travel

wake up, sleepyhead! notes and tips from my nearly-european adventure

If there’s anything in the world that can rouse a sleepy soul, it’s grabbing coffee to go (preferably hazelnut) and exploring a new city.

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I want to learn how to do latte art one day!

SUNZAPPED I’m finding it necessary these boiling days to remember cooler temperatures, and today, Central Asia comes to mind.

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Last winter, a dear friend and I vacationed in a melting pot city between Europe and Asia, and its weather was like something out of a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale.

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One midnight, I woke to a chill in the room. The clock was blinking. Just outside the window, snow tumbled down in magnificent lace to cover the city’s tropical trees. How odd and beautiful against the pink sky. That’s when I knew this was one of my new favorite places.

TRAVEL In case you’re thinking of a wintertime trek around a Eurasian megatown, I thought I’d share a few observations & tips—from one blogger to another 😉

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  1. Power

    As an American, I cannot tell you how many times I’ve taken power (and WiFi!) for granted. As they say, you never know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.

    Traveling? Invest in a converter so you don’t destroy your devices—in ANY country.

    My friend and I got caught in a sleet storm while on our way to a “book corridor.” We dashed there, soaking wet, and with our phones lighting the way, clung to one another giggling as we entered the dark alley… Soon, the book stall owners lit candles. We even found the new Harry Potter play, two copies!

    The only certainty of travel (and life as a whole) is that few things are certain!

  2. Attire

    Clothes just need to cover you, right?!

    My rule of thumb is: as long as it isn’t culturally appropriative, wear what the locals wear.

    In Thailand for example, I avoid the beachy, underclad look of most tourists and favor long pants, sleeves, and muted tones, particularly in the wake of the King’s passing.

    IMG_1472Becoming the “gray man” in Europe means wearing black. Lots of it. (I’m kidding but not really.) While I was there, I wore my hooded coat, neutral long sleeve tops, and matching scarves. Other necessary investments: SOLID WALKING SHOES, an umbrella, lined leggings, socks socks and more socks.

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  3. the “SIGHTS”

    For a stress-free restorative time abroad:

    See only what you want to see.

    Our shared loves are church & spirituality; art & books; and coffee (and cats–though my friend would never admit it). So my friend and I went to places that corresponded to those interests. I also indulged myself in graffiti, collecting artifacts along the way…IMG_1375IMG_1485IMG_0950IMG_1046

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    IMG_1358IMG_0949IMG_1384IMG_0966IMG_1323IMG_1038IMG_1219IMG_1339Too often I’ve heard stories of folks abroad sightseeing all day and gleaning little joy from their experiences. In my book, that’s not meaningful—or fun either! So look for the little things you love and spend your time on those instead.

  4. Chill

    If you’re an introvert like me, it’s important to try to balance your time out with time in. My friend, though outgoing, loves to dialogue about a good story, so we spent our evenings indoors with cookies and a list of classic movies that one or the other of us had not seen. E.g., Pearl Harbor (me), Moulin Rouge (her)Titanic (me), Pride and Prejudice (her)… When we were out during the day and needed a break, we read aloud from Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The other coffee shop folks thought we were weird, but we had the time of our lives.

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    The button is from Walter’s Cafe, which is styled after the show Breaking Bad (and looks like a laboratory).

  5. and last but not least….

    Caffeinated sustenance

Know thyself. This last one may not apply to all, but for my friend and me, coffee breaks were vital to keeping our energies up while we bustled about in the pouring rain or sleet or snow. When we had had too much caffeine, we opted for sahlep with cinnamon. (Ohmygoodnessgracious, TRY IT.)

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Unlike manic vacations in the past, I returned home rejuvenated. The usual symptom is an overwhelming need to scribble ideas. I had been so creatively “dehydrated” before then! So–if we may stretch the metaphor–this week away was just what the doctor ordered.

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Speaking of dehydration, keep a lookout for my next post, another coffee-and-travel highlight… Hey there, Nepal!

