Creating, observing, writing, searching and other general human musings.

To visit my website and full portfolio head over to: annieoswald.com

Posted on Jan 07, 2018
Posted in Writings

 

There are moments in life that acutely remind one of their mortal transiency, and while a feeling of youth and vibrancy might be reigning vigorously on the inside, externally one is, matter-of-factly, decaying.

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The funny thing about finding your second grey hair in a bathroom at 35,000 feet is realising you’re now actively in the process of dying and you can’t even make a scene about it.

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Grey, formerly quite an agreeable colour; the perfect Winter wardrobe palette, the pigment of the majestic elephant, the perpetual shade of an English sky, and now a menacing symbol of my fading youth and imminent death. My previous enjoyment of the colour grey has now reached its swift and acrimonious end.

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Standing there prominently at the front of my head just where the landmass of hair begins, my second grey is acting as some sort of filamentous lighthouse, only instead of courteously guiding me to safety, it’s blinding me with its ‘thereness’ as I crash up against the rocks, seawater rushing in from all sides as I choke up mouthfuls of my own salty vanity.

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Finding one’s first grey hair is novelty. Like bird poop on a shoulder. It’s random, a fluke, good luck perhaps. Afterall, one isn’t evidence of anything. It’s just one. Inconsequential. Even fun. It’s not a sign of one’s ageing, but of one’s maturity.

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Two is an entirely different matter.

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Two is a priority telegram typed in all caps and hand-delivered by reality to inform me that I am now fully engaged in the ageing process, to communicate that which one grey hair does not: that my position on the pendulum of life is now firmly in the downswing.

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If finding one grey hair was a fun paintball shot to the left bum cheek, finding two is a much more unpleasant battle axe straight through one’s steadily overripening skull.

 

copyright Annie Oswald

 

 

 

Posted on Dec 02, 2017
Posted in Writings

 

Yearning for those tactile days when touch and smell were as much a part of the creative process as thought and imagination. When one’s emerging ideas were something you could not only read aloud and hear, but something you could feel between your fingertips. Perceptible by more senses, it feels more real, existing and breathing as a living thing in the physical world, not held captive by digital paraphernalia and elusive clouds. More human, yet somehow at the same time, more divine.
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Now, who wants a letter?
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copyright Annie Oswald 2017
Posted on Nov 05, 2017
Posted in Writings

 

Right now, actually.

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It’s not so bad that the thought of alternatively shoving a fine point Bic pen into my eyeball would seem like a walk in the park, yet not so harmless that I can continue to walk on the pavement upright like a fully evolved member of the human species.

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While everyone around me seems to be producing human offspring, I’m producing uncomfortable cysts on my ovaries. Well, one to be exact. But it’s not one of those gentle, water-filled cysts that shows up every now and again to read you bedtime stories and tell you that you’re smart, pretty and capable and then leaves out the window with her flying umbrella and spoonful of sugar. But the dark, bloody and brooding kind that shows up for good with an itchy trigger finger, a bad attitude and a fetish for holding you hostage in your bed while bludgeoning you with a sledgehammer. Yes, my cyst is Kathy Bates from Misery in case you were wondering. She’s a shape-shifter and is living inside of me. As is Ellen Page’s character Juno from the seminal film of 2007 Juno, which is ironic given the premise of the film, but I have a real affinity for anyone whose native language is deadpan sarcasm, so it actually may be that I’m holding her hostage. I can’t tell anymore.

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If you’re stood directly in front of me, the cyst is sat on the left side, or stage right for you theatre folk. Its location is not altogether surprising given that the right side of my brain seems to be the only living part of my whole brain, the other side, the left side, is just an ornament, helping give balance and a kind of feng shui to the interior of my cranium. Not that this observation has any scientific basis whatsoever, but for all intents and purposes, my left hemisphere is not an actual living thing. Come to think of it, I haven’t used the left side of my brain since 2003 during a statistics lecture when the professor asked me to find the probability mass function of Y=2x. What instantly followed were the contents of my head exploding all over the lecture hall seats and my asking if I could turn in an essay about feelings instead. So I suppose the left hemisphere wasn’t used then either. But the ovary, it’s a mutinous insurgent. It’s an organ whose existence I never thought nor cared about until the age of 30. Other organs I’ve not thought about: gallbladder, spleen, pharynx, appendix. Well, I did concernedly think about my appendix for a few minutes last month but it turns out the acute discomfort was just accumulated wind from my brussel sprout phase. Perhaps my cysty ovary, Kathy Bates, is simply taking a stand against the norm and has decided that growing a membranous sac on herself is the best way to achieve this. And, after what I can only imagine was a careful pro and con analysis, she is self-destructing as a kind of defense for me against ever having to utter the words “poo poo or tinkle.”

