life

the new year should start in march

Having tagged along for my husband’s conference, I now sit in a casino-hotel called “Mystic Lake” run by the Mdewakanton Nation of Minnesota Native Americans, and it smells like cigarette smoke and old coffee. Likely because the casino is across the way and there’s a Caribou Coffee right behind me (cue the squeal of steaming milk). The combination of smells is mildly inspiring, if only for the old song. And I realize in a jolt I’ve not written here for a good six months.

Let me give you a brief photo update:

After I left Thailand in July 2017, my street rescue Jet got a new home and a new best friend, a little chihuahua named Tinkerbell. They’re pretty close, close enough Jet feels she can push Tink around a little…

In late October, I got to see my best friend in her new home in Kansas City, where she’s working like a BOSS at Hallmark. We then roadtripped back to my house in Kentucky in time for Halloween. She even wore a witch hat for me (dress-up is SO uncool). I was Mavis, the vampgal from Hotel Transylvania, and somewhere mid-transformation, used way too much Hard Candy concealer. People kept walking up to the antique shop booth where I was working and jumping when I moved. “Wow! I thought you were fake!”

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Bestie pulled an illegal U-ee in Lee’s Summit, Missouri for me to snap this. She knows me so well.

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Mid-November, about two weeks before my wedding, I visited my in-laws in Wisconsin…and realized just how cold my new home was going to be. Proceeded to search Amazon for appropriate clothing:

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Speaking of weddings, my best guy and I were engaged in August! After two years of long-distance, a story I will have to share another time, he proposed to me at my family’s favorite beach in South Carolina and even used sign language to ask me to marry him.

I mostly worked the ANTI-wedding planning game, because when I had to sit too long and think about details, the mental atmosphere ran something like this:

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There’s a reason I work at a café now.

Our wedding was December 2, a mid-morning ceremony with twinkle lights, Southern breakfast foods, and the best cake any of us have every tasted (thanks to my best friend’s aunt!).

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It’s amazing how fast the wedding flew by. I think here, standing with my new brother-in-law and his gorgeous wife, who got married only a few months before us, I was in such a daze that the only thing I could think to be grateful for was that we were no longer standing in front everyone, getting stared at. The week before, I had started to Google searches like “how to not get sick on your wedding day” or “INFJ marriage terrified too many eyeballs.” While I was still nauseated and could barely eat all the way up to the ceremony, I calmed down as soon as I saw L. And then, surprisingly, he cried before I did!

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It’s still just as cold as I worried it would be, and most days my clothes are so puffy, I cannot even detect myself in them. Observe, how I wear the coat I bought for Nepal and Turkey, thinking I would never have to wear it again…

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But after some time learning how to dress, get around in piles of snow, and I don’t know, cook food*, I’m starting to get the hang of married life and am getting back to writing. (*In Thailand, I just walked down the soi to our neighborhood restaurant, a hole-in-the-wall joint with the most delicious yellow curry–served best with a plateful of rice and a fried egg on top. What was the point of cooking when I could get all that and a coconut water for under two dollars?)

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On another note, after hearing about my sadness in leaving my Thai kitty behind, L’s family gave us one of their cats, Millicent. Black like my street sass but with a tuxedo pattern of white fur and “gloves,” she is the bully granddaughter of the family’s first two cats, who like true barn cats just kept having herds of kittens until they were taken in for preventative measures.

Millicent apparently did not like people or other cats or anything really and so would hang out under the stairs in the basement like a troll. Seeing how unfriendly she was, I was at first resistant to taking her in. I like my cats to be mostly like dogs except able to properly employ a sand box. But after a few weeks of hermit life under the bed, she decided she could stand us. She’s especially affectionate in the morning, when her food bowl is empty. It’s a good thing we don’t have stairs nearby. I’m sure one of us would go tumbling, how she winds around our legs.IMG_0937

So life has settled in, green things are reemerging from their solace in the deep earth, and I too sift through the things I’ve collected in the winter and turn to my journals and keyboard to discover what I think again.

Stay tuned. Many words in the works. And thanks, as always, for reading.

❤ , dori.png

 

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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

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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