After seemingly disappearing from the world for almost 4 months, writer/artist Sydnie Wachs has come out of the woodwork again to share what she has been doing, where she has been traveling, and answer the questions we’ve all been dying to know about her current abode.
Sydnie, tell us a bit about your life before stopping your blog and almost all your public social media.
It sure does feel good to be back! A bit about life before going off the grid…I moved to Hong Kong in early 2012 from my home of Eufaula, Alabama. In HK I was working with teenagers and kids (many of whom were refugees). I got connected through a man also from Alabama who grew up with my parents. He pastors an international church in HK. I chilled with the teens for about 2.5 years before devoting myself entirely to my work – photoshoots both as the photographer and model, some paintings, and a lot of teaching art and English (private tutoring and at learning centres). At one point I was studying, but dropped out after 3 or 4 terms because of…many reasons.
After a while I met a guy named Gabriel, and eventually he told me his dream was to have his own film and visual effects school. I was getting really exhausted from city life and decided I’d move to New Zealand (where he’d lived for a decade) and help him start it up.
What have you been doing in New Zealand since then?
Gabriel and I went down to a small town called Gisborne where we hosted a 3-day intro workshop and a 4-week intensive workshop about film and visual effects. We met tons of creatives down there and got really inspired, but there was a problem: because Hong Kong is so international, we had a huge circle of people all over the globe who wanted to get involved with our workshops but couldn’t fly to New Zealand for just a couple of weeks. So we decided to go global: Sunday (4 October) is the launch of our online workshops!
In Gisborne, I lived with a family for about a week before moving into the spare room of a Buddhist Centre. I shared the house with the Lama. He made me oatmeal for breakfast a couple of times.
So you left Gisborne, what’s the deal now?
Now we’re up here where Gabe’s home is, doing filming for our first online workshop series called SPIRITS IN THE WOODS. Needless to say, we’re doing a lot of filming in the woods. It’s gonna be great. I’m living on site at a campervan park…in a tent.
You’re living, actually living, in a tent.
How big is it?
Actually I calculated the floor space, which is about the same as my room at my flat in Hong Kong. Plenty of room for me, and I don’t have that much stuff at all. I’m used to small spaces. It helps with culture shock while I’m adjusting to ‘normal’ life from the stress of living in HK in such a cramped place. (Don’t get me wrong, I love HK and still consider it my home in a way.)
Does it rain where you are? What’s the weather like?
It’s actually raining right now, but I’m not in the tent. There’s a cover on the tent that does a great job of keeping water out. It’s just getting to be spring, and something I’ve noticed about NZ is that when the sun goes down, this place turns into Narnia with everlasting cold. Then the sun is burning hot in the day (it comes in my tent every morning till about noon, so I wake up early and unzip the tent so the sea breeze can come in). I got a suntan in 2 days. But I gotta be careful cause I don’t want skin cancer.
Sea breeze? Are you by the ocean?
Indeed I am. I have an awesome view. Daytime (taken right when I woke up to let the breeze in so I didn’t die of heat stroke):
How do you really feel about living in a tent? Be honest.
For real, I actually love it. The place where I’m staying is a historical site and I’m right in the middle of a bunch of campervans. I’m well protected. This park has been open about 50 years and they’ve never had any incident of crime or nasty things happening. Believe me, we drilled them. (I was living in a hostel in Auckland prior to the tent, and that was great in its own way, but I prefer the tent and nature.)
I’ve had several comments and messages and general reactions that are quite negative about the way I’m living right now. I know how I’m doing this life thing isn’t normal, but I’m living a good story. I don’t usually do things I don’t want to do, and if I didn’t want to be in the tent, I would have stayed in the hostel. I’m a very flexible person, which is why it may seem like I’m compromising my quality of life. But I really feel relaxed and inspired here, and especially after spending so long in Hong Kong, I’m loving getting back into being ‘one with nature.’
This picture was taken my first morning of the tent. I was really happy. Still am.
There’s a few questions we’ve collected from curious people about your…living experience now.