Can you blame her?

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You know how at Santa’s workshop if the elves come across a faulty toy in the factory they snatch it from the pile, put it in the bin, and replace it with a better one? I mean I assume this it what goes on it seemed to be the case in Elf. Well, I’d like to do that for my ovaries. I’d like the elves to snatch them from inside of me and refashion them into something better. Or I’d at least like to get back in the queue and trade them in for something jazzier, something that would really enhance my quality of life. Like a pair of in-utero castanets perhaps, so whenever I feel the urge for an impromptu flamenco dance all I need for musical accompaniment is to shake my hips from side to side and the soft percussionist clapping will accompany me as I bring shame upon the entire Andalusian culture. Or maybe a set of kettlebells. I heard regularly swinging those things around works absolute wonders on the glutes, so imagine what having them permanently affixed to you would do.

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An NHS gynaecologist, a fertility doctor, a clinical psychologist and an acupuncturist all walk into a bar. That’s it. They all go to a bar and do diddly-squat for me. Except maybe the acupuncturist. I do get to take a very expensive 45 minute nap every two weeks while he sticks needles in me. Bargain.

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But really, there are so many more interesting topics to talk about than the furthering of the human race am I right? Is there anything duller than a constant and steady stream of inquiries about one’s reproduction, or lack thereof? As soon as one enters their thirties all anyone wants to know is the potential of your uterus to birth a living humanoid. As if when you become 33, are in a stable marriage with full time employment and intact anatomy, the rest of yourself, the so many different parts of yourself that you’ve worked so hard to become, have literally evaporated into thin air. You are now a one-dimensional walking talking (potential) womb. It is the foremost subject in all conversations, or speculations, regarding your existence. Um, what about my thoughts on the current state of US democracy? What about my opinions on the works of my favourite authors, what about my work, and my recent findings in experimenting with permaculture and my theories on a multitude of subjects that have nothing to do with my uterus and can we talk for a second about Lucovido Einaudi as a classical composer? His song “Divenire” literally gives me life especially at that part where the bass and violi—sorry what? You want to know if me and my husband want kids? Oh ok, weird segue there as we were just discussing the majesty of contemporary classical music but sure let’s get into it. I’ll make it quick. Yes, no and yes. Yes we want kids, I mean I think. Not sure I’ll ever have clarity on whether volunteering to have dependents is a wise thing to do, but no, it’s not happening for us and yes, we’ve been looking into it. Now, back to those glorious violins.

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I miss the days when people didn’t see me and secretly wonder what my reproductive situation is. Not because it upsets me greatly or something, but more so because I like to think of myself as inclusive and none of my other organs are being thought of as much and maybe that’s unfair. Maybe someone should ponder how my pancreas is holding up? Or how my translucent epidermis is dealing with all the sunshine we’ve not been having lately here in southeast England. I’d rather they not think of my reproduction at all and instead think of my respiration, or my digestion. I bet not one person has looked at me lately and thought “I wonder whether she’s having regular bowel movements, I hope she is, afterall, a healthy colon is a healthy body.”

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Despite all our years of voluntary attempting to produce an heir, I’ll admit the idea of parenthood terrifies me. Almost to the degree a shark would a lone swimmer in open seas; vulnerable, open to attack, life as you know it likely over. Either mangled irreparably from the trauma or swallowed whole, is there any hope of escaping a neverending vortex of school runs and pushing buggies of screaming children through grocery stores and sitting alone in the coffee shop with the pram in the only peaceful 20 minutes of the day when the newborn sleeps and the constant and unabating sacrificing and the relentlessness of it and I feel bad because not only is this what my worst nightmares look like, I also fear it’s in that very space where my dreams might go to die. I don’t want to lose me, or my quiet. Or the space I have to pursue my dreams. That’s what scares me the most. Maybe it’s not that I’m being deprived of something here, but that I’m being saved from something. Maybe it’s not for me. Or maybe it is. Because I realize I can never know intimately all of the light that accompanies the dark, or the good that outweighs the bad, and unfamiliar territory can tend to surface fears more readily than enthusiasms. Life is such a paradox. I want and I don’t want. I don’t want the very thing that I want. Or is it the other way around?

