Finding True North


On more than one occasion, I’ve uttered the words, “Oh, great.  I have no idea where I am.”  For a directionally challenged person such as myself, this is a common phrase! Back in 2005, I added Beijing to my list of international cities where I’ve been completely lost.* In a place where English makes a rare appearance and tourists from the West stick out like a sore thumb, it becomes vitally important to find the way back to home base as soon as possible, (nothing attracts a pickpocket or worse than a confused looking tourist!). What set this event apart from all the rest was the fact that I had a compass keychain dangling from my belt loop.  Between a city bus map display, my street map, and the needle of a compass, I was able to find my way back to the hotel by matching up Chinese characters and traveling North and then East. My compass saved me that day by showing me where I needed to go and I’ve never forgotten that gift.  Seven years later, it’s still my lifeline.

I’ve often referred to my recent journey to London as a life-altering experience, despite my struggle to understand the full impact it has had on my life.  Some changes are obvious, but the deeper meaning dangles in front of me like a clue in a mystery waiting to be solved.  I am different in a place so hidden and so deep I can’t see it or even begin to comprehend it’s significance. All I have is the unrelenting sense of a huge shift towards something.  It’s a lot like standing at a fork in the road without knowing what the choices are or why they exist.

Essentially, I am lost all over again without knowing the language. Being lost in this way is both wondrous and frustrating.  Sometimes I revel in the confusion and the inspiration it brings, but there are times I wish I had a road map that at least reveals the basic layout of my new landscape.

Upon returning from London, the feeling of disorientation was overwhelming.  I couldn’t shake the duality of being excited to go home, while at the same time feeling as though I was leaving home. Torn in two, I oscillated between a life I loved and a life I didn’t know was possible, (and loved just as much). Nothing seemed real. In the months that followed, that surreality never left and I grew increasingly restless.  My perspective had changed so drastically, it effected every element of my life and made even the most the familiar things seem foreign.

I remain directionally challenged and my reliance on a compass has manifested itself in an entirely new way. About a month after my return, I was out shopping with family when I spotted a necklace with a compass pendant.  It was beautiful, not only in terms of design, but for the fact that it represented something very special to me.  With every spin of the needle, I am reminded that as lost as I sometimes feel, I will find my way to true north.

My compass necklace wrapped around the place that changed everything.

I wear my compass necklace almost every day so I don’t forget to follow my instincts and listen for hints that will eventually lead to the answer I seek.  All I know for certain is London taught me I am a lot stronger than I ever believed and that serves as my anchor.  At the moment, I walk this path with a smile on my face and growing curiosity of what lies ahead.  Just as it always has, my compass will point me in the right direction.

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*Oh, the stories I have from London, Paris, Rome, Prague, and Dublin!  I suppose that’s another post for another day.

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c.b. 2012


Mind the Gap (Part 2)


This is the second installment in a series of vignettes inspired by travelers of the London Underground.


Clad in little shorts and chunky running shoes, two blondes bounce onto the train at Holborn. Between giggles they gossip about friends, family, and co-workers.  The biggest worry they have is deciding whether it’s a better deal to rent a flat on a month-to-month basis or with an annual lease. With their stretchy bedazzled tank tops and manicured nails, the money isn’t really a concern.  It just sounds like the right thing to say.

Beside them she sits with downcast eyes.  Her ankles are swollen and her shoes feel too small.  In her lap, she holds onto an oversize bag with a pair of hands that know the pain of a hard day’s work. She remembers being mini-skirt thin with cute sandal-worthy feet.  It’s all so fleeting, so easily taken for granted.  She’s long past due and out of chances, which makes her wonder if tomorrow will have meaning. Such lofty goals for someone caught in a hollow moment.

The doors slide open and youth slips away.

– – –


With his dark skin and long black beard, he looks different from the rest.  Twenty pairs of eyes scan him up and down, but quickly look away.  As he takes a seat, shoulders stiffen and brows knot above noses.  Alert and nervous, they all hope the next stop is his. To them, the turban he wears can only mean one thing.

He says nothing and sits tall.

– – –


At Notting Hill Gate, every seat is filled with tourists loaded with shopping bags and locals trying to get home.  A French couple squeezes through the crowd, she with bright red lips and he with a small dog in his arms.  It’s been a long day of judgment and obedience, but the blue ribbon attached to the dog’s collar makes all the effort worthwhile.

The little terrier doesn’t cry, whimper, or fidget.  He  won today for being the best and all eyes remain on him.  Two American tourists resist the urge to reach out and pet him.  Suburbanites look up briefly from their newspapers and books, while children point and smile.

The dog is oblivious, but the owner beams with pride.  The girl with red lips holds onto the rail, desperate for a seat.  She is hungry, exhausted, and has had enough.

No one sees her.

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Note: Project Art Journal will return next Friday.

c.b. 2011

Mind The Gap (Part 1)


This is the first in a series of vignettes inspired by travelers of the London Underground.    

Descending Below

He seeks a reprieve while seated on a park bench, yet cannot escape the briefcase at his feet.  Business calls wherever he lands. The day is long, but feels much too short.  Bright rays of the sun cannot warm or distract, nor can a crisp breeze awaken or detract.  A tired, yet sharp mind pushes forth and leaves the heart behind. He dons a black suit and polished shoes; perfect attire for a boardroom or a funeral.

Three ravens fly overhead, but their wild caws fall upon deaf ears.  He stays focused on pie charts, spreadsheets, and an endless array of numbers.  Concern sharpens the ridge above his nose, for no matter how long he stares, there is too much red and not enough black.  Fountains spray sparkling drops of water, but he does not think to look.  He slams the portfolio shut and stuffs it into his briefcase.  There’s no relief for bloodshot eyes.

In a rush of movement, he makes his way to Lancaster Gate station and descends far below, where he takes the seat of one who has just departed.  Fluorescent lights rob the color out of his cheeks.

Three stops later he disappears into the void.

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They catch the train just before it departs.  He pushes the stroller and she holds the hand of a little girl wearing pink wellies.  Dad carries a bag filled with a picnic blanket, umbrella, and games.  A family day is the plan regardless of the rain.

The younger child sits still, strapped tightly in her stroller.  She nibbles on a piece of celery in one hand and a slice of apple in the other.  Mom reaches over to fix a few stray hairs and wipes the drool from the young one’s chin.  Older sister can’t sit still, her rambunctious little body hangs from hand rails and bounces from one seat to the next.  Mom laughs for a moment, but soon has had enough.  She asks her little girl to sit still, but has no authority.  The girl in pink wellies giggles and skips around; her mother is wrapped right around her finger.

Dad holds Mom’s hand, but his eyes wander across the aisle towards another.

At Hyde Park they depart, whole for now.

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Calendar Girl

She pages through a pocket calendar hoping to find an extra day.  A fine tip pen adds more things to do on a long list and scribbles new appointments in already full squares.  Heavy make-up darkens a stiff face that has yet to smile today.  Long black hair is wound into a simple bun and not one strand has broken free.  She’s buttoned her trench coat from collar to hem and knotted a belt around her tiny waist. Page after page, she searches over and over again.  There is no blank space or empty memo.

As the train rocks, she closes her eyes.  There are a million more things to do and here she is trapped in a slow-moving tube where all she can do is wait.  And wait.  And wait.  She checks her watch and turns away disgusted.  The sun is surely down and she hasn’t eaten since dawn.  No one waits for her at home, she’s not getting any younger, and nothing seems to change.  She grips the pen in her hand and scribbles in the corner of tomorrow’s agenda.

There are still nine stops to go. What is it all for?

c.b. 2011