Nomadism

Tucked away in a quiet side street, behind an unassuming café, dozens—and on busy days, more than a hundred—fellow nomads crunch away on their laptops. Some are software developers. Some are marketers. Some are cryptocurrency bros. Many are starting a new business.

For most it’s a lifestyle choice. Life on the road is cheaper, with more freedom and a culture developed to the point that many communities surround newcomers to make the transition easy.

It’s also a sign of something else. It’s empowerment—for a specific kind of individual. It’s an extension of the “do what you love” movement, enabled by the privilege of mobility, education and digital economies.

The upsides are great. Having a group of fellow travelers who are open, interested to learn, ready for connection and already in a place of growth makes for a potent milieu. There’s something here, an energy and a possibility that’s just at the front edges of being explored. But, like many things being primarily explored by people like myself who come from Western privilege and education, I’m cautious and a little skeptical.

There’s a dark-grey underbelly. Local culture is largely ignored. Perhaps it’s a little more healthy than pure consumerist tourism, but still: when hundreds of by-local-standards wealthy remote workers descend on a place, it shifts the cultural dynamics. There’s also a very strong bro culture amongst many men that I find challenging (though there are many awake and aware men as well). And the largest mostly-undiscussed downside: living life as a nomad leaves traditional community structures in tatters. Human mobility requires a completely different approach to lasting relationships, something I’m curious to explore and learn more about as I continue my trip.

What’s here is real and interesting as a cultural phenomenon. Can it be extrapolated beyond the privileged, largely Western and white group who are taking advantage of it now? Philosophically it relates to many things—migration, travel, cultural interaction, privilege, exchange, the value of work and workers, how we calculate wealth. It’s definitely something new, definitely different, and definitely just the beginning.

Not a bad spot to spend the day working

Listening

I record everything at first. The traffic. The mud. Tourist stalls. Crunching gravel slicing high on makeshift concrete mixers. Honking horns. Competing karaoke cover bands. Everything is novel, and I soak it in.

As is my way, I began close to my new home base, wandering in slow concentric circles. I like to be on the edge of the familiar—as far out as I can, just as far as that last thread of connection will take me. One foot knows the way home. The other itches for un-trod ground.

Slowly, as the initial glut of colour and sound begins to receed, my filming becomes more conscious. More paced. I start waiting. Listening.

I’m here in search of something. What, exactly, I’m in the process of unraveling. I’ve brought my camera, my most prized possession—not for its metal and pixels, but for its process. When I don’t understand my world, the camera is where I turn to make sense of things. The simple act of composition helps me to slow down and listen. The weight of the camera as a physical and psychological presence forces me to be attentive to the rhythms of a place, to its heartbeat. As I do, things start to come into focus.

This time is a bit different. I’m feeling unsettled for some reason. Every other trip like this, I’ve had some kind of guide. It could be a project for which I’m filming, a local fixer, a common cultural base or something as simple as a Lonely Planet book. These guides create a safe zone, a picture frame within which the rest of the action can take place. Here in Nepal I have no guide. The action can happen in any direction, across a culture I don’t yet understand. And that’s already played itself out.

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The karaoke bars and blaring horns are the first tip. I unintentionally landed in the midst of a tourist ghetto to start my trip. Thamel is a small corner of Kathmandu, and admittedly it’s more a reflection of western consumption than of anything Nepali. Hospitality and friendliness still shine through, but the place has an ugly social veneer, westerners rabidly feeding at the trough of exotic trinkets. Manipulative and degrading human behaviour are on display in locals and visitors alike.

The more serious discovery is that I’m afraid. I’ve put myself so far to the edge of my abilities that I’m overwhelmed, and I’m using my camera to cope. Instead of using it to create something beautiful, I’ve been using it as a shield against the powerful emotions bubbling up in the chaos. I’m observing without the deeper human connection that I’m truly here to participate in.

Filming is a solitary experience. That’s what drew me to it. The camera is a way to process complex experiences into a series of micro-moments. I can be surrounded by a crowd of thousands, yet behind the camera I have a quiet corner all to myself. I’m an observer rather than a participant. And on this trip it means I’m on a different journey than many of the travellers I’m bumping into. We chat in coffee shops and share stories over dinner, and then go our separate ways. My slow, observational pace means shared itineraries are incompatible. Travelling solo, with my camera, has led to a certain kind of isolation that is colouring my experience.

It makes me wonder about the wisdom of bringing my camera. The slow meditative process is wonderful for enabling absorption of the deeper elements of what I’m seeing. Yet by its very presence it’s changing my experience. A twist in my stomach makes me wonder if I’m missing what I would otherwise see if the camera were not here.

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At the same time it’s unlocked doors. Outside the dusty corners of Thamel, people are genuinely curious and often pleased to have the lens turned in their direction. It creates a conversation and a friendly exchange, one of the things that I find sacred about filmmaking. The camera opens doors that are otherwise closed to outsiders.