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If one is being thoroughly and objectively analytical about it, I’m not even sure I’m mother material. I once snarkily told a toddler on the Southbank of the Thames he was selfish as he screamed throughout the entire encore performance of a Charlie Chaplin impersonator. Why don’t children understand the beauty of mime as a theatrical medium? Is the art of silence dead? I also hate mashed fruit. And those child leashes give me the creeps. Though admittedly if I had to chaperone a small human around all day this would most likely be my accessory of choice. I might like to acquire an adult-sized one for my husband. Sometimes he impatiently walks so far ahead of me in public places it looks like he’s my bodyguard. So then I pretend to be Kristen Stewart or some other brunette actor even roughly my height. One time I was Juliette Binoche and at the Pret I ordered a croissant in the way it’s properly pronounced, not croy-sant, and was feeling pretty Cinéma français but then stuffed it up when the cashier asked “Oh très bon accent, parlez-vous français très souvent?” Anyways I don’t have a lot of toddler walking experience but I was always pretty below average at dog walking, and with those you can pretty much just leave them at the park when they act up, so this probably isn’t a good start.

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Or maybe I’m destined to be a mother of dragons, like Khaleesi, Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen, first of her name, the unburnt, Queen of the Andals and breaker of chains. Dragon children seem like they’d be a lot more fun than human children. They fly, fire breath is incredibly useful I would imagine and you don’t have to clothe them. So if that option is still on the table I’d be very keen to explore it, especially if ruling the seven kingdoms is part of the deal.

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I don’t think I’m responding to this in the way people, and society, might expect me to. I’m supposed to be sadder, tense, more anxious. Like the way a Chihuahua always looks. But maybe I’m getting high off of knowing how much this phase is teaching me about myself and the world, that I’m in the process of becoming, and maybe I don’t want to rush out of that. Maybe I want to be so fully in this process of becoming more than I even want the result. Maybe that’s selfish, I don’t know. Maybe I want the idea of children, but not the actual reality. Maybe maybe maybe. Maybe I’m my own worst enemy. Probably. All I know is I’m ok. And I don’t pin my every hope and dream and fulfillment on my body’s ability to reproduce. I don’t think that’s the best thing that I as a person can offer the world. Maybe it’s one thing I can offer the world, who knows, but certainly not the only thing. And so maybe that’s why I live in this valley right now, this valley of uncertainty. I think it’s kinda pretty here, in an unconventional way. Even though the sun is a bit hot and it stings my feet and most other visitors want to leave as soon as they get here. But I’m not lonely, I always sort of enjoyed my own company, and maybe when you’re alone and feeling a bit uncertain you tend to look up at the sky more, and the way the sky looks from this valley is unexpectedly pretty special.

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I just want to gather the wisdom and learn all the things that these situations are meant to teach. I’m being the studious pupil at the front of the class scribbling notes and raising my hand and using office hours and maybe smoking the occasional cigarette behind the gymnasium because nobody’s perfect, geez. I guess I’m trying not to rush through it as quickly as possible and risk missing the lessons. I’m trying to feel my way through. Trying not to scramble for the exit door out of fear and choose my closest possible lifeline. I’m trying to calmly sit in the burning intensity of it, like dipping your fingers into hot wax at candlelit restaurants and then, like a psychopath, slowly and deliberately peeling the wax off knowing that every second of the hot pain was worth it, because now you have a cute collection of dried wax clumps in the shape of your fingertips. But not just any dried wax clumps, like the ones you eventually put back into the candle because you’re afraid the waiter will see them on the table and think you’re an adult-sized toddler, but the kind of clumps you store away for later in life. Clumps full of wisdom and emotional fortitude and perspective. I am being given time here, and yet more space in the unknown, and I wouldn’t take that back for anything. I’m stronger and better able to see that happiness is relative and is not linked to some idea about what the future is meant to hold; it is simply and straightforwardly a choice. And my reaction to, and not the result of these circumstances really might be the more significant thing. Maybe it’s never been about the getting or the arriving, but just the becoming. Maybe everything, always, has just been about the becoming.

