Maybe it’s the mild jetlag, but having recently returned from a trip that included roughly 54 km of up-and-downhill hiking plus days of city-wandering (for a total of 302,179 steps over 12 days according to FitBit), I find myself energized and motivated. About six months ago I spontaneously booked a hiking trip in Patagonia. Starting in Santiago, Chile and ending in Buenos Aires, Argentine, the guided tour was organized around the “W Hike” in Chilean Patagonia.

1.Puerto Natales

Patagonia is the windy southern region of South America split between Chile and Argentina. According to our local guide, Magellan’s first encounter with the indigenous Tehuelche upon reaching the far southern reaches of the Americas was a set of oversized footprints in the snow. Created by the thick guanaco hides that the Tehuelche used to protect their feet in winter, these footprints led Magellan to identify the residents of the region as a race of giants and to name them Patagones from the Portuguese for “Big Feet.” English travel writer Bruce Chatwin was drawn to a remote and barren Patagonia in the 1970s by its frontier mystique and legendary qualities. Chatwin’s In Patagonia is a travel account told through stories; an homage to a foreigner’s idea of a land of legend and myth, populated by dinosaurs, giants and outlaws. Now Patagonia attracts busloads of Gortex and Patagonia-brand fleece-clad tourists seeking novel terrains.

2. Catamaran to Paine Grande

Named for the shape it traces through Torres del Paine National Park, the W Hike is one of the most popular multi-day hiking trips in Patagonia. The traditional W includes four legs to three points: Grey Glacier, French Valley and Mirador del Torres. My tour did an abridged version of the W, hitting the three main sights but skipping the Las Cuernos campsite and the long leg along Lago Nordenskjöld. Our guide assured us that this was the “boring part,” although the company website cites limited space and uncomfortable terrain at Los Cuernos.

3. Grey Glacier hike

Our first campsite, Paine Grande, was nestled in grey-green valley on Lago Pehoé. We arrived by catamaran and shortly after began the first hike to the Grey Glacier lookout point. This was our first introduction to Patagonian wind. My toque nearly blew off and we had to brace ourselves in order to frame the obligatory lookout photos, but apparently it was nothing more than a “Patagonian breeze.” The next day we experienced a middling “Patagonian wind” in French Valley, which was enough to nearly knock me off my feet but not enough to qualify as “wind plus” on our guide’s scale of wind velocity.

4. French Valley hikeThe French Valley hike was approximately nine hours. The destination was an exposed ridge that was still overwhelmed by the surrounding mountains and overhanging glacier, despite being reached by a path that went up and up, over twisty exposed tree roots and red dirt and loose boulders. I returned with very sore toes but no blisters.

5. CaracaraThe third day we skipped the long hike, taking the catamaran back over Lago Pehoé, stopping for a short hike to Lago Nordenskjöld, and then carrying on by bus to camping Las Torres. Located on private land, this campsite featured yellow geodesic dome dining halls and thick foam mattresses resembling the blue gymnastic mats from elementary school gym class.

6. TreeThe grand finale of the W is Mirador las Torres – all uphill, finishing with a long, exposed scramble over moraine. We were treated to a shockingly windless day. Finally, we get to the base of the iconic Towers. Three distinctively narrow, vertical peaks recognizable from any Google Image search for “Patagonia,” the Towers peeked at us from different angles as we approached them until fully revealing themselves as we came around the final heap of gravel and rock to the shores of the Patagonian-aqua lagoon that sits in the bowl at their base.

8. a glimps of the Towers

9. Mirador los Torres

Although Patagonia is as far away from anywhere I’ve been, I often found the landscape familiar. While my ignorant, city-dwelling eyes miss many differences in flora and geological formation, Patagonia’s scrubby flat grasslands, interrupted by dramatic young rocky mountains carved by icefields and glaciers, did not seem all that different from Alberta’s own mountains and plains. In this context, the distinctively pointed domes of Las Torres are strikingly, and enticingly, other.

