Archive for the 'Punk' Category



Sola: A Fetal Manifesto and Healing Tattoo

My swollen arm, looking more like my calf

Swollen and bruised and freshly tattooed, I’ve decided that there’s more to this “lonely girl” thing than a catchy title and purchasable domain name. It’s got to do with an approach towards travel, and maybe even an approach towards life, that’s developing inside me, embryonically. And at the center, the tiny heart between the budding limbs, is solitude, going at it sola.

There’s plenty of articles and blogs out there lauding the benefits of solo travel. Solo Friendly and Solo Traveler are devoted entirely to solo travel, with service-oriented tips and how-tos, while Women on the Road focuses exclusively on encouraging women to backpack. Independent-traveler sites BootsnAll and Matador have featured articles discussing pros and cons, and urging readers to take the solo plunge. The benefits promoted are fairly obvious—the freedom to do what you want when you want—as are the chief drawbacks discussed: safety and loneliness. Nearly every article and site on solo travel I’ve encountered has urged all travelers to go at it alone at least once.

I could write something similar, talk about how traveling solo forces me to be more social, to interact more with my surroundings; how it teaches me self-reliance and thus self-confidence; how I relish in the freedom of it; how none of my friends that can afford to travel are able to take the time off to accompany me anyway. But underneath and inside all those benefits is something harder to explain but ultimately more appealing, a kind of central gravity that all the other pluses of solo traveling orbit around: solitude.

It’s both positive and negative, both the exalted glory of Rilke and the insanity-inducing agony of solitary confinement. It’s a gnarled old wizard dude with a staff and a lantern, setting out into the craggy blue of the Hermit tarot card, now etched into the tender flesh on the inside of my arm, swollen amid the lymph nodes and brachial veins that hold me together.

On my last trip, I met many incredulous, widened eyes that asked, “You’re alone?” Then, declaratively, both impressed and horrified, “I could never do that”—in the way I’d respond to someone who’d climbed Mount Everest: good-for-you, thanks-but-no-thanks. People told me I was brave, fool-hardy, a feminist.

The truth is, I never really considered the fact that I was traveling alone; it rarely factors into my trip-planning, doesn’t strike me as odd or especially intrepid. It is what it is. Of course I’ll be alone. Who else am I gonna drag off around the planet?

But things like that, core characteristics and fundamental truths, rarely strike us as odd. Or even occur to us at all. They’re so central to who we are and how we live in the world that we aren’t aware of them. They strike us suddenly, in strange moments of lucidity—the porcelain-clutching “moment of clarity” in which one finally realizes she’s an alcoholic, or my mom’s recent epiphany that “we were the crazy white family in the neighborhood.” Or when someone else points it out to us, in the dingy back of dingy taxi, when you tell them you’re traveling alone.

For me, it goes back to my travel roots, which aren’t travel roots at all. It’s where I first learned to be alone in the world—the raggedy-ass East Bay buses. During my hour-and-a-half commute home from a far-away high school, I learned all the things international solo travel would later confirm and deepen—self-reliance, self-confidence, how to handle dicey situations and dodgy characters. It was especially important as a female. Honing my street smarts and learning how to carry myself and not take shit have been invaluable. And not something not every girl learns. The lessons taught on the hard plastic of AC Transit buses equipped me to travel sola everywhere from Colombia to Morocco.

But there’s something more inside that, something deeper and more fundamental than knowing how to watch your back and tell someone off with your eyes. More than even the confidence of knowing I’ll be able to figure out and make it through whatever crazy-ass situation I end up in. What is comes down to is a kind of comfort and security in who I am, and the way in which I never feel more like myself, the who-I-am underneath whatever’s happening in my life at the time, than when I’m alone, out in the world. It’s not the same sitting here in my bedroom typing; it’s gotta be out there, walking the streets and riding the buses of this world.

I think everyone should travel solo once in the same way I think everyone should be forced to wait tables once: it’d be nice, but not gonna happen. I don’t think solo travel is for everyone, but it’s become a defining part of how I experience the world, how I exist in it. I simultaneously delve deeper into myself (“the teacher within,” as they say in yoga) and my surroundings. I experience the world from a more intuitive, back-of-the-brain place, where I’m okay with it not making sense, where I find a way to somehow swim through the chaos and insanity and all-too-often heartbreaking cruelty of it, and tap, however lightly, on the beautiful something at the center of it all. I’m more able to trust that I’ve got a place somewhere amid it all.

During my four-hour detainment by the Venezuelan police a few years back, the female officer kept looking at my passport, me and back again, and asking, “Y estas sola?” She couldn’t believe I’d venture off in some other country by myself. However much of an evil, child-abusing American I might have been (it’s a long story), my being sola amazed her. And may have had something to do with me weaseling out of the situation.

