Friday Photo Inspiration (vol. 4)

This week’s photo inspiration is inspired by the natural world, and the ways we find our place in it. Hope you enjoy!

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Photo: Emma Y. Young

Though it’s a seemingly simple vignette without much action, this photograph kept pulling me back in – partly because of the abundance of the trees, which seem to envelop the man, and also because of the anonymity. The banana leaves, the worker’s tanned skin, and the slow pace suggested by the photo remind me of being back home in Jamaica, but truly, this could be a scene from any number of places. And that mystery intrigues me.

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Photo: Beverly Joubert/ National Geographic Creative (via Intelligent Travel)

This was taken at the Selinda Camp in Botswana, one of several Great Plains safari camps established by Dereck and Beverly Joubert. Great Plains Conservation combines tourism and land preservation (what they call “conservation tourism”) to preserve wildlife under threat of extinction in Botswana and Kenya.

turtle island

Photo: EuroPics (via The Daily Mail)

Speaking of land, how crazy is this tiny turtle-shaped mass in China’s Muodaoxi River? According to The Daily Mail, the shape only becomes visible in the spring when the water levels drop to between 163 and 168 meters high. Any higher, and only the top of the rock is visible, and when the water gets lower, the connection to the mainland appears. Not surprisingly, the “turtle rock” has become a tourist attraction as people come each spring to take photos.

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Photo: Josh Stansfield

And here, in Tibet, is a mountain of homes that appear to be stacked on top of each other like crates. They’re actually just really close together — and they serve as housing for 40,000 monks, nuns and pilgrims at the Larung Gar Buddhist Academy in Sertar County, Garze Prefecture, according to Amusing Planet. It’s amazing how such a large community has taken root in this isolated and once uninhabited valley, which at an elevation of 4,000 meters elevation takes at least 13 hours to get to from the nearest large city.

Have you guys traveled to Asia before? 

“Friday Photo Inspiration” is a weekly series featuring beautiful images that I’ve discovered around the Internet. The photos above were not taken by me, and are credited to the best of my knowledge. Read earlier installments here

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Life on Instagram Isn’t Always Real

Photo: @satiregram

As a blogger and someone who reads a lot of style, travel and lifestyle blogs, I’m keenly aware of the way that people romanticize their online personalities.

On the most basic level, this actually makes sense. After all, no-one wants to share or see a photo of you when you’re in a depressed funk and at your worst or when you just woke up (looking nothing like Beyonce). It’s kind of like how they say ‘dress for the job you want, not the one you have.’ Why not Instagram the life you want?

At its best, social media is an aspirational representation of how we’d like our lives to appear and at its worst, a completely staged distortion of reality.

As it often does for me, Instagram can serve as inspiration: to remind us of the beautiful things that we might incorporate in our own lives, of the places we might travel to, or the photography that we like to look at. But the potential for harm is in the sameness of the images people end up sharing – their insistence that what they depict is what a good life ought to look like.

(To be clear, I’m speaking about a certain subset of social media posters that often, but not always, includes bloggers and Millennials –  the kinds of people I come across most often.)

There’s so much pressure among this group to be doing something share-worthy, something that photographs well. And so we end up seeing the same kinds of highly-stylized photos as everyone tries to prove they’re interesting by following a suggested checklist of what to do with your life: vacation often, eat out, have artisanal cocktails, drink only coffee that has latte art, etc.

These are all great things, many of which I do, but 1) I can’t help but notice they’re all require a financial commitment and 2) it’s all become one big game of anything you can do I can do better.

Vacation photos are no longer just vacation photos. Now, you might spend half the day perfecting an underwater handstand or a complicated yoga pose on an empty beach until you get the money shot. And considering that Instagram “experts” often use a ton of filters and additional editing apps, I can’t help but wonder where they find time to actually relax.

