contradictory into a sort of absolute reality, a surreality, so to speak.”~André Breton

“I fear neither witches nor poltergeists, ghosts, braggarts, giants, good-for-nothings, villains, etc. I fear no creature but one: Man.”~Francisco de Goya

Berlin Modern Art Museum

“People had lost all control and discipline, all concept of ‘mine’ and ‘yours’ was gone. Of all the horrors of war, this was the most terrible: Since then I have feared nothing in this world quite so much as the bestiality of a wicked human being; no animal would behave in such a way.” ~Katherina Heinroth

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 Blind Power~Rudolf Schlichter

“With their nightmarish monsters, these pictures make us reel by confronting us so closely with the spurious foundations of our existence.”

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Berlin Jewish Museum

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Garden of Exile

“One feels a little bit sick walking through it. But it is accurate, because that is what perfect order feels like when you leave the history of Berlin.”~Daniel Libiskind

In the Garden of Exile, I felt an eery sense that no matter where I walked I would be in the same place, even though I knew there was an exit. I felt trapped with the appearance of being free. As I walked through the isles, I realized the view was always the same, a clear path with a wall at the end. I couldn’t escape the strict design. Despite the order of the rock garden, I always felt unbalanced as I was never able to stand up straight due to the tilted foundation. Olive willow tree tops peeked out from columns, but I could not enjoy them because they were too far away to properly observe. The sound of my boots on lonely stone pathways resonated emptiness and abandonment with traces of fear and mourning hanging heavy in the air.

Holocaust Tower

As I look at the closing door and the darkness envelops me, my throat becomes tight, and I hold my breath. Letting go of the pain in my chest might make me lose that last bit of light which feels like hope. My eyes well up, but I hold back emotional response. I could be here for a long time, and I cannot lose it yet. I have to hold it together and think. So I move my paralyzed body, touching the cold wall to guide my blind fumbling. I see a small bit of light at a top corner of my cement prison. I walk towards it, and the space around me only narrows. Claustrophobia sets in, panic. What cruelty to leave some light but have it be impossible to reach. I feel betrayed. I want to scream, but I am afraid of what else might be in here. I frantically follow the wall to the other side and come back to where I began. I realize attempts at exit are futile, so I squat with my back to the wall trying not to cry, holding myself so I don’t feel so alone, so I feel protected against the unknown. I comfort myself with memories of what it feels to be in the light, and I calm down remembering this is not my reality. That I can return to the warmth if I choose to step out the door, but horrified knowing so many never did again. That they died like this.

Axis of Continuity

I grow weary as I climb these stairs, but I push my tired body to keep going up. When I reach the top and look back, I see the lattice-work, the intricate bindings. The struggles that make us stronger. I can relax knowing it is all part of a greater plan. The interweaving of a blanket. A door opens into warmth. How apt there is a tree in the center with wishes of children hanging from it. Always a tree remains to remind us beauty and peace exist, that hope is just around the corner if we can open our hearts to change.

“I wish we could all live in peace, love, not war, no hate, just for everyone to be at one.”~Anonymous

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In France, I indulged in orgasmic, gastronomical delights. Food here is taken to an entirely different level of enjoyment. I frequented Helmut Newcake where I gained experience ordering desserts in French. Here I could stay cozy and warm reading and people watching from behind glass as I savoured gluten-free pastries and café créme. The éclair vanille was flaky and moist with a light, delightful cream center.

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My Parisian friend, aware of my love for reading, took me to a wine bar decorated by books where we were treated to fine wine, flirtatious conversation, and a kiss or two by some charming men. Greetings and good-byes are full of kisses and smiles in France. Two kisses on either cheek are customary and made me blush every time.

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It is common to see dogs with their noses peeking out of handbags and from under tables, or if small enough, from their companions’ laps saying, “Hello!” Men and women are beautiful in a simple natural way like the style of my favorite Hollywood actress, Audrey Hepburn, who very much defined the French look for Americans during her time. At the Hôtel de Ville there was an exhibit titled Paris Seen by Hollywood, which shed light on Parisian stereotypes. With most stereotypes, there are essences of truth, but none can fully describe a country and its people.

