touching base

I ran out of time before we left for Indonesia to put up a farewell post with a link to the blog, so I’ll do a little of that here and then catch up a bit. Indonesia was incredible! We saw so many glorious sunsets, experienced the strangeness of ogoh-ogoh on Bali, the wonder of the second highest volcano on Lombok (and a terrible accident for Marc, and a minor one for me as I burned my calf on a motorcycle exhaust and was too humiliated to mention it to the cute young guy who was driving me), and the thrill of finding an exceptional place, the tiny southernmost island of Rote. Goats and pigs everywhere, music in the dark, white sand beaches and crystal clear water. It was a great trip. You can look at the blog here. I haven’t finished writing it yet — there’s one last day in Denpasar and the winding-up to write, but everything I mentioned above is already fleshed out on the blog, and boy are there some beautiful photographs! Not because I’m a great photographer, certainly, but because it’s nearly impossible to take a bad picture there, the setting is so spectacular.

so much of my time in Indonesia looked something like this

I read TEN books on vacation, which might be my record. Two of those made it to my “absolute favorites” shelf on GoodReadsHuman Acts, by Han Kang, and Why I Am Not a Feminist, by Jessa Crispin. I linked to my absolute favorites shelf, there, so you can read my reviews of both books if you’re interested. Han Kang also wrote The Vegetarianwhich won the 2016 Booker Prize, and which was so startling and amazing I read it four times in about six weeks. When I read it the first time, I read the last word and just started reading it again immediately, straight through. Kang is an extraordinary writer, and in Human Actsher storytelling skills are surely at their peak. She tells the story of a real event — a student uprising in Gwangju, South Korea, in 1980, in which the government slaughtered protestors. The first important chapter is told in second person, and the disorientation of that POV choice is so brilliant, SO brilliant. It’s a wondrous book, but not a fun book (except for the fun of realizing what a writer is doing for you to create such a book).

And I’ve just found Ottessa Moshfegh, and am loving her book Eileen. Since I read brand new writers all day long for my work, it’s always a huge breath of joy to read someone who writes sentences ONLY THEY could’ve written. That’s how Moshfegh writes. No one writes like her. No one else could write like her. With my clients, most of the time anyone could’ve written their sentences because most of them are just learning how to write, so they haven’t yet learned to trust themselves and let themselves have their own voices. But Moshfegh has a distinct voice even among writers with distinct voices. It isn’t that her sentences are extraordinary in their eloquence, or diction, or vocabulary, it’s that they’re distinct in their observation and stance. I’m only about halfway through the book, but wow.

My book life is exploding — not only do I read for a living, read every other moment I can, and review for Netgalley, but I’ve just been selected as a book ambassador for Little, Brown, a publisher whose list I’ve loved for a long time. So I’ll be talking about their books in the coming years, too. So many books. So. Many. Books. I read almost every moment I am awake, and it’s still not enough.

My life is going to be changing pretty dramatically in the coming weeks or perhaps a few months, but I’m not quite ready to say it all. There are details to be nailed down and people to be told in person, face to face. It’s good. It’s a welcome change, and it gives me a lot more peace in my life. I came home from vacation to plenty of work, which hasn’t been true for a very long time (I have a queue again, haven’t had that for 18 months or so), and also to the terrible allergies that plague all of us in central Texas at this time of year. I’ve been so miserable with that and jet lag, and trying to work, so I have been slow to get back here, but I’m back….so hello! I missed you!

xoL

three things: beautiful Bali, moving on, and cussin’

FEED: I’m telling you, it’s really winter here in New York. There isn’t any snow, but it’s very cold and the skies are either gray and dirty, or so brilliant that the cold sun is blinding. I find myself looking so forward to going to beautiful tropical Bali, and I think so often about the beauty of the place.

This is the veranda off our room, overlooking rice fields. We stayed here last time (Alam Jiwa is the hotel, and our room is Jelatik), and we’re staying here again while we’re in Ubud. We have breakfast at that table every morning, and afternoon tea and cake.
This is the entrance to the Sacred Monkey Forest
This gorgeous detail has stayed in my mind, associated with the beauty of Bali

We’re spending the least amount of time on Bali, in Ubud, and the most on Lombok, but I don’t have memories of Lombok to carry me through the cold winter so these are the images that are feeding me now.

SEED: For me, the silt has settled to the bottom and I’m starting to feel space for other things in my mind besides the nightmare of our current administration, so I look forward to writing other things in this section of my daily post. If you’re in the US (or just feeling traumatized in an ongoing way even though you live in another country), I’ll tell you the final part of my path in case it’s helpful to you.

Being active is the best thing, it’s the very best way to allow other life to reemerge. It’s easy in New York because honestly, there are one or two protests or rallies or marches every single day (at a minimum). But even back in Austin, there are work days, organization meetings, events at the capitol, planning sessions — and then there are daily phone calls. No one is more phone-phobic than I am, but you get kind of inoculated to it once you learn the structure. They certainly aren’t social calls, and they follow a formula so you just learn the formula, say what you’re calling to say, and you’re done. Those are actions that count. For me, actually doing stuff has been the most helpful.

And then minimizing my responding to my Facebook feed has also helped. As I’ve been focusing on helping the silt settle, I’ve been able to pay close attention to what happens within me when I look at my feed, and as soon as I feel the tizzy rising up, I just close it. I am in the process of figuring out my posting strategy — maybe every day one action item, one bit of background that would be helpful to read, and one thing that either provides a laugh or a bit of encouragement. If I’m involved in something that might really be encouraging to others, like participating in a giant march or rally, and I think it can strengthen my friends’ hearts to see how many people there are on our side, I’ll share a lot of pictures. But otherwise, I’m trying to limit the sharing from friends’ feeds. And when I’m tempted, I ask myself if my point is just to arouse a “SEE????!!” response (and if so, I don’t share) or if it’s instead intended to ask a question or orient us. “This is happening, what is our action option?”

I don’t know, those things have really been helpful to me. They’ve kind of re-oriented me away from reacting emotionally and toward agency and action.

