After four long, active days of hiking in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile I am not sorry to spend a few hours listening to podcasts and watching the Patagonian landscape roll by from the comfort of an air-conditioned bus. As we wind our way out of the park towards the Chilean-Argentine border, we are treated to dramatic views of the Paine massif from various angles as well as a photo op with a herd of guanaco and one very distant and lonely flamingo. By the time we reach the border, the mountains have receded into the Patagonian steppe, which is all rolling grey-green and brown scrub under harsh blue sky. After some last-chance Chilean souvenir shopping we cross the border into Argentina and continue for hours more before seeing mountains again on the approach to El Calafate, a pretty tourist town and the gateway to Los Glaciares National Park.

Guanaco

A few years ago, I convinced some friends to take the Greyhound for three days and $130 from Victoria, BC to Austin, Texas so I have not only a great appreciation for the beauty of barren landscapes, but a high tolerance for long distance bus rides. Something about this bus ride, whether it was the previous four days of early mornings, poor sleep and physical activity, or the dehydrating air conditioning and hypnotic landscape of the bus ride itself, I could not handle. About half way through I began to nod off, occasionally waking up groggy and uncomfortable.

The roast lamb

I rallied in time for dinner with the rest of the group and went all in, ordering a plate of precariously stacked roast lamb and vegetables. The meat slides off the bone and is satisfyingly charred on the outside. Sadly, I barely make it halfway through the mountain of meat and root vegetables before exhaustion overcomes me in the form of mild nausea and light-headedness. Rather than pushing through the discomfort for the sake of the night out, I bought a bottle of Powerade and went back to the hotel for a full night’s sleep. I still regret not being able to finish, or fully appreciate, that meal but by missing out on one culinary experience I ensured that I was back in full working order to enjoy the next day’s glacier walk on Perito Moreno Glacier.

perito moreno glacier.jpg

Travel can be exhausting. The best trips tire you out and revive you in equal measure. The pressure to maximize your time in a new place and to experience everything on offer can backfire, though. Even on holiday, it is important to have downtime and listen to your body’s needs or you run the risk of burning out. My recent trip to Patagonia taught me this lesson in a number of ways.

Although I am in adequately good shape, I am not an experienced hiker. The main hikes on Intrepid Travel’s “Patagonia Trekking” tour are challenging, although the tour is designed to be manageable for a range of experience levels. The first hike of the trip gave me confidence. The second was one of two all-day hikes with some difficult uphill sections. I started the day at a steady, confident pace which deteriorated before even reaching the most challenging section of the hike – the last, uphill leg before our destination. By the time I returned to the campsite, far behind most of the group except one of the guides and another member of the group who was pacing himself, I was hobbled by burning toe pain and seriously doubting whether I could keep up with or enjoy the fourth hike which was said to be both longer and steeper.

almost near the summit

Two days later we set out on the fourth hike to Mirador del Torres, the grand finale of the W Hike. Somewhat refreshed, but still cautious, I paced myself from the very start of the walk. Instead of instinctively trying to keep up with the group at all times I focused on staying relaxed, breathing and maintaining an easy, sustainable pace. I soon realized that rather than falling way behind the others, the group ebbed and flowed around me as everyone’s energy and pace fluctuated. Sometimes I was near the front, other times at the back. I was able to make it to the summit of the hike feeling challenged but not frustrated or dispirited. Pinched toes eventually made me fall behind on the very last stage of the return to camp, but this time it did not affect my sense of accomplishment because I had maintained control of my experience throughout.

patagnia firebush

Slowing down, resting and taking time to myself when I needed it rather than rushing to keep up, to do everything and never miss out meant that in the end I was able to fully enjoy my trip without getting exhausted, sick or grumpy. When travelling, the tendency to overdo things comes from a desire to make the most of life. In daily life we often overextend ourselves out of a drive for productivity, desire for accomplishment or to be of service to others. Instead, without rest and downtime we become burnt out, anxious and more likely to flake on commitments. Saying yes and taking opportunity as it comes is important, but so is knowing when it’s time to go to bed – whether that bed is a tent in Patagonia or a queen sized mattress at home.

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.

Writing is the running of creative practices. It can be done anywhere, with minimal supplies or special equipment. To run you just need a path and a pair of shoes. To write, all you need is a place to sit and something to write with, whether computer or pen and paper.  Or that’s the minimalist ideal, anyway. Personally, I’m not sure that I would get much done if I was simply plunked down in a white cube with a pen and paper.

