Writing and Rituals with Nina Karnikowski

Writing has been a clarifying and enlightening force throughout Nina Karnikowki’s life. Up before the sun, she begins her day of writing with three bowls of Chinese red tea, making ritual of the process of awakening her consciousness with the earthy flavour of the tea, and the watching the steam rising from the bowl. 
Nina has spent most of her writing career as a travel writer, a job that taught her many invaluable lessons on life upon her many journeys. When Nina was asked to run a writing workshop in relation to her book ‘Make a Living Living’ she felt compelled to continue the workshops, forming her own writing and creativity school. 
With international travel looking like it might soon be on the horizon for Australia, we sat down with Nina while we still had the opportunity, joining her for a morning tea. 


Congratulations on starting your writing and creativity school. Can you tell us about it?

Starting to teach and mentor has been one of the (dare I say it) gifts of Covid. For the past decade I’d been myopically focused on travel writing, but was obviously called to shift focus when the world ground to a halt. I was invited to run a writing workshop a year ago in relation to my book on creativity Make a Living Living, and felt very much in flow and inspired while doing it, so I took note of those feelings and started doing more. Ever since I’ve continued running in-person writing workshops, as well as online workshops for various creative agencies and businesses, and have now launched three writing e-courses on my website ninakarnikowski.com. Writing has been such a clarifying and enlightening force in my own life – quite aside from being a delightful way to make a living, I’ve always thought of writing as a form of self-therapy, and I just want as many people as possible to have access to that.

What are some of the rituals that help to start your day?

I’m usually up before the sun, and start the day by sitting at my writing table and pouring three bowls of Chinese red tea. I try to simply focus on the steam rising from the bowl, the earthy taste of the tea in my mouth and my breath as I sip, to bring me into the moment.

After that, I free-write by hand for about 20 minutes, which I’ve done ever since reading Julia Cameron’s seminal ‘90s book The Artist’s Way over a decade ago. It’s my way of making sense of the world and moving through sticky emotions, and clearing out some of the 70,000 thoughts that supposedly run through our heads each day. I’ll then either run on the beach with our maremma dog Milka and have a swim in the ocean, go for a bush walk, or do some yoga on the deck, getting into my body and out into nature before the day sweeps me away.


You’ve spent many years as a travel writer, what was an important lesson you learned along the way?

That modernity and capitalism has led many of ‘us’ in the global north astray. Spending time with tribespeople in Papua New Guinea, Namibia and Ethiopia, and with rural communities in places like India and Nepal, I learnt that our levels of happiness have much more to do with community and a slower pace of life than they do with what we own or our job title.


We believe the intangible qualities of design are just as important as the tangible. Is there an object in your home that holds a special emotion?

Our home is filled with treasures we’ve collected on our travels, one that springs to mind is a vintage blue and white embroidered dress from Palestine, that we bought in a 70-year-old refugee camp there when we were travelling through the region four years ago. It hangs on our bedroom wall as an art piece, reminding us of the resilience of the Palestinian people, and how beauty will always shine in even the most dire situations.

You wrote a book on sustainable travel called ‘Go Lightly’ - could you elaborate a little on what sustainable travel is and how to embrace it? 

Like most things in the sustainability realm, sustainable travel is essentially about slowing everything right down, and doing less but better. Taking less but longer trips, so you can learn more about the place and it’s people and have more opportunities to give back while you’re there. Travelling closer to home too, and getting as curious about the land on which we stand most of the time, as we do about far-flung destinations. Also, putting nature at the centre of our journeys with hiking, camping, vanning and boating trips. We protect what we love, so by surrounding ourselves with nature during our travels we’ll be more likely to fight for it when we get home.

Table-culture runs deep with Cisco & the Sun, can you tell us about one of your most memorable meals?

It was in Mongolia’s Orkhon Valley, where I was staying with a nomadic family for a story. I spent the day helping the family corral and milk their horses, turn the milk into aaruul (dried cheese) and airag (fermented mare’s milk), and make traditional buuz dumplings and vodka distilled from yak milk. The food itself was… interesting, to put it politely. But sitting in the open-sided dining tent in the middle of this lush valley by the river, with the yaks ambling around us and the sun setting over the mountains, while observing a way of life that had remained unchanged for centuries, was absolutely unforgettable.


The table is set and your guests are arriving - what music is playing at your dinner party? 

Mulatu Astatke, an Ethiopian jazz musician who was big in the mid-60s. I fell in love with his music while travelling around Ethiopia a few years ago. I don’t like to indulge in regrets, but missing seeing Mulatu perform while we were in Addis Ababa by one night, comes pretty close.


What’s next for you Nina?
I’m manifesting a long, slow journey somewhere special next year – India or Italy, hopefully - putting what I’ve been preaching through Go Lightly into practice and writing stories along the way. I’m also working on an exciting offering with my publisher, it’s in the journaling realm and will be an aid for writers and those looking to explore their inner worlds.

ninakarnikowski.com; @travelswithnina


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