Hi I'm Ryan Oakley
And these are the stories of strangers I've met in Nelson, British Columbia
"I started sewing when I was 12. As I grew up I just kinda stopped. When my sister died nine years ago, I was depressed for a whole year after. It was really hard. Then I started to sew again. And the colours and creativity just bursted out of me. I attribute what I am able to make to my sister and her passing. Sewing healed me and now I get to share it with others."
"May I take your photo?"
"Maybe. What's it for?"
"I run a site called Humans of Nelson."
"And what if I'm not human?"
"I'll bend the rules, this one time."
"OK. I'll stand here so you can get that awesome building in the background."
"I've seen a lot of communities ruined by progress."
"What's the answer?"
"I don't know. But I think it has to start with affordable housing."
"Someone from work dropped him off at my door. The guy didn't want him, and told me to drop him off at the SPCA if I didn't want him. I thought the dog was ugly at first, with his goggly eyes and crooked tail. And he was a little shit. He crapped on my bed!"
"So why did you keep him?'
"He makes me laugh everyday. I've had him for five years now. He's awesome."
We talked for nearly an hour. He told me many things, but I wrote down nothing. There was just no pause that would allow it. Plus, I wouldn't have wanted the difficult task of deciding which story to write - and which ones to leave out.
"What'd ya get for xmas?"
Me: "How long have you two been homeless?"
Left: "We're not homeless! We're travellers. We both left when we were 15 years old."
Me: "What's been one of your best moments since you left?"
Right: "When we got close enough to the mountains that I knew we were just about to make our new home in the wilderness. I just became overwhelmed with joy. I rolled down the window and yelled 'I'M FUCKING FREE!'"
Me: "What kinds of reactions do you get from other people - being so young and by yourselves, not knowing what tomorrow will bring."
Left: "We made a choice to live this lifestyle. So many people we meet and see in the cities are slaves. Slaves to their jobs, slaves to their debt, slaves to their stuff. We are free of all that. People say they are inspired by us, that they wish they could have what we have."
Right: "And we know some people pity us or look down on us. But that's silly. The travelling community is pretty big - and most of us are good people living life this way by choice. Unfortunately there are bad travellers out there too - and they give our lifestyle a bad name."
Me: "What's the worst part about travelling."
Left: "It was freezing last night."
Me: "Are you guys a couple?"
Looking at each other they both say "Umm..."
Me: "Opps. Sorry. Didn't mean to put you on the spot like that."
Her: "We just met at the Hostel. We're both visiting."
Him: "But I'm moving here."
Her: "Me too."
"I live in Argenta. I'm in town to do some shopping...and to dance."
"Dance? What kind of dancing do you like to do?"
"Free-style. I don't like being told how to dance or what to dance. With free-style I get to just move to the music any way my body feels like it. It's amazing. You should try it!"
"Techno music is the artificial drum.
The electric lights and lasers, the artificial fires.
The drugs, the artificial sacred medicine.
And sex without intimacy is artificial love, artificial true love."
"What does music mean to you?"
"Music is my meditation. My friend says that music is not entertainment, it's inner-attainment. "
"I've been living in this tent for the last 5 months. I'm just fixing the zipper - doing a bit of spring cleaning of my home, I suppose."
"What was it like to live outdoors during the winter?"
"I've lived in apartments and I always got sick. So living outdoors is where I want to be. But when it's -26 degrees and the night is just getting started and I'm cold - that's when the fears come up. As I lie awake, the cold and the fear become like a meditation. It's just me and my breath. But you know what? I always got through my fears and woke up - opening my tent to the light of day - satisfied and happy. I've learned self-mastery by going into the dark of night alone. After these 5 months, I have better tolerance of isolation."
"Thanks for talking with me."
"No. Thank you. By saying some of this out loud to you I've just come to realize these things that I've recently gone through. So thank you for listening."
"If you could give a piece of advice to a large audience, what would it be?"
"Oh, I don't know - keep breathing."
"OK. Anything else?"
"Learn to release anything in your life that doesn't serve you. If you can do that, you remove your own victimhood out of the situation. My view on life is that everything we encounter is a reflection of everything that we are. So with that, we should be grateful of anything that happens - good and bad. Because either way, that's what's teaching us about ourselves. We just need to pay attention. And keep breathing."
"I'm having a tough time figuring out how I'm going to go from school - where all I'm doing is sitting down, sitting still, and doing what I'm told - to becoming an adult where I know I'll need to take full control of my life."
"So you're scared of that transition?"
"No. I'm excited."
"I'm big into symbols and stuff. I'm wearing things that mean something to me. Things in my hair, my bracelets - lots of them have stories and memories they're attached to. It's like I'm wearing what most people put in their diary. It's all here - a part of me. I can look at something and not only remember what happened, why I have it, but also all the emotions that go with it too."
"Can you show me something that has a story attached to it?"
"This bracelet here, my first boyfriend gave to me. And this one I made - it's for my first love. I made one for him too. It used to have a bead on it - but it fell off right when I got over our relationship. I love the coincidence and serendipity of that."
"I'm traveling across the country and so far I've met some incredible people. This one man took me and my friend into his home in the Okanagan. It was a beautiful place. I was surprised when he gave us a knife and told us to take anything we wanted from the garden. He seemed a bit depressed and lonely - so we would cook him dinner. On his birthday we made him a feast. That night he said, 'You have showed me love'. I later found out he entered rehab. I hope he's doing ok."
"You can't tell, but I'm an amputee. (The photo was taken after our conversation). I had an accident. I fell and busted my leg really good. I had a lot of surgeries and it just wasn't getting any better. I was in a lot of pain and I couldn't really do anything - which sucked cause I'm an active guy. So I was thinking about having it amputated. I was thinking about it for 9 months and I talked to a few amputees to help me figure out what life would be like if I made that very big decision. Cause even though I was in a lot of pain and wasn't getting any better - the idea of only having one leg was a lot to wrap my mind around. I had my doubts. And so this one amputee I talked to was telling me it would be a big mistake and that I should continue to fight and keep my leg. In the end, I didn't take his advice. I chose to lose my leg - and it was a great choice. I can now do so much. I longboard, I'm active, and I have a great life ahead of me."
"What is one of your happiest moments?"
"When I got 100% on my final art project. IT was a huge notebook where I wrote about my creative process. The teacher had told the class that no one would get an 'A'. When he returned my notebook, he had written a thank you note inside and told me to get back in touch with him when I was published."
"There is one thing I want to say. And I'll try to explain it to you. If you mix the words Heaven and Earth, you get the word Heart. In order to get Heaven on Earth in places like we have here in Nelson and on Salt Spring Island, which is where I live, you need to have Heart. Oh - and there is another "ea" word fits in there too - Dream."
I wasn't exactly sure what she meant by "mix the words" until she pulled out some of her art work from her bag and showed me.