Friday, December 26, 2008

Photos: Mexico to Xela

Guanajato, Mexico

Guanajato, Mexico

Xela, Guatemala

Xela, Guatemala

Xela, Guatemala

Volcan Pacaya, Guatemala

Volcan Feugo, Antigua, Guatemala

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Inside the Obama campaign

"Nowhere is it ordained that history moves in a straight line" wrote Barack Obama in The Audacity of Hope, and nowhere was it ordained that he would win, in spite of the palpable feeling amongst millions that this was his moment. A sense of destiny is not enough to win an election. Obama and his team knew this and two years ago began building what has probably been the most formidable ground operation in the history of politics. How did they do it and what was it like? I spent six weeks in the battleground state of New Mexico finding out:


"We have a new full time volunteer! Meet Michael, from England" shouted Nick Rosa to a bustling Obama campaign office, which turned in unison with cheers, calls of welcome and the ring of the recruitment bell.

I arrived in Santa Fe, New Mexico, six weeks before the election, keen to help and to get an insider's perspective on Obama's much praised 'grassroots' campaign. A key swing state, New Mexico voted for Bush in 2004 by only 6000 votes - just 2 votes per electoral precinct. The campaign was taking no chances and had 39 field offices (compared to McCain's 10), 7 of those in the Santa Fe area ('Region 4'). It was into one of these that I'd walked on September 25th.

The atmosphere was something between a community cafe, a high octane sales room and a high school. The shop unit, looking out across a crowded parking lot, had been transformed with a collage of stickers and posters - some official, many homemade - and lists canvasers hung ready for new additions. A constant stream of volunteers was trained on the days' goals and left with their 'canvas packets' - the map and list of voter's doors they were to knock on. Others were returning their canvas packets filled out with the collected info, and a bank of elderly ladies at donated computers entered the data into the campaign database. There was a pleasant, energetic hum of conversation and laughter and in one corner three girls in their early teens were calling through a phone list to recruit more volunteers, pinging lobby style attention bells each time they won a new recruit, to a burst of cheers from the rest of the room.

This was the frontline of a ground campaign that has been widely hailed as groundbreaking. How so?

Firstly, the sheer scale of the operation. New Mexico has been awash with Obama volunteers. "They're out everywhere. They're like flies", said a Republican volunteer rather forlornly at the only - and sparsely populated - McCain office in Santa Fe. Recruitment built up week on week, with volunteers recruiting volunteers, until the office I started at had over 500 canvasers leaving every day - so many that they relocated the canvas operation to a nearby warehouse. In the two weeks prior to the election the region as a whole achieved over one hundred thousand door knocks, and made over fifty thousand phone calls - and there are less than 200,000 registered Democratic voters here.

The campaigns huge financial resources, with over $600 million raised, was clearly important but while the McCain-Palin campaign emails tried to suggest Obama way buying his support that was far from the truth - our region had at least four unpaid full-time volunteers for every paid Field Organiser, with hundreds of part-time volunteers on top of that.
Americans in their tens of thousands were 'fired up' for their candidate is a way not seen for decades and the stories of volunteers' commitment could be moving: the man who arrived late to canvas, hugely apologetic, and smelling of smoke - his house had burned down in the early hours of the morning; the lady volunteer who, after being stabbed in the throat came in to the office a few days later, unable to speak but determined to help. They were of all ages, classes, backgrounds, from wealthy attourneys to school teachers, but college students and recent graduates have been the backbone - the "Kids Crusade" was how one aging campaign veteran descibed it.

Obama's message of hope and change, skilfully packaged and amplified by the campaign, has obviously been central, particulary in attracting the young. It provided an emotive core often lacking in Democratic campaigns. Yet it would have sounded flat and hollow were it not for the real secret of this campaign - community empowerment. "You feel Obama's community
organiser roots through this entire campaign" explained Geno Zamora, a campaign senior advisor in the state. "They've taken tried and tested community organising techniques and modernised them. But it's still reaching out to people, getting people to tell their stories, to share and be involved". The basis of this style of engagement has been summarised as the public narrative-'The Story of ME - who I am; the story of WE - who we are; and the Story of NOW - what are we going to do together'. "If you look at Obama's famous 2004 convention speech, it follows exactly that structure" explained Siri Trang Khalsa, a professional policy expert volunteering in the Santa Fe HQ. "He has been able to personally connect with people in a way that no other politician has in a really long time".

