The case for tourist attractions

I’ve always sought authentic travel experiences. The idea of flying halfway across the world just to spend all my time at the most photographed locations on the planet has never made any sense to me, not when unique stories and unexpected turns of events were out there to be discovered.

My earliest travel experiences come from my teenage years, when I attended Adventures Cross Country, a company that organizes groups of teens on adventure-focused trips for weeks at a time. The summer of my 13th year was spent (begrudgingly at first) hiking through the backcountry of British Columbia, and it was there that my travel preferences, and my sense of self, began to develop.

For four weeks I learned to go without the comforts of the modern world, trading them in for the sort of skills that helped build a better me. I learned how to raise a tent in the rain after hiking for 10 hours, and the most efficient ways to pack one month of my life into a backpack. I learned to read the clouds, to recognize how to keep beehives in the ground from exploding, and on one occasion, how to prepare an emergency evacuation when you’re a 3 day hike from civilization. These skills taught me not only how to survive in the wilderness, but how to depend on myself for everyday survival, and the lessons that come when one is humbled by nature.

Point being, in traveling as an adult I’ve looked to replicate those experiences. So when I went to Iceland last year, I avoided most of the well-known tourist hot spots, like the Blue Lagoon and the Golden Circle.

This time around, I decided to see what all the fuss was about, and as you can imagine I ended up having a wildly different experience than I anticipated.

Stepping off the plane and into the warm, healing waters of the Blue Lagoon was an immensely relaxing way to deal with jet lag and the stress of international travel. Though expensive, the spot was in no way overrun with fannypacked tourists. In fact, I would consider my visit there to be a highlight of all my time spent in Iceland.

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Yesterday, our Icelandic friend and host/guide (pictured above on the right) drove us to see the highlights of the Golden Circle, including Iceland’s famous geyser (Geysir)…

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….and one of its biggest waterfalls, Gullfoss.IMG_2217

Both sites were absolutely breathtaking and showed off the majesty of Iceland’s unique landscape. And since the sun doesn’t go down, our late night visit ensured that crowds were nowhere to be found.

While I won’t concede my preference for authentic cultural experiences, I will admit that top tourist attractions have their place in the world of travel.

I chose not to illustrate the fruits of my admission, but a decoration from my current Reykjavík Airbnb instead.

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Go nuts for donuts

Iceland has surprisingly good donuts. In fact most of the food here is surprisingly good, considering their reputation for pickling everything. Below is a quick illustration of the donut I ate as part of a healthy breakfast. For dinner I managed to get the soup in a bread bowl that I’ve been craving since last September. Even though it’s 2am and the sun has yet to go down, I consider this day 1) over and 2) successful. Good night and good morning, world.

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The land of fire and ice

The first day traveling to and then being in Iceland was a great experiment in letting go. Over the years I’ve felt a greater need to control my surroundings, resulting in needless anxiety and as a result, added difficulty when traveling. This is a far cry from when I used to be a traveling pro as a teenager. So with a month long trip to Iceland in my midst, I vowed to return to the adventurer I once was, and try to let go of my expectations.

Michael and I arrived at SFO to find that the first flight of our journey would be delayed for so long that we would miss our second flight. Instead of freaking out, I decided to immediately ask the Delta Air help desk for, well, help. All of their flights in and out of JFK were delayed due to weather, but luckily they were able to put us on another flight that was supposed to have left already, but was delayed long enough for us to board. And board we did!

Once we landed at JFK it was a lengthy taxi until we reached the gate. I checked my watch (so old school, I know) and observed the minutes ticking away, reducing the time we had to get from where we were to the international terminal. Instead of convincing myself that in switching terminals we would have to go through a time-consuming security process again, I let go of those assumptions. Of course we arrived to the next gate with plenty of time, no extra security needed.

