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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biovignette

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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biovignette, life

no snow in southtown

In my corner of Asia, where Sweat has its own personality and my backyard looks like Barrie’s Neverland, holidays feel far away because there aren’t quite enough reminders. The surplus of candy corn, the spider-webbed columns of old Victorian houses, the vampire teeth in the quarter machines… we have none of that here. Especially as we are now in a period of mourning–our beloved king has passed–any holidays that might have touched our land have been dampened into solemnity.

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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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