This connection has been transformed into action - into tens of thousands of volunteers, millions of doors knocked, and a resounding victory - by a campaign that sought to push power out to its people on the ground. "Now I just totally understand how a small group of people can do a huge thing. When you're actually putting responsibility in the hands of others it just explodes with output." explained Bill Loundy, fresh from his final semester at Stanford, eyes glistening with excitement. "When you empower its like you've got a big jar of marbles and all you do is spill it. Just drop it. Spread everything out, throw the seeds all over the place and everything starts growing." The constant aim was bring people further in: Given money? Give a few hours to canvas; Given a few hours canvasing? Can you recruit four others and lead a canvas team? The campaign had genuine grassroots beginnings, it connected with them and it placed the highest value on getting communities to work for themselves to bring Barack to power. "The highest position in the campaign is that of the Field Organiser" declares the weighty campaign manual.

Yet a free-for-all it most certainly was not - the community action has been extremely carefully directed. "This is a very disciplined campaign at every level" explained Mr Zamora. "It's a level of organisation that's never been seen, not only of community organisation but folding technology into it." Firstly the ground campaign was integrated into the broader messaging, so a voter hearing a healthcare themed ad on their local radio station was handed a brochure on Obama's healthcare plan the same week. Secondly, highly sophisticated data mining and demographic analysis was used to target voters with great accuracy. Starting months ago with the publicly available list of registered voters, the campaign used its volunteers, through canvasing and phone calls, to expand and hone voter details, allowing them to be cut into highly targetted 'universes' with a specific strategy for each.

So behind the soaring rhetoric and inspiring slogans the campaign was being run clinically - by cold, hard numbers. Each state was analysed based on past elections and the precise number of votes needed for victory was calculated. Then the strategy to get these votes was broken down into weekly and daily targets, split between each field office. These targets were key to keeping the focus and momentum. Full timers - both paid and unpaid - have been working 15 hour days for weeks, sometimes months. In the evenings from around 8pm the buzz of the office would quieten down leaving the team of around 5-10 full time staff sitting round at their laptops. At 9.30pm every night we gathered round a cell phone, set to speaker, for the regional conference call with Regional Director Alfred Johnson, as each team reported the days numbers for volunteers recruited, doors knocked, phonecalls made, and then received his feedback on 'percent to goal'. Then at 10pm we all listened in as Alfred reported our region's performance on the state wide conference call. Competition between offices and regions was fierce, the determination to out perform growing as the camaraderie and character of teams solidified. Ultimately the numbers were reported to 'Chicago' and those coordinating the national campaign.

Finally, technology has clearly played a huge role on many levels, but particularly in the allocation of resources. The electoral collage system means the presidency is settled by a relatively small number of battleground states, but the internet and cell phones have allowed resource rich dark blue states to help in the fight as never before. I witnessed the campaigns fleetness of foot one night at the state headquarters in Albuquerque when, just before the nightly call, California reported a lot of spare phone capacity for the following day and 15 minutes later Brent Messenger, Field Director for New Mexico, instructed all field offices to focus volunteers on canvasing and leave the phone calls to the Californians - California made over a quarter of a million calls into New Mexico alone. It has also facilitated volunteers to come from all over the States - we had over 130 visit our region, joining us for a day or a week, from Texas, California, Nevada. Most paid their own way. Eddie Cruz drove for 12 hours on a Friday, up from Texas, canvased solidly for two days and then drove back in time for work on Tuesday. There were thousands like him across the country.

There's a telling moment in Obama's book 'Dreams From My Father': "I don't like politics much," exclaimed his sister Alma. "Why's that?" asked Barack. "I don't know" she replied. "People always end up disappointed." The question now, with millions feeling empowered by their part in this remarkable story, is
will President Obama prove his sister wrong?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Grand Canyon Haiku

Tourists click at the

Brink of the unreal vastness
A big hole, for sure


Another Haiku (I got quite into them):

The American Question

Larger than life, or
Too large for this life-boat?
Looks like the latter

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Green Tortoise

The backpacker fun-bus...

It's fun hanging out with locals but I wanted to join the backpacker trail for a week. Green Tortoise tours have fantastic coaches, converted to sleep 30+, and at $450 for a week it seemed the perfect way to head east.

The group was great: international and of all ages. And the coaches redefined comfy travel for me: split into thirds you have the choice of giant bed (back), 'dinettes' (middle) or comfy choir-stall seats. And the luggage racks are bunks. Being able to swap between them made long journeys a pleasure.

We cooked dinner together and slept under the stars most nights.