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I found that saying “Bonjour!,” “Parlez-vous anglais?,” and “Merci beaucoup.” helped me make friends quite easily, even if I had no idea what the person said in response. Together we laughed at our poor language skills and mimed most of what we were trying to say to the entertainment of those around us. According to researchers, over half of communication is body language anyways.

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I found the French people incredibly welcoming and the setting awe-inspiring. Buildings here are magnificently built, and one becomes very aware how small we are in comparison to the whole universe.

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Shakespeare and Company was my favorite spot, a book store filled with the comforting smell of written works, old and new. People from all over come to this gem to soak knowledge in whilst curling up in little nooks where walls are covered by notes from fellow lover’s of books. You can leave your own words on the walls by using the little type writer at the top of the stairs located in a small hole in the wall that reminded me of childhood days when “I would set-up office” under my dad’s desk and imagine I was working too.

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I found myself drawn to the churches in Paris, my Catholic roots still tugging at my soul. The Catholic church says baptism and confirmation leave indelible marks, perhaps they are right. I sat through a mass at St. Ambroise Church and felt an ache in my chest. Deep inside resides a longing for the community I once felt being Catholic, but beside that lies an even deeper disgust and anger at how religions can be used to rage wars and control people. “With great power, comes great responsibility” and with it most often comes corruption and lies. Religions contribute to society in many ways, especially in their charity to homeless, but their power scares me. I find the most peace in trying to formulate my own opinions from a variety of sources and to always be open to change. I fear stagnant black and white answers because life, in my experience, is more about the uncomfortable gray. Life undefined means we are all responsible to seek our own truth, and that can be a lonely, uncertain path at times, but I find comfort in knowing it is my path.

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While at the Paris Seen by Hollywood exhibit, there was a magazine opened to a page that was an advert for a movie filmed in Paris. What caught my eye, however, was unrelated to the exhibit. On the other page of the 1921 magazine, was an advert for Palmolive titled, “Would Your Husband Marry You Again?” I began reading out of curiosity and was mortified by the very obvious misogynistic undertones, “Fortunate is the woman who can answer ‘Yes.’ But many a woman, if she is honest with herself, is forced to be in doubt- after that she pays stricter attention to her personal attractions.” It blatantly is saying that to hold on to a man, a woman must have this product, instilling in her an idea she is not worth keeping around unless she stays beautiful by his standards. How nauseating, but even more so when I realized that post-feminist movement women are still allowing these types of media to drive how they interact with men. The anti-female sentiments are still there, just less obvious. I feel lucky to have the opportunities I do as an educated American woman, to be traveling around the world by myself as I am. In 1921, I probably would not have had this opportunity. That being said, we have a long way to go before we reach any kind of equal state. Patriarchy is still happening and keeping women from reaching their full potential, the difference is women in America can do something about it in the twenty-first century by speaking out against the misogyny that still is rampant in society, by working towards a world that respects, not men, women, or race, but human beings.

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Voting was an adventure. My missing ballot was the cause of great panic amongst, not only myself, but several French people I conversed with, but it led to a nice visit to the American Embassy in Paris where they were kind enough to fax my vote for me. It was nice to be greeted the morning after the election with “Hooray Obama!” emails from several of my European friends as I left for the Netherlands. I was a bit ashamed though to realize just how much more up-to-date Europeans are on world politics than most people I know in the USA.