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And so I’ve arrived at a juncture. Where old ways of thinking no longer serve me. It’s at this type of juncture where I finish thinking particular outcomes are in my control, and instead a peaceful surrendering process begins. Rucksacks and suitcases full of preconceived ideas are unloaded onto the side of the road before continuing the journey, and what’s left is just me. Which feels highly trepidatious, as I am naked, no longer clothed in my certainties and assurances, no longer superficially protected by false notions. But it is on this road, at this juncture, naked and utterly present, that I decide to hand over the reins. To whom I’m not certain; to the test tubes, God, Santa Claus, Robots, probably Oprah. The very act of passing them on has made me a lighter traveler, because I’m now free. Free of the baggage of expectation and comparison. Free of the weight of fear and self-doubt. I’m split wide open and walking into an uncomfortable abyss. And yet, I’m entirely whole and comforted.

It’s Oprah’s problem now anyways.

 

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Posted on Sep 27, 2017
Posted in Documentary, Writings

 

What if we were all content with our lives? If everything was just enough, right now, it was enough.

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No following trends, no upgrades, no keeping up, no hearing that we need more, should want more, have to have more. No fear of inadequacy, no avoidance, no making up for our past or anxiety about the future.

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What if a dusty old bottle of something hard and earnest human company were the only prerequisites for our entertainment?

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If this were the collective reality, they wouldn’t be able to control us. We’d be so powerful they’d have to sit back and watch as we created the most vibrant communities. They’d try to tell us we’re not good enough and that we need this kind of product and that kind of lifestyle, but we’d just laugh.

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We’d calmly tell them our self worth is not measured by corporate ladders or house size or social standing, but in our creative pursuits, our compassion, our willingness to express ourselves without fear and in our courage to be openly fallible out in the world. We’d wear our self-doubts like we wear our fashion and we’d show off our problems like we show off our Rolexes. Only the real would be visible and the empty and hollow would fade into oblivion like a dying ember. We’d be walking beacons of truth and sincerity, and they wouldn’t like it one bit.

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We’d sit at our creaky old kitchen tables and they’d tell us we should get the newest one of these, it’s on sale, and we’d say, but a new table doesn’t have the names of our friends etched into the bottom of it. A new one doesn’t have the first coffee stain we made on it. And we’d comfortably sit at that old table with our insecurities laid bare and the messiness of our lives draped around us like a warm quilt, and everyone we know would meet us halfway across that table with their own beautiful messy quilts and together we’d drink what we find in the cupboard and eat vegetables from the garden and talk about who’s going to chop the logs and make the fire and most days we’d all smell of woodsmoke and pine and herbs.

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They’d keep telling us that more is the answer and we’d say, what I’ve got is just enough. And with those six simple words, we’d probably take back the whole world.

 

copyright Annie Oswald

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Posted on Sep 03, 2017
Posted in Documentary, Writings

 

When something is so perfect and beautiful that it’s actually achingly painful. Like reaching the top of a mountain and what you see before you is so astounding it resembles more a divine celestial realm than any comprehensible earthly physical place and your limited human brain needs a moment to process because you’re certain this must be the end of one existence and the beginning of another.

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What is that? Is that awe? Whatever it is, it wakes me up. It shakes me out of autopilot and reminds me not to sleep through my life. It gives my emotional self centre stage and my logical self can’t do a damn thing about it. It triggers that inexplicable sense of awareness that makes my eyes open wider, makes my mind quieter and my body still and present. It washes me over with such gratitude that it feels like being alive right there in that moment is a gift beyond imagination and everything else is just a bonus.
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Some things are so easy to feel awe-filled over; a mountain range, a masterpiece, a milestone. But what about the way the light spills into the room at sunrise or the way it feels when you dive beneath a breaking wave? I don’t want to wait for the big things to feel a deep sense of wonder and gratitude, I want to be so blissfully happy over such ordinary things that a perfectly ripe tomato makes me squeal with joy. I want to live my whole life in a state of awe so I can be sure I’m never asleep. So that if I’m lucky enough to be old and thoroughly worn-out, I can look back and know I was awake for all of it, not just for the big stuff, for the loudest and shiniest of events, but for the quietest and most unremarkable; the smell of freshly picked basil, wagging dog tails, smiles from strangers and candlelit conversations.
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I want to be so awake that the light shines out of the whites of my eyes and life’s dark holes can’t pull me down into their depths. I want to feel light when there’s heaviness and peace when there’s chaos, contentment when there’s turbulence and excitement when there’s apathy. Because no matter how much darkness there’s been and will inevitably be again, there’s simply too much light not to be in awe of every single day and OH MY GOD I don’t wanna miss a minute.
 
 
copyright Annie Oswald
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Posted on Aug 20, 2017
Posted in Documentary, Writings

 

Old friends are like sipping hot tea on the sofa with the blanket wrapped around you and the dog curled up at your feet.