And now that I’ve kind of figured this out, I’m ready to move on to thinking about other things. I am glad, and I imagine you are, too. 🙂

READ: Here, I’ll start your week off with a whole new crop of alternative cuss words. Field-tested and mother approved! I actually say a bunch of these all the time, in addition to my inordinate love of the one that starts with F.

YOU’RE WELCOME.

xoxo

two things: 1/9/17

1)  Well it’s been cold and gross here in New York, with just enough snow to make a mess but not enough to be pretty and fun. So we spent all day yesterday finishing up the plans and the blog for our trip to Indonesia at the end of March. Indonesia comprises 17,508-18,306 islands (8,844 have been named, and 922 of those are permanently inhabited). The largest cluster is on Java, with ~130 million inhabitants (60% of the country’s population) on an island the size of New York State. The last time we went to Indonesia in May, 2013, we went to Java — Jakarta briefly, Yogyakarta, and Solo — and Bali. We were so-so about Java but absolutely adored Bali. With so very many islands, like Greece they’re organized in groupings. We’re focusing on the Lesser Sunda islands of Bali, Lombok, Timor (overnight), and Rote. Lombok has an active volcano, Mount Rinjani, which last erupted three times in May, 2010.

the blog head — click the image to go to the blog

Unlike our last trip to Laos and Thailand, we’re going almost entirely to places that are new to us, with one exception. In Bali, we’re returning to Ubud to stay again at Alam Jiwa (the name means ‘soul of nature’), largely, I think, because I want to return there. You can see pictures of the place in the post from that blog if you are curious; there’s something about Bali that is extraordinary and lush and creatively gorgeous. Everything they make is an offering of some kind, everything created is made with a specific kind of beauty. Unlike the rest of Indonesia Bali is Hindu, not Muslim, and you can feel that difference, and see it. I can’t wait to get back to Alam Jiwa, just can’t wait.

And the place we’re staying on Lombok that’s near the volcano, I can’t wait for that, either. Just look at this gorgeous view from the hotel:

Rinjani Lodge

It helps a lot having this to look forward to, with the political stuff that’s coming right up. And I hasten to remind myself that other things are coming right up, too, beyond all the marches and protests I’ll participate in: friends’ birthdays, poetry group and book club meetings (to talk about books!), Marnie’s and Ilan’s visit to Austin, a return to NYC, a visit to Chicago to celebrate Marnie’s and Ilan’s birthday (his first, wow), and then we’re off to Indonesia. The only bad thing about the trip is that I’ll miss celebrating Oliver’s third birthday with his family, and I hate that because I’ve been part of the others. But I’ll celebrate him wherever I am, for sure.

2) If you’re a big reader you probably already know about this, but in case you don’t: Netgalley! Create an account (free) as a reader, choose the publishers you’re most interested in (I chose the ones that tend to publish my favorite books, obviously), and then get free copies of forthcoming books, delivered right to your e-reader. You are asked to write a review of the books you read, wherever you might do that — GoodReads, Amazon, your own blog — but there is no obligation to write a positive review. You may see this mentioned if you read others’ reviews on GoodReads; a reviewer will mention that s/he got an ARC (advance reading copy), so that’s what this means. The book may not be in its final, fully copy edited form, so there may be typos, but (a) free books, (b) before anyone else gets to read them! I already write reviews of everything I read so of course I signed up.

Right now I’m reading Someone Always Robs the Poor, by Carl MacDougall (a new collection of brilliant stories from the multi-award winning elder statesman of Scottish literature, exploring themes of poverty, migration, alienation, accountability and alcoholism, with an impressive depth and emotional range) and Land of Hidden Fires, by Kirk Kjeldsen, set in Occupied Norway in 1943. They always ask for feedback about the cover, too. It’s a win-win situation if you’re broke, like me, and you love to read. There isn’t the same time constraint as with a library book, either.

A bonus:

Ilan is TEN months old now, how shocking is that?! He’s so beautiful I can barely drag my eyes away, and he’s really getting into mischief now, and is cruising around.
Oliver is getting so big! He’s super tall and very thin, and he wakes up SO HAPPY
Aww….Lucy is four months old, and just the sweetest little baby. She can never take her eyes off her mama, and she has this little honking laugh, like a goose. Apple of Pete’s eye, she is.

getting out of here

Just after midnight tonight, our flight takes off for Laos. Actually, though, we have to first fly to Taipei, then on to Bangkok, then on to Luang Prabang, in Laos. We’ll be in the air a total of 21.5 hours, and in connecting airports for 6.5, for a total of 28 hours from gate to gate. UGH. Good thing I love to read. Poor Marc, who doesn’t read, has a much harder time.

Of course we have a blog, you know me.

blog

If you click the image it’ll take you there — or URL here: http://thailaothai.blogspot.com/.

We’ll spend one night in Luang Prabang (a crashing hard night, after that brutal travel day), and then up early the next morning for a 4-hour car ride to Nong Khiaw, our favorite place in Laos. After that we return to Mairood, that little fishing village on the coast of Thailand, then a few days on Koh Mak, an island off Thailand, then a night in Taipei before heading home.

We are mostly so glad to be leaving the country right now, getting a break from the politics that are traumatizing us. Of course it’ll be here waiting and who knows what we’ll come home to, and it’s not like we will really be away from it . . . but it will be harder to be online and my online time will be spent posting to the blog and sharing pictures, so I’m less likely to be obsessively and fearfully following the nightmare.

Come with me. The mini-break will do you good, too. xoxox

not-Norway

Last year at this time we went to Norway, which was just so special. I’d always wanted to go to Norway, and I was in the middle of plowing through Knausgaard’s books with SO much pleasure, so the trip had that layer on top of it for me, especially since I was in the same area he’d spent time in the specific volume I was reading at the time. There was midnight sun, extremely gorgeous landscapes, and fjords.

he's probably 18 months old here, on Manistique Lake.
he’s probably 18 months old here, on Manistique Lake.

This year we’re staying domestic and heading to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, to a place that has a life-long connection for Marc. His grandfather built a cabin on Manistique Lake before he was born, and his earliest memories, and in fact some of his best memories from his childhood, were made there.

