Summer Nights, New York | 2

Sunday, June 22

Tonight was our dance party in your apartment. The iPhone was our disco light, the iPad our DJ. The four of us with our unrhythmic swaying and pumping and twirling. It didn’t matter though, we were dancing in the dark with our eyes closed. 

Our four-person dance party. I think you were dancing because you were drunk. Maybe you were dancing because it felt better than not moving at all. I couldn’t really tell. You? You never dance. I didn’t even think you were capable, much less wanted to. Me? I dance every day. I was dancing because I was shaking off all of my demons of the day.

The only way to get rid of them at the end of the night is to make it so hard for them to cling on. Hour after hour their claws dig in deeper, making their home on my shoulders. By the end of the night, my shoulders are so heavy with their weight, because they are not light creatures, I need to dance them out with all my might. I think you could have been doing the same. You were dancing with the same determination and vigor.

All four of us moved our feet and swayed our arms, bumping into one another. The music was fast, then slow, then so fast we could barely catch up. Years of friendship tangled in a sea of arms and legs moving together. Three childhood friends and me. I just met you a couple of years ago, but because I grew up in the same neighborhood, too, I was welcomed all the same. I shared the same boredom only those who grew up in suburban homes but dreamt of city streets knew.

And so we kept moving. We were no longer confined to strip malls or church on Sundays or high school proms. We shook those demons off. The ones that tied us down to a past that’s no longer relevant.

When we tired of dancing, we felt energized to stand. I could stand tall, then, because my shoulders were bare, though they were raw with claw marks. Doesn’t matter, though, let the blood run and the wound sting. 

The moment we stopped, the apartment became too small. On the fire escape, we shared stories and confessions as only cramped spaces designed for emergency situations could elicit. We talked of meaningless sex, but I don’t really think it’s ever meaningless, but maybe that’s a conversation for another night. We talked of past relationships, because what else do you talk about that’s of meaning? Relationships hurt and they leave you burdened by their existence and extinction. They’re the types of demons that never go away; they only become more kind.  

Tonight was the night of many confessions, whether we meant for it to be or not. The others went back inside and it was just us two. I could barely shake off my demons, I couldn’t handle yours, too. Not right now. We stood there together, still, and swallowed the silence until our bodies could move again. The demons took advantage of our hesitation and perched again on our shoulders, their weight somehow exponential to what it was before. They dragged again, heavy once again. 

The weight didn’t matter though, because tonight, this night, we danced!

[Interlude] I Found Magic in Iceland, Part 2

Why the hell was I in Iceland?

I asked myself the same question. Over and over again. Every decision you make steers the course of your life in a different direction, and then you reflect back on those pivot points.

Where are they?

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I’ve been following The Case for Wanderlust for quite some time now, mostly through Facebook. I can’t really remember why we became friends on FB. I think we had met briefly once so many years ago, but I guess on social media these days, everyone you meet is your friend?

In either case, she is my friend on Facebook, and she is a solo female traveler. I follow her travels, photos, and writings, making the case for wanderlust, and I often think to myself, she doesn’t have to convince me, I already believe in this.

So if I believe in wanderlust, what am I doing here, sedentary? I was having one of those moments when I was yearning to travel again, and although those moments translate into almost a state of constant being, this moment of yearning was particularly strong when she posted that she will be going to Iceland. She’s inviting people along to travel with her for the first time through GUST, a platform she’s building.

GUST “believes in the magic of people experiencing something together, and [she] hopes GUST conveys that with every adventure.” Through GUST, you host an adventure and others can come along. It essentially is a way for people to pay to travel with you, and Iceland will be the first adventure.

I felt bold and immediately messaged her, she responded within minutes saying, “Ai! I’ve been hoping to hear from you. Let’s talk.” Pivot.

So we talked. We shared our stories, and why it is we yearn to travel so much. I think whenever you meet a fellow wanderer, a person whose soul calls her to explore and adventure simply to do so, there’s an unstated cosmic connection.

