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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mark

“He was several years older than me,” my friend signed to me, “so I had to listen to him. And he just kept telling me again and again. It got on my nerves.” She wiped her face with typical Sugar peevishness, slinging her arms back down across her Hello Kitty purse.

“Who?” I asked, trying to understand the leap in conversation.We were in the middle of translating a parable, which they had been curious about for months: where the sower goes out and throws “rice” on the different earth. Who believes and grows. Who doesn’t. But it wasn’t unusual, this logic jump. Between talking about our friend Fiona’s disobedient cats, who had all died from various traumas over the course of a few weeks, Kuu’s plans to make a feathered hat for design school, and my flight back to America in a couple months, we had hopscotched around our subjects all morning.

Sugar signed his name again. “Mark. You know Mark. He got the cancer.” The sign looked like a creeping eating thing. I thought of my grandmother, the blooming purple evil spreading, a house divided against itself. “His knees swelled up,” she signed. “Then he lost them, lost everything below the thigh.” She shook her head with the memory. “Actually, you wouldn’t know him. He’s dead.”

“What did he–” I echoed back his sign name. “–Mark, do?”

Pointing at the crayoned version of “fertile soil” that they had taped to the white board, Kuu waved until she got my attention. “Chun would go over to his house–him and the other guys would rotate who helped him once he lost his legs–and do his laundry. Every time, he was like, ‘Jesus this Jesus that.’ My husband swore he’d never believe. All the guys got mad about it. But Mark ended up giving Chun some books. ‘When you’re ready, you’ll read these.'”

Sugar caught my eye hesitatingly. It had taken her so long to warm up to me, despite all the adventures we had had, wat-hopping and sightseeing and getting lost in Chiang Rai. I was surprised she shared even now. “We were awful to him all through school,” she signed, looking away. “He never retaliated. It was weird how nice he was. It almost made us stop being cruel. But not really. When he died, I couldn’t stop crying.”

“Did you believe then?”

“No.”

Kuu pointed at the drawing, circled the lush sketchy green of the field that thrived. The believing earth. “Chun was sitting at a bar when it hit him in his heart to go read those books. He can’t read well but he tried. He started asking all his friends, ‘Do you know anything about this guy Jesus?'” She switched posture in the Deaf style of becoming other characters, in this case, his drunk friends sitting on bar stools nearby. It was a humorously male posture, legs spread, shoulders lazily shlumped.

“‘No, dude, you’re drunk.’

‘Do you know anyone who knows anyone who knows about Jesus?'”

“‘Well there’s this farang white guy giving Bear stories over in the north district. He says they’re straight from the Holy Word. Not extra stuff like that scary Korean cult…'”

Sugar shook her head. I thought of her husband, the one with all the questions: Mammon said this. What does the Bible say? Mammon said this and they said it’s in the Bible. What does the Bible really say? 

Kuu’s eyes sparkled, corresponding dark jewels to the signature beauty marks peppering her cheeks. “That’s when we met Adam.”

“How long did it take you to believe?” I asked.

“After my dream? A few weeks.”

Sugar lowered her eyes. “I heard longer. But it took me longer.”

“A year?”

“Six.” She shifted in her seat. Then she signed the page on the board:

…a field of good earth. A man reaching into his satchel and drawing up a  handful of rice seed. It spills, it arcs. With a swing of the wrist, he strews it across the earth. And sun. And rain. And up comes the growth, a stalk, strong and sturdy. From it drops another seed, which falls to the good earth. And up comes the growth.

“Do you think Mark sees us in heaven?” Sugar asked me.

Kuu pulled a face, like ‘duh.’ “Don’t you know it, Sugar. He’s watching Fiona’s cats ’til we get there.”

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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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rinetta

The defensiveness rose in my chest as we spoke, and I wished I had not worn my department sweatshirt that day.

“We don’t need anything else,” she was saying. Despite a personality that generally tolerated most peoples’ soap boxes and the Christianity I too professed, the buzzing in my mind–a slow uncomfortable resentment–persisted. Continue reading

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carissa

The girl sitting next to me on the subway had the whimsically short cut I had admired since realizing, at the age of twelve, the unreachability of Disney princess hair, and she seemed past the point of defending it. Her corduroy jacket looked refashioned from an old carpet bag, and when asked, she said that she worked in “textiles.” She looked the sort of artist who would never claim to be one. She looked like my long-lost friend. Continue reading

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