It’s my first time going to the UP, though I’ve always wanted to see it, and he hasn’t been there in 17 years, I think, so we’re both looking forward to it. It always cracks me up that he loves to fish, because for all the reasons it just doesn’t seem like he would fish. You’d have to know him to know how bizarre it is. The first time I learned that he loves to fish I told him how much that surprised me, and he shrugged and said, “Free food.” THAT made sense. 🙂

His family’s cabin is long gone, so we’re renting a cabin on the same lake and we’ll go out on the lake a LOT, weather permitting. He still has this hand-drawn map (drawn by his dad or grandfather, he doesn’t remember) showing where the good fishing spots are, but he doesn’t need the map. He knows that lake by heart.

It's called either Gottlieb's Hole or Mitzi's Hole, but it's the best spot on the lake for catching pike.
It’s called either Gottlieb’s Hole or Mitzi’s Hole, but it’s the best spot on the lake for catching pike.

When he went there as a kid, the roads were unpaved, and directions were given (to the rare person who needed them) by landmarks, like “Turn right on the road after the bog.” When his grandfather built the “old cabin with blue-gray roof” they were the only Jewish people in the area, which they knew because they were told that pretty quickly. As best we can tell, it’s still mostly true.  When that’s a point made to you, it’s a point you keep in mind.

Fishing isn’t my thing at all (AT ALL), but I will go out on the boat with him, with my books and my sketch pad and my camera. He wants to get out just before sunrise, so I hope to capture some beautiful sunrises.

up

See Hiawatha National Forest? Manistique Lake is just east of that, so we’re kind of equidistant from Lake Superior and Lake Michigan. Marc has all sorts of places in mind to see when we aren’t on the boat, and Lake Superior has a bunch of them. I can’t wait to see that giant, wild place. [here’s our travel blog…]

The nearest tiny town to our cabin is Curtis, which has the strangest slogan: It won’t hurt us to go to Curtis! I laugh every time I think about it, and want them to raise the bar just a little bit. But they’ll have a small-town Fourth of July celebration, with a little parade, and band concerts, and food, and then a small-town fireworks display. That will be fun.

So this trip will be unusual in so many ways, but I’m looking forward to them all, once we arrive. The shuttle picks me up at 4am tomorrow, not looking forward to that, and I’m also not looking forward to a very long day of jam-packed travel . . . a flight to Chicago (overbooked), a flight to Traverse City (overbooked), and then a rental car and 5-hour drive to our cabin, probably on jam-packed roads, all because of the holiday weekend. Since we fly in and out of Traverse City, we may stop by the Annual Cherry Festival (mmm, cherries).

Y’all have a good holiday celebration, whatever you’re doing!

China, finally

Late tonight we leave for China — a place we’ve always been somewhat hesitant to visit for a bunch of reasons. A couple of minutes ago we realized that we’d need to deal with the Great Firewall of China; we would not be able to access gmail, nor would I be able to post on our travel blog unless we found a way around it. So a quick 1-2-3 lesson on VPNs and then some testing, and we are (I think) good to go.

chinafinally.blogspot.com
chinafinally.blogspot.com

Assuming things work out, I’ll be posting stories and pictures to the blog (if you click the image above, it’ll take you there). I hope also to share pictures on Facebook, but that’s also kind of dicey.

Although the map is a tiny bit out of date, since we now have a small overnight stop in Kunming that’s not indicated on it, here’s where we’ll be going:

green lines are flights, purple are taxis
green lines are flights, purple are taxis

We begin and end in Hong Kong, and we’ll actually spend a couple of nights in Hong Kong before we head home so that will be fun. Until now we’ve only connected flights there. Safe travels and good food to us!

goodbye!
goodbye!

Happy birthday to me!

“Still, there are times I am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination.” ― Jhumpa Lahiri, Interpreter of Maladies

Today I turn 57. In the last year, I had truly extraordinary times, so many joyous times, easy happiness for months on end, one deeply painful issue that still hurts and in fact hurts more than I think I can bear sometimes, and one dark period and one deep dark black period. This is long, but I have so very much to be grateful for, and you’re in here, I promise you. I learned a lot about myself this year; what a treat, that you can keep surprising yourself for so long. I kept my promise to myself this whole year in terms of eating well and mindfully, and doing near-daily yoga and meditating and walking. I celebrated our precious and happy Oliver turning 1, and the news of my darling Marnie’s pregnancy with a boy, arriving at the end of February. Two grandsons, what gifts, as I watch my family, the little family I tried so hard to make, grow into the future.

Since my last birthday I traveled a lot. I went to NYC every month, except the two months Marc came here. I went to Chicago on Mother’s Day to see Marnie and loved sitting in her booth at Zine Fest and seeing people respond to her beautiful work. Right after my birthday last year we went to Laos and Cambodia; in March I went to Colombia; in July I went to Norway and saw the midnight sun; in 13 days I return to Vietnam for the fifth time. Seeing the world, a treasure I never thought would happen to me, but it has for the last 10 years.

This year I celebrated the birthdays of my dearest daughters Katie and Marnie, and their families, and my friends. With my book club boon companions, we read books, we ate good food, we laughed so much, we went to happy hours together, we saved each other in one way or another, and our friendships deepened even more. With friends near and far, I enjoyed love and friendship and laughs and commiseration. With Traci I had two lunches each month in NYC and hours of sharing ourselves with each other, such a treasure. Dinners with Craig in New York, though not nearly enough of those, always rich in laughter and feeling seen and known. I even got to see Sherlock this year, but not my darling Peggy. Dear friends in Austin, in other states, in Europe and Canada, and even on the other side of the world, down under — all very real to me, very important, dear friends. Although I already knew this, I learned even more about how critical friends are to a full and happy life, and sometimes to life itself. My friends saved me last month in a very real way. So many walked right into that deep, dark hole and held my hands gently and brought me back into the light, friends in Austin and New York and Connecticut and Pennsylvania and France and Australia, just staggering. Friends, riches beyond compare. Daughters, wealth beyond compare.

a friend interlude -- my book club women, so much love
a friend interlude — book club women, so much love. missing Dee.

kandoI have a chosen family that carries me gently and with so much love, and I feel the same. Sherlock and Craig, my brothers. Peggy and Dixie, my sisters. Don, my Jewish father. Nancy, my….no idea, just my dearly loved family. I feel like there is so much more to say there, but I don’t know the words. I’ve done without a mother for 57 years, so I guess it’ll go that way, but I have a big enough family to hold and enfold me. And then of course my birthed family, Katie and Marnie, who I simply could not do without. Their husbands, always so good to me and to my daughters. I’m so grateful for my sweet family.