I like to write in public, usually at a coffee shop, but sometimes a quieter pub or bar. This works partly because if I’ve packed up my computer and books, dressed to leave the house, and taken the bus somewhere, I will do what I set out to do. I can’t just turn on Netflix in the middle of the coffee shop! Mainly, though, I find that the noise and stimulus of a public place helps me focus.

Some might find my routine to be counter-intuitive, preferring to do focused work in libraries and home offices that are by-design distraction-free. (How I envy those home office-workers for the money that they save on coffee and muffins, and the time they save on transit!) Other writers place more significance on having the right tools, such as a favourite type of pen or paper, a comfortable chair, or a mug of tea. So yes, you can write anywhere, with very basic equipment, but most writers have a routine or set of tools that support their practice. You can simply grab a pair of running shoes and get going, but stretching, planning a route, and maybe putting on a podcast will give you better, and more enjoyable, results.

Why do environment and routine matter? Some aspects of a writer’s routine may have clear practical benefits to productivity, but I think it is mostly a matter of ritual. A ritual is a deliberate and habitual set of actions which are imbued by the doer with deeper significance than their immediate, external impact. A ritual can be a religious ceremony or be as mundane as putting on makeup in the morning before work because it makes you feel “put together.”

Rituals of all varieties function to induce a changed state of mind, such as receptivity, calm, or focus – all of which are important states for different stages of the writing process.

Going to a particular place or using a particular pen, notebook, or chair signals to the brain that it is time to work. The preparatory process gently shifts your mental gears into the right state of mind for the task at hand.

So, how do you put together a writing routine or ritual that will finally kick your motivation into gear? I’m not sure that you can just build and institute the right routine and have it work immediately. My routine seems to have naturally developed from habits begun in university. Writing papers at coffee shops and the UVic Grad Lounge started as self-bribery, giving myself a treat to offset the struggle to be productive. Over time, the coffee shop, with its low-key noise and distraction, simply became my best work environment through habituation.

What you can do is think about how you work best, based on experience. In quiet, distraction-free environments, or surrounded by stimulus? In cozy comfort or with a certain degree of physical rigor? What items do you have around you that really help you complete and enjoy your task, versus the ones that are distracting luxury? Say, a cup of coffee rather than full plate of sandwiches.

Build on these observations. Experiment and be mindful of how you respond to different approaches, but don’t get overly involved in crafting the perfect writing ritual at the expense of writing. The key is to do the thing and evolve the support system – environment, routine, even superstition – as you practice. You can put together the best stretching routine, buy the best gear, and find the most idyllic 10 km running trail, but you won’t get very far if you haven’t also been going out and doing the training.


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

Host Emily Mattingsley unpacks some of the typical reactions she gets when she says she lives in Morocco and shows why they are problematic with reference to being a white woman. She shows how important it is to recognize privilege and how it constructs the types of choices we are able to make while balancing that with honouring the life someone is then able to build for themselves as something more than chance. She also takes a look at the bigger picture of what really constitutes “bravery” these days and asks you to ask some hard questions of what being a woman is like all over the world.

Melissa Raimondi is the raw vegan guru behind Raw Food Romance. Recently, she joined The Drawing Board’s owner and editor-in-chief, Nakita Valerio, to talk about her life as an online lifestyle coach and raw vegan spokesperson. Her spectacular personal transformation and her magnetic personality have been drawing people to raw food lifestyles by the thousands and we are delighted that she took the time to share her journey with us!

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Fast Facts:

Favourite Fruit Right Now: Pineapple!

Powerful Woman You’re Feeling Right Now: I have always however resonated with great women like Rosa Parks for standing up for what they believe in. Anyone who stands up for the rights of those oppressed has my respect.

Women Who Inspire You Professionally: Kristina Carrillo-Bucaram from FullyRaw Kristina, Emily from Bite Size Vegan and Alyse from Raw Alignment. I love seeing how they have built such large platforms and admire what they are doing with their social media.

Can you tell us about yourself and your role with Raw Food Romance(RFR)? What are you trying to accomplish with it?

I am pretty much the face of Raw Food Romance: it is my own personal journey with raw foods and how that has changed my life. I have been a raw vegan for just over 2 years and have known about the lifestyle for well over a decade. RFR is here to bring awareness to health and animal cruelty and is about moving towards a healthier diet not only for the human body, but the planet. By creating delicious raw vegan recipes, people are not only helping their health, but in turn, helping to lessen their impact on the environment. They also learn about being more compassionate towards the animals we exploit every day. My goal is to show people that it is healthy and possible to live this lifestyle, and you don’t have to be a hippy to be vegan. Everyone can do it!