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Like wandering through a creaky old bookstore and stopping in the quietest most private corner and knowing you could live right there in that little nook forever because somehow it feels like home.

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They’re like a familiar song instantly transporting you to your past and your heart literally swells and then breaks at the very same time because you’ll never be able to physically go back there, to rewind and relive those shared moments that were so bursting at the seams with youthful, carefree, joyful perfection.

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But then you realise that while you’ll never be able to repeat those perfect moments, you’re constantly making new ones, and these moments too will become the moments that are remembered longingly, and life is really just a string of these memories we look back on and discover that while we were busy looking back on all of the already-lived moments, we were living and creating different ones at the same time.

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Maybe the magic is in learning how to be so present and aware inside the moments as they happen that time stands still enough for you to grab it and hold it tightly in your hands, hearing its every sound, seeing its every detail as clear as a crystal glistening in the brightness of a midday sky.

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And as we turn our heads always looking at what’s behind us searching desperately for those perfect moments that once were, those objects in the mirror that are closer than they appear, I reckon they’ll never be as close or as real or as perfect as the moments right in front of us.

 

copyright Annie Oswald

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted on Aug 20, 2017
Posted in Documentary, Writings

 

Navigating busy concrete streets that carry the weight of human ambition and restlessness, riding an overcrowded Piccadilly line so full to the brim with bodies it’s difficult to discern where your own limbs end and a stranger’s begins, hearing an urban soundtrack on repeat whose melodies sound like screeching car horns and creaky double decker bus brakes and the whir of countless voices as they each blow past on the pavement their thoughts hurtling out into the atmosphere in frantic bursts. As much as London can fascinate and inspire it too often tires me to the point where I urgently need to exit, to strip off the city-ness of it all and escape to somewhere more exposed, a place that’s filled with just as much possibility as it is nothingness. To scrub off the noise and movement and friction that has stuck to me like tar and walk directly towards a horizon where the sky opens up and the ground falls out and I am floating, completely alone with my thoughts and abstractions, and no one else’s limbs but my own.

 

copyright Annie Oswald

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted on Aug 20, 2017
Posted in Documentary, Writings

 

Walking up the high street to the spot where he always sits just across from the Castle and near the McDonald’s, I dropped a measly pound into his hat and my eyes caught his. I instinctively wanted to look away but my gaze lingered and so did his and I saw the pain and exhaustion and acceptance of it all behind his somber stare. I wanted to say something that let him know I saw him, like really saw him, but I couldn’t muster up the words, and I didn’t know what they were. We just looked at each other silently, and I wondered how, by some sleight of hand, I ended up on this side of life and him on the other.


copyright Annie Oswald

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted on May 07, 2016
Posted in Places, Writings

 

The sound of crunching stones underfoot was almost deafening as we hiked up the steep gravel trail to the top of the peak, and onto the roof of Vietnam. Even in the cool northern air we were sweltering under the bright, dry sun. The stones were loose and unstable under our weary legs and before long we were stopping for a breath. I gulped down my water and repositioned my daypack as a breeze rushed past, giving us the energy needed for a final push to the top. With a sheer drop on our left side and solid Earth to our right we hugged the inside wall as we journeyed northward and ever deeper into the mountainous green landscape.

Ha Giang doesn’t so much scream for attention as it sits patiently, confident in the knowledge that its dramatic karst-ridden terrain will at first stun, and undoubtedly thrill any first time visitor to the region. Seated directly below China and reaching up as far north in the country as one can possibly travel, the vast majority of this province is made up of ethnic hill tribes, most notably the Hmong and Tay people. It feels like the edge of the world, or at least the country, and it is. It’s the end of the line, the last stop, and Vietnam’s farewell. There’s something wild and liberating about traveling to the end of a place, to its furthest extremities. Like a mountaineer reaching a summit and gazing out towards infinity, this borderland feels like Earth’s outer reaches.

Thousands of limestone peaks, known as Karsts, rise up from the ground at varying angles and sizes creating dense clusters of rocky, forested, lump shaped mountains. This unique topography, whilst beautiful, is not ideal land for agricultural activity and so the cultivation of rice and other crops is limited in this region. For all the limitations the geography does place on growing and harvesting, people still rely entirely on the land for their survival. The small valleys and slopes that are capable of being farmed are covered in cornfields and rice paddies. The locals carrying their harvests to and from the fields traverse the dirt tracks and pathways connecting one village to another. What little space is left for other crops become small allotments for sweet potatoes, leafy greens and cassava. At the local markets these crops are then sold or bartered for the rice that sustains life for so many.