Since my last birthday I read so many books, mostly for work, but some for pleasure: Did You Ever Have a Family; A Little Life; Do No Harm; four of the Karl Ove Knausgaard volumes titled  My Struggle; On the Move, Oliver Sacks’ memoir; A House in the Sky; The End of Your Life Book Club; The Empathy Exams; We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves; The Unspeakable; Kafka on the Shore; She Weeps Each Time You’re Born; Norwegian Wood; Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage; Station Eleven; Dept. of Speculation; The Laughing Monsters; West of Sunset; The Children Act; The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing; Loitering; The Bone Clocks; Everything I Never Told Youand Cutting for Stone. Of these, my very favorites were the four giant Knausgaards, A Little Life, She Weeps Each Time You’re Born, Station Eleven, Loiteringand Dept. of Speculation. And then there were so many I reread for the remembered pleasure, including the one I’m rereading for the 5th(?) time, Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. That always feels like an autumn book to me for some strange reason. So many I reread, I can’t even remember. The gift of literature, my oldest and most consistent love, I guess.

Every month but one, I think, poetry group met in my house and we shared truly wonderful evenings together, nearly all of the poetry beautiful and expansive and moving. Those friends taught me so much about poetry, and I’m so grateful for their generosity. I learned some new poets to follow, like Frank Bidart, and two of my friendships in that group deepened a lot. I found new music thanks to my very dear friend Val, who sent me an album of Imagine Dragons because she thought I would enjoy it, and at just the perfect time, and added a lot of Iris Dement to my library, thanks to my beautiful Traci. Around Austin and New York, and around the world, I ate a lot of fabulous food and will be drinking a whole lot of amazing tea (thank you Sherlock and Peggy). And I cooked a lot of fabulous food too, including this buttermilk biscuit jag I’ve been on and can’t seem to stop—especially since I discovered Tasmanian Leatherwood honey, and received some of Karyn’s delicious honey from her bees. Books, poetry, music, food, so many riches.

And the ordinaries, the moments throughout the days and weeks that give me peace and ease, or simple happiness, or even joy and bliss, which I am grateful to experience on a regular basis. My morning coffee routine, a deep pleasure never taken for granted. Weekly coffee breaks with Nancy, communion in the deepest, real meaning of that word. The real pleasure of my sweet little home, and the way I get to welcome people into it. Drawing, which I learned how to do this year, a regular joy and wonder. Nightly walks and stories in my ear, meditative pleasures. Sitting on my patio in the cool moments of a day, feeling the soft air on my face and the quiet joy of having my own space. My so-cozy bed, my refuge at the end of each day, crisp white sheets and a soft comforter.

Of course Facebook makes it easy for people — far-flung people — to wish you a happy birthday, but it’s always so surprising to get the emails, cards, gifts, and notes from people who remember. Like Kty in Paris, who remembered — how? how did she remember this? — that I love yellow flowers. People who remind me about Big Daddy or Mister Rogers just when I need to remember them — how do you do that? Little interpersonal touches that show me that somehow I live in the hearts of people in so many places. It doesn’t feel like there is a big enough gratitude for touches like these.

OandP090215No one ever knows what the coming year will bring, me least of all. I’ve noticed that the things I worry about most tend not to happen, and I never once imagined the dreadfulest things that happened. I guess, if it’s not too greedy, I’d like another year like this past year: daughters and their sons and husbands, friends far and wide, books, art, poetry, good food, travel, continued good health for me and Marc and everyone I know please. Gee, that looks like a whole lot to ask for. I expect and hope to travel to Chicago in February for the birth of Marnie’s and Tom’s son, and I expect I won’t get nearly my fill of my kids and grandsons, even little Oliver who lives up the road a ways.

I’m damn glad to be here and I couldn’t have done it without you. Thank you for being here with me, and for celebrating my birthday with me if you do. Thank you for living this life with me, for the ways you keep me going, the ways you share yourself with me, and the ways you encourage me with so much love. Thank you for the times you let me love you. I’m so grateful for this past year, which was an absolutely wonderful year in almost every way. Even the dark times mattered, even though I did not like the suffering. So happy birthday to me, and many more! On to 58!

p.s. I’ll bet you knew that I cried while writing every single word. xoxoxox

hasta luego!

By the time you read this, we’ll be in the air on our way to Colombia. We’ll be visiting Cartagena, Medellin, and up in the mountains, Santa Fe de Antioquia and San Jeronimo. We’ll be driving from Medellin on, so wish us the best. (If you know us well, you know we need all the good wishes on that front we can get. Let’s just say one of us is directionally challenged, while at the same time he gets freaked out and believes he knows everything.) One thing that’s SUPER weird for us with this trip is that where we’re going is just ~5 hours away, and in the same time zone as Texas. Usually we’re dealing with a 12-hour time zone difference and a 30-hour-ish flight, so this feels like such a breeze, hardly going out of town.

Assuming I can readily get online, and it seems I’ll be able to, I’ll update the travel blog daily. I won’t post here until I’m back, but you can jump over here to see pictures and read stories:

colombia

Click the picture and you’ll go directly to the travel blog. (Or click here.)