What sets your raw vegan approach apart from what others are doing?

I am what is called a “low-fat, high-carb raw vegan”. Most raw vegan food is very high fat and gourmet, to appease the tastes of the general public, but since fat can be a problem, I have come up with recipes that are both low-fat and really tasty. I have so many people saying that my recipes have helped them stick to a healthier diet because they are so flavourful. I have also been told that my approach targets many psychological issues regarding why we eat what we eat and problems surrounding food addictions. There is not a lot talk about mind tricks or different ways of thinking when it comes to changing your lifestyle. Everyone seems to say “just use willpower” when they want to change, but it’s so much more complicated than that. Low-fat, high-card vegan foods help address some of those complications.

What are some of your proudest moments with RFR thus far?

  • Watching my YouTube channel grow quickly

  • Releasing a very successful raw food meal plan recipe book

  • Being on local television twice so far promoting the lifestyle

  • Being asked to be part of the Vegan World Summit along with other great people in the industry that I have always looked up to

  • I would say I am the most proud when I see people change, lose weight and make more compassionate choices. If, on the videos I make, I get even one comment saying that I have influenced someone to make better choices I feel motivated and proud to do what I do every day!

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What inspired you to share your lifestyle with others?

I have always wanted to share health and have been in the natural health industry for well over a decade helping others to make better choices. Once I had the raw vegan connection and passion to promote peace between species, I had to share it with the world. I feel like I am making up for 34 years of eating animal products by helping others to release them. I felt crappy and I know how it feels to have sore joints, be tired all the time and struggle with weight. I want to share that with anyone that will listen! I am also a creative and love to create new recipes, so sharing that has been amazing for me as well.

Do you have any advice for other women looking to build their businesses online?

Post daily! Especially on YouTube if you want to have more of a presence there. Rotate posts, keep them interesting and maintain a good variety. Provide information, motivation and something of value that people can use every day. A lot of people will start a page with lots of enthusiasm, but then they don’t do anything with their businesses and after a while, they lose steam. We are saturated by so many ads and bombarded by commercials so much that you need to be on top of things if you want to stay relevant. Find out what gets the most views and hits and do more of that in between the stuff that you are passionate about but doesn’t get as many views. This way the people that see the most popular stuff also have a chance to see the smaller stuff that doesn’t get a lot of airplay because maybe the subject is controversial or touches an emotional trigger in most individuals. Stay positive and try not to be too pushy with your products. When you are the face of your company, people want to see you and what you are doing in your life. Bombarding with advertising will harm them and you: its about a nice mix of inspiration, fun, and promotion in balance. 

What are some of the most rewarding aspects of your work?

By far knowing that I am helping to lessen the cruelty towards other species on this planet and helping to lessen the burden on our resources. It’s also incredibly rewarding to see people blossom and heal eating real foods. I love to hear comments about how I have inspired them to eat better, even if it is just a little bit. Creating new recipes and having people enjoy them is also extremely rewarding. 

What are some of the most challenging aspects?

In short, dealing with haters and trolls: the “mmmm bacon” crowd and people telling me that it’s unhealthy to eat a vegan or raw vegan diet. Being an online personality is also hard because you can’t please everyone. Most people are completely unaware of the science behind veganism and why it’s so important that we make a shift towards a more plant based diet. It can be hard to be in my shoes because I am up against the grain of mainstream society that can parrot the same old health information over and over again, even when new information is regularly released!

Does technology factor into what you do?

Very much so. I can do my business from all over the world. Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and Youtube are my platforms and I can do everything from my phone as long as I have enough data and a decent internet connection. Without technology it would be very difficult to reach a worldwide audience. I am grateful that I can and that the technology exists for me to share what I know.

What do you like to do in your personal time?

Working on more raw food recipes! I also love photography and do a lot of that, as well as watching some of my favourite TV shows or walking/hiking in the river valley. I enjoy art and though I have less and less time, I still indulge in pencil work, acrylic paintings and watercolours. I also love learning other languages and traveling. 

What is something not a lot of people know about you?

