life, on writing

the settling

I know better than to tap on glass to make whatever creature move, but as I looked out the window this morning and saw the massive striped orb weaver shimmying up and down its glittering web, I wanted nothing better than to see what sort of underbelly it had, what color, and if it was poisonous. It’s been like that lately. A small obsession with all the things I haven’t experienced in two years, and all making me a little impolite, even childish. The yard is full of unswept leaves. They crackle underfoot, a common enough occurrence when I lived here, but so unlike the bendy green debris of my old home. Every once in a while, the wind will blow, sending down a burst of leafy yellow confetti, and I itch for cooler days.

It’s been a little over two months since I’ve been home. People ask me about Thailand, about cultural things I miss or don’t, and I’ve grown tired of answering them with the same sort of impatience that I turn toward myself: when will it feel normal again? In that vein of trying, just trying, to make sense of it, I sit down to my books and old notes and look for words. (When else will I remember it all as vividly as I do now?) But when the person inside you seems absent, standing back watching as if to see if things really will stop changing, it’s hard to make truthful statements about anything. I’m reading a really good book right now, If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland, and it’s only served to affirm my own quest these last years: make it real. Make it unpretentious. Make it yours. (Read it if you haven’t. I found it, a castaway treasure, at Goodwill.)

And perhaps it’s given me the peace to tell you, I exist currently in the moment, waiting for it all to settle. There are still many more autumn leaves yet to fall.

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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

hua hin hello

By now, I may accurately say that I’ve had a coffee each place my feet have touched the earth (and also where they haven’t, though I would not recommend airplane java except under dire circumstances).

Welcome to Hua Hin.

This beachy coffee experience featured a blended ice mocha… Usually, I’m more of a latte or Americano gal, but this morning, I could not find any of the usual coffee shops near our hostel. On a whim (and on the edge of a headache that shames me into admitting how coffee-spoiled I am), I tried a little bamboo beverage shack. In case you ever come to Thailand, be sure to order less sugar. They tend to make drinks sweet!

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…also: hello, hot season!

In case you’re wondering if I live by the ocean (sadly, I don’t!), my friends and I went south for a few days. It’s been so muggy in the mountains, and even with the water festival, cooling down is a minute-to-minute task, around which your entire day revolves. So we hit the beach.

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The breeze was amazing after the stagnant hot!

Also, actually being at the beach made me remember one of the first things I had to get used to living here: how Thai scenery, anywhere in the country, tricks you into thinking there is a beach nearby. To my untrained eyes, even the freshwater-fed jungles of the north look like there should be a saltwater bay, preferably with mermaids, within a five-minute walk. So it was refreshing both mentally and physically to truly be on the water this week!

My favorite experience of the week was biking along the shore and around the island, in which we had a few near brushes with death — it appears that a lack of respect for bicyclists is a multicultural phenomenon — and laughed our heads off staging accidents in front of hilarious signs.

all hail the bikers…

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We found a crazy ombre dragon lizard!

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We even biked around a rice paddy or two.

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Some days, I ache for home and the temperate forests of Kentucky, my bluegrass hills and mahogany horses and perfect paved roads. The gaudiness of this world — the overbright tropical flowers, the birds with excessive orange plumage and funny crimson-and-yellow spots on their chests, even the lizards with their wild iridescent tails, and the unknown jeweled foliage of the jungles… I resented it for a long time. I asked of life a simple white canvas, and it handed me a rainbow explosion. We so stubbornly want what we want, like children without the capacity to rightly value priceless artifacts. But it seems, finally, my soul has found rest in this tangled, brilliant world. It’s different, but it’s become a different I can love.

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Finally, in case you’re in need some beachy tunes to go with that coffee…

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on writing

10 NaNocessities: A Survival Guide

 

Hello, readers & Wrimos!

Welcome to the creative lair. NaNo-prep underway! img_9745-2img_9741-2img_9584-2img_9742-2

Flip flops, UV rays, palms, sunbrellas…perfect time of year for NaNoWriMo, amIright?! Actually, it’s confusing. Last time I did this, I was freezing in three layers of socks.

10 NaNocessities for Surviving the Month

So living in Asia and participating in NaNoWriMo… are the essentials any different? I have had to get a tad inventive being overseas for the first time, but maybe you have some equivalents where you are in the world!

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…on the other hand, these are rather Western options.

Try something everyday that scares you.

Well, here, that’s eating.

Some days, I’m adventurous, but other times, I just want something that I know won’t be punishment for my American taste buds. When I’m writing, for instance, candy I know vs. candy I don’t is crucial to whether or not I will stay on task.

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The financial pit of despair

The very FIRST thing I grabbed…

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  1. Electrolyte powder

… because dehydration is a thing here, and the sweating won’t stop for anyone, even if you have all the fans you own blowing on you (and blowing away your notes) while you write.

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2. Cookies

What is defined as “dessert” here is just kinda sad sometimes. But fortunately, there are THESE. They taste like Pop-tarts and cost only about 10 cents a package. I plan to pace myself, say, about 200 words before I can have just one. Cookie, not package.

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3. Tea

I don’t know about you, but it’s hard to write when I don’t have something hot to drink right next to me. Here’s my favorite British tea (can I get an amen for Irish breakfast?!!). And then there’s that sour green tea for when I’m not allowed to have any more caffeine. Rue the day.