The last time we were in South America was the late fall, 2007, when we went to Peru. That was a fantastic trip, and I hope the same is true for this one. Adiós amigos, hasta luego!

apres le deluge, moi

lori pool
that beautiful pool, that beautiful hotel

I’m not a stupid woman, though I do have a very hard time with extremely straight, linear, logical thinking. I can never make any sense of time when we come home from one of our trips. This time yesterday, whatever that means, I was sitting by the pool in Phnom Penh having breakfast. Then a couple hours later we drove to the airport and I started feeling very bad. Then we had a 3-hour trip to Hong Kong. Then a 4-hour layover. Then we flew for 16 hours to New York, and I was feeling so terrible with what turned out to be a mercifully short-lived 24-hour flu. Then we spent almost 2 hours getting through the immigration line, miserable me, my aching back, feeling like a train slammed into me. Then a long wait in the freezing cold line for a taxi. Then a cab ride to Teaneck, to pick up Marc’s car (thanks to my beautiful friend Craig for letting us keep the car there), then a drive into New York and the daze of getting things turned on, plugged in, and then a slice of pizza from the corner, and then a long hot shower, then a hopscotching bit of “sleep,” and awake at 4:30am for the day. But this time yesterday morning (31 hours ago?) I was having breakfast in Phnom Penh.

Being away for so long, and in such a different kind of place, makes you keenly aware of the bits of your daily life that mean so much. It’s not like they are a mystery, it’s not like you’re surprised to spot them, but the clouds part and the sun shines on those experiences when you get to return to them. For me, one of the most pointed daily pleasures is my morning coffee routine, grinding my beans, cold water in the kettle, boiling water over the grounds, a 4-minute timer, plunging, and pouring that first cup. The steam, the little swirl of the oils on the surface of the coffee. The hot cup, the beautiful smell, those first rich sips. We have found that our favorite countries to visit are the Buddhist countries, and I’d further narrow that to Buddhist countries that also favor coffee over tea. The coffee was quite good in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, but my own coffee, my own making of my coffee, the deep quiet pleasure of that ritual, the pleasure of getting back to it is a vivid pulsing red.

A hot shower, as long as I want it, at home. The peace of sleep in a bed that is partly my own, at home — with just the right pillows, and just the right number of pillows. A slice of pizza at 2am, bought at the corner and jazzed up. Riverside Park waiting, though I may not see it today. And the extraordinary anticipation of my own coffee, my own bed, my own shower, in my own cozy little home in Austin tomorrow….the clouds part and the choir of angels sings for me.

None of this is to take away even a mustard seed of the pleasure of traveling, not one bit. It’s just that these things are true too.

And now the re-entry. Being in steamy hot southeast Asia makes the “hey we’re leading up to Christmas” stuff very strange. I’ve been seeing friends in my Facebook stream mention that they’ve put up their tree, their homes are decorated for the holidays, all that stuff. Even in Buddhist Cambodia, there were Santa Clauses everywhere, but they made no sense. I won’t decorate this apartment for Christmas, I don’t unpack here, I don’t do my laundry yet. Today I will try to catch up on email, on the comments you left here and there. Today I will write my last post on the travel blog, finish up processing the last pictures, get everything uploaded to Flickr. Today I’ll cull through recipes and articles about Christmas party food to figure out what I’ll make for the poetry group Christmas party I’m having next week. (Next week? Is that right? The 16th, whenever that is.) Tomorrow morning very early I fly back to Austin, and there I’ll unpack, do my laundry, do some grocery shopping to fill my empty refrigerator, and decorate a Christmas tree.

And beginning tomorrow I return to the other parts of my life that I dearly missed while I was away — eating my own delicious food, my twice-daily yoga practice, meditation before bed, seeing my gorgeous girlfriends, regular coffee breaks with my amazing friend Nancy, seeing my family. I put on six pounds while I was away and I’m just fine with that; I certainly wasn’t worried about any of it while I was there, but I feel the bit of splodginess and look forward to trimming it back. Vacation was messy and hot and startling and hard and beautiful and shocking and pleasure and joy and in each moment. It’s time to be back home.

Thanks to you, my beautiful friends, who came along with me on vacation. I loved your comments here and on that blog and on Facebook, I loved knowing that you were sharing it with me, and I loved sharing it with you. It’s something I love very much, and so sharing it with you was another layer of joy. xo

while I’m away

having a BLAST
having a BLAST

The travel blog is my official record of our trip, but I have plenty of other stuff going on while I’m away, of course. I jot notes in my beautiful leather-covered moleskine, or in the overful app on my phone, and on occasion I dangerously try to just remember it until I get home. Here are a few of my notes:

I’ve gotten so accustomed to my lovely quiet home, and to silence, that on occasion I feel like I’m going mad because of the amount of Marc’s talking — which is not a reflection on him! (Though he is quite a chatty man. My first husband was a silent as a rock, and I used to cry from the silence and loneliness. The line from John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery” used to kill me: “How the hell can a person / go to work in the morning / come home in the evening / and have nothing to say.” So I complain with deep caution about a chatty husband. Still…..) He reads aloud every item on the menu, which always makes me think of that Billy Crystal movie about Paris, where his old father-in-law reads all the street signs out loud. And since poor Marc is profoundly dyslexic, he reads very slowly and each word is pronounced in a monotone, so it’s like listening to a robot text reader. It’s strange and bewildering to find myself wishing for my husband to talk less.

I’m reading a lot, as always, and finished two books that left me deeply disappointed, and in similar ways. I read Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese — a book that has been strongly recommended to me for years. Everyone who recommends it looks at me with some urgency and says how beautiful it is, and how I especially will love it. I’ll say these two positive things: I learned so much about Ethiopia, that part was great, and about medicine, also great. But the story and especially the writing left me extremely cold. There are sentences that describe (scenery, characters, etc), sentences that advance plot, and then what I call insight sentences, where the writer goes beyond plot and reaches out to articulate an insight of some kind. These are often my favorite sentences in books, the ones I highlight (though description can also be exceptional of course). The insight sentences in this book were just terrible. Too often they were simply false, or even flat wrong. They didn’t feel honest at all, they felt like the writer was trying to pull it off but he wasn’t touching truth in any way. Like he didn’t realize he was writing lies. It’s a very long book too (mine is on the kindle so I’m not sure how many pages), and I just kept reading because I expected that surely it was going to be good any chapter now. When that happens and I finally finish, I’m so outraged at myself and at the author for wasting my time. I won’t read anything else by Verghese. I joined a book club meetup in Austin and this is the book they’re discussing in December; that was my motivator for finally reading it after so long. Now I don’t know if I’ll go, because I expect I’ll be the only one who hates it like this.