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travel

new york new york: the beginning

Living here, I try not to let myself miss America often because expatriotism likes to haul victims off to cultural bubble pits, smelling  like the pizza of their native land. But I think today can suffer my nostalgia. Well, I’ve forgotten which side of the road it is to enter my Kentucky neighborhood, and it’s bothering me.

New York got travel in my blood, I would say intravenously, except it had to have been the coffee. Those two years ago that my travels began, we bused up from Virginia, leaving behind the mountainous September oranges, and arrived seat-sore and city-shy. My only wish was to be as posh as Audrey in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and local as all my artistic college friends, who had transplanted ages ago. Also, absolutely not touristy. (Not certain how well I accomplished that when, for one example, my friend told me that Alfie Boe was playing Valjean in Les Mis and I started crying in the street.)

Dreams do come true.

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What’s in New York but dreams? Dreams like restless animals, longing to stretch their legs. I doubted it for a long while when I clung sensitively to small towns and safety. And in those days, if it hadn’t been where all the artists went, I should have argued there was nothing to write about in that vast cement town. But curiously, though the dreamers and makers are all there and still there and still getting there, the creative heart of the city has yet to fail.

…dreams like restless animals, longing to stretch their legs.

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I kept my hands in my pockets and my eyes to myself, mostly. But despite the usual blue spectacles of skepticism, my heart swelled as I walked in an ant’s tiny silhouette dance along the rows and heights of spray-painted American-ancient urbanism–that old not-old aura of splintered sidewalk and crumbling edifices and decaying churches. “Oldness” that, rightly, Europeans scoff at…but excuse them, it’s ours. It then became mine.

Long hair knotted up in the brisk winds that played with the city, whooshing by, a cat with a ball. My nose ring sparkled, making me feel just about cool enough to own my space in that urban world. And though it seems so silly a ticket to acceptance, knock not: it worked. A young textiles worker chatted me up about spirituality and loneliness while we rode side-by-side on the subway. In a bagel shop, a theater aspirant with braces chuckled at my accent and asked about my sister, who had played Cinderella in his favorite musical. And on the anniversary of 9-11, a Russian woman with a massive husky in a tee-shirt spoke to me of the weight she continued to feel, an immense sadness that sometimes came and sat on her chest, at the evils of the universe.

If I returned to New York now after sharing space and time with the true ancients and even bigger metropolises of this hemisphere, I’d like to say that my naïve adoration would have worn off. That city will never be mine, except in dreams.

But that’s not the way magic works, is it?

Perhaps that is all the magic that remains in the world: going where others have gone before and dreaming in the ocean of their dreams, failed — futile — fervent though they may be. And in going, there’s always a vague chance: one dream might settle down in your soul and make itself yours.

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I leave you with a suggested soundtrack in honor of the city that woke my wanderlust. May the road find you too, fellow passenger…

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on writing

the end

Hello, friends!

Here’s a picture of me drinking from a coconut. And yes, I did cut all my hair off.

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It’s been a while since I’ve said just that–hello!–to you. During this last year, it was freeing to step back from the spotlight of this blog and simply gather portraits, like a child collecting sea shells. There’s less responsibility in that, I think. (have not created the shells!) But now, I am ready to reappear for a bit.

This is the end of my portrait series…for now.

In many ways, I feel my project was a wordy worldwide parallel to Humans of New York. Even now, though his books are published and “finished,” Brandon Stanton continues to update his Instagram every once in a while. I intend to do the same.

Perhaps the original goal of the project was to prove to myself, I could stick with something long-term besides my previous dabbling. To prove to myself I am a writer.

There is a definite difference between saying “I am an aspiring writer” and “I am a writer.” In the States, surrounded by people with leisure time and apparent dedication to their relative creative mediums, I daily questioned if I myself could even dare approach the altar of artistic expression.

Even after graduate school (the most encouraging creative community I have ever had!), my doubts remained. But then I went overseas. And it took this season of artistic solitude to realize I’ve been defining the idea of artistry all wrong.

What is art?

What makes an artist?