The ten day “Patagonia Trekking” tour was a new type of travel experience for me. It was my first time on a group tour, rather than travelling solo or with family, and my first trip to the Southern Hemisphere – or outside of my European and North American comfort zone at all. I am not an experienced hiker or camper. I swapped the discomforts of backpackers’ hostels for the discomforts of camping and the rewards of art museums and restaurants for the rewards of panoramic mountain views and hard physical exertion. (Well, there actually were some art museums and plenty of restaurants too…)

My travelling self is, in many ways, one of my best selves. Getting out of my daily habits gets me out of mental ruts and helps me view my daily self and life from a different perspective. As much as I am a creature who craves structure and organization, life does seem to offer more possibility when it is not divided into repeating segments of 9 – 5 and Monday to Friday. This effect was evident for me on this trip, which was so full of new experiences and challenges.

10. leaving Chilean Patagonia

Travel alters one’s relationship to time, place and other people, instilling openness, humility and motivation. The version of myself that travels is self-reliant and empowered, but more open to life. It’s amazing what you can do in a day when you have only two days to wring as much experience out of a place as possible. Being unable to fluently speak the surrounding language or social norms fosters an unselfconscious humility, making it easier to ask for help, or bumble through an unfamiliar experience or space without embarrassment. Connections are formed more quickly with fellow travellers than with acquaintances made in daily life. I am even more willing to chat with cab drivers. I get up earlier in the morning. (Admittedly that is as much to do with free hotel breakfasts before 10 AM and uncomfortable beds it is to do with refreshed motivation.)

I like resolutions. Tying an intention to a ritualized, significant moment – whether New Year’s Eve, a new month or a new payday – gives a tidiness to personal growth that I find reassuring. A trip can function well in this regard – a period of time taken out of the ordinary, punctuating regular life and providing perspective and motivation. I come home from travelling full of resolutions: to get up earlier, write or create regularly and to maintain a better work-life balance. Daily life has a way of eroding motivation and openness, but I hope to maintain my refreshed, post-trip attitude for as long as I can – hopefully as long as it will take to rebuild my savings account for the next one!


IMG_20180718_115103_621Elisabeth Hill is an Edmonton-based writer and researcher who currently works as a Programming and Engagement Coordinator at the Art Gallery of Alberta.

Writing can take on many forms and do many things for people. It can be a fascinating or soothing hobby, a career, a passion, a job. But writing can have a more important role. Writing can be a coping strategy that can assist in stress relief, can increase feelings of positivity, can help manage anxiety, and can help to process trauma. Writing can be a form of therapy. Writing may do this in the following ways:

  1. It can help you honor yourself and your life story.

Vocalizing your story can be hard. Putting words to your pain can be excruciating. Putting your inner words and dialogue onto paper can be an effective alternative to speaking your story out loud. Moreover, it can provide emotional release and can validate your experience.

  1. It provides a way to share your story with others.

Some stories are traumatic. Some stories are hopeful. Some stories are either, or and both.  Sharing your story for others to read can provide normalization to others – that is, it can let others know that other people share similar pain. This, in turn, can provide positive benefits for the writer. Writing can provide a loud voice in order to share experiences.

  1. Writing can let unconscious material become conscious.

Writing out a traumatic event can help process trauma with the help of a professional therapist. Often we cope with stressful or traumatic things by compartmentalizing. It is as if our brain contains different compartments in which we can put different memories and emotions in an attempt to store them away for later.  Some memories and emotions can end up in our unconscious. Writing whatever flows out of your mind, called free association, is a way to tap into what may be stored within the unconscious mind.

  1. Writing has a calming effect on the brain.

Writing, particularly by hand, stimulates the same areas of the brain that meditation does. It engages the brain’s motor areas and memory pathways, and forces the mind to slow down while the hand catches up. This has the potential to allow more space for learning and memory integration.

Moreover, writing in cursive has further benefits. Handwriting is rhythmic and provides sensory soothing to the brain, which can decrease a negative emotional experience. It integrates sensation, movement control, cognition, and causes a calming slow-down effect.

  1. Writing can inspire hope.

Writing your future story can instill hope, create soothing imagery within your mind, and produce calm. It can also help you to set goals and perhaps start to plan a way to work towards the goals.

  1. It can help heal pain from relationships.

Writing apology and forgiveness letters can help right wrongs. Further, penning undelivered letters to those who have hurt us can assist with healing the hurt without ever having to make contact with that person.

There are many ways that you can write. Here are some practical suggestions:

  • Get a notebook and start a journal.
  • Create a blog and type out your story.
  • Write letters to your future or past self.