The second book I read and disliked was Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng. A woman I know who reads even more than I do, and whose reading taste I trust, recommended it and if I remember correctly, she said she cried so hard near the end. So I very happily downloaded it before we left, and the whole time I was suffering through Cutting for Stone I kept comforting myself with the thought of this book waiting for me. It was better than the first book, definitely, but it suffered the same kind of problem with insight sentences and also problems with plotting. Too much of the plotting and character development seemed crafted to make the story go the way she wanted it to go, instead of emerging out of the reality of the characters. That was very disappointing, but at least it wasn’t as long as the other book.

Then, out of the 400 books on my kindle, most making my mouth water, I wavered and nearly re-read Moby Dick, just to read something I knew would make me happy, move me, knock my socks off…but then decided to try The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell. (I think he wrote Cloud Atlas, which I didn’t read.) I decided I’d give it a chapter to grab me and then I’d bail on it. OH MY, what a voice. What a voice. Reading this book is like meeting a new person who doesn’t think or talk like other people, so you can’t wait to hang out and just hear what they say next. So many of the sentence make me laugh out loud, like one where the main character walks away from an interaction with someone and thinks that crazy people are hard work. It’s just so funny, and set in England in the 1980s so there’s that voice to it too. But it takes a turn early on and I don’t know how to describe it, but it scares the hell out of me, to the point where it went into a nightmare the first night I was reading. Marc woke me up last night and said I was trembling and covered with goosebumps and crying out. My nightmare was directly a result of the book — but I can’t wait to have time to read it some more. It’s not like anything else I’ve read, at this point. If I keep liking this book as I do now, perhaps I’ll read Cloud Atlas next and I’ll be interested to see if this book is HIS voice, or if he’s capable of different voices for each book. Even if this is just his voice I will be glad to read more.

Marc and I have both had weird troubles on this trip. When we went to Indonesia, three trips ago, while we were waiting in the Jakarta airport I sat on the edge of a planter and got some kind of bite. By the time we got to Yogyakarta and I changed clothes, I was shocked to see ~10 enormous red circles on my abdomen and legs. Huge, bright red. I looked like a polka-dotted person. And they itched like mad. The red circles stayed for two weeks, though the itching finally quit after a few days. Then when we were going to Sri Lanka the following spring, once the airplane leveled off from take-off I went to the bathroom and there they were again! Giant red polka dots on my legs and abdomen, many in exactly the same places as before. And itchy. I don’t get new ones once they all appear, and they all appear at once. It was mysterious, because I was just on the airplane, and had been sitting at JFK just an hour earlier. By the time we landed in Colombo the itching was driving me insane, and Marc found some prednisone at a clinic but it gave me a fierce migraine. Again the spots lasted all two weeks. (And just before they finally fade away, the skin over the circles lifts off like onion skin paper, very strange.) When we went to Greece, nothing, no spots, no ‘bites’ if that’s what they are, no itching. But when we were en route to Laos for this trip, at some point early in the flight my right calf started itching furiously, and it didn’t occur to me that it could be those bite things, but it was. In exactly the same spots, too. There were a couple more this time, but otherwise they behaved exactly the same way. They’re about 3″ in diameter, one is nearly 4″, they’re bright red, there is no center to them or pinpoint of anything, just these giant bright red polka dots of intense itching. What the hell?! It only happens on SEAsia trips. Really bizarre. It makes me embarrassed to go swimming, because I look so strange with polka dotted legs, but whatever, I go anyway.

And on this trip, Marc and I were in a tuktuk in Laos, coming back from the elephant trip I think, and his left eyelid started hurting. It swelled up, nearly closed, and hurts so badly that a gentle breeze touching it causes him great pain. If his hair touches it he cries out. He has put a variety of different creams and ointments on it, and now he’s taken steroids, and it’s not getting better. It doesn’t seem to be affecting his vision, but what the hell, yo?!  I feel so bad for him. We’ve both been afraid that we might have to suddenly return home, if his vision becomes affected, but so far it’s just the soft tissue around his eye, upper and lower lids.

I’ve been loving this trip so much — SO MUCH — every detail, every minute, every bite of great food, every interaction, every second of scenery, every moment of relaxing. And at the same moment I am missing my daily yoga practice, and missing my own yummy food (not nearly as much vegetarian food here as I would like, and much more pork than I ever want to eat), but I remind myself that I have plenty of time for that when I return. So I make the best eating choices I can, lots of fruit at breakfast, and do sun salutations whenever possible just to stretch my body.

soon soon saibadee

Tonight we begin the extremely long trek back to southeast Asia. It’s a 16-hour flight to Taipei, and the plane is entirely full so we won’t have an empty seat between us…which makes the trip even harder. We fly coach always, since we use frequent flyer miles, and I’m telling you that is hard going. You feel like you’ve already been flying forever, and there are still ten hours to go. Surely we’re there — nope, six more hours. And then we head to another plane for a three-hour flight to Bangkok, and then another plane for a one-hour flight to Luang Prabang, where we will be slowly and warmly greeted with praying hands, bowed heads, and saibadee. Twenty hours of flying. Five hours of layovers. HARD.

The more times we make this trip, the more often I have a fleeting thought that the trip itself is too hard, my back/knees/head can’t keep doing it. And then we land and I have absolutely no idea when I am, and I’m dazed and dingy and tired. And then I smell that acrid air, and feel the air on my skin, and see the beautiful faces, and none of that matters one little bit. I am back in a place that feels mysteriously like a home to me.

Where we’re going is 12 hours ahead of NY time (so 11 hours ahead of my Austin people). We’ll finally land in Luang Prabang Saturday afternoon at 2pm, which means 2am Saturday morning, so don’t expect to hear anything from me until after that. I hope you follow along! It’s going to be an amazing trip, I have no doubt.

click the image to go to the blog!
click the image to go to the blog!