Before I became a fully raw vegan 2 years ago, I was dealing with an addiction to alcohol. I’m blessed that I found the strength to follow through with my lifestyle change and become sober. I’m also somewhat of a nerd – I mostly love Star Trek and the utopian society imagined by Gene Roddenberry of peace, and the pursuit of human development, teamwork, morals, ethics, knowledge, and exploration without needing jobs, money and the mundane grind of today’s life that is damaging our planet and ourselves. 

If you have one take-home message for readers out there, what would it be?

We don’t do the things that we should be doing TODAY. We put so many goal-oriented activities off until tomorrow while we spend today doing frivolous things. We should trade spots. We should say “tomorrow I will do the frivolous thing, but today I will work on my goals” because tomorrow might never come. When we keep putting our goals off until tomorrow, they never become fruitful. If we put off the frivolous stuff “until tomorrow”, maybe our goals with be fulfilled instead!

 

Someone fell off the metro platform as the train was pulling away. Or they were pushed. Or they jumped. My eyes are untrustworthy and deceive me but my ears can still hear the scream as they went down. My heart can still feel the residue of disbelief I felt when I saw a figure tumbling.

I turned to the woman next to me and said, “Someone just got hit by the train.” She nodded her head slowly. Her face did not change. “I think I saw that,” she replied, and just went on staring into the distance. She was wearing a burgundy wool toque and a shirt that carried an ironic message that I can no longer recall. Torn jeans and converse sneakers. A necklace with an arrow pendant. She carried a pillow with a worn out cover on it – the kind your grandmother pulls out of her linen closet when you come for a mid-twenties sleepover and it conjures up the nostalgic vignettes of your childhood. Memories passed through my head like strangers as I glanced at it and the hand-woven blanket folded beneath it — the souvenir everyone picks up on the resort beach in Mexico and uses as a picnic spread on summer days in Hawrelak Park.

She was quieter than I expected as I stood up, craning my neck to see what was going on and if I could do anything. Memory is a funny thing and begins to be shaped into the form of narrative within seconds of a record being made. Or maybe simultaneous to it. Scribes in our mind take in the necessary details, filtering them based on past preferences and priorities, and filtering everything else out. I can see the pout of this woman’s lip but do not know what the person who fell (or was pushed, or jumped) was wearing.

There is a blur of fabric burned into my mind and the scream I can still hear. And then the people on the platform above them as the train pulled away: they are on their phones, walking back and forth but no one is looking down yet. Did someone fall? Is someone calling the emergency number? Did I imagine it after all? Are they all talking on their phones, oblivious to what happened?

A man in a lime green shirt and shorts is pacing a bit and his head keeps looking southward down the tracks into the distance. A woman in a long skirt and black tank top is looking north and ahead. An unnerving silence comes from the platform. More people arrive, awaiting the new train that will pull into the station

Concrete barriers stand between the train platform and the street I am on. Somewhere between those barriers and the platform is a body that should not be there. Soft flesh and warm blood sit upon cold steel. Are they alive? Why is no one on the platform saying anything? Why is no one looking at the tracks?

A woman runs from the end of the platform, her plastic sandals slapping the surface. I feel confirmed in what I saw for a moment because there is an urgency in her strides, but she turns to the door where the stairs lead to a pedway without glancing at the tracks.

Who is there on the tracks? The word suicide jars into my head and I dismiss it, swiping it away in anger. Its appearance is enough to bring up the feelings of anguish and agony that I know only suicidal people have felt. If it is suicide, their turmoil is quiet now as this person rests on the tracks. Are they facing up or down? Are they alive, watching the clouds pass in the longest moments of their life?

The next train is about to pull in but stops far before the station. An officer of the peace jumps off and pounds down the platform to a spot just beyond where I had seen them fall. My heart flickers because someone had to have called him. The man in the green shorts is pacing now and more people are arriving on the platform. Sirens blare in the distance confirming my untrustworthy eyes. There is no longer a question when the woman in the tank-top peers over the edge of the track and her hand flies up to her mouth as she backs away. I can see the person on the tracks in her reaction. I can see their twisted and broken body. I think of their mother who knows that body inside and out, who carried it and coddled it, who nurtured them. The word suicide flashes in my head. I know not all mothers have been good to their children. A knot in my stomach makes me want to go to the track and hold the person’s hand in case they are alive, and alone with the clouds and the sounds of people pacing just above them.