And it’s given me something to share back with you. The sonic landscape of the place, the visual texture, the emotional tapestry is impossible to communicate using only the fragile lattice of language. Moving images can in a small way transport you to see with not only your eyes but your heart what I’m seeing as I travel.

I came to Nepal wanting to listen. Within the first few days, not only what I’m listening for, but my way of listening is in question. It’s is a place that changes you, people say. I think that’s at least in part because people come here to be changed. There’s something to it, though. There’s a feeling to this place that’s both ancient and friendly that interrupts my expectations. Inside the stone walls and bright colours is a heartbeat, something special and unique. And I want to keep listening.

I’m continuing to publish thoughts from Nepal while I’m back in Vancouver. Thanks for everyone’s concern re: the recent trekking tragedy in the Annapurna region. My thoughts and best wishes go out to those who’ve been affected.

Water

Just the thought is making me thirsty: a big hefty jug of crystal-clean water.

Water is everywhere here. Nepal is, after Brazil, one of the world’s top water-producing nations. It flows in streams and rivers, divides the valleys and cuts the ridges to their base in the mountains. Three of the world’s great rivers begin here, bringing life to billions downstream. Walk a few hundred yards in the foothills and you’ll find water splashing merrily from a tap or stream.

Except I can’t drink it. For all the water in the world, if it’s not safe to drink, it might as well be charcoal—at least to me. I’ve got the lucky gift of a westernized gut, acclimatized to thorough dash-ation of my water: chlorination, flouridation, ionization, sterilization. Without these technological intestinal appendages, what is a source of life to a village is a source of sickness to me.

I’ve not been so strongly affected by the water crisis until this trip. I’m about to get a baptism in it.

I’ve become habituated to the kinds of travel that easily provide my basic needs, even in far-flung places. What’s different is that this time I’m on my own. Without a support team, I’m up a creek without a water filter.

My attention has to turn to water. Not optional, I have to search it out within a few hours or there will be consequences. When found, I have to evaluate it for safety. I have to conserve it, purify it, plan time to search for it, and prepare for carrying it with me.

It’s that absence of the usual crutches that I’m surprised by, and hopeful for on this trip. I don’t have the cultural common ground to be able to share my needs through language. I don’t have the crutch of infrastructure, unthinkingly dispensing what I need. Here, a total stranger, I don’t have friends and family I can rely on to take care of me for something as simple as a glass of water.

I’m hopeful that this experience has some cleansing power. To know what it feels like to lack something so crucial. To have to choose daily between simple, crucial needs. Instead of being wholly focused on the rhythms of the task at hand, my thoughts have to share space with the basics of survival.

Why Text Becomes Literature

Words can be so rewarding – text becoming literature – I think precisely because they form such a narrow-bandwidth pathway to the brain.

A comment I made at a recent speaking gig (about video being the highest-bandwidth pathway to the brain) got me thinking about why literature is what it is.

Words can be so rewarding – text becoming literature – I think precisely because they form such a narrow-bandwidth pathway to the brain. The slow trickle of words forces a constraint on the brain that leads to rich associations and images. And when – in the case of Shakespeare and other great artists – the gentle architecture of their words begins to collect into a bigger whole, the reward is unspeakable, so beyond what seems possible from such a singular narrow trickle of text. This fragile lattice of words takes such genius to construct that I wonder that it’s possible at all.

Images are so much easier. Film is an embarrassment of images. The systems and symbols are so overly rich the mind has to filter out rather than strain to construct (as with text). Literature stretches the mind to build from the abstract; still images stretch the mind to explore, abstract and imagine more; while motion pictures stretch the mind to filter out the unnecessary and focus on what’s worth more of my attention.

Pecha Kucha #12

Pecha Kucha #12 at the Queen E was packed full of good information and inspiration. Sustainability and the power of collaborative leadership stood out as the take-aways.

Last night I attended Pecha Kucha #12 (pronounced in four syllables as “peh-cha koo-cha”, or three, “peh-chak-cha”, depending on who’s last edited the wikipedia page).

Last night was titled “WALK THE TALK: GREEN YOUR CITY”, with the talks centring on sustainability. What struck me is the passion of each of the speakers (well… most of them. There were a couple “huh??” moments… but overall awesome). Like watching TED talks, I’m inspired when listening to people who can’t help but put into action something they’re passionate about.

The night was full of good information and inspiration, with a packed house of 2000 at the Queen E Theatre. Besides sustainability and the surprisingly pro-economic benefits, the theme of collaborative leadership came up again and again. While the speakers were chosen as leaders in their field, it’s their ability to build strong, authentic connections that creates action & movement on their issue.