On we trekked across a narrow mountain pass into a Hmong village set in the shadow of a particularly mammoth peak. Heading down the lone road towards the village were two young girls carrying large bundles of vegetation on their backs, their bright traditional attire making it arduously difficult for us to avert our eyes from the radiant pinks, greens and blues. As we walked past we smiled, and they shyly smiled back before they ascended the gently sloping hill and faded from view. We rounded a corner and came upon a group of modest homesteads set in the valley. The village was quiet with only the faint sounds of clucking chickens and women chattering. As we reached the end of the road we heard an excited “Nyob Zoo!” or “Hello!” in Hmong. Standing in front of an unassuming wooden house were a group of three women smiling and gesturing for us to approach. Their interest in me rivaled mine in them and as my guide fluently spoke the local dialect, we happily joined them on the porch for pleasantries. The eldest of the women was most curious. Eyeing me up and down as I stood reservedly in my t-shirt, mud-caked trousers and hiking boots, she smiled cheekily at what must have been a strange, unexpected and comically unsightly spectacle for a quiet Wednesday afternoon. She asked my guide about all of the particulars of my life and in between answers warmly looked towards me as an old friend would. There was a gentleness and openness in her expression that made me feel quite welcome, and with her permission I snapped a few photos.

After several minutes of warm conversation we carried on through that village and the next, with each passing village bringing more friendly smiles and exchanges as well as curious stares. Seeing the day-to-day of these hill tribes felt like a brief glimpse back to a way of life seemingly no longer in existence. Small children are seen out in the fields helping their mothers gather weeds as men ride past with baskets of piglets harnessed to their scooters. Young girls harvest the sweet potato fields with infant siblings strapped to their backs and elderly women weave hemp plants into textiles outside their homes. Groups of adolescents walk down the road rolling used bicycle tires with sticks as they keep an eye on their goat herds that graze the hillsides beside them. The scent of pine and burning corn stalks gives the air a woody alpine freshness not found in regions further south, and as the early evening sun dips below the peaks cooling the temperature considerably, one notices how incredibly hard life is up in these mountains. There’s a rawness and hardiness to the people as they live constantly on the brink of feast or famine, vulnerable to the fickleness of their natural surroundings and dependent entirely on their own industrious measures. But their distinctive cultures and time-honored customs continue to exist, and like the intricately woven patterns and motifs sewn into the fabric of their traditional dress, these varied and vibrant cultures add immense value to the diversity and magnetism of the country as a whole.

As nightfall loomed and the villagers retreated into their homes we hurriedly trekked back out of the valley and towards our pick up point nearer the road. Realizing that darkness now had the advantage, we quickened the pace and settled into a slow trot until we had reached the car. Driving along meandering roads perilously carved into the sides of the mountain and negotiating the famous Ma Pi Leng Pass was the setting for our final goodbye to the grandeur of this region. Staring out the open window at the silhouetted peaks, I thought about what I’d first heard of Ha Giang that made me want to visit. I’d listened to stories of its striking beauty, breathtaking roads and grand vistas, but it was the part about its wildness that had me captivated. The thought of exploring untamed pastures and the adventures they so often yield was what intrigued me most. In this regard I was certainly not disappointed, but where my expectations were vastly exceeded was the intimate way in which I experienced this wildness. The affectionate encounter I had with the women at their home and the warm smiles exchanged in the villages that I hiked through, that was the real adventure I was hoping for. The mountains and scenery were always a given but those momentary human connections were not. I sunk back into the passenger seat contentedly and mused over this for a while.

A few hours later we arrived at our homestay in a traditional bamboo stilt house, where we were treated to a generous supper of fried silk worms, spring rolls, sautéed pork, vegetables and lively conversation. Not long after the last scraps were devoured and the family had gone to sleep did I find myself lying cheerfully and haphazardly under a mosquito net, the abundant servings of rice wine having gone to my head. Despite the cloudiness, thoughts of the previous days events filled my mind and I soon began to wonder if I’d ever return to this memorable place, to this last wild frontier. Too exhausted to ponder the possibilities, but with a smile anchored to my weather worn face, I quickly drifted off to sleep in the cool and calm of the deep north.