If you like URLs, it’s http://seasia4.blogspot.com. As always, there’s a little form in the right sidebar of that blog where you can enter your email address and get the post whenever I have something to share. Nothing more, nothing less. I won’t be back on this blog until I’m back stateside.

So y’all hold down the western fort while I am off on the southeast frontier! ໂຊກດີເດີ້ (goodbye and take care, in Lao); Tạm biệt (goodbye in Vietnamese); and chum reap leah (goodbye in Khmer)!

vibrate those wires please

not the best shot but I'm hurrying and would rather pick a goofy one of me than one that might not be someone else's best shot. My amazing, amazing friends who are also in our book club.
not the best shot but I’m hurrying and would rather pick a goofy one of me than one that might not be someone else’s best shot. My amazing, amazing friends who are also in our book club.

First: THANK YOU for what you did to help make my birthday the most special and happy one I’ve ever had. Calls, messages, emails, Facebook greetings and wishes, dinners, breakfasts, drinks, lunches, wonderful gifts and cards and smiles and hugs—the fortnight (which ends on the 11th! still celebrating!) has been absolutely magnificent so far. There will be happy birthday wishes tonight, and at least one celebration with a friend on the closing day of the fortnight (I giggle), and truly, this was the best birthday of my life. I wish the same for you on your next birthday.

that toddlin town
that toddlin town

Today I am off to Chicago for a lovely — even if way too short — visit with Marnie and Tom. I’ll go to the closing reception of a show that includes some of Marnie’s pieces AND is the release party for her latest book, we’ll eat a lot of amazing Chicago food, and we are going to a Barn Dance Apocalypse, more on that later! I’m not taking my computer so I won’t be posting again until I get home late Monday.

But before I leave I have a request. My wonderful friend Nancy has taught me a way to pray that works for me. She taught me to pray for divine harmony. I can do that! Of the many reasons I love it, one is that it helps me not act like the boss of the universe, for the truth is that I don’t know what’s best for anyone, including me necessarily! And sometimes the best has to travel a bit of a rocky road to get there, so the rocks are required.

I have a number of loved ones who are in the midst of hard and/or scary and/or painful things, so if you’d just add “Lori’s people” to your own list and keep the wires vibrating with me, I’d really appreciate it. I name them specifically in my own prayers so they’ll be covered by your shortcut. However you do it, whatever you reach out for — light, good things, divine harmony, intervention — makes no difference to me. Just add my people to your list please, and thank you.

And now, to the airport! I think it’s time to consider “the airport” my third home, don’t you?

snips and pieces

Kalimera! That’s the greeting Greeks offer each other throughout the day — it’s a kind of warm ‘good morning’ thing, and it’s usually accompanied with hugs and kisses. We got back late Sunday night and honestly I don’t know where Monday went. Ordinarily I unpack everything and put it all away (and into the laundry) as soon as I get back, but I haven’t done that yet. Kind of scattered and lagged, I guess. Greece was magnificent, if you were following along, and I need to update and finish that blog — maybe later today, maybe tomorrow. There are a couple of posts still to write, the one about the Palace at Knossos and our time in the mountains, and then the concluding finishing-up post, and I need to organize my photos and get them all tagged and uploaded to flickr, and then I suppose I’ll feel like that trip is finished. What a wonderful country, what a wonderful people, what fantastic food, what beauty.

About all I can manage today is a set of snapshots of random stuff, and a hope to be more collected and together tomorrow:

  • As we were boarding the ferry on Santorini for our fast trip to Crete, my husband said, “I hope we’re not on one of those infamous sinking ferries.” I laughed so hard I had to pull out my phone and write it down. He is so strange sometimes, and sometimes he’s strange in a funny way. He does all the cooking for us and is a very intuitive cook, and tuned in to smells and tastes, so he was thoroughly delighted by the wild oregano and thyme growing everywhere, by the enormous bushes of wild rosemary. Walking anywhere took a long time because he’d have to stop and grab some oregano (which he insists on pronouncing oregana) and pinch and smell it. We drove everywhere with the windows down because the air smelled like these herbs. Finally he said, “I wish we could have our country smell like this.” I pulled the car over the side of the road to write that one down too. Me too, honey, I wish we could have our country smell like oregana.
  • We were having dinner in Rethymno at a harbor-side taverna. I had my Mythos beer, we were nibbling on tiny wrinkly black olives and dunking beautiful bread in olive oil, the air smelled like oregana, and the music playing was “Solitaire” by The Carpenters. This disconnect always cracks me up. When we were in Oaxaca and when we were in Phnom Penh (a year apart), Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” was everywhere.
  • Yesterday he came into the house after walking to the bank with a big story to tell me. He asked if I’d heard the guy shouting and ranting (I hadn’t, because that’s too ordinary an experience in NYC to register as something unique). He said there was a very tall, 20-ish black man, nicely dressed in shorts and a shirt, not looking at all crazy but shouting and ranting and waving his arms around. The rant was a series of complaints about something but it was vague enough and random enough to seem like maybe the dude was crazy. A 20ish black woman, dressed professionally, was walking towards him and as she got near him she said, “Want a pear?” and handed it to him. And all at once he shifted and became a normal dude. They didn’t know each other, apparently. Who knew the magic of a random pear?!
  • After breakfast, before heading to the Heraklion airport to leave Greece.  Sadness to leave underneath those smiles.
    After breakfast, before heading to the Heraklion airport to leave Greece. Sadness to leave underneath those smiles.