The second flight was a breeze, and we arrived in Iceland on time – with all of our stuff to boot! In choosing to not be a victim of anxious thoughts, I was able to relax and enjoy the journey, none of which I could control anyway, rather than get caught up in what ifs. And in relaxing, I was able to act on solutions to the problems that did arise rather than be overcome by them.

We celebrated our happy and safe arrival with an immediate stop at Iceland’s famous Blue Lagoon, a hot spring resort that lies between the airport and the capitol city, Reykjavík. Swimming in the resort’s hot mineral water was the perfect way to relax after all that travel.

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Later that evening I looked forward to eating a meal I had here last time: soup in a bread bowl. We showed up at Svarta Kaffi to discover that they had run out of bread! Oh no! So we went to the 2nd choice option, an awesome burger restaurant in the back of a bar. But they were closed! Oh no!

The dreaded things-outside-of-my-control had reared its ugly head, but instead of becoming upset at the changes, I went along with it. Before I knew it some random guy in the bar got up and walked us to a restaurant around the corner where we could get an even better burger, and he was totally on point. Even though I fell asleep during my meal (it was 11pm by that point), it was one of the best burgers I’ve ever had.

Manual Rewind

Sometimes in order to move forward, we need to take a step back.

It’s easier said than done though, like most rewarding decisions. Pausing whatever it is that we’re doing in order to reevaluate the situation feels like quitting. Personally, I’m at a crossroads in my life where I can move forward with the way things are, or change my environment and focus on my priorities until I’m ready to figure out where to go next. The conclusion I’ve come to is that right now is an opportune moment for me to take a leave of absence from work to answer some of those questions.

With that said, the question came up of how I would use my time away from work. Since the moment I left Iceland last year I’ve felt those black sand beaches tugging at my heart, trying to pull me back. I felt at home in those other-worldly fjords, nestled in the conversations of people speaking an ancient language, telling tales of their unique brand of folklore. Iceland was a sensory overload for me, not just because of its natural beauty or surprisingly delicious food (not everything is pickled), but because I could tell from the moment my feet touched those lava beds that my heart was open.

Perhaps most importantly I recall Iceland as a place that can help facilitate growth in the 3 areas I want to focus on:

1) Unplug

The first condition I want to address is that of being “unplugged.” In 2012 I went to Israel and never used my phone or computer, as was the case with most of my fellow Birthright group members. I felt more present than I had in years, and as a result the friendships I made over those 10 days not only persisted through the years, but strengthened. I won’t be purchasing an international plan for my phone, and if I don’t deactivate Facebook, I hope at the very least that I can spend enough time away from my computer to lessen my addiction to it. I do plan on updating Instagram with pictures since Iceland is hella pretty, so follow me if a month without hearing from me is too much to bear.

2) Create

I see this leave of absence as an opportunity to focus on some of the projects that having a full time job leaves me too tired to address. My fiancé’s mom has generously equipped me with all the watercoloring supplies a novice sketchbooker could need, but for the most part they remain untouched due to lack of time and creative energy. My goal for this leave is to draw something at least once a day, like the below postcard I sketched after my last trip to Iceland.

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I also intend to write every day, even if it’s just this blog or snippets of fiction.

3) Move

Whether it’s going on a hike to look for a good drawing subject or swimming in Iceland’s curiously popular public pools, I want to move for at least 30 minutes every day. Moving is good for the ol’ bones, so I’m going to give my bod a little bit of love. At the very least, I won’t have the excuse of San Francisco’s hills to keep me from running.

In making this choice, I recognize that I’m replicating the same first-world white-person nonsense as that Eat Pray Love book. Stuff’s not working out at home, so I’m going to run away to a country that starts with an “i” to discover 3 qualities about myself and then come back to find Julia Roberts has stolen my likeness. I’m sure I’m not the first person to experience their quarter life crisis in this way, but it’s my privilege and I’m sticking to it!