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Posted on Apr 20, 2016
Posted in Writings

copyright Annie Oswald 2016

 

There’s a big blob of raspberry jam on the front of my white top. I tried to blot it off but instead ended up smearing it into the cotton fiber and have now left a red streak across the left breast pocket. This is a problem, because it’s my only Sunday top. And I’ve forgotten to do the laundry this week so my Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday tops are all dirty. Shirts are currently on strict rotation as there are only seven in my temporary closet, and in my life. No more than six days can go by without laundering because I’ll run out of material to clothe my upper body. My trouser situation is slightly worse as I have only one pair for daily use. If blobs of jam find their way onto them I am shit out of luck. Shoes, I’m currently working with two pairs: one casual and one even more casual. One Winter jacket, a fleece, a light Summer dress, whose existence has been of absolutely no use to me whatsoever through the Wintertime in London, my camera equipment, journal, laptop, phone, and basic toiletries. This modest collection of items, by western standards, are currently all of my worldly possessions. Which means at the present moment I possess all of the basic tools needed to produce media content, maintain clean teeth, hair, face, body and to cover my private parts to a socially acceptable standard for public places. No more, no less. I even went so far this month as to buy the ultra waxy brand of dental floss which was a daring and decadent addition to the toiletry bag. I went to meet a friend last week in a trendy part of town and she asked me what I’d be wearing. I said my trusty Monday through Sunday jeans, my Saturday top if I’d remembered to clean it, and either my casual pair of shoes or my other casual pair of shoes. She promptly laughed at my absurdity, told me not to show up looking like crap and then hung up. Such is the life of a gypsy. Not a literal gypsy, the kind originating in the northern part of the Indian subcontinent telling fortunes and living in caravans, but the modern, self-inflicted, professional kind. I’m poor, homeless and almost naked, but not, really.

It’s not entirely new territory for me, I’ve lived out of bags before, traipsing around parts of the Himalayas, southern Asia and Australia with what seemed like nothing more than a few bandannas and a pair of Tevas. But I’d never really done it before as a fully formed human, as a thirty something year old with looming societal expectations and a husband. We’ve lived in 6 different abodes in under 7 years and rather gotten used to the art of the “pack/unpack.” More a refined skill than a physical chore, this seemingly arduous task has some advantages. This kind of lifestyle provides ample nuggets of opportunity for the “de-crapping” of one’s life. Every time one is forced to lay everything one owns out on the bed and assess its importance in the grand scheme of things, emotions run high but decisions are made. Like deciding which John Hughes collector DVDs will be cast aside and left for trash, will it be Ferris Bueller or will it be Breakfast Club? A heartbreaking decision no child of the 80s wants to be faced with, but alas, it must be done. Despite the odd sentimental attachment to items symbolising your youth and existential teenage angst, one usually comes to the realisation that most things one acquires are really, essentially, just crap. It’s just that one isn’t necessarily provided the opportunities to come to this realisation until they’re forced to fit everything they hold dear in this life into 50.7 lbs. of cabin space. Every time the pack/unpack occurs, crap departs. The amount of excess crap in one’s life is often closely related to the frequency of the pack/unpack. I’d venture a guess to say the more one opens, closes and hauls baggage to and from different towns, cities and continents, the less material crap one inevitably is weighed down by. Such less crap in fact, that before you know it you’re back in London walking down the road wearing nothing but your bra, your candy cane socks and those old jeans. You’re lighter and less burdened by material comforts for sure, but you probably won’t be served at Subway.

It’s a funny thing only owning what you absolutely need. The odd days do inevitably arrive when you miss thumbing through that old stack of obscure vintage stamps of prominent Hungarian historical figures you found at a street stall in east London, or wish you had that Oscar Meyer Wiener whistle to conduct comprehensive social experiments on people’s tolerance levels, but for the most part, you never miss the crap. Decision making of any kind, which these days can be cause for heightened levels of anxiety and stress due to the sheer amount of choices that are screaming like a teething toddler for our attention, is now a breeze. The morning routine of leaving the flat, or hotel, or airport lounge, or in-laws house, or whatever structure with sleeping facilities inside it that we’re found inhabiting these days, is done in a matter of seconds. What used to involve dozens of minutes of deliberation over what type of shoe I might be in the mood to wear or what’s most suitable for the weather, or what outfit makes me look most like Mary Tyler Moore from her renegade days as Mary Richard, TV producer and all round female maverick of the 70’s, now involves a quick grab of the only items on offer. No thought, no deliberation, no comparison to the styles of television icons, and no subconscious wear and tear of the mind’s critical thinking capabilities. These are now preserved for thoughts of much higher importance, like how can I make real a difference in the world, why are British Starburst flavours so different to American Starburst flavours, and how on God’s green Earth is it statistically possible that I always get the economy seat with a broken screen, predicaments that I now have the additional time to ponder.