Joshua Tree National Park

Venice Beach

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Washing feet in Frisco...

Travel highlights off the Rough Guide trail

Travel by contact is the most rewarding and the internet makes it easy to surf the six degrees of connectedness. Days before boarding my flight I'd sent out a 'Help, nowhere to stay' email and - excepting the first two nights in a hotel - friends of friends (or friends of theirs) have come through every time.

I was getting dropped off in San Francisco after a fun afternoon's sailing around the bay. "What's your friend Matt's address?" asked Eric (behind the wheel surfing Google Maps on his phone as we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge). They all chuckled in mild disbelief when I politely corrected him that the term 'friend' was probably stretching it, applied to someone I'd exchanged a few emails and fewer words with.

'Friend' is apt now, though, after a blisteringly warm welcome and five days of fun at 'Hostel Ridenour'. Matt and his housemates welcomed me with open couch. (Matt, in yellow below, with his sister Christa and housemate Dan to his right).

They also introduced me to the best of San Francisco. Yet the highlight wasn't hitting the uber-cool Mission district, replete with hipsters, for a Friday nights dancing at the
Elbow Room. Or the movie-picnic in the park followed by taste-bud educating ice cream (Balsamic Strawberry anyone?). It wasn't the basement house-party where I learnt the art of 'Flipcup', or even the Lindy Hop ball where my poor attempts at improvising to the Blues band went generously enjoyed by the girls I danced with. The highlight was helping out at Matt's church's homeless mission for a few hours on the foot washing team.

Midday Saturday Matt was headed downtown, having heard that CityTeam was short of volunteers, and invited us along (there were other weekend guests at the 'Hostel'). On a side road from the plush main shopping street, through a nondescript entrance, was a room full of plastic tables and chairs, a buffet counter at one end and worship band warming up to one side. We headed to the basement to join a seated circle of volunteers being welcomed and assigned tasks by Paul, head of Mercy/Justice ministries at CityChurch.

Soon the lunch area was bustling. Matt called the names on the rota: those who had signed up for free clothes (down in the hanger-lined basement), and those who wanted a foot wash. Managed by gentle-voiced Anna, who has been doing this for seven years, the foot washing is obviously an explicit act of service and humility echoing
Christ's. It's also very practical - if my own feet got hot and tired after a days sight-seeing then I can imagine the effect of day-in, day-out trudging the sidewalks in ill-fitting shoes.

If I'd been expecting a chore ('How good of me to volunteer, so noble!') what I actually got was a delightful few hours chatting to interesting, warm and often inspiring characters.

Like Karen, a big-smiled African American who told me of her clean break in August, leaving her drug habit (and perhaps dealing), partner and home behind - sadly a new start for her begins on the streets. Her feet were in pretty good shape even though just weeks before her son had refused to believe what he saw - "Take your socks off mama!" "They ARE off, those is my feet. That white is my calloused SKIN!" - all on account of a miracle foot cream she'd mixed from a Charlie's Magic Medicine of different products. According to Karen everyone who tried it was impressed by the results, including the Hostel doctor!

Another lady spoke passionately about her work with young people, the pointlessness of arrests for petty drug use and the need for basketball games and BBQ's between neighbouring communities to stop them shooting each other. She was studying for a criminology qualification, getting up at 6am every day to get to college.

These people don't own homes (many are in short term accommodation) but most of them aren't lazy. They don't seem bitter-by-default either. Does our welfare system foster an attitude of being 'owed' without having to earn through one's effort? Yet so many good people allowed to fall to the streets in a country of such abundance.

It is popular amongst some in my social class - the bachelor degreed liberatti - to bash religion, or at least Christianity (lest you stray off-limits into cultural or racial critique), especially of the American kind. Yet the flip side of nuts in the White House is young, passionate and talented San Franciscans enjoying life while avoiding excess and giving up their Saturday afternoon to serve the homeless of their city. I was so impressed by how kind-hearted Matt, Kevin and the others were. They looked everyone in the eye and treated every beggar as a person.

Of course it's not just Christians that serve and sacrifice, but there is a deeply beautiful strand of Christianity (one lost completely by the domination-at-all-costs Neocons) that exalts service and humility. The revolutionary 'first shall be last'. Leadership as servanthood.

Anna said that when she started on CityTeam she thought she was going to bless the homeless, but found that it is they who have blessed her. I can second that.

Rich experiences not in any Rough Guide, that you only get to see through email, the efforts of contacts and the hospitality of strangers. Who now aren't. I feel like I've left some good friends in Frisco Bay.


