her layers by Shelby Robinson

it was one of those moments.
that morning, alone, in the water.
just my breath, the sun, the sway of her waves.
back and forth, back and forth.
wet sand between my toes like putty.
droplets form on my lashes and fall back into the rhythm. tiny droplets amongst millions n millions more.
how many of these droplets have collected - in the mouths, lashes, hands, hair, fins - of those before me?
i take a deep breath and dive into the sway of the silence.
eyes closed, i blindly grasp for stones in the sand.
i come up for breath slowly and examine my treasures. i keep one, two, and throw back the rest.
with each new inhale, i go a little deeper into the sway of the waves. with each exhale, i let go of a little more. of anxious thoughts for air. of the outside world.
i swim and swim and grab three, four more. i come up for air.
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inhale, dive. search. exhale, examine. repeat.
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again, i dive. this time, i open my eyes for a better view.
it’s all hazy- i have sleepy morning eyes, like a dream, but can still make out color and shape.
i dig them up from the sand.
on the way up, i stop for a bit and look out at the horizon of her vastness, at the layers and layers (sand, deep blue, blue, light blue, even lighter blue, white, the ripple separating water from sky) and stop.
whoa.
wow.
this.
it was one of those moments.
i come up so full, so so full, about to burst i’m so full, and i begin to cry.
i cry for joy. for the beauty. for this moment. for how special and sacred it is. for - how lucky am i? to be a part of this? to live in this gorgeous place? to swim in this water? how lucky and fortunate am i? to see what i see? to feel this? to not just see this- but to really feel this? all of it?
how lucky am i.
how lucky are we.
how lucky.
droplets form on my lashes and back into the rhythm of the water. for millions n millions more after me.
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it was one of those same moments that i experienced regularly while traveling earlier this year. in that waterfall in ubud, in the mountains, on the shores in amed. and i thought it was because i was in this exotic place i’d never been. but no, no. i just experienced that same feeling, that same moment here, in the state i grew up in, in the water i’ve been swimming in since i was a girl.
no, no. that can’t be it.
it’s just gotta be this special magic- this combination of solitude, paired with profound present-living, of being absolutely one with the waves, the earth, of breaking from the mundane and from my routine. of remembering what it feels to have an overflowing grateful heart.
and it’s in these kind of moments that remind me of how much i have to be grateful for. in my everyday life. it's in these moments that i'm reminded to let go, to disconnect every once in awhile, to reconnect to what truly matters.
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i always seem to experience these experiences in the water, in nature.
do you have them too?
when do you experience them?

portrait sessions: julie by Shelby Robinson

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Over the past few weeks, I've made it a priority to spend time with different kinds of people (and to bring my camera along). It's been incredible to explore more of the state through the eyes of friends, both new and old.

On this Thursday, Julie and I met at the best little restaurant in Detroit called Mudgies and then explored Belle Isle for the afternoon. One of the loveliest things about being a photographer (or artist or maker, etc) is that there's this feeling of elation when you create something new. Almost greater than anything else. It's like this buzzing energy, that slowly grows inside of you. And when you can share that with another human being, through a shared vision or activity, it makes it even stronger. I don't really know where this path is taking me, all I know is to keep going and growing. I can feel something slowly building. Inch by inch.

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Taken w/ my brand spanking new 35 mm. Edited in Lightroom using Portra 160 VSCO presets.

jackie: my san chingu by Shelby Robinson

Our first adventure together was in late January, right after I arrived.

Jackie had already been living in Korea for over a year.

We met in Seoul Station and adventured to Bukhansan, to climb the mountain alongside Koreans brave enough to face the ice and snow. We laughed as we climbed up the peak (literally climbed, I was on all fours to avoid falling off the side of the cliff) and shared kimbap and makkeoli with our new friends. We went our separate ways that night, and Sunday was filled with warm showers and a full heart. 

As the year went on, we found ourselves on even more adventures together: in Bali over Chinese New Year, on bikes along the Han River in the springtime, getting matching tattoos in Seoul on the Fourth of July, drinking soju and craft beer with friends.

Jackie moved home in August.

This past Sunday, we met for coffee and caught up on stories and adventures of the last ten months apart. I'm reminded how important it is to find like-minded pals who like to travel and see the world through beautiful eyes (but really, doesn't Jackie have the most beautiful eyes you've ever seen?!).