Remember, you are the author of your life-book. Every day can be a blank page on which to record, explore, hope, uplift, remember, and design. Writing regularly can restore, rebuild, and heal.


20181009_113447Erin Newman is a therapist by day, and a writer by night. She is also a parent, student, advocate, artist, and teacher.

Let’s face it – we’ve all been in a dark place called The Writing Slump. Writer’s Block is a phenomenon that happens to every writer at some point. When words start to escape you and ideas get stale, you need a reliable emergency kit for working through blockages and staying productive.

I plummet into the writing abyss of Writer’s Block when my mind is bogged down with a million different things, when I accidentally lose all hope in the piece I’m drafting or when the caffeine from my latte starts to wear off. To be honest, there are a million triggers that can send me straight to the writing slump but as a professional writer with constant deadlines looming, not writing is not an option!

How can you write yourself out of linguistic stagnation when taking a day or even a couple of hours off might not be an option?

Take a few deep breaths. If you find yourself torturing your pen or smashing your keyboard, close your eyes, let annoyance and frustration dissipate, and take a few deep breaths. Accept the situation with a serene mind and focus on getting back on the writing track. There’s nothing worse than savouring the emotions you might be feeling in times of a writing paralysis; rather, choose to tackle the blockage with concrete .

Fight the temptation to quit, because you won’t always have the luxury of taking long breaks or waiting for inspiration to kick in. The reality of writing – especially if you get paid to do it – is that you don’t have all the time in the world to polish off every sentence. Learning to combat writer’s block is key to becoming a successful professional writer.

Seek inspiration in the work of others. Is there a writer you find exceptionally talented or eloquent? Or a magazine you like skimming? Turn your attention to the content and style of fellow writers for fresh ideas, new phrases, and a spark.

Get caught up in technicalities. When your creative juices ebb, shift your focus to formatting, laying out your pages, assembling appendices. Writing is a multi-step endeavour that involves editing, fact-checking, revisions, approvals, research, and much more. Just because your word count isn’t growing, you can still be moving forward with your writing project.

Freewrite for two minutes. Zoom out your computer screen or open a new page in your notebook and write. Jot down everything that comes to mind on your topic. Even if you’re repeating yourself or words don’t go well together, refrain from judgement until the time is up. This well-known writing exercise can help ideas and sentences coalesce into a unique creation.

Tell a friend what you want to write – but currently can’t. Alternating between different modes of expression can help reset your brain. If your friend really listens, maybe they’ll even offer feedback. If no friend is available in the moment of a writing crisis, give your imaginary audience an elevator pitch about your topic.

Go back to the basics. Why are your drafting this piece? What’s the message you’re attempting to convey? Oftentimes, we get bogged down in perfect grammar, elegant style, active verbs, and paragraph transitions that we forget what we’re trying to say. In desperate times of a writing slump, be ready to sacrifice your eloquence (and polish it off when you ).

No matter how dissatisfying or dark your writing abyss looks like, it’s just another setback you need to power through. There is, probably, no single magic recipe for breaking out of a writing slump – so make your own soup.


Screenshot_20181023-160649Olga Ivanova is an Edmonton-based communications professional and writer with a knack for storytelling.

Some of you might have heard of analytical writing in academia. If your major was anywhere near the humanities or social sciences, chances are that writing analytically was instilled in you through countless edits and thorough comments from your instructors. Maybe you even took a writing class. However, when the memories of your alma mater start to fade, so do the analytical skills you thought were instilled in you.

If there is one valuable writing tip I picked up in school, it’s that your mind has the unique capacity to interpret facts, merge ideas, and uncover patterns that can make your voice– channeled through writing – authentic. Whether you dabble in fiction writing, work in communications, or wordsmith for pleasure, an analytical text will help you and your reader get more meaning out of words, nurturing a better understanding of the reality around us.

Writing analytically involves peering at the world and asking questions. It’s about connecting the dots, capturing diversity, and challenging biases. The highly-coveted skill of making sense of information and facts will always rank above other communication skills. As we’re getting bombarded with terabytes of data, our brains need to interpret it before sending calls to action. An analytical piece takes you on a journey towards deeper understanding of a topic that goes beyond mere facts.