San Francisco supposedly has a fairly progressive set of policies towards the homeless. Nonetheless a very different spirit to that of CityTeam was on display on Sunday night as the cleaning trucks passed down Market Street. "Hey, get up!" said a street cleaner, kicking a blanketed form curled in a doorway. "You want some water? That'll get you up?". He retreated to his truck as the water tanker aimed its jet spray and dowsed the 'bum' til he stumble up and away down the sidewalk, soaked and cursing.

More photos:

I loved San Francisco, with its charming wooden terraced housing
and mural covered Mission district - and public transport system that

Honesty is the best policy!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Mrs Dog

"Obama's our only hope." "No, there is another..."

I've discovered the heart of the resistance. Forget Neo or Macavity. All command lines in the fight against the Neocon New World Order lead back to a basset hound in Palo Alto.

Co-ordinating her network through her owner, Skip Macy (an Astro Physics PhD and retired Intel employee), Mrs Dog (real name Cleo) has built a formidable network of agent provocateurs and inside contacts, managed out of Silicon Valley's heartland. With key sources throughout America - Sergey Brin's cat Meooow; the boardroom goldfish, Swaps, at Goldman Sachs; Jamie Dimon's dachhund Go Long; Pentagon chickens Shock and Awe; and others - Mrs Dog is preparing a series of master strokes that will redraw America's political landscape for the better. Watch this space. (And if you're seeking an audience, take a pig's ear).

(Oh, and the Macy's are a fantastic family who gave me the warmest of welcomes. My own bed and a sturdy washing machine were just what was needed post Burning Man. Thanks to Marie and all the family.)

(This posting was approved by Mrs Dog, knowing that Americans would never believe it - although after the Palin pick I'm not so sure).

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Big Surf, Big Trees

Surf's up in Santa Cruz

'Everything's bigger' is a common reaction, I would guess, from those visiting the USA from crowded Europe. In a country that's almost a continent there's a lot of space to go around, and a lot of Nature.

California's teaming with it, from noisy sea lions on the Santa Cruz peer and pelicans bobbing between surfers to the ever-present threat of the Great White. Despite being undeniably subdued - most of California's forests have long been felled - Nature seems somehow more assertive here, on more equal terms - and perhaps less fragile? Is that one of the reasons American's have found it hard to accept humanity's wholesale alteration of the climate - in spite of their role as pioneers in our industrial-scale tinkering with the carbon cycle?

I spent a weekend with my friend Adam, out here finishing his Oxford doctorate, and quickly succombed to the fun-seeking optimism of one of surfing's home towns.

Adam had arranged for my first surf lesson with Tod, a forty-something local surfer who, fresh from a Saturday's labouring as a painter was ready to get down to the real reason for his existence and get onto the waves. "There's people who surf and there's surfers", Tod eplained. "I'm a surfer. It mean's everything to me. See, if I moved inland, I'd die, no question. I'd die." One surfing mag had featured a letter's page titled 'Is surfing a religion?' and I was about to learn why.

Driving out of town and parking on the freeway, Tod took us to a favourite local surf spot: '3 Mile'. We walked down a track between millions of brussel sprouts and down a steep path to a beautiful little beach, unspoilt coves stretched out in either direction. Tod was reassuringly relaxed about the size of the breakers (but there did seem an awful lot of spray coming up from the rocks) and about the presence of sharks ("No sharks today. Maybe tomorrow, but not today" he said, winking). Quite a spot for a first-timer.

I threw myself into it and within minutes had a newfound respect for surfers and the sea. It is a
tough sport - Tod was chiselled like an Athenian marble - and you pit your fitness and skill against the might of the ocean. I managed to body-board the first time (jumping off when I realised only the approaching rocks were going to slow my wave) and get onto my knees the second. The third effort was a lesson in respect. Off the board, into the wave and battered again and again, kicking away from the rocks and trying to punch through rolling walls of foam, only to get jerked back by the board trailing behind one leg by its chord, kicking free of kelp, amidst the rising sombre panic of a survival situation. The waves subsided (as Tod promised they would - they come in sets) and hauling myself onto my board, exhausted, ('like, totally'), I limply paddled towards the calm water, only able to grunt in reply to Tod's remarks: "You're tired, uh?... Hard work, isn't it?".