I told her, “My soul is calling me to go. This felt right.” She responded, “This might be the universe answering your call.”

Who talks like that? We do, because we believe in it.

Before our Skype call ended, I had booked my flight. This was a Monday in September.
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I tabled the trip, and didn’t think about it until October 31, the day of the departure flight. In less than two months, school, work, and life wore me down more than I let myself process. Emotionally and spiritually drained, I arrive to go an adventure with 4 other strangers. We all agreed to go experience something together, for whatever reason. Each of us has her reason.

What was mine?

The next day, I happened to turn 27. Usually, after something happens or the years go by, you reflect back and think, that was a turning point, that year was really important, or that was the moment my life changed. It’s always after the fact, hindsight. Can I do it before? Can I call it? This will be the year. Pivot.

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Whenever I go on a trip, I’ve recognized a pattern in which the trip is a transformational experience for someone. Sure, everyone gains something from every trip, but for someone, it’s a point in which he or she undresses the burden of the past, and without those heavy layers, the person can lightly step into the future. On this trip, this was it for J. On Sunday, the last day, in the tight confines of a jeep, with just us five girls and our tour guide, Birkir, J told us her story.

There’s an evolution in every trip where a group of strangers arrive at the same place and time to go somewhere, together. Whether the trip is one day or two weeks, at a steady pace or accelerated, the process of evolution from unattached strangers to connected spirits is always the same. That moment of transformation happens at a specific point when we as guarded individuals open that door slightly ajar and invite someone else in, independent of the location or activity of which initially attracted the strangers together. That particular day, we had ventured together through the enchanting, rolling landscapes of Iceland, and we’d seen it all. Nature at her most exquisite. Really, this is one of her masterpieces, and all the critiques agree. But for us, in the close quarters of the Super Jeep, with hours of driving left to go, this was our moment of transformation.

And it was for J. It takes an incredible amount of bravery to be vulnerable. She was brave because she needed to be.  The power of fucking vulnerability. Don’t underestimate it.

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As for me, my heart was still hard and my self still guarded. Why is nothing happening?

I was ready to be broken, but this wouldn’t be my trip.

On the last day, we all said our goodbyes, which are always hard when, not a day before, you just found your rhythm and connection as a we, and all of a sudden life will revert back to an I again.

Everyone left and I had a few hours before my departure, so I strolled the city. A couple of record shops, an Icelandic wool shop. About an hour before I was to leave for the airport, I walk into the Hallgrímskirkja Church, one of the sights to visit in Reykjavik because you can ascend the tower and view the entire cityscape, mountains and sea and all. I profess to be more spiritual than religious, but being in religious monuments evokes a certain stillness and reverence that is unique to its space.

This space calls you to its pews and sit. So I close my eyes, and ask, “Why am I here?” Within an instant, it’s as if all the seemingly disparate events, conferences, classes, projects, people, and paths over the course of my short 26 years synthesized for a moment of clarity. I had an idea. Ai, this is who you want to be, so this is what you are to do, and this is how you’re going to do it. Pivot.

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And this is why I’m here: to make the transition from the exploration phase of my life into the building phase. Of course, I will always be exploring, but now I need to build. Ái, who you want to be is a wanderer, a storyteller, and a developer. Ái, so then you will be location independent and thus you need to be your own entrepreneur. Ái, then, in order to accomplish that, you will build a platform capitalizing on the growing community of travelers + wanderers who are already master storytellers through their photos, writings, designs, to build a story and narrative for international non-profits or causes that need help developing, crafting, and disseminating their story.

First answer the question of who you want to be, and the answer to what you will do will come shortly thereafter.

Sometimes, transformations aren’t grand, visceral experiences. Sometimes, they’re discreet and stealthy. One or the other, or somewhere in between, that moment of clarity always shakes you.

I came to Iceland with no expectations, and left with an answer, so thank you, Iceland, for your majesty and beauty. But now, back in New York City in November, moving toward this newly self-titled phase, the hard part begins.