Here are some bullet points I couldn’t resist jotting down in my phone as the talks progressed:

  • Inspiration leads to action
  • Products are a common currency. They bring people together. What if they could be all good? (fairware.ca)
  • Imagine the subjectivity of others, especially the less privileged
  • Difference is a point of negotiation
  • Community based around food
  • “A One Planet Footprint”
  • Play = activity together
  • Building beyond the property line. Green buildings are stronger together, connecting the capabilities of a neighbourhood to create a net-zero unit.
  • Live like you plan on staying

Overall a great night! I can’t wait for the next one…

Vancouver Comes Together

An impression hit me tonight after a day of being out in the sun, enjoying an outdoor concert and reuniting with old friends. The women's march at the corner of Hastings and Main. on TwitpicThere is an ember in Vancouver that has begun to glow hotter as the Olympics arrive that has nothing to do with the Olympic torch. Vancouver is becoming a city that knows how to unite. For example: how, after a few hooligans disrupted an otherwise peaceful protest Saturday, the next day thousands made their way peacefully through the east side in memory of the downtown’s many missing women.


How, in the opening ceremonies, rather than celebrate a single significant athlete, five of our athletic heros – in both physical and public arenas – lit the torch together. Among them was Rick Hansen, a torch bearer for the disabled, a marginalized group given hope by his round-the-world tour.


How, in 106 days we orchestrated a torch relay that ignited a spirit of unity witnessed by 15 million Canadians across a physically disparate country (that’s nearly half our population!)

And how, all around town, the chatter is that with the Olympics in town, Vancouver really knows how to party.

These events seem to be releasing a dormant trait in us – we have it, but have often found reasons not to exercise it (the weather, the oft-cited Canadianism of “the man” or some lack of resources). These Olympics, the varied-face-events that they are, have provide an opportunity for Vancouver to show the world one of our best and growing attributes: the will to do great things together, to have our heros, and more to be heros together for the things we believe in. Those things may be in competition (the Olympics vs. activists against their social impact for example). But in the competition we rally around the things we care about and make something happen.

So for once I think I can let my Canadian demeanour slide a bit and take a bit of pride in my city. For all the ups and downs, the villains and oppressors, we have something greater: a community that has learned how to rally around their causes.

Wall•E – The Shot Tells the Story

It’s no secret that I’m a big Pixar fan. Their focus on “story first” has resulted in a long string of engaging hits and memorable characters.

© 2008 Pixar Animation Studios / Walt Disney Pictures.
© 2008 Pixar Animation Studios / Walt Disney Pictures.

I’m preparing for my next short film, and beginning the process of storyboarding. I ran across Karen J Lloyd, whose site is an excellent storyboarding resource. While the site’s focus is professional artists, she recently completed a series on Wall•E which I’m reading through now: The Shot Tells the Story. While Wall•E works on many levels, the shot selection is a big part of the storytelling in a movie with no dialogue (much like my next project).

Take a look if you’re interested to see how shots break down to tell the story of Wall•E.

Piko San Diego

1 sunburnt nose
2 trips to In-N-Out
3-hour walk on the beach
4 days working on a great new book
5 different coffee shops
6 things to be scared of
7 reasons not to
8 people I love
9 immovable mountains
10 mountains moved

= 1 great week.

Pixels

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Stu Maschowitz, of DV Rebel fame, and The Orphanage (may she rest in peace) is a leading expert on the ups and downs of the post-production tool-chain. In a vent of frustration, Stu posted a chain of comments to Twitter, a top-ten of the 15 worst things our beloved post-production apps are bad at. There’s still no great way to summarize a Twitter conversation, so I’m posting it here. Pretty great for all you post-pro pixel lovers/haters out there.

  • Give Final Cut Pro a pixel, it’ll screw up the gamma.
  • Give Avid a pixel, it’ll screw up the 16-235 thing.
  • Give Motion a pixel, and as long as you leave it at that you’re real time all the way baby!
  • Give After Effects a pixel and it will color manage it “correctly,” i.e. matching none of your other apps.
  • Give Flame a pixel. That will be $2,300 please.
  • Give Premiere Pro a pixel. Oops, wait, project’s still loading
  • Give Shake a pixel. And put the new Sugar Ray CD in your 6-disk changer while you’re at it.
  • Give Commotion a pixel. On that beige Mac you keep in the back room running OS9 so you can still use version 3.1.
  • Give Photoshop a pixel. No, no, not Brightness and Contrast! Idiot.
  • Give Aperture a pixel. Then do basically nothing to it using Aperture’s built-in controls, just fire up one of your $300 Nik plug-ins.
  • Give Toxik a pixel. Feel lonely?
  • Give Fusion a pixel. Look, your desktop!
  • Give Nuke a pixel. And, uh, now what.
  • Give Lightroom a pixel. Double click it. It becomes full-screen. But somehow you’re still not in edit mode. Did you read the five rules?
  • Give Apple Color a pixel. Good luck getting it back!

The thread begins here if you want to read it from the source.