San Francisco Sex Positions (NSFW)

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If you love San Francisco as much as you love getting it on, then try out this list of sex positions modeled after some of the landmarks, neighborhoods, and bits of culture that make SF the noteworthy place that it is. Like San Francisco, these moves are perfect for people of any sexual orientation, gender identity, or partner pairing.

Whether you’re on vacation and missing home, or maybe you’re just a little oddly attracted to the city itself (we’ve all been there), you can use this list and willing partners to start exploring San Francisco from a whole new point of view.

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SF FACTS VISUALIZED AS CRYSTALS

Here’s another short story I wrote for The Bold Italic about crime data in SF reimagined as 3D-printed crystals.

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That crystal in the image above represents crimes that have happened in San Francisco in a three month period. Really bad crimes (e.g. kidnapping) are represented by larger cubes and less severe ones (e.g. possession of drugs) are smaller cubes.

Confused? San Francisco artist Scott Kildall‘s project Data Crystals is a series of 3D-printed sculptures, generated algorithmically from open datasets for the public to use. Other cities all over the country are embarking on similar open data projects, but no one is visualizing these facts quite like Scott is.

The primary question that drives Scott’s work is “What does data look like?” We’ve seen maps, we’ve seen statistics, but using data as sculptural material – like clay, plaster, or steel – helps us see what’s going on in San Francisco in an entirely new, more tangible way.

I met Scott during his time at Autodesk’s Artist in Residence program, and got to check out his innovative work up close.

This crystal above represents the locations of SF’s civic art collection, or works that the city has commissioned. You’ll notice a lot of cubes running vertically, representing art near City Hall. The tail on the left represents the art commissions at SFO.

And this crystal visualizes construction permits in San Francisco. The cube size represents the building size – large cubes = large buildings with 300+ units.

Find out more about Scott’s work via his Twitter (@kildall) and on his website.

A Field Guide to San Francisco Penises (NSFW)

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Another article for my parents to be proud of.

Late edit: The Bold Italic is no more (RIP) so I am transferring the entirety of my articles over here, for safe storage.

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It used to be that you couldn’t live in San Francisco for long without seeing a penis (or five) on the street at some point during the year. But two years ago, San Francisco fell victim to censorship on account of an attempt to take our precious cock-viewing away from us. A city supervisor, ironically named Scott Wiener, decreed that nudity would no longer fly (except at certain permitted events) in a city known for letting it all hang out.

Despite all the changes San Francisco has witnessed over the past few years, though, this city continues to proudly celebrate free expression (including a recent pro-nudity rally in the Castro protesting the law). Nothing exemplifies this spirit more than the commitment to remaining nude even in the face of the ban.

That’s why the Field Guide to San Francisco Penises was created: to help you, the schlong aficionado, figure out the where’s, when’s, and how-to’s of observing cocks in their native habitats. Whether you’re a tourist, a curious local, or a professional wang enthusiast, this field guide will help you identify the plethora of man meat on the streets of San Francisco – nudity ban be dammed.

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Go Giants?

What began as a night of celebration – The San Francisco Giants winning their 3rd World Series in 5 years, despite what stupid Joe Buck wanted – quickly devolved into a violent riot full of flashbangs and alcohol-fueled attacks on the police.

10645254_10203343379518892_3323566605882674714_nWhen the last out was called, I quickly made my way to the center of celebration from my home in the Castro, finding a vivacious crowd chanting with flags and smiles on 18th and Mission. Quickly, the smell of smoke filled the air and one could see a crowd gathering around a couch set aflame.

Firetrucks arrived to quell the flames, but the crowd would not make way. Shortly, the police arrived to disperse the crowd and allow the firemen to do their job in a safe manner. Quiet rumbles of “fuck the police” made their way through the crowd, but most people were respectful and dare I say it, sane. The emergency personnel left without issue.

Walking further South on Mission Street, towards 24th St, it was clear there were other fires on the street. At 22nd and Mission, two larger fires were raging, exploding loudly from the fireworks thrown into them. IMG_5957

The crowd here was quite a bit more aggressive, and more and more folks lacking the Giants’ trademark orange peppered the group, bandanas across their faces and spray paint in their hands.