Instagram vacations

In a sense, this is just another iteration of the age-old discussion about how media portrays beauty and success. But I think the reason social media makes the problem feel more immediate is that it’s so ubiquitous and the barrier to entry is so low. Anyone can snap a photo and post it to Instagram or Facebook, which makes it more in your face when more people feel compelled to direct and produce their shots and portray a false version of “daily life.”

As we buy into our own false sense of self-importance,  we curate our lives to look like the people on TV and in magazines.  The average Jane can now become “internet famous” through an endless variety of avenues from blogger/ Instagram or YouTube celebrity to author to brand ambassador to model.

In the social media ratings game, notoriety is earned by those who spend the most time capturing, editing and sharing their experiences.

The other problem is the desire to not be left out of what “everyone else” seems to be doing.

Two summers ago in NYC, MOMA had lines around the block as people tried to get into its Rain Room installation. The experience, which included a simulation of rain that somehow managed to detect the human body, was captured all over Instagram.

Before I went, I was already mentally planning my own Instagram photo. But when we got there and discovered that people had started lining up at 5am to get in for what was maybe 15 minutes max, not the promise of a few Instagram likes just didn’t seem that important.

The thing is the world is so small on Instagram (and don’t get me started on Pinterest). Despite how it might appear, no, not everyone is eating at In-N-Out Burger.

Instagram InNOut

No, not everyone is eating avocado toast.

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Recently, I even saw a restaurant being advertised as “built for Instagram likes.” In fact, there are websites designed to curate the sorts of experiences that might look good in that little filtered square frame.

An Eventbrite survey found that Millennials would rather spend money on experiences than material items, but not surprisingly, this desire is driven by FOMO (fear of missing out). that they would rather spend money on them than most other things. Brands and event managers are now trying to tap into this mentality by including “experiential activities” that Millennials can’t help but share.

But truthfully it’s boring when everyone is doing the same thing.

In fact, the lack of diversity in the images that are popular on platforms like Instagram or Tumblr has been parodied by many others and has even inspired social-conscious memes like “Carefree Black Girl.”

I’m not knocking Instagram – I use it more than any other social media platform and love looking at other people’s photos. I just take it for what it is.instagram photo

It took me about 10 minutes to get this completely trivial shot of my groceries just right..

I once had a friend tell me that my life looked so glamorous. It was a little hard to believe not only because it’s so far from the truth, but because I felt exactly the same way about her.

My photos show a specific side of me. They’re a mini highlight reel of my life. They include the moments I’ve deemed share-able and fit for public consumption, but they don’t begin to show who I am fully.

The problem with the “Instagram Life” is that I fear some people have trouble distinguishing between what’s real and fake, and even when we can tell the difference, many of us still feel compelled to match what we perceive as some kind of standard.

Instagram is great for capturing little moments and sharing them with the world – but in my experience, the best memories are often created in those in-between moments: a good laugh at a random joke that can’t be captured, the car ride on the way to some photo-worthy event, the nights when you’re curled up on the couch with your guard down. It’s basically the stuff that happens when you’re too busy to record.

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Friday Photo Inspiration (vol. 3)

Is it me or did this Friday come around rather quickly? Who am I kidding – the weekend can never come soon enough. Here’s to the first day of spring and the promise of better days to come for those of us in the Northeast enduring today’s forecast of snow and rain!

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Photo: Documentation of ” I Drivhuset (In the Greenhouse)” from Galleri Tom Christoffersen

I love the Alice-in-Wonderland feel of this striking installation from 1980 by Danish artist Suzanne Ussing. The female figure, made from newspapers, wood and metal, comes across as both God-like and childishly vulnerable. What woman doesn’t feel like that sometimes? ;)

newspaper girl

Photo: Krystal Bick

I may not be a journalist any more but I still enjoy spending a Sunday morning with the Times. Above: proof that being well-read is the best kind of sexy.

