The Shores of Infinite: Carl Sagan, David Bowie, and Gaining Perspective Through Humanitarian Work and Art

In eastern Indonesia, there is a small island seldom visited and rarely talked about, drowned in the popularity of Bali and Lombok, known as Sumba. Here, the white sands on a pristine beach with an endless horizon, simple life under a hot sun, and kind, welcoming locals who offer food to all travelers are what remain in my memories more than the poverty I was going to supposedly document and help alleviate for my work. It is standing under the sun on those white sands and staring at the sea that I may be on the same planet, but it’s another world, and I live in more places than one, from the industrial First World to the Third World, to the world of the arts. And then I realize, this is but one world amongst many in the universe.

One year ago, this blog was started with the intent to chronicle my journey to volunteer and make a difference, making video documentaries and eventually starting and running my own NGO for producing more videos. Over time, it changed to reflect my efforts and offered advice from my research to other aspiring people, and chronicling my attempts to make a documentary. In one year, it changed constantly, and eventually, as it is now, it is now a blog chronicling and branding me, my work, and my passion to travel and tell stories. Stories, of the people I encounter and places I go to, and as it all happens, my own, for I am affected by them just as much as I make my efforts to be a part of their story, through volunteering, art, and friendship. I am no longer a graduate student, and this blog has been one that has allowed me to learn the most important lesson: to go out and do it.

Since 18 August, I have been in Southeast Asia, moving from California to Hong Kong to Singapore to Jakarta, Indonesia, where I am now based and interning. It is here that I have discovered and decided on the life I want: to continue making a difference through my humanitarian work around the world while offering my skills in photography, filming and video editing,  writing, and my adaptability to all environments. After hours, I will be using those same skills to follow the words of Neil Gaiman: “make good art” by writing my novels, creating photography prints and books, and my films. Humanitarian by trade, artist by craft.

As I stood on the white sands, walked through the strange forest, listened to the different languages, feasted on local cuisines, I discovered another corner of the strange and wonderful world I live in. Gazing into the horizon on a peaceful shore, no raging waves, no rubbish and debris, not another soul in sight, the ten years of life in America that were affecting my self-identity suddenly disappeared. I was in a world where the credit system, student loans, Facebook shares and Twitter rage updates suddenly felt like they don’t tangibly exist, that they are a made up world.

I realized they are, because the virtual world is only one of many we inhabit, and that world is one that has no chance to complicate relationships between human beings, for we are not our friends list, our WordPress blogs, our YouTube hits and likes counter, LinkedIn professional page, Twitter followers, or Pandora playlist. Likewise, I am not the sum of my student loans, material possessions, university degrees, or sexual partners. In that moment, I was only another speck of dust in the cosmos, my sentience or lack of it arbitrary.

It’s moments like this where I am inspired to continue traveling and being inspired, that optimism and idealism remaining in spite of the difficulties I have encountered through most of my life. This inspiration I share through my art and my contributions to humanitarian causes; my love for travel and science fiction become an amalgamation of inspiration and perception: the strange and alien places I go to are like traveling to different worlds, and every culture exists in a different timezone that may as well be a timeline, from New York Minutes crammed with event upon event upon event in the lives of thousands of its denizens; Sumbanese days that bleed into one another for nothing changes under the scorching sun on the dry earth and isolation from much of the Indonesian archipelago, not to mention world.  I experience time and space travel by simply exploring this world, and that is nothing but art. Art, which translates to the three novels and short stories I am writing now, when not filming or photographing.

My internship ends soon, and I will not be returning to graduate school. I have only $1000 to my name and no flight to America, no place to return to there. But I have defined who I am and what I want to do, through my art and my humanitarian aid. I’m a lone wolf, and like the gunslinger of the Old West, the wandering masterless samurai (ronin) of feudal Japan, the former Vietnam vet-turned mercenary in Southeast Asia and Dan Eldon the photojournalist in Somalia, I live by my code and ideals, and am defined by my individuality, standing outside of it all, offering my services and specializing the use of my tool, the camera. And like Dan Eldon, I am not only someone who wields the tool that impacts lives like the guns and swords in my own story, but I am a storyteller too, for that is the weapon that brings more change than slaying dragons and bandits. This is a concept for one of the three novels I am writing now in my idle moments. It is also the only life I have known as a vagabond, a Third Culture Kid, a global nomad, a wanderer, a life I refuse to abandon and settle into.

I could be in Cambodia, Nepal, Vietnam, Thailand, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, or India next. I am in the process of figuring out where I will go. My goals for the next phase in my life is to continue refining my expertise with the camera and writing, adding more skills to make my contribution to any cause valuable, from proposal and grant writing to monitoring and evaluation; to write my stories and sell my pictures and video editing work; and to become a scuba dive master, for that is a skill around the world doing something I love.

Wherever I go from here, the price of freedom is high. There is a lot of uncertainty, but I will make my way. I will continue to share my pictures and videos, and my travels will be posted here, while my thoughts and reflections in my personal blog. What will I do with it? Like David Bowie in his song Starman which I explore below, this knowledge and these stories stand outside of the many worlds and imaginations of the different people in this world, but art bridges that gap. So I leave you with art, my job capturing the feeling in words and the images you see before you, while showing you the art that exists in this world. There is so much beauty in the world it is hard to believe I exist here, and I do, alongside of everyone and everything else.

A traditional Sumbanese house. It may just as well be from a thousand years in the past, or the dwelling of aliens on another world.

Simple sights like this that seem so alien, strange, and wonderful, but are the beauty of art in life, and it’s here in the same world we live in.

When I saw these, I had never seen anything like them before. Simplicity in nature, complications of the imagination.

 

Pictures tell stories, but how many stories can you find in this picture? Of a simple girl enjoying a day in Sumba? The poverty and underdevelopment of this island? The view of existence from the shores of infinite under a blue sky? They are all just perspectives.

Sigur Ros’ melodic song that reminds me of the emotional journey I make through the world. The world is a beautiful place, including its inhabitants. Seeing the landscapes in my mind as I hear this song and mixing them with the pictures I take, I am the alien, the Starman wandering through this world, and I stand outside it.

David Bowie’s Starman: singing of a man from another place whose knowledge and experience are so radically different that it would blow the minds of everyone who may not be ready to change their paradigms.

The Portuguese language cover, an idea adapted and transcending culture and linguistics, the power of art.

Vangelis’s theme to Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, an uplifting piece that captures the journey of the cosmos that we sentient beings are but mere fragments of the moment in time and a small part of the cosmos.

Another piece by Vangelis from Cosmos, this captures the birth of the universe in its choir.

The journey of existence, transcending time, space, and ego by liberating us from suffering, attachment, and fear, this is a powerful prayer by a Nepalese Buddhist nun whose voice is beautiful and haunting. In my most difficult moments, I use this prayer and remember we are all on the same journey, told in different stories and perspectives, just drops of water in the ocean. I remember I’m part of the cosmos, no matter how hard my life may seem, but I also remember that the cosmos is also part of something greater.

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One response to “The Shores of Infinite: Carl Sagan, David Bowie, and Gaining Perspective Through Humanitarian Work and Art

  1. Pingback: The Shores of Infinite: Carl Sagan, David Bowie, and Gaining Perspective Through Humanitarian Work and Art | Home Far Away From Home

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