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4. Instant coffee

I know. An utter abomination. BUT somedays, it’s just too hot to boil water. And/or I’m too lazy to boil water and wait and clean the French press and get the coffee and pour it in and wait and … just no.

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5. Candy Rewards

Gummies, chocolate, this half a bag of candy corn that my Mom mailed me (it never stood a chance). If you’re consistent–or have someone hide the candy until you’ve earned it–this can really motivate you through a word sprint.

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6. More instant coffee

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7. Peppermint-y stuff

Nothing like forgetting to brush your teeth in the middle of a creative frenzy.

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8. Candles

These may be Buddhist altar sticks. It’s a fair bet. But I wanted more non-smelly candles for ambience. Looooove candles when I write.

9. Headphones

Try creating iTunes playlists or Noisli for ambient sound, if music distracts you. But I am a HUGE fan of headphones for tuning out distractions. We have some loud birds here. And wall geckos.

10. Power cord

….because we’ve all been somewhere and realized, MY COMPUTER IS ABOUT TO DIE. Or worse, it’s died on you? And you didn’t save your draft?

You have my condolences, poor friend.

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GREEN MANGO MY FAVORITE …snacks for myself today. To write this blog post. Food motivation is key, people.

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What is Jet even doing?

 

 

Bye ’til next time. Happy pre-writing!

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biovignette, life

learning

There is an art to eating with two required utensils and swatting away flies at the same time.

I have been living in Thailand for nine months now, and I believe I have gotten the hang of at least that much. A fly or five descended to feast upon my dinner of Pad Thai and sprouts the other night. Ordinarily—ordinarily for the life of stickiness-loathing and hand-washing every five seconds that I used to live in the States—this would have been cause for a gag reflex. But no noodles flew in the harming of some pesky dinner-desecrating insects.

Amazing all the kinds of flies they have here. Stuck-in-traffic-for-two-hours flies. Expensive-air-conditioning-in-one-hundred-eleven-degree-weather flies. Practice-language-forever-and-people-still-don’t-understand-you flies. The variety of shapes and sizes is remarkable, as is my capacity for violent reaction to each: swatting swatting swatting. And yet they keep coming at you.

When they told us about culture shock in my company orientation, they were not vague or unhelpful. On the contrary, the gentleman who spoke in my session was a first-class storyteller with the sort of examples that remain with you, particularly in the moment you realize you’re having a Moment. One story he shared was about the Africans who would show up at his house when he was trying to work, the same Africans who would not show up to his community meetings. The story came flitting to my mind as I sat at the dinner table of my sweltering house, trying not to be seen by the broke couple banging on my door, the ones who refused to get a job and survived by asking the farangs for money, and feeling like the farthest from a kind soul possible.

Or another story: a lady named Patsy was attacked by culture in the checkout lane of a Big C. The cashier took the bag of potatoes she was buying and let it come plunk—right down on top of the white bread. Fidgeting there in line, Patsy cried. And one does not cry in Thailand.

The first Saturday I sat in a meeting with all the Deaf I was to work with, I was still jet-lagging and getting used to the heat, even though it was cool season. I had already sweat through my jeans and been taught so many sign names, I knew, even as I was smiling and signing them back to my new friends, there was no way in any place I would retain them. I was a closet with no more stacking space.

“Why do they keep making the pointy nose sign at me?” I asked my supervisor.

“They’re calling you farang.” Foreigner. I was, as of yet, nameless. Only later would they name me, after the fashion of picking a distinguishable feature, Eyelashes.

We sat in one giant circle, Deaf-style, and Adam, the leader who was leaving for America, signed an introduction. I think. Then everyone else signed. And signed and signed. Signed until I started looking at the clock on the wall. Signed until I stopped trying to understand. Signed until I stopped trying to look like I was understanding. Signed until suddenly there were twenty sets of eyes staring at me, and I choked because apparently they had been signing their way around a circle and I did not even know how to say hi.

Turning to my supervisor, making bleary eye contact, I shook my head. Someone signed something that, in context, I guessed meant: “you guys could interpret for her.” But I just shook my head, a three-year-old determined to have his way: I’m not saying anything. I don’t want to. I have nothing to say. I want to go home. Home home.

The only other thing I remember of that night is staring at my blue jeans and thinking, Just think ‘blue jeans.’ Blue jeans blue jeans blue jeans blue jeans blue jeans…until the choking in my throat, that big knot that would burst up through my eyes at any hint of kindness, trickled away.

You learn, eventually, to master the art of shoving that knot away in Thailand. Just as you learn to eat with a fork in your left hand and spoon in your right, the fork never rising to touch your lips. As you learn to drive a manual car on the opposite side of the car in “wrong way” traffic. As you learn to give monks their public personal bubble and wai to elders. As you learn to duck your head when you walk in front of anyone, or smile with no teeth, a calm cheer. Just as you learn to learn and learn and learn and take tea for your headache after a day of feeling three years old and still learning.

I’ve decided: the fountain of youth is an eternal cross-cultural experience. A fountain of honey drawing droves of flies, and strange — the diligent product of beings other than as you are — but with a bit of smushed bread, sweet.

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