Afterwards we sat in the fading sunlight, sipping beer and staring out to sea, and the potent combination of mortal challenge, beauty and community that makes surfing much more than a sport for many was clear. You taunt the might of the ocean, playing in the Lion's den, learning to skip away inches from a foamy mauling, and in the sparing find a communion with Nature.

That night I had a running dream - the one's where you're chased until you wake up.

Tree Huggers

The following day Adam and I drove to Big Basin Redwood State Park. California's oldest state park, it was saved from the loggers when the Sempervirens Club bought 15km sq. of old growth Redwood forest in 1902.

'What were the loggers thinking' Adam and I wondered, as we strolled through the echoing halls of giant Redwoods. Did they feel sad, driven on my hungry mouths at home and bosses far removed who didn't care? Or did they actually see these high-Gothic cathedrals of nature as 'resources', counting each ones' size by the number of railway sleepers it could yield?

We hugged a tree each. Had to be done. Then hopped back into our gas-hungry hire car and left.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Best Party on the Planet...

...If there's an afterlife, let it be like Burning Man.

Every August the cracked, dusty skin of the Black Rock Desert in Nevada becomes home to an amazing expression of human exuberance, creativity and good will.

There, stretched between the mountains, the appropriately named Playa hosts what must be the greatest show on Earth, as 40,000 'Burners' leave behind the pre-created identities of consumer culture and paint a kaleidoscopic week-long artistic happening that wows everyone who attends.

American's may be fond of superlatives but where Burning Man is concerned they are more than justified. I've had an absolutely AWESOME week and the scrappy shards below cannot begin to convey the mosaic they're taken from.

In fact I seriously considered a one-line blog entry: 'Burning Man. You have GOT to go.'

Into the wilderness

Getting to Burning Man takes commitment and planning. Situated in the middle of a high elevation desert, miles from the nearest habitation, it is a harsh environment - people need to look after each other. The only things for sale on site are coffee and ice! Everything else you need must be brought with you - or 'gifted' from another 'Burner', as those attending are known - including a minimum 1.5 gallons of water per person per day.

I was with Camp Starstruck in the Alternative Energy Zone. Organised by Jon and Amanda, they worked logistical wizardry in hiring a van, buying and planning camp meals, and preparing the essential shade structure that would provide our social space.

We had driven through the night, excitement building as we joined the narrowing funnel of Burners, until we reached the desert and a string of red tail lights stretching out into the darkness. As the sun rose we made the final approach along a strip lined with quotes on politics and the American Dream (this year's theme), and at the gate myself and Tim, both of us first-timers, were greeted with a hug, a 'Welcome home' and invited to ring the bell. We had arrived.

Black Rock City

BRC appears and disappears every year, barely leaving a mark: a central tenet of Burning Man being 'Leave No Trace'. (This is a principle taken very seriously and all MOOP - Matter Out Of Place - must be pounced on and removed).

The camp forms a partial circle, over 10,000 feet in diameter, with the towering Man at the center, faced by the open section with looks out on the expanding desert plain beyond, with its Temple and various scattered art
stretching out to 'The End'.

Streets radiate from the man according to times on a clock face, from 2 o'clock through to 10 o'clock, bisecting concentric rings starting from the inner Esplanade where many of the bars and venues are, and out past alphabetically ordered streets: Allante, Beneville, Corvair, etc. Our camp's address that I'd so carefully noted finally made sense: 6.30 and Dart.

Into this orderly outline, that would satisfy the most ardent Modernist city planner, bloomed a romantic, chaotic, anarchic explosion of life.


The people make Burning Man. What is astounding is that everything you see is the result of some person or groups self-expression. No logos allowed (only Budget Rental' and 'U-Haul' were occasionally on display, but often in subverted form).

'Art Cars' roam the playa and adapted 'Art Bikes' - each one choosing fun over function. From the cartoon like...
... to the surreal:

The delightful wit kept a smile glued to my face. Some favorites were the 'Hug Deli' (I chose the 'Slow, Awkward Hug' out of intrigue. Yes it was)....

...and the BRC Police, on the prowl to enforce good humour:

The exuberance came through in the 'What, Where, When' book of listings for BRC events, classes, happenings etc, some of which included:
'Black Rock Gang Watergun Shootout'; 'Pimp My Bike'; 'Adopt a Trained Sock Monkey'; 'Start Your Own Cult'; 'Laughter Yoga'; 'Holocaust Remembrance Ceremony'; 'BRC Annual Kite Fly'; 'Utah Bob Has a Rash'; 'Lockpicking 101'; 'Rub Sid's Feet'; 'Socially Appropriate Burp Day'; 'Snowball Fight'; 'Couples Smooching Workshop'; 'Global Dream Crystal Grid Activation'; 'How to Start a Housing Co-op'; 'Orange Peel Sculpture Workshop'; 'Erotic Rope Bondage 101'; 'Tent Folding Clinic'; 'Nuclear Reactor and Fusion Workshop'.
Some typical entries:
Monday-Sunday, 11.00am - 12.00pm
Abuse by Andrew
Camping with a moron? Tired of your significant other? Know someone you can't stand? Bring them for a little abuse by Andrew!