Speaking of too many choices, I used to find walking down the cereal aisle at the grocery store slightly unsettling but now I find it to be the single most terrifying human experience one can endure. The last time I accidentally wandered down this neverending labyrinth of high fructose corn syrup-induced nightmares, they found me curled up on the Captain Crunch shelf, having only made it 1/3 of the way down the aisle, my eyes devoid of life as I rocked back and forth, no recollection of how I’d gotten there. We won’t go into the time before that but let’s just say it involved several crushed boxes of Bran Flakes and a store wide effort to contain what I remember over the loud speaker as the “crazy lady in aisle 8 with the baseball bat.”

Most scenarios these days involving more than a simple “yes”, “no”, “is it customary to eat that part of the animal?” or “I’ll take whatever’s warmest,” sends me into a paralytic state somewhat resembling the cereal aisle debacle. Having lived close to the ground for a while now and relatively uninhibited by the drudgery of choice in my daily life, due to a healthy travel schedule to lesser developed regions and a general lack of interest in anything preceded by the words “buy two get one free,” I’ve completely lost the ability to process and cope with things like shopping malls, menus that read like Tolstoy novels, or the mere mention of a “holiday sale” or “mega-anything.” Like an Amazonian tribeswoman whose been thrust abruptly in front of an IHOP menu after a lifetime of eating whatever drops from the berry tree, my neurons stop communicating with each other when faced with so much choice. Just give me the daily special and I’ll be on my way thanks.

The truth is that eliminating this gamut of choice in our lives has itself been a choice. We’ve foregone traditional models of living and the comforts of security and stability to embark on something else. We’ve chosen to pare things down, to detach ourselves from attachments, to free ourselves from the bondage of crapdom and to remain geographically and psychologically open to the unique opportunities that arise in business and in life. We’ve unshackled ourselves from expectation and the promise of security in the short term, and have gone after something that, at the moment, looks a bit like an uncut episode of The Amazing Race. It’s fast and uncomfortable and the Tuk Tuk driver with Tourette’s keeps missing our stop and violently slamming on the brakes in 50mph traffic, but the journey itself is sweet and the rewards at the end are well worth riding for, assuming we get there in one piece. It feels dangerous at times being this deep in the hustle, like the ground beneath us might be ripped out at any moment. But I think we kind of like danger. There’s no surer way of feeling alive then positioning yourself as close to the edge as possible, where the views are the best but so too are the falls.

I can feel myself standing on this precipice, looking out over the endless abyss while the wind rushes past, unsettling my stance and blowing pebbles and dirt over the edge to their freefalling end. My hair flies across my face blocking my steady gaze and I have to keep my heels firmly pressed to the ground to feel as if I won’t too be blown over the cliff. It’s chaotic and uncomfortable. I don’t know for sure that I won’t lose my footing, that my concentration won’t break and the gust that’s coming in from every side won’t pick me up and drop me over the edge. But I can see the view. Out there it’s calm and the sky is the colour of a sun that’s just set. I keep my eyes out there. The wind continues to blow there’s chaos all around me and nothing’s coming easy. But I’m not stopping looking. If I lose focus and let the windstorm uproot me, that’s the end. I’m not interested in a diversion or a quicker way around the storm, the only way is through. Chaos might just be the prologue to peace, and I never read a book whose best chapter started first.

And so here I sit with my jam-stained shirt and my threadbare jeans, one foot on the edge and the other likely stepping down on my suitcase to force the zipper closed whilst I open the plastic packaging of Tide To Go Instant Stain Remover with my teeth. Having nothing feels unstable and scary, like Britney circa 2007 except without any baldness. But it’s also incredibly freeing, like Willy circa 1993 except without any whales. Which is I guess what life is all about anyways, having the faith to make a jump when your tank at Sea World doesn’t suit your ambitions anymore, and trusting you have the strength to make it over the brick wall and into the open seas ahead. If you’ve got a human friend and a Michael Jackson soundtrack to accompany you the whole way through then you already know what the ending will be, and it’s a good one.