Are muses easier to find when you live in a tent? (Author Mariella Hunt)
In some ways yes, in some ways no. I don’t have a desk, so I spend most of the day around a power plug to charge my laptop, and there’s distractions with families cooking meals and wandering around exploring. I do miss having a real room with a bookshelf and chair and table, but I realise doing something different is inspiring just as much. There was a really long time, over a year, where I didn’t have a single new idea for art or writing, and now I’m starting to have my creativity creep back into my soul. It feels nice. Scary, but nice.
What are some changes from this experience that you’ll keep for the rest of your life? (Also Mariella Hunt)
There’s something unspeakable that changes in one when the routine of sleeping indoors is reversed and you’re constantly exposed to the elements. You start to notice things more, little things. I lost that in the city, I didn’t notice anything anymore. Yesterday I somehow saw this microscopic metallic blue beetle on a tiny flower stem. I have no clue how I noticed it, it was just like my eye was drawn to that one small area. I’m hearing people’s voices differently. I’m feeling my skin prickle in the cold and burn in the heat. I’m smelling the wind and paying attention to the way it rolls on my skin. It’s like discovering new life. I don’t ever want to forget these things. That’s the whole reason my slogan for Videmus Art is ‘find what you miss.’ We don’t notice so much in our everyday lives, little tiny things that awaken our inner child and set it free, taking away stress and making us smile. When was the last time you smiled? Sometimes I smile and realise it’s been days since I smiled or laughed. But every day I smile and laugh more and more.
Do you get insomnia?
Half by choice and half not. It’s weird adjusting to sleeping outside where I constantly feel exposed even though I’m well sheltered and shut off from outside wind and weather. Every night I sleep better and better though, which is great, ha! And there’s a lot of weird prehistoric-looking/sounding birds here in New Zealand. A huge pterodactyl sized thing flew directly above my head yesterday. It wasn’t even scared. It was like half as big as me. And I’m 175 cm tall. All that to say, I fall asleep at night listening to weird sounding night birds. There’s one that screams around 10 every night and shuts up for the rest of the night. I mean it actually screams. Super creepy. And I wake up around sunrise unless the blanket is covering my head, and I unzip my tent to let the breeze in, like I said before, and I go back to sleep for a few more hours. It’s paradise.
Have you seen or heard anything strange from your neighbours?
Not as many as I witnessed living in the hostel.
Although I’ve heard lots of people fart and it echoes throughout the kitchen.
Do you have a place to store your food and take showers? How are you cooking?
Yes, this place is basically like an outdoor hostel. There’s an enormous kitchen with 8 stovetops and 2 ovens and 5 sinks and 2 fridges and a freezer and a table the size of mars. It’s even complete with recycling bins. I keep my food in the fridge. Most people cook in their campervans and only use the kitchen to wash dishes. I pretty much take the whole room over every day using all the power plugs. And I always eat outside.
You’re not renting the tent, correct?
Nope. I got it at Warehouse (like NZ sort-of equivalent of Wal-Mart) for $48 NZD (30 USD)
How can you charge your phone in a tent?
I have an external battery I use mostly and I use whatever charge my laptop has to keep everything full battery. If it rains I don’t want an extension cord to get wet, so I don’t have electricity in my tent.
Do you have a light?
I use the flashlight on my phone. It’s surprisingly bright. I try to keep my ‘work’ and ‘home’ separate, so I want to sleep and chill in my tent, and work in the kitchen with all its facilities. It helps me relax when I walk back to the tent after I’m done.
Are you far from the kitchen and other facilities?
Only about 50 steps. Haha.
How’s the hot water?
Plenty in the sinks. I didn’t know the hot water had a limit of 5 minutes and had to finish my shower in the sink the other night. That sucked. Today I managed to do everything but brush my teeth in those 5 minutes and still bask for a few seconds. Keeps things fresh!
Any closing remarks?
Not really. I love living in my tent. I’m getting really attached to it. I don’t think I’ll cope well when I have to return to a house. Except in the winter. I love fireplaces. But really, I think everyone should sleep in a tent for at least a week in a row sometime in their life. Getting out of your comfort zone really adds new fascination to life.
More Tent Adventures coming soon to Woolgather, which was unknowingly named many years ago perfectly suited for Sydnie’s move to New Zealand.
Sydnie is currently working as one of the 2-man team comprising Academy of Media Arts. They have a sweet Instagram (@academyofmediaarts) and Facebook page, and information about them and their upcoming series of online workshops can be found on their website here.