Lake Eyre

Photo: Grant Hunt (spotted on ThisIsGlamourous)

If you’re not familiar with the phenomenon of naturally-occurring, oddly-colored water bodies, then it might take you a while to realize that this magnificent sea of rose is actually a lake. This particular shot is of Lake Eyre in South Australia, which turns pink after the basin floods and the high levels of salt in the receding water attracts a special kind of bacteria. It’s just one of a number of pink lakes in Australia and other countries including Canada, Senegal and Spain.

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Photo: Drew Doggett

I think I have a thing for portraits of interesting female characters (see here and here). But I’m fascinated by this and all the other amazing photos in Drew Dogget’s collection featuring the Suri tribe in Ethiopia’s Omo Valley. The region itself is extremely diverse with at least eight different “semi-nomadic” tribes who have lived there for centuries, but the construction of a commercial hydro-electric dam is a threat to the tribes, whose livelihood depends on the river. Read more here.

I’ve been on an art and photography kick lately. Who are your favorite artists?

“Friday Photo Inspiration” is a weekly series featuring beautiful images that I’ve discovered around the Internet. The photos above were not taken by me, and are credited to the best of my knowledge. Read earlier installments here

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Why Being Busy Is Not An Accomplishment

london big ben

Photo: ShaylaLilian.com

Doesn’t it always seem like there’s never enough time in the day? It’s gotten to the point where “I’m so busy” has actually become a legitimately acceptable answer when you ask someone how their day is going.

At first, I wondered if this was simply a function of having becoming an adult with a full schedule and real responsibilities. But then I remembered that even kids are over-scheduled these days. (Plus, did adults in the ’50s feel this way?)

There has been quite a lot written about our constant search for more time – which often manifests itself in the form of an epidemic of busyness (almost to the point of narcissism), overflowing inboxes and national discussions about work-life balance. 

Maybe people have been feeling swamped for as long as productivity has been a part of life, but it seems to me that there has been a very real cultural change in our attitudes toward time.

PUTTING OUT FIRES

At work and in life, it appears as if being behind is now the default. We meet friends for drinks to “catch up,” presumably (or at least in my case) because we haven’t seen them in forever. And while a full-time work day is still technically only eight hours, that’s not a reality for most of us – either because we’re working overtime, checking work emails at home and on vacation, or spending the rest of our free time pursuing side projects and entrepreneurial ventures.

There are always more projects than can be completed, more ideas than can be fleshed out, and too often, we’re just trying to stay afloat.

As our work demands more of us, we’re constantly trying to put out fires instead of spending time being creative.

A BADGE OF HONOR

But even when we’re taking action, many of us rarely take the time to celebrate our accomplishments, instead choosing to continue pursuing a frenetic state of activity.

As a constant setter of goals and maker of lists, I relish the feeling of checking something off. But more often than not, I’m looking to the next item before even pausing to reflect on what I’ve actually achieved.

Personally, I struggle with inaction. If I so much as take a nap on a Sunday afternoon or occasionally indulge in a few hours of TV after work, I know I’ll be battling that nagging feeling in the back of my head that there is something more productive I could be doing. And because I have so many goals (see my list here) and commitments like this blog and my workout routine, there is literally always something that I could be attending to.

Perhaps it has to do with the increasing value placed on “makers,” entrepreneurs, world-changers and 40-under-40 superstars, but it seems like more and more, our culture measures worth through activity, or at least the appearance of it.

In this New York Times op-ed, Tim Kreider writes:

“The present hysteria is not a necessary or inevitable condition of life; it’s something we’ve chosen, if only by our acquiescence to it […] Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.”

THE ILLUSION OF ACTION

But behind the trend toward constant activity, there seems to be an underlying theme of thoughtlessness. We’re almost operating on autopilot, acting according to a preset program that often has not determined by ourselves. Now, we get through the day by checking off tasks, reading and answering an endless flow emails and doing a bunch of little things that don’t really add up to much. Remember the 80/20 rule?