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The police arrived in the same manner as they did near 18th street – an attempt to disperse the crowd in order to allow the firemen to work. No deal. The crowd was not allowing it. Glass bottles were being thrown left and right towards the officers, who professionally maintained their composure in a way that I certainly would not were I being attacked with bottles. Shouts of “FUCK YOU PIGS,” and “FUCK THE POLICE” dominated the air, yet the officers stood their ground. IMG_5965

It is totally understandable why officers are required to push everyone back – even nonviolent celebrators – in an effort to disperse a crowd that grows more and more dangerous. To suggest that the police played any role in the germination of violence tonight is pure ignorance. I watched it devolve, and it was the crowd that instigated every confrontation. I left once police released flash bangs, which in my opinion was quite a bit later than was necessary. The people out there were terrifying.

As a proof point of that statement, there have been two shootings already, one on 21st and Valencia and the other on 26th and Treat, as well as stabbings. And yet some people would still prefer there to be no police presence. That is insanity to me.

And it is insanity watched a populace destroy the city they wanted to celebrate. What’s the point of victory when it turns out we’re all losers?

As a bonus for making it through my diatribe, here is a photo taken of me taking a #riotselfie earlier tonight. Enjoy, and Go Giants.

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More information on what’s going on here and here and here

Why You’ll Never Catch Me With An E-reader

In the Age of Convenience, it’s no surprise that books have fallen by the wayside to make room for electronic readers like the Kindle and apps like iBooks. These products are geared towards simplifying your life by aggregating all your favorite stories into one simple handheld device in place of you having to lug a suitcase full of books through the airport or devote an entire wall to stories you haven’t perused in years.

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And I get it. Those products clearly make things easier and more convenient, especially when you read books as frequently as I do.

But despite the technological advances, I still read books, and I don’t just mean stories. I mean actual books. I mean a bunch of pieces of paper covered in ink and stuffed between either two slightly stronger pieces of paper or two pieces of cardboard, such as the stack of books pictured above that I recently brought with me on a trip to Australia.

There is no replacing the physical sensations: the weight of a leather bound volume in your hand, the scratch of each page as it slips through your fingers, and the smell that wafts out of an old novel, beckoning your forth to read the stories within, as so many others have before you. For me nothing replaces being able to build a physical library of stories that reshape and redefine you with each read, a visual monument to the tales you’ve joined over time, books acting as medals for tales you’ve traveled.

And then there’s that irreplaceable moment when you pull a book out of your bag, and that spark of a connection stirs when a stranger makes eye contact with your title, their own experience with that tale stirring inside them. I recently made a friend this way when I had the pleasure of going on a tour in Tasmania. 25 travelers were stuffed into a bus bouncing along through cold, temperate rainforests, and while holding my copy of “The Name of the Wind” by Patrick Rothfuss I feel a tap on my shoulder. I turn to see one of the other tour guests, smiling ear to ear, who let me know she how much she enjoyed that same book, how she was already reading through it a second time. And just like that, we were friends.

I’m grateful I had my book, because I know that an e-reader would have masked the identity of the story I had chosen, and that connection with my new friend would never have been made. Stories unite us, and if we mask and hide and keep secret the tales that define us, we will become islands of individuals.

Of course it’s possible to make new friends without sharing in the joy of a mutually loved book, but the speed at which a connection is made and barriers dropped over the mutual love of a shared book is unmatched.

So you can keep your apps and your e-readers, and I’ll hold onto my heavy, ungainly stack of books. Even though it seems like we’re moving towards a world where you won’t have to lift a finger, I refuse to give up my books for the sake of convenience. When the world is nothing but wearables, apps, and cyborgs, you will find me deep within the pages of a heavy, musky book, with a big smile plastered across my face.