Who defines “the best”?

Does it matter?

One day, I realized: it didn’t.

It felt like my soul was crying out to me–when I would pick up an excellent piece of fiction or prance my way through someone’s beautiful new essay. It seemed to be saying,

Hey you.

Yeah, you. The Lonely Creative Soul with a Dream that feels too big for you.

You are a writer.

It’s what you do.

You may die with your work never having been published. (Not that you should give up all hope!) But if it’s the thing you do anyway because you love it, does it matter THE END of your creative means?

So hop to it, sister.

I dream of painting and then I paint my dream. ~Vincent Van Gogh

There were some cheerleaders in my corner, certainly. Between my grad school mentor Dale, Jeff Goins, Donald Miller, Rachael Stephen, and Elizabeth Gilbert, I had no hope of walking away with defeated hands in my pockets. But in listening to them and moving on with my life and my work, I did learn a few things:

“You can’t find your passion if you don’t push through pain.” ~ Jeff Goins, The Art of Work

“You are not Stephen King.”  ~ Rachael Stephen, “Let’s All Stop Calling Ourselves Pantsers and Plotters”

“When you stop expecting ________ to be perfect, you can like [it for what it is.]” ~ Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

“Writing is not like dancing or modeling; it’s not something where-if you missed it by age 19-you’re finished. It’s never too late. Your writing will only get better as you get older and wiser. If you write something beautiful and important, and the right person somehow discovers it, they will clear room for you on the bookshelves of the world-at any age. At least try…” ~ Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

Have you been afraid of your dreams?

Let me be the first (of MANY encouragers out there) to tell you:

SO WHAT.

To borrow an idea from Gilbert’s grand creative narrative…Fear is a natural roadtripping buddy. You can’t get in the car and go anywhere without him. But he needs rules. Because he’s a wee bit of a control freak and likes to take charge of, well, anything left unattended. Don’t let him dictate where you go, how often you stop, IF you stop, what music to listen to. And by aLLLLL means, do NOT let him drive (check BIG MAGIC for a much more whimsical beautiful vision of this). 

All that to say, move forward anyways. Stop looking for approval. Stop worrying if people think you or your art is weird (weird is great!). Stop checking the stats on your blog. Stop trying to figure out how on earth your art could possibly support you (my vote is don’t; art has fragile bones and can’t take the pressure of your cushy Western lifestyle. Go wait tables or something).

And that’s why I’m here, full-time job and all.

Get to it.

Write.

 

 

Resources for the Ones in Need of Cheerleaders

Jeff Goins … I’d tell you more about him, but if you checked out that quote up there and liked what you saw, you should let him tell you more about himself. Inspiration and motivation guaranteed. (Subscribe to his mailing list!) Here’s an interview about finding your calling.

Donald Miller … Your story matters. If you’ve never read Million Miles in a Thousand Years, you need to do that today.

Rachael Stephen … If you want to laugh and get a bit of tough love in the Hunger Games arena that is FICTION WRITING, check her out!

Elizabeth Gilbert … duh. She even has a podcast.

 

 

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biovignette

quinten

His middle name was something Italian, and those dark tresses draped him like a morose cloud. He was introduced to her as “my hairy castoff brother.” They had caught him smoking out front of the local pizza joint, and she’s not sure what all was in the cigar. Those hooded eyes, they were shot through with veins, like faults in the earth or lightning.

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biovignette

a picture’s worth

melody

Erin perched on the edge of my ink-stained desk, and haloing wispy platinum hair, the Thai sun crept in through gold curtains behind her. I had not gotten used to this yet, the relentlessness of the light. Leaning in to smell the spiced pear candle–my one vestige of North American Christmas–she got that thoughtful crease in her forehead.

“It’s not the photography that makes me insecure anymore.” She shook her head, dipping an absent finger in the wax and jerking it back when it was hot. “I see something, I can envision it, and I know what I have to do to get it. But even the things I see. It’s just fashion. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s weird and artsy. But what does it mean?”

“Show me.”

“Scoot over a bit.”

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