I have to admit that I can be judgmental of people who don’t manage their time well – who can’t make meetings on time or keep track of their schedule. If you’re constantly busy, but you’re not actually achieving much, it tells me that you either completely clueless or you’re not thinking critically enough about your goals.

In the age of Google, Siri and a host of other technology that does our thinking for us, we’ve freed up our time to pack in more: more meetings, more communication, more activity, instead of more time for reflection.

I recently read this article that was written a few years ago by Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon at Stanford University, after he found out he had lung cancer.

Here’s what he has to say about time:

“Everyone succumbs to finitude. I suspect I am not the only one who reaches this pluperfect state. Most ambitions are either achieved or abandoned; either way, they belong to the past. The future, instead of the ladder toward the goals of life, flattens out into a perpetual present. Money, status, all the vanities the preacher of Ecclesiastes described, hold so little interest: a chasing after wind, indeed.”

Sadly, he passed away this month. Reading his article immediately made me think of my dad, and his experience during the final months of his life. As he grew increasingly confined to an apartment and then to a chair, I imagined time must have felt at once endless and too scarce.

Somehow, without realizing it, I’ve internalized that feeling of ambivalence: knowing that there’s time ahead of me – to be, to grow, to change and to become my best self – while also being hyper-aware of how little a guarantee any of us have that we might be here in a year, or even a day.

It’s changed by perspective on busyness, for sure. For one, I’ve realized that it’s a luxury – when my dad was sick, all I wanted to do was give him more time so that he could do all the things he never got around to.

One of the most obvious reactions to finding out that your time is limited “might be an impulse to frantic activity: to “live life to its fullest,” to travel, to dine, to achieve a host of neglected ambitions,” says Kalanithi in his essay.

“Part of the cruelty of cancer, though, is not only that it limits your time, it also limits your energy, vastly reducing the amount you can squeeze into a day. It is a tired hare who now races. But even if I had the energy, I prefer a more tortoiselike approach. I plod, I ponder, some days I simply persist.”

It might do us all a little good to start pondering while we still have the time.

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Friday Photo Inspiration (vol. 2)

TGIF! I had a really productive and fun week, but still Friday could not have come sooner. Here are 5 photos to help get you inspired for the weekend..

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Photo: Dave Bledsoe

Spring is (almost) finally here! At the first sign of good weather in NYC this week, I could feel a weight lift off my shoulder. Now, I’m looking forward to longer days, lunch in the park, leather jackets – and  cherry blossoms. They bloom in April at the Botanical Gardens in Brooklyn.

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A Hockey Love Story in Montreal

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I don’t know what you think of when you think Montreal, but when you live with a hockey-obsessed individual, you inevitably come to associate the city with the Canadiens: Montreal’s uber-successful and long-standing hockey team.

So naturally, when we decided to visit last month, a game was one of the first activities we booked.

Not being a major sports fan, I was skeptical when my boyfriend, Alex suggested we spend Valentine’s Day at a hockey stadium among beer-soaked fans. But I decided to be a sport (no pun intended) and I can’t say I left disappointed.

To understand the significance of hockey in Montreal, you have to go back to the history of the game. Which is exactly what we did. At the Bell Center – home of the “Habs,” as they’re lovingly called by fans – ticket holders for that evening’s game can stop into the on-site hockey museum an hour and a half before the puck drops.

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Snapshots: Winter in Montreal

Old Montreal-3244I never thought I’d be happy about 20-degree weather. But after five days of sub-zero temperatures and bone-chilling winds in Montreal a couple weeks ago, even this unusually snowy New York City winter has been looking really good.

As an islander and lover of all things tropical, Montreal in February was not an obvious choice. But somehow, with its French vibe (appealing for me) and its storied hockey history (appealing for my boyfriend), the city snuck its way onto our list of places to visit.

From the moment we exited the airport and felt our lungs physically adjust to the shock of the frigid Canadian air, it was clear Montreal was going to be experienced on its own terms.

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