Jack, thanks for reminding me of the beauty of Asia and the world and to be patient with myself here at home- cause I'm still adjusting. Thanks for being a loving, open, honest friend. Always n always my san chingu <333

wild and tame by Shelby Robinson

I've been home for exactly three months today. It's hard not to measure time by the amount of time that I've been back. It's hard not to compare my life to how it was then.

Time is moving so much faster than it did in Korea. Three months from now, where will I be? Where should I be? Where are my friends at? Where was I this time last year? Physically? Emotionally? Mentally?

It's hard not to fall into a state of comparison. Comparison of what my life should look like versus what the lives of my Facebook friends and life heroes look like.

March, April and May brought endless coffee and lunch dates, day trips to Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids and Detroit, shoots on Lake Michigan, an Instagram Meetup, lavender lattes and Korean food, yoga classes and self-portraits, moments bonding deeper with my family and my dog and my friends, a new job that I love for the vibe and the people and the fact that I get to serve awesome food and joy all day, moments remembering Korea and the freedom that living abroad brought, lists of summer goals and trip planning. 

Regardless of where I'll be in one month, three months, twelve months, this is all I really know: to strive for balance. To find a balance between intention and free-spiritedness. To seek mind and body well being (which sometimes means a little taming and planning). And to sometimes let go of a little control to make space for that sweet wildness.

And to focus more on how my life feels rather than how it looks. Because it doesn't matter what it looks like on the outside, what others think I should be doing, but what my day-to-day spirit is telling me. If my routines bring me more peace and joy rather than anxiety and uneasiness, then things are good. Life is in balance.

Let's all try that. Let's all focus on purpose and spontaneity and let's all live with the intention of treating our minds and our bodies right.

Fast and slow paced. Stillness and movement. Patio drinks and yoga classes. Knowing and mystery. Wild and tame.

What balance are you striving for lately? 

island hopping in indonesia by Shelby Robinson

It’s taken me awhile to write this and to finish editing all of my photographs from January and February. I think it could have something to do with the fact that I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so things take me ages. Or maybe that I changed the way that I edit photos (I finally, finally made the switch from Photoshop to Lightroom, holy efficiency!) so I was nervous to share those changes. Or it could also be that it was a little bit hard to look back at these photos.

Anyways, most of this was written a week after I came home. Edits made today at the B in Michigan (as per usual).


I’m sitting here on the ground, my travel journal in front of me, with all of its contents ~ dried flowers, banana leaves, airplane stubs, etc ~ sprawled out every which way.

I’ve got so much to say, that I don’t know what to say at all.

I’ve got so many emotions, stories, thoughts, experiences I want to share, write down, remember forever.

I’ve got this twinge of anxiety that if I don’t write everything down exactly as it happened, it will be lost.

But, I’ve got equal parts peace in knowing that my journey is already ingrained in my heart forever.

I’ll start with a small story.

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“Oh my gosh it’s so good to be on this plane,” you said with a hand full of Pringles and your laptop on the tray in front of you.

“I know. Can you believe it? A whole year. We did it.”

I was silent most of the flight.

It felt surreal. I was actually leaving, after finishing a full year of teaching in Munsan, South Korea.

This flight, the next chapter, was one of those monumental moments that was on my mind all year. One of those distant dates that I thought would never come. The event had so many emotions tagged to it: joy, peace, relief. Sometimes I thought I’d never make it.

And I guess I’m a little guilty of that. I always have been. Of looking towards the future and wishing, hoping, dreaming for something newer and more exciting. When I really should be cultivating that same joy and peace and bliss right here. Right now.

I was sitting next to the girl who quickly became my best friend during those 12 months we spent together. I was sitting next to this amazing, strong, hilarious girl who not only knew me better than most people, but who literally went through the exact same thing that I just through: chaos, highs, lows, low-lows, adventure, etc.

There’s always an overwhelming comfort in her presence.

“Sae, I don’t think I’ve cried in probably four months. Isn’t that weird?” I asked while staring out into the clouds.

“Even on your birthday? Or near Christmas?”

My mind wandered for the remainder of the flight: memories with this girl, memories of home, the trials of the year, the bliss that was to come.

