travel

A Pre-Departure Letter To My Instagram Followers

It's past three in the morning, and by the time I'm done writing, editing, and posting this, we might be pushing four. In twelve hours I'll be at YYC departures with my mom while I wait to approach security before departing. I am leaving on a ten-week solo trip around the world today. I'll be seeing four countries, and within those countries, my tired eyes will be laid upon millions of strangers. I'll have the honour of meeting a handful of them. I'll remember most of them for something - what they're wearing, their facial expressions, who they're with, the tone of their voice when they talk - but of those people, few will remember me. Even fewer will approach me or try to conjure up some memory of meeting me to keep going forward. It isn't because I'm not a memorable person, because I am. It isn't because I don’t have striking features that stand out, because I do. People won’t remember me simply because I'm one out of billions and billions of people. And as I move through each city and country, the world moves along with me, too.  It's okay if they don't notice.  Admittedly I won't remember every detail, either.

394 is where my “followers” count sits this morning.  It’s toppled past the 400 mark twice, but it never stays.  My follower count fluctuates between +/- 3 to 7 throughout the week, and the number itself isn’t relevant to me anyway.  I am not a business nor an accessory of one.  I don’t get paid to put what I write online.  The number of people who choose to subscribe to my squares and captions with the option to tap twice in order to give me a heart-shaped pick-me-up is an honourable number, which just happens to push 400 for me, which is more than 200 and far less than 1000.  I’m thankful for all of them, whoever they are.  It’s also an honour that I was chosen to be the Wanderful Global Member of the Month, which tells about 2000 women around the world who I am and where to find me.  It’s an honour that my personal website that you’re reading this very piece on, itself being the first culminating phase of an extremely personal goal of mine, has garnered an overwhelmingly positive response in the less than 3 months since I launched it.  What it’s felt like to live my life as of late has been, in and of itself, honourable.  To have my accomplishments celebrated and my ideas championed.  All I wanted to do was share my life in small, digestible pieces so that I could keep sharing with ease.  It was something I did for myself to stop a negative pattern from the past from continuing and a simultaneous attempt to start a better one.  The fact that doing so has brought me so much closer to the people I love, and vice versa - and the fact that doing so has inspired others, some of whom were the ones who inspired me - leaves me no adequate words for this gratitude.  It overflows.  I’m so, so lucky.  I get to wake up every day and think, “this is my life.”  These days, after those four words echo in my head, they amalgamate verbally into a breathy and awestruck “wow.”  I’ve had many a moment like this since the beginning of this year.  I’ve had several sleepless nights that turned into mornings, fervently chasing bright beacons through the darkness that manifested as ah-has and lost memories found.  I’m getting used to birds singing me to sleep when they think they’re waking up my neighbourhood, and to shielding my eyes from the brightness of a preliminary sunrise, as I roll to my right side, my back to the window, feeling slightly guilty to be ignoring a brilliant blue sky yet reassured it will still be there when I wake up.  At first I thought I was crazy.  Then I realized that this is what being alive feels like in its purest, rawest form.

I am now following about 200 fewer accounts than I was about thirty minutes ago.  If you’re famous, I unfollowed you.   If you are a business, or you’re trying to sell me something, including - a lifestyle. an ideology. a space. suggestions for my next tattoo - I unfollowed you.  That means that I unfollowed every single restaurant, clothing store, spa, studio, Calgary- or Toronto-specific photographer, every “collective” or “organization” with YYC in its name, including charities.  The only accounts that remain in my following list are people I’ve actually met, or have shared real-time exchanges with.  The exceptions to this are few and far between.  Amanda Lindhout remains because for two years following my sexual assault in 2012, I kept her Avenue Magazine interview pinned up on a bulletin board as proof that recovery and resilience from the unthinkable is still possible.  I’ve kept every tattoo artist that’s inked me, translating both the beauty and the devastation that my eyes have seen and my heart has felt into something I can keep forever.  Getting tattooed is the only other act besides traveling that I’ve experienced that makes me not only feel alive, but that makes me want to live forever.  I also kept accounts made for dogs, and @cheesecurlsofinstagram.  Because nothing makes me happier than the smiling face of a fur-baby and to this day, I find Cheetos shaped like statues fascinating and fucking hilarious.  I kept other travel bloggers.  I hit delete and changed my mind after for a few, because some are clearly sponsored and that falls under selling me a lifestyle.  But I know where the love for [international] travel and the desire to share the power in those experience comes from.  I kept Humans of New York because it moves me to tears on a regular basis and I kept the quote-factories that remind me of more important things.  Like how taking care of my body is more important than making it look good on camera.  Like how self-care is essential to caring for anyone else.  Like how anything can be survived for ten seconds at a time, and sometimes a deep breath can give you a better clean than a hot shower.  In short, I took what I needed.  I left the rest.