My eyes saw a lot of fabric when they fell down. The word Muslim pushes out the word suicide in my mind. “This is why I always stand back from the platform,” I think. “They were pushed,” I think. My eyes scan for someone suspicious running away, but no one is running. No one is even pacing anymore. Everyone is trying not to look at the tracks and now dozens of people are on the platform, their hands flying to their mouths like a wave as they step back from the edge and what they have seen.

Maybe they just fell down. Maybe it was an accident.

Everything is too quiet over there and my mind turns to thoughts of my best friend and how I am unsettled by how she treats the suicide of her father. It is a matter of fact. It is his “cause of death.” And that is the way it should be treated – something which people die by. But as someone who has been on the other end of the gun too many times, you imagine it would be more than silence and a twisted body on the tracks. That what we always imagined freedom to be could look like more than simply death.

Emergency vehicles arrive on the scene and workers rush to set out orange pylons as a buffer of space between them and oncoming traffic. People and their cars continue to flow northward. Life immediately carries on, passing the person on the other side of the barriers, quiet now on the tracks.

If it is suicide, people who think about it do not realize how many others will come to their rescue. Within moments. Mere minutes after the scream (which I can still hear) and the tumble, there are dozens of emergency workers on the scene. Ambulances and fire trucks arrive. Uniformed people rush to cut the metal of the fence (or the tracks?) and the screech of a saw slices the thick air. These workers were just minutes away. Would they come if you told them you were thinking to jump? If you told them the dark thoughts you carry with you? If you told them you sit on the bench so you don’t think about jumping, or you stand back from the edge so someone won’t push you and take away the power of jumping from you? Or do they only arrive when you have already thrown your body down into the quiet space between the barriers and the platform where soft flesh does not normally go? When does an emergency become an emergency?

Maybe they just fell down. Maybe it was an accident.

A stretcher is loaded with something. It looks like a pile of warm microfleece blankets, impossible to contain a person. The stretcher is loaded on the ambulance. Hope flashes around my heart as the ambulance lights twirl. Its siren starts up as the door is slammed and the driver turns the wheel to carry the body from the tracks to the hospital. As they are pulling away, cars going north move off to the side. Someone is blaring hip hop music that can be heard above the sirens. They just arrived. They do not know that a body was on the tracks where no soft flesh should ever be. They do not turn down their music. My bus arrives and I remember my body, moving it into the space of the bus, sitting it down to be carried away to home where my family is waiting for me.

Later that evening, I am in the home of my colleague, surrounded by his family and friends. I sit with older women from the Pakistani community and listen to their stories, smiling with them, feeling welcomed by them. One woman, the mother of a young man I knew in secondary school, is veiled in a beautiful red floral scarf and noor shines from her face. She is smiling as she tells us a story about her grandchildren forming an assembly line to help her pick sour cherries from the tree in their backyard in order to make chutney. Since the cherries attract wasps, they have to be careful while pulling the fruit down by the handful but the harvest is worth the risk because the sourness from the cherries beats the tamarind sauce of the previous year. Webs of lineage forged by love are woven in her words, prerequisites for such a story to have happened. The world floods through those words, carrying family and histories in them – each word saturated with a sense of colour and richness even she might not recognize, though she speaks them.

Liberation is not found in what can only be simple death. It is found in the undulations between joy and heartache of each moment we embody and how richly we are able to live in the spaces between. I listen to her story and think of the person on the tracks, not knowing their fate, quiet since the flooding stopped, and the scribes of memory are silent.


This article was written by Nakita Valerio, owner and editor in chief of The Drawing Board. Nakita  is an academic, activist and writer in the community. She is currently pursuing graduate studies in History and Islamic-Jewish Studies at the University of Alberta.  Nakita was named one of the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation’s Top 30 under 30 for 2015, and is the recipient of the 2016 Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, as well as the Walter H. Johns Graduate Studies Fellowship. She has also been honoured with the State of Kuwait, the Queen Elizabeth II and the Frank W Peers Awards for Graduate Studies in 2015. She has been recognized by Rotary International with an Award for Excellence in Service to Humanity and has been named one of Edmonton’s “Difference Makers” for 2015 by the Edmonton Journal. Nakita is also the co-founder of Bassma Primary School in El Attaouia, Morocco.


While there is not yet any evidence that this incident was a suicide, if you are suffering with suicidal ideation or are contemplating suicide, please call 911 for emergency medical assistance in your area. For more information on mental health services in Edmonton, Alberta: click here. For everywhere else, please contact your local health service provider.