It Really Is About The Journey
Vibes, The White Lotus and the Transformative Potential of Lingering in Limbo
This summer, my annual flee from my birthday blues took me to Ontario’s Niagara region, a valley of rolling green hills dotted with wineries and fruit orchards. Without many obvious must-see attractions, my days took on a routine of choosing a destination—a restaurant or waterfall for example—and then loosely heading in that direction. I’d resist the urge to check Google Maps, with an intention to just “explore,” but then end up frustrated if I found myself way off course hours later. If I didn’t make it to said destination, I felt disappointed; like I’d wasted my day.
Was the purpose of my trip to see some small waterfall? To eat at a modestly rated restaurant? No. So why did I feel so defeated if I didn’t get to them? I needed the structure and purpose that pursuing a destination offered, to give my days meaning; to say I’d seen something upon my return.
The most memorable experiences in travel, and in life, are rarely found at the destination. The best views on my four-day Inca Trail trek were not from Machu Picchu on the last day, they were found on unmarked spots along the trail leading to the famous site. The old adage, “it’s about the journey, not the destination” really does ring true. So often on this past trip, I overlooked moments of bliss by rushing to get somewhere. But where was I rushing to? I’ve become so forward-sighted that I’ve lost the ability to notice the richness in front of me.
If anything has revealed how goal-oriented we are, it’s the pandemic. Just look at how much we unraveled, individually and collectively, when future milestones and benchmarks were called into question; when lockdown had no clear expiration; when time dissolved. We don’t like living in a state of limbo because the in-between is foreign to us.
But there is value in liminality—the means to the end; the time in-between—and I’m hopeful we’re starting to recognize it. We see it in the trending spooky images of liminal spaces on Instagram (think, abandoned hotels and empty gas stations) and, most notably, in the rise of “vibes.” As a feeling or quality that can’t be quantified, a vibe is the anti-thesis to the destination; it’s an invitation to live in the journey by engaging the senses. As Mary Retta describes, “vibes are moments when the world stands still… they exist where time does not.”
Perhaps the clock is to blame. Without it, would I feel the need to structure my vacation days around seeing something specific? Would I always be so focused on where I’m heading? I wonder how much of life’s disappointments might be prevented if we freed ourselves from the clock; gave ourselves permission to wander, to linger in the in-between.
Many want to forget about the past year and a half, I know I’ve written it off. But the pandemic didn’t put life on pause. It was an in-between period, and we have much to gain by not dismissing it. Anthropologist Victor Turner believed these periods where one is “neither here nor there” are part of a process of “becoming.” Similarly, researcher William Bridges coined such a transitional period the “neutral zone” and believed it was here where transformation takes place. In his studies, Bridges found it was the people who gave themselves an extended period in the neutral zone, rather than rushing to the next life point, who were best able to find a meaningful new beginning following a difficult life event.
We’re fed this myth that life starts once we have the perfect job, home, partner, body, etc. But as Rainsford Stauffer writes in An Ordinary Age, “What if—by waiting until we have it all figured out—we’re late to the party?” Now, I’m not giving up on having a goal or destination entirely; the momentum of moving forward is what keeps me going. But I’m making it less of a priority; giving myself some room to breathe. Reminding myself, there’s value in being aimless, getting lost; in never making it to your destination.
The debut of women’s surfing at the Tokyo Olympics was an exciting stepping stone for the traditionally male-dominated sport. But still, the archetypal woman surfer remains young and thin, with surf gear rarely offered beyond a size XL. Plus-size surfer Elizabeth Sneed’s Curvy Surfer Girl community is pushing the industry to be more inclusive and diverse.
“Many women around the world, including myself, were conditioned to believe that our bodies needed to conform to those expectations of the traditional surfer girl rather than demand fashion that supports diversity.”
From the Neanderthals to the 18th century British Macaroni—“there are so many examples throughout every culture and time where men beautified as power,” skincare guru David Yi told me over the phone last month. His latest book, Pretty Boys, traces the history of men’s makeup to prove we all have an innate desire to be seen.