Some of the accounts I unfollowed belong to people who I’ve known personally for many years.  I have had genuine interactions with many of you and you are all good-hearted people that inspire me with your ability to breathe life into your passions for a living.  The next ten weeks without you in my digital life will be temporary for most of you.  I did not keep a list of who I unfollowed.  I simply went backwards through my following list, purged the necessary evils, and then scrolled down and did it again.  I can’t begin to describe how necessary this was for me to do and how freeing it felt to do it.  Systematically, I axed 90% of my absolute favourite accounts.  I love following your lives.  Celebrating your successes.  Keeping up with your ups and downs like I know you, like I can truly relate - two taps, and one little white heart at a time.  I don’t know who said it first, but social media and mindfulness don’t exactly line up.  You can’t “be here, now” when your ‘now’ is inundated with the ‘now’s of everyone else, often embellished or at times restrained in order to appear more desirable than ‘now’s that have or will exist, in their own lives, but consequently compared to yours, too.  Sometimes we project on purpose for ourselves and end up projecting on others.  Social media is the epidemic of the new age.  We’re all infected.  I’ll be the first to admit I am, too, and this purge of sorts is something I should have done seven months ago before I went to Europe with my ex for three weeks.  I’m told we went to seven countries but via my phone screen, I never left my house.  The state of our relationship didn’t help, causing me to seek distraction often, but just like being at home, I reposted current events, kept on top of local sales, and participated in mindless emoji banter from the other side of the world.  I cannot afford to be distracted now.  This trip will be ten weeks of pivotal moments, change, and revelation.  I know that not because I can feel it, but because people I don’t even know can feel it.  It’s in the way everything I’ve ever done has led me to this moment in time, preparing me to take the leap of faith, and to just go.  Against the construct of social media that brings people together despite distance, despite time zones, and despite differences, I have one goal: to get lost.  Inside myself.  Inside my mind.  Inside the world.

Of all the social media platforms, I use Instagram the most frequently.  I currently have two accounts, though previously I often had three on the go at a time.  The reason Instagram is such a success and why using it is so addictive is rather simple: the brain processes images faster than plain text.  You see an image that takes up about half your screen for less than half a second and you have remembered it somehow.  It’s made an impression on you and it’s making you feel a certain way or compelling you to behave or react in response to it.  Images are incredibly powerful.  I am not bringing a camera on this trip - because the one on my phone does the job.  I am not unplugging.  Aside from my phone, I’m packing a laptop, a selfie stick, a battery charger, and a purse that I may or may not use filled with corresponding cords.  And I own a blog.  I will be sharing my travels through writing, images, and video, and I will do so over all my active social media channels.  Turning it off isn’t happening.  But the images I need to focus on will be visible outside of my screen.  What I capture will begin to tell a story but it won’t replace profound felt senses and the weight of living purposefully.  I will never be able to show you those things or hand them to you and let you feel them.  I will only be able to interpret what I remember.  And it isn’t so much for the 40 or 400 or potentially 40,000 people around the world who want to eat it all up.  It’s so that I never lose these memories in the future.  So that I don’t have to depend on 4am ah-ha moments to give me back the pieces of my life that I used to have.

So hit the button if you have to.  You’re an intelligent human being, even if you happen to be the living, breathing person who’s responsible for selling me a lifestyle.  But if you decide to stay, and you choose to accompany me on my journey from wherever in the world you are, know this.  That colourful square that you’re tapping on twice is not an embellishment, nor a curtailment.  What you will see me post here over the next ten weeks will be real life.  My real life.  My real life will not always look like this, and the fact that it will be unbelievably beautiful, shocking, extravagant, and nonsensical at times will not be so grand as a projection made on you.  My journey is full of colour right now.  There were times when I saw no colour.  There were times when I saw no light.  With my eyes open, I will not hide away in plain sight, capturing all the beauty there is to be seen in this world and suppressing it for the hours I spend under hostel blankets, scrolling through.  I have no intention of lowering my profile, despite lowering the persuasive impact of my feed.  Social media is not the enemy.  It’s simply the way our society has evolved.  We can’t go back in time to the decades not so long ago where we would stay in our own heads much easier.  We just need to walk ahead of the machine.  The next time I fall asleep in this bed, I might be ready to let hipster brands and young entrepreneurs sell me t-shirts in the comfort of my own private space again.  But if I don’t, you’ll know why.

It’s 4:40 and I hear birds.  I used to think I was crazy.  And I am.  But being alive when you’re crazy is so much more honourable than breathing with nothing to feel.  Something to think about.  And the next time you read another post like this, I’ll be saying hello from the other side. :)