Fast forward a few weeks later, and it was time for her to leave Indonesia for California. I had a permanent pit in my stomach at the thought of traveling alone for the next four weeks.

The day before she left, Sarah wrote the most eloquent, precious note in my journal, encouraging strength and the courage to live my truth over the next few weeks.

My heart was so heavy the day she left.

But her confidence in me instilled the same confidence in myself: I traveled and experienced and met people with ease. I swear my heart expanded with each sunrise, each new friend, each smiling face, each ride through the mountains.

Like that morning in Amed, when I woke up and saw the mountains to my left, the bursting tropical trees at my back, the sea and sand under my toes, the sunshine in my face. As I took in all of creation, I was absolutely overwhelmed by all of the goodness, I began to cry real, actual tears - tears I hadn't really felt in months. It hit me harder in this moment than any other moment in my life: that we are a part of this. Part of this glorious, perfect, beautiful place we call home.

And from that day forward there wasn’t a day that went by that I wasn’t overcome with gratitude. Gratitude for the change in my mood. Gratitude for the small joys in front of me each day. For the ability to come back to nature and all of creation which ultimately brought me back to myself. It was like something inside of me was released. I shed all the layers of sadness I held within me in Korea. All of the walls I built to numb and protect myself were destroyed. I was free. Free to laugh, to cry, to feel.

I was no longer numb to my emotions. And it was a beautiful thing. 

Things I want to remember forever n ever: the afternoon we were chased by monkeys at the Uluwatu temple, the waves that lulled us to sleep, our Dutch friends and our spontaneous beerz and games on the Gilis, late-night swims on Lombok, that cheap pizza n wine place in Ubud, the sunrise at the top of Mount Batur (and the kinder volcano monkeys), the Balinese family that took me in and made me dinner and treated me like their own, every single amazing traveler I met on the road.

Honestly, I'm just so freaking grateful for the little bout of traveling I got to do post-Korea. Grateful for its profound healing it brought me physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually... I could read and re-read and share and thumb through picture after picture just because I'm so in love with the memories and with what it means to be a part of all of this.

Endless n endless thanks to all the pals I met, even if for a few days, a day, a few hours. You left a small little imprint on my heart and I think of you often. Endless thanks to Indonesia for being such a lovely, blissful, freaking photogenic place.

I'll see you soon, for real.

once around the sun by Shelby Robinson

This is ~really~ from a February 18th journal entry. Edits made today at the B in Michigan.

I'm sitting at a cafe in Bali, after a five and a half week trip that provided the most insane amount of clarity, perspective and peace. And I'm sitting here thinking and reflecting on what the hell just happened in 2015.

On the road, after you go through the whole what's your name, what do you do, where do you come from? questions, naturally the topic of Korea would come up. People always seemed both interested and surprised: "Omg, Korea?" "How was THAT?" "I've always wanted to do something like that!" And at first I'd reply with the whole, "Oh it was great!" "A great experience!" "I loved it!" and then I realized that I no longer needed to bullshit and pretend like it was this exciting and happy experience. Because truthfully, it wasn't.

Now don't get me wrong, there were a lot of really lovely things about life in Korea. I enjoyed the food (so, so freaking much), the weird quirks (like the matching couple outfits and the permed n floral panted ajummas and the cuteness overload of my students!!!) and also the people that I met and spent joyous weekends with.

But overall, life in Korea was a relatively lonely and isolating experience for me. The work, work, work and superficial culture wasn't totally my vibe. I lived alone, in a small town an hour north of Seoul, far from other foreigners. I was one of the only native speakers in my area. Often times, I'd go days without speaking "real" English. As a person who craves social interaction (don't we all?!), the lack started making me feel really lonely and depressed. I started to feel extremely awkward in social interactions. And I had so much freaking time on my hands that I started to over-analyze all of these interactions: "Why did I say that?" "Have I forgotten how to speak proper English?" "Will I be this awkward forever?" These questions and thoughts started to consume my mind and cloud my vision. So then when I would spend time with others, I felt like I wasn't even having the conversation at all. Like I was literally an outsider who was watching the whole interaction take place. Too focused on myself and what I was going to say, I missed what the person was saying. I was completely missing the joys of conversing. Like what the fuck.