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In my teen years, I found myself walking my dog through the local cemetery and reading under its trees. I enjoyed wandering the pathways and looking at the gravestones, imagining the stories of those buried below. I wondered how they died and if they were still loved, missed or forgotten. I would pick flowers and place them on lonely sites. I remember one in particular because below the stone was a baby whose birthday was the same as mine. I stopped at this one frequently. She reminded me of my own mortality, that it was just luck that I was above the ground and she was below. At Pére Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, I saw lovers holding each other tight on benches, admiring the fall colors of the trees shading dead bodies; a lonely widow hobbling up and down steps with flowers and a bucket of water; families clearing away broken glass; others gathering with tears and laughter in courtyards to wave goodbye to loved ones, a procession of black; and confused tourists holding maps and cameras up in front of their faces while stumbling about seeing everything and nothing at the same time: “Honey, according to this map Van Morrison should be right here.” “Do you know where Oscar Wilde is? I can’t seem to find him.” “Hey everyone, it’s the Adams Family! You be Cousin It; I’ll be….” I found the contrast between the living and dying rather lovely to observe.

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Versailles was incredibly large. The grand halls of the palace, surrounding gardens, pools, farm houses, and estates would take a week to properly wander through. I focused on the retreat of Marie-Antoinette with its quaint little living spaces and cream/lavender tower overlooking a pond of Koi fish. I found the trellises guiding visitors along pathways to be enticing and was one of the last to leave as the sun went down.

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Mont-St. Michel Abbey was my introduction to the French coast. A mirage in the distance, a great spire reaching towards the heavens, it barely looked real, and one doesn’t truly believe it is until you are walking amongst its spiralling walls lined with cafes, restaurants, and souvenir shops. This paradise, an island surrounded by water at high tide and a death trap of quick sand at low tide, has been a great fortress, prison, and sanctuary over the years. A village with an abbey at the center. If I were god, I would want to reside in this heaven of fairy tale dreams.

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Catching up with a fellow couch-surfer and now very dear friend in her own city was the best gift of my travels to France. At the beginning of the year, we met and found ourselves on similar paths and have grown together as travel companions, adventurers, and seekers. The conversations were inspiring and paired with lovely settings, delectable delights, the occasional cigarette with wine, dance workouts, watching movies, meeting her lovely friends, trying not to chop off fingers while making squash soup, giggle fits and other silly antics, and most certainly chocolate!

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Accepting Death

Red in spite of pale demise
Art murmurs a mystery the mind cannot explain
Crisp crackles mark silence
Steps are shadows of forgotten experience
All metal eventually corrodes into dusty existence
Life is only eternal dieing
The colors of fall bring the gray of winter
Naked trees are the skeleton of entry and exit
The wind carries away ashes to ignite fire
Gentle is the passing into ether of tomorrow
Death is the loyal friend of the living
Unconditional is its love
Acceptance devours fear and welcomes peace.

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Releasing Resistance

Exhaustion blurs to delirious delusions
Past seeps through cracked walls
Built while wounded
Holes where the heart should be
This stone pile of disappointed desires
Laments of bitter regret
Fear of repetition’s stagnant reality
Yours or mine?
Jaded
Lost in love’s mishaps
Painful position of paltry passings
Burnt flesh of fevered fermented hope made sour
I am too weak to stand
I must dissolve into foggy fumblings of mind
Sleep calls me to rest in my sea of emotion
Floating above the pain in whispers.

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After a brief moment in Dublin, where I visited the Wall and Keogh for an afternoon tea good-bye and picked up my forgotten phone, I flew to Scotland. In Glasgow, I let myself heal after a month of keeping a gradually creeping cold at bay. It was the first place since New York where I was visiting an old friend, and this allowed me to accept being ill and give myself time to rejuvenate. I bonded with my friend’s flatmates over Game of Thrones and The Wire and caught up on my sleeping, writing, reading, and chatting with family and friends back home. Being lazy was the best thing I have done for myself thus far on this trip. I was treated to feasts and stimulating political/feminist conversation nightly along with daily witty banter. I moseyed around art galleries and meditated at Loch Lomond with a fellow wanderer. I got my groove on briefly in a Scottish night club and laughed at the mating rituals of humans with Harry Potter. Most importantly, I learned about vars and will define them as such for those with question marks above their heads.

Var-An abyss of piss.

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