Thursday, 6:00pm - 7:00pm
Gondwanaland Bike Race
Millions of years ago, a noble union blessed this planet: The supercontinent Gondwanaland. Today we race in opposition to tectonic drift.
Wednesday, 8:00pm - 9:00pm
Cancer Walk to the Temple
Join burner cancer survivors & loved ones to walk to the temple and joyfully SHOUT out being alive! Meet at the temple (12) side of the Man.
Looking through the guide on the first day I felt overwhelmed by the options. But I quickly learned that every day at Burning Man is best experienced like a road trip. You set off and just see where you end up. Every Burner's day will be different, every one full of its own wonders. Like coming upon a slip'n'slide:

Night time on the Playa

At night Black Rock City really comes alive. Like some giant anthropic coral reef, the Playa is a sea of neon shapes, spectacular fire shows and incredible Art Cars swirling past you.

The clubs are unreal and it's easy to feel you've landed in The Matrix...

The meaning of Burning Man

I asked people I met what word they'd choose to sum up Burning Man:
"Freedom. There are just two rules: don't be violent; and pick up your crap."

"Life. Being alive. Feeling alive" Alabaster

"Community. And communication. Sharing and opening up. Seeing people as unique, aside from all the boxes we put each other in, aside from the commercial" Scott

"Awakening. My first Burning Man was last year and I found something profound. People are so welcoming and I didn't feel judged by anybody. Release is the one word to describe this temple [see video below]. Everybody has something they want to release." Ramsey, pictured below with his girlfriend Krista

For me, my favourite poem fitted perfectly with the spirit of Burning Man. Not only does Omar Khayyam's 'Rhubaiyat' passionately preach 'carpe diem' and loving life while it lasts, but written in 12th Century Persia, it's desert imagery came alive on the Playa:
Ah, make the most of what we may yet spend,
Before we too into the Dust descent;
Dust into Dust, and under Dust, to lie,
Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer, and - sans End!
I gifted verses to people, scrawled on post-it notes, handed out from my briefcase or bowler hat.

My best day

Dust-storm's swept the Playa...

And from the Temple humankind
seemed glorious and fragile...

With face mask and goggles sealed,
I wandered further into the whiteout,

finding a huge teepee of many-nations...

There we mixed new cocktails
and donned prom dresses,
their price tags
still attached...

Adopted by some crazy Californian's,
I joined them in their Cherry Pie

as we set off in the blizzard,
a meter or less, navigating by
occasional glimpses of the sun...

Finding our way back to the Esplanade
we took shelter in the Moonshine Bar,
and I ordered a drink for myself
and my bowling ball Louise
(the most unusual piece of MOOP yet)

Thank you Burning Man, thank you Burners... God Bless America!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Learning by leaving

It's a big project, leaving home for 12 months of travel. I was exhausted before I stepped on the plane. But you learn a lot in the hectic 'essay crisis' of preparations.

Boxing your worldly possessions, for example. What is it that fills your charity shop bags? Unread textbooks and unused craft materials in my case: the great promise of mastering a new subject in just 300 pages; the unfulfilled potential of coloured card, retro nick-nacks and old photos - all those creative gifts I never made the time to make.

But it was wonderful saying goodbye, and precisely because it helps you appreciate who you're leaving behind. Like a preemptive strike of major loss, you get the space to say and be told things without loosing anyone. Anyway, I felt much loved by all the wonderful people back home.

And to all you readers I've just bidden adieu to, thanks for the beers and good wishes. Job done. I can buy my return ticket now.

Entering the 'Blogosphere'

So here we are. I'm joining the 60 million + other voices in the crowded blogosphere. Not so much the 'sun-split silence' as a jungle-din of voices (mostly talking to themselves?).

Determination to write things worth reading delayed the launch.

So I'll try to keep them short(ish), though-provoking and sprinkled with wit. And always drafted before hand. Your job is to occasionally talk back. It's a jungle out there.