And it wasn't until I went to Indonesia that I realized how unhappy I was in Korea. On my travels, I'd wake up happy with a permanent smile on my face, I'd find myself in joyous and life-giving conversations with strangers, and I kid you not, there was a series of blissful days where I'd actually cry tears of joy (that vibrant sliver of light peaking over the volcano during the sunrise, the mist from a waterfall trickling down my face and into my mouth, the wind in my hair from a bike ride in the mountains). All of these small, sacred moments (that I was actually experiencing in my own body!!!), coupled with the drastic shift in my mental, emotional, spiritual well-being, made me feel more alive than ever. It was as if a year's worth of layers of sadness and anxiety and stress were lifted. I was finally free. Finally feeling like myself again.

When I reflect on my year 'round the sun with Korea, I've realized this: how deeply I need other people. How we all need each other to share the joy and pain and challenges of life. Really, Korea just taught me the importance of human beings and our relationships with one another.

So now my response to the "how was it?!" question is this:

It was hard.

It was beautiful.

I wouldn't do it again.

But I wouldn't trade the experience for the world.

*This is just a small, small peek into what Korea was like. S/O to all of my Korean pals who made life kewl. You know who you are <33*

strange trails by Shelby Robinson

And it feels like I've been away for an era,

but nothing has changed at all.

And it feels like I was with you,

but what did we do and where have you gone?

///

Lord Huron, Frozen Pines

a new year in taiwan by Shelby Robinson

Whoa, this little island is so good.

Despite it being winter in Taiwan, I was greeted with warm, humid air and green lusciousness. Taiwan was filled with foggy mountains, the most colorful array of fruits and veggies, the best vegetarian food I've had in months (especially Lewis' homemade dinner Saturday night), sprinkled with inspiring design, architecture and adorable children.

Yummy tofu pudding, rice cakes filled with goodness, sesame soy blended drinks, veggie hot pots, fresh juices filled our stomachs. Goodness around every corner.

Lindsey and Lewis, thanks for being so hospitable and warm. Missin you already.

fo ~ real (pt 1) by Shelby Robinson

FO ~ REAL:  A MINI SERIES

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a space to be raw and open. a space where i don't have to put so much damn thought into how i share what i create. mostly, just a space to clear my mind via my hand n my heart.

the best place in korea by Shelby Robinson

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Ulleung Island: easily the most beautiful, blissful place I've been in Korea. So fresh. So clean.

Ulleungdo, formed 9,000 years ago by a volcanic eruption, is located about three and a half hours from the Jeodonghang port in the East Sea. Among allllll of its insane natural beauty, the island is also known for its pumpkins and squid. Tiny squid and pumpkin characters are scattered throughout the island to remind you of this, cause it's Korea. And everything is cute.

We were lucky enough to spend four days at the end of September over Korea's Mid-Autumn Festival, or Chuseok, on the island. Koreans celebrate by gathering with their families, eating and bowing to their ancestors, whereas foreigners usually use the long weekend as an opportunity to travel and explore.

Our days started around 5 am to walk the coastal path for sunrise. Afterwards, we'd get coffee together and enjoy traditional Korean breakfasts served by the most smiley ajummas I've ever met. And the food, oh my god. Bibimbap, sesame noodles, steamed egg, soups, and all the side dishes you could want filled our stomachs. The breakfast alone was a good enough reason to get out of bed in the morning. The remainder of our days were filled with hikes, bamboo forests, makkgeoli and oceans swims.

Some of the things that stood out to me the most about the island were the turquoise blue waters, the endless blue sky, that dark volcanic rock against the pine. The scent of the sea and the hanging squid. The gusts of ocean air on the coastal path hikes. The fog that seemed to engulf the mountains. The locals who were so surprised to see so many foreigners on their little island. Their kindness and their "good mornings!" and smiles when we passed on the paths. I love Koreans.

I always feel so rejuvenated after coming off of weekends like this. I can't stress enough how healing it is to take a few steps back from your life to see new places, meet new people and do some soul-searching. One of the biggest reasons I came to Korea was to do just that ~ and I'm always so thankful for the weekends and mini trips that allow me to come back to this intention.

Special shoutout to Seoul Hiking Group for always being so coo and attracting the most down to earth, mellow people to travel with. Best adventure group in Korea <333.