Growing up as the “lone Korean American” in a predominately white Colorado Springs, Yi says he’s always felt “othered, invisible and just not beautiful.” We talked about representation, gender-inclusive skincare and the emasculation of Asian American men.
“What we need to do as Asian American men is understand that we can’t play into this white system of what masculinity looks like because this system was never built for Asian people.”
Instead, Yi believes people should define their identities on their own terms.
“A decade ago we were like, ‘how can we fit in so our lives can become easier.’ I’ve tried that, it’s exhausting and it doesn’t work. The world needs to embrace who I am, and if they don’t, then let’s move on. I’m not going to change for the world any longer.”
🇦🇫 An Afghan woman feels she has to burn everything she’s achieved.
📸 More on what the transition means for Afghan women from photojournalist Lynsey Addario, who has covered the conflict for two decades.
✈️ Last year’s racial reckoning is bringing much needed change to the travel industry.
🏝 On travelling as a mixed person, and how the search for identity is another form of neo-colonial extraction.
“In the before times, I ran from my feelings in search of some un-locatable belonging. I allowed that longing to solidify into idealization, making ‘home’ a site outside of me. Now, I’ve learned to sit with my multiple selves, to track the surge of multiplicity rising inside me without fleeing.” - Rosa Boshier.
🏡 You don’t have to leave your city to have an adventure.
🥾 One place you might not want to adventure—the high country of Southern Australia, where hikers have been mysteriously disappearing for more than a century.
🎧 Are vibes replacing genre? What Spotify and Peloton reveal about our changing relationship to music.
“Whereas Peloton uses genre-specific playlists to position itself as an upscale platform invested in representational diversity, Spotify uses genre-less playlists to reach elite consumers who care about diversity because it reflects their own highbrow tastes.” - Robin James.
🎤 Asian female pop stars are finally in the spotlight.
“To say I am Asian American is to say I want: to be seen, to belong, to share a bond with others. It can be a statement of defiance, but it also feels almost embarrassingly hopeful.” -Ligaya Mishan.
👩🦳 Another great story from Mishan on what to do about the hint of Karen in all of us.
“It’s a white person’s fantasy that racism is just a matter of a few semi-hysterical characters, ranting on the fringes, dismissed with a flick of the screen.” - Ligaya Mishan.
Prior to the pandemic, whenever I’d report on a luxury hotel abroad, I found myself distracted by the performance of both the wealthy guests and the devoted staff, and the power dynamic between them. So naturally, I’m intrigued by The White Lotus, the first show of its kind to explore this dynamic successfully.
The tropical Succession-meets-Parasite, or as Naomi Fry aptly calls “‘Upstairs, Downstairs,’ Aloha State edition,” is driven by a flash-forward to a mysterious box labeled ‘human remains’ loaded on a plane following a Hawaii resort vacation. It’s nonlinear storytelling, like I Know This Much Is True and Sharp Objects, but like its predecessors of the same genre (The Undoing, Big Little Lies), it’s really an ensemble cast show about the psychology of white rich people, packaged as a whodunit.
Mike White is a master storyteller when it comes to exploring the gap between our aspirational and real selves, and our desire to be better people. He did it beautifully with Enlightened, Freaks & Geeks, and Beatriz At Dinner, and he’s done it again here.
It would be easy for him to side with the staff and make the rich out to be monsters, but like Succession, we go back and forth between loving and loathing the hilariously entitled characters.
“White’s signature tone is sardonic and sincere at the same time. He understands how the language of self-care and self-help can gussy up plain old self-interest. The flip side of this is that he is a generous enough writer to find the vulnerability in even his most grating characters,” writes James Poniewozik.
Lately, I’ve been intentionally not listening to podcasts or music when I’m outside. There is so much auditory richness I miss when I tune out by plugging in.