I suppose it would have been more accurate to get a feminized Hermit card tattooed, but the beard was too Zeppelin-y to forfeit. And I feel cheesy having an uber-symbolic tattoo, to finally have some kind of answer for the middle-aged customers that look up over their reading glasses at me and ask what my tattoos mean. Most likely, I shrug and continue to say, “I just thought they looked cool.” At least until this approach, this fetal manifesto, is a little more gestated.

Thanks for Nothing / Everything

I celebrated this Thanksgiving at two long-standing Oakland events: Thanks for Nothing, the legendary potluck of punk debauchery, and my family’s annual Day-After-Thanksgiving party, legendary in its own right. Both events were a little less epic this year, with an intimacy that reminded me of what’s good about Thanksgiving and about family—as untraditional as they may come.

Anyone in the East Bay who’s ever donned liberty spikes and a studded anything has gone to Thanks for Nothing. And possibly passed out at it. Now in its 18th year, the Thanksgiving potluck is an Oakland punk tradition, a place for all the family-less kids in black to come together, at picnic tables under jimmied lights, and create their own family.

Of course, by “kids” I mean “punks” and not kids at all, anymore. These are the die-hards, wearing smile wrinkles and old band shirts—the folks that, once the scene-ness melts away, once all the other folks have grown out of what was just a phase, are still there, purely for the love of it. Punk may be mostly dead, but it’s not all-the-way dead; it just lives in the hearts of a small handful. And, on Thanksgiving, in an East Oakland backyard.

Thanks for Nothing has taken on a larger-than-life status; the woman that puts in on is convinced that even if she were out of town one year, people would still show up. They didn’t pump it too much this year—no flyers or MySpace posts, just word-of-mouth—and the result was a smaller, friendlier crowd, that was also a bit tamer. The event historically gets increasingly raucous as the evening progresses; as the steam from the turkey table cools and the toddlers konk out, staggering, slurring sing-alongs ensue (among other things). This year, the pot food table was nearly empty and the jar of homemade Bailey’s went fast, but the Jell-O shots were plentiful, tossed around in a haphazard game of catch that somehow didn’t end in neon goo being splattered across someone’s head.

Despite the uber-punk name, this year’s Thanks for Nothing felt more about community than anything else. Family, as most travelers know, isn’t really about blood lines; it’s got little to do with genes or ethnicity or even, as we learn on the road, nationality. Family’s about people that share similar values and perspectives coming together and sharing, growing together. (And at Thanks for Nothing, singing along to Cock Sparrer together.) It sounds more one-love than punk, more Berkeley than Oakland, but sometimes it takes unexpected manifestations to drive a point home.

But most of my “family” growing up wasn’t about blood lines—a lot of Californians’ aren’t. My parents moved my toddler brother and my infant self to California with only one blood relative within 2,000 miles. Once my uncle passed away, it was really just the four of us for holidays. Plus an ever-growing band of fellow Bay Area orphans. It seemed that my dad’s first couple of years in the fire department, he kept having to work Thanksgiving (turkey at the fire house!). So we started having all our family friends over the day after, when we’d sit back and talk and laugh and eat for hours. We invited everyone, and it became a kind of neighborhood affair. A tradition was born, and yesterday, carried into its 22nd year.

Like Thanks for Nothing, we don’t really need to invite people anymore; everyone just knows to show up. Charles deep-fries two turkeys in the driveway, Karen and Jamal make the marshmellow sweet potatoes, Nhu and Jacobo bring the bread pudding, my brother makes the famous firehouse Caesar (I used to make the vegan entree, but those days are long gone…). My parents’ small bungalow overflows; there’s an incessant wait for the one bathroom and a warm glow from the fireplace. It’s consistently one of my favorite days of the year.

The event was smaller this year, just under 60 people, and I had a couple bittersweet moments, missing people who used to come—people who’ve moved, who we’ve lost touch with, but mostly people who’ve passed away. But at the same time, there were folks there that I’ve grown up with, that I’ve known my whole life, that are the aunts and uncles and cousins I otherwise wouldn’t have really had, so many miles and states away.

Family is one of the most important things to me, as traditional or untraditional as mine may be regarded. Of course, much has been written about the “demise” of the American family, and holidays like Thanksgiving hold a particular weight for those from untraditional or un-intact families. But I’d argue that the American family isn’t crumbling, just reshaping; seeing as though this guy got a book deal out of the concept, I don’t think I’m alone. And as travelers know, the traditions of a family are some of the best glimpses you’ll get into a culture—whether it’s making stuffing with your play-cousin, or pounding Jell-O shots with punks. It may not be a Norman Rockwell painting, but it’s as close as some of us get.


Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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