Analytical writing is a symphony. Let your writing be a platform where ideas collide and coalesce. Collect data, voices, and opinions to fill in the gaps and capture a full picture. Don’t slip into judgement as your learn about new traditions, people, and cultures.

Analytical writing is revealing. Look for the intricate, minute details, compare facts, dates, and numbers to uncover implicit connections. Oftentimes, single numbers and dates don’t say much to the reader. But they might speak volumes when compared or contrasted with a larger corpus of data.

An analytical text asks questions. Why is the topic you’re developing important? How does it fit into the bigger picture? How does it impact our lives? Why should the reader care?

Analytical writing is critical. Challenge your thought to shy away from biases and assumptions. Keep your heart, mind, and writing open.

Analytical writing is a muscle that you can flex and stretch. Follow these tips before your tackle a new writing project:

  • Think of the sources you’re interviewing or researching – do they offer diversity? Are they reliable? How far from your set of beliefs are they placed?
  • Wrap your factual information in a context. Bare facts alone might not always make the most sense to the reader. Gather context, compare and contrast your numbers and dates to offer possible interpretations.
  • Tame your judgement as much as you can for as long as you can. Walk the reader through your thought process before making any conclusions. Remaining completely subjective might not be realistic; equally covering diverse opinions and approaches before stating your opinion is.

Your unique way of making sense of facts, information, ideas – topped off with a firm grasp of the English language – makes your writing stand out. And this will never go out of style because a riveting story and quality writing will always be in demand, no matter what audience you’re serving.


Screenshot_20181023-160649Olga Ivanova is an Edmonton-based communications professional and writer with a knack for storytelling.

The notion of “inspiration” is exciting, romantic and, well, inspiring. Our mythologies of creativity tell us that the right synchronicity of circumstances will spark not only The Idea that will change everything, but the will and ability to execute it. In reality, sitting around waiting for inspiration to “strike” is about as effective as waiting for actual lightning to strike and start your campfire. Inspiration can be cultivated and sought out, though.

Creativity doesn’t happen in a vacuum, no matter how much consistent work and practice one puts in. It is the encounters and experiences that excite, intrigue and teach us that generate and motivate creativity. Sudden, striking ideas do happen – but they don’t come out of nowhere, they are the result of a long-simmering idea suddenly coalescing as the last piece falls into place. To be creative, go out into the world and seek out inspiration. This can take any form you like, from getting back to the land and nature, to delving into works of philosophy for new ideas. Inspiration is all the little pieces of life that keep you motivated and keep you thinking until The Idea finally coalesces (or, more likely, is finally forced into being like molding a stiff piece clay.)

Do not shy away from engaging with others’ works of creativity as a source of inspiration. Far from tainting the authenticity of your creative expression with influence, others’ art can be a great source of inspiration. Most peoples’ original inspiration to become a writer, artist or any other creative was probably someone else’s work. Don’t be afraid to revisit that original inspiration in times of low motivation.

Art exists to provoke emotional and intellectual responses and to expose new ideas and perspectives, all of which are the essence of inspiration. In a sense, art is a short cut to inspiration! Whatever kind of creative you are, try to be open to what all kinds of creativity can teach you – visual art, performance, music, literature, digital arts….

A risk of relying on others’ art to inspire you in periods of low motivation and inspiration is that witnessing the peak of others’ creative process may stir up insecurity and fear. The doubting voice inside might just say “Well I can’t do that, so why bother…” The gulf between where you see yourself and where you want to be may become stark and intimidating. Remember that inspiration is also about learning. Look at work that you admire, or consider “better” than yours, as something to learn from rather than envy. What is it that you see in that work that seems to be missing from your work and how can you develop that missing piece? What technique and craft does that artist use that you can learn? If inadequacy and fear clouds inspiration, focus on learning and honing your craft.

Creativity requires consistent work, but it also needs to be nurtured with inspiration. Fortunately, creatives do not need to passively await inspiration: they can go out and find it. Part of the work of creativity is spending time immersed in others’ creativity, looking for the little pieces that will build and motivate your own.

 


IMG_20180718_115103_621Elisabeth Hill is an Edmonton-based writer and researcher who currently works as a Programming and Engagement Coordinator at the Art Gallery of Alberta.