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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that time i didn’t die in nepal

Hailing as far back as the days when we shared a bedroom and I threatened the your-side-my-side thing with tape, my sister and I have often been at odds. It’s in our natures. When she walks into a room, there is light, color, and the ambition to think highly of everything. Openness. I walk in with arms folded.

Nepal pried my arms open with a crow bar. Mostly, it hurt, and I didn’t like it. But now, with this post at least…and like many other seekers before me who have wound their way around this place… I shall try to open my mind again to this beautiful dusty country.

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My words will be few as the most I can recall of that country are what these pictures hold: monkeys, mountains, dogs, dire illness, and as I said, dust. Oh and Downton Abbey on binge, since there was little else to do between bathroom breaks. But perhaps the pictures are worth enough themselves.

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Stunning peaks

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Henna night with new friends

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Lolz….guess which one I am…

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Poinsettias? They were everywhere!

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Chicken guards outside the bathroom

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Food poisoning strikes! featuring the overnight room at the international clinic and a bottle of saline

Tip 1:

Don’t eat chicken skin.

Apparently, bacteria galore… You could die. (My friend and I ate questionable soup.)

Tip 2:

Drink water.

Even if you throw it back up. Dehydration via IV is not fun.

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Snow patches on the side of the mountain

After biking for four and half hours up into the mountains, we found a misty ledge of snow. It was so foggy and cold, it reminded me of London in the winter. On the way back, I started to lose feeling in my toes. Living in Thailand makes you forget what cold weather is like… We each slept under three heavy blankets that night.

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My sister still has a few things to teach me…but given the choice, I think I would go back. Give this rugged place another chance 😉 Why not?

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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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lanna finds

Wednesday brings you another coffee post from the north of Thailand.

Lanna Welcomes You

Often, you will see this phrase around the city. The region, the Land of a Million Rice Fields, used to be known as the Lanna Kingdom, and the language varies a bit from Central Thai. For instance, instead of greeting a friend or stranger with Sawatdee ka!, the locals may say Sawatdee jao!. 

Perhaps what I find the greatest difference is the “look” of Lanna from the south of Thailand. Up here, everything seems rustic. Or as they say, “lao” — the equivalent to an American calling something “hick” (I get the feeling the term may be a slur against one of our neighboring countries?). Think less the gaudy gold of the Bangkok province and more thatch roofs, muted jewel tones, wooden wats…

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Yes, I staged this #hipstergeneration

This last year, northern Thailand has provided excellent visual material for my current project and Camp NaNoWriMo novel, The Jungle Kingdom. Though I am only halfway through the draft, I can already say that this has been my most rewarding writing experience since college. The serious intelligence of graduate school tends to bias you against children’s fiction.

When we live in a world of genocide and epidemics, perhaps there are richer, maturer subjects to tackle.

However, I am learning — if it’s possible for your own brain-child to teach you anything — that we can struggle with death and dark choices even in children’s stories. (See J. K. Rowling for love as sacrifice and C. S. Lewis for alternate creation stories & what is free will?). Check my progress out here if you’re curious — or if you’re also creating this month and need a writing buddy!

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Yay for friends who will take you to neat coffee shops and leave you alone to write!

At the height of the water festival, my friend Erin and I escaped to Tanita Coffee House in the nearby mountains to create for a few hours. What a quaint place! If you’re wanting to work in a natural, breezy environment with Internet and delicious coffee, look no further. There’s even an art gallery for inspiration breaks and a local crafts shop (spend all the money!).

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Utterly off topic, but on the way there, Erin tore the car across four lanes of traffic so we could snap pics of this.

I usually prefer weird characters or funny political statements, but this tag was a sparkly rainbow thing, and glitter and I have been best friends since fifth grade. Besides, we risked our lives for it. I’ve heard that increases fondness.

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Channeling our inner Asian and snapping moody pics

 

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Well, I’m off to boost my word count 🙂 Playlist below for any other fantasy writers out there. Happy creating!

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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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