    On our last morning in Greece, we quickly grabbed some coffee and a final gorging on Greek yogurt with honey before racing to the airport. The hotel started serving breakfast at 8 and we were there waiting, along with a few other couples and a small family. Ordinarily we got to breakfast around 9:30, so we were seeing a different crowd. (The hotel was small, a series of cottages with a B&B-style breakfast provided.) As I sat at a table in the sun, drinking thick black coffee and fresh OJ, smelling the oregana in the air, I looked at the others on the patio and thought how different it is to see strangers eating breakfast than to see them at dinner. They’re raw at breakfast, dressed in very casual going-out clothing but they haven’t dressed their faces in the same way, they still look sleepy, their hair is messy and just awake even if they’ve run a comb through it. Seeing couples eating breakfast together makes me feel like I know something different about them, about who they are together. I see their comfort and silent ease (or not) together. It seems very intimate and I just loved all of them. There were two British families in the bunch, and both were particularly interesting. One family was a young mom and dad of a 4-year-old girl, maybe. As they walked into the patio, the little girl ran up to the cat that wanders around the restaurant to introduce the cat to her Minnie Mouse doll. She held the doll right into front of the cat’s face and said, so seriously, “This is Minnie Mouse.” She stood there for several seconds to be sure the cat saw the doll, and then turned to join her parents. SO adorable. The other family was larger, and included the grandparents. The young boy kept draping sliced ham on his face in various ways (once he tried to hang it from his chin, calling it his meat beard). The grandmother said, “Grandad wouldn’t like that, and neither would Grandmum.” It was bizarre, her speaking of herself in third person like that and with conditional verbs, in the moment. The little girl at the table spoke up with the poshest accent and I nearly turned around to see if she was kidding.

  • A frequent topic of conversation for us was the huge difference in vacationing in Europe vs the places we usually go in SEAsia. Setting aside the incredible difference in cost (YIKES, for real), we were also so aware of being one of a horde of tourists. The places we usually go, we are often the only people who look like us, and the people who live there pay us no mind or attention. We like both of those things. Marc was imagining what people in SEAsia usually think when they see us and he said, “….and one is a GIANT.” That made me laugh so hard; I’ve shrunk to ~5’10” and there I guess I am seen as a giant. A big, super white, always-grinning giant. We’re thinking about our fall vacation and will probably go back to Laos and Bali, two of my favorite places in the whole world alongside Vietnam. I’ll say more about this in my concluding post on the Greek blog, but Greece is now one of my very favorite places in the world but I’m pretty sure we’ll never go back. For that reason, leaving made my chest ache.

Oliver turned two months old a few days ago and he’s growing and changing so much while I’m away! Katie sent me this picture the day I arrived back in the US, captioning it “Wearing his sailor shirt because Pete is back in the States!” It made me so happy, and I miss them so very much.

sweet little boy. Ahoy Cutie, indeed.
sweet little boy. Ahoy Cutie, indeed.

To say I am glad to be back is a complicated lie. I miss Greece, I miss the very different feeling of that place, the gorgeousness of it, the rhythm of it. And the food. And the people. I am glad to be closer to my people I deeply miss, and maybe if I were back in Austin I’d be more simply glad to be back . . . but I’m neither here nor there. I’ll see friends here in my two weeks in NYC, and then I’ll stay with Peggy and Sherlock when it’s time for the writing conference — two huge happy pleasures, the conference and them — but for now I’m not gone and I’m not home, really.

Such a beautiful Tuesday in June, here in New York, I hope it’s beautiful where you are, and that you are happy to be wherever you are. Kalimera!

Yia sou!

As best I can tell, that’s how you say see ya in Greek. And hi there too, but I’m not sure. Someone told my husband that the word functions like Aloha, and that person was Greek so I’m going with it.

Today we are off on another dang-it-I-am-SO-lucky vacation. After a quick touchdown in Paris, just long to do some eating and walking and cafe-ing and Sunday mass at Notre Dame, we’ll move along to Athens and then off to Santorini. And then Crete. It’s going to be an amazing trip, we hope, and as always I will be posting stories and pictures daily, if I have Internet access. If at all possible, I’ll link the posts to Facebook whenever I post, but just in case we’re not Facebook friends and just in case I run out of Internet before I can put it on Facebook, here’s the blog itself:

click the image to go to the blog
click the image to go to the blog

If you’re a person who prefers to see URLs, it’s http://mediterraneaning.blogspot.com/. As always, there’s a way to sign up on that blog so you get the posts in email, whenever I post. Nothing more, nothing less, just when I make a post. You’ll see the box right under our photo on the right-hand side of the Greece blog.

As always, it’s been a mad dash to the finish line, getting everything done, and as always, I made it. And as always, I just made it. The good thing is that none of it will matter even a whit when we step out the door today to drive to JFK. And especially when the plane lifts off and we are en route. Two of my favorite words, en route, and I don’t even care very much where I am en route to.

So yia sou y’all, hope you gallivant around Greece with me. No posts here until I’m back, as always.

xo

 

pleasures

The only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth of the hole — I read that once, and it obviously stayed with me. I see the truth in it, but I also know the very real pleasures of a shallow rut, which is surely an abbreviated version of the word routine (note to self: look that up later). I’m thinking about this as I enjoyed the deep pleasure of sleep in a familiar bed, once mine and still part-time mine. As I know just how to adjust the glorious shower so it’s exactly the way I want it. As I make my own French press coffee and get to enjoy it the moment I want it, instead of waiting for someone else to do it for me.

I’m only part-way home, here at this way station that is my part-time home. The tail end of a trip is bad in a lot of ways; the vacation is over but there’s still all the hours of traveling to get back home (22 hours from Colombo to NYC), all the hard without all the fun anticipation, tired of the clothes I’ve been wearing, tired of being out of pocket, even as it was without a doubt one of the best vacations we’ve ever taken. The gorgeous beaches, the whales, the fun of Galle, the beauty of Kandy, elephants — oh, let me pause here and think again of the mama elephant:

a memory I will always cherish
a memory I will always cherish

Two absolutely brilliant vacations this year, Bali and Sri Lanka, and I feel so lucky, and churlish to be complaining about any tiny little bit of it, which I’m not, really. I’m just relishing the very real pleasures of home, and looking forward SO VERY MUCH to getting back to my very own home in Austin, my sweet little beautiful home, my quiet and solitude, my beautiful family, my beautiful friends, the familiarity of home and place and life.

Today I’ll be repacking, redistributing, rearranging, leaving some things here and taking other things back with me, writing my final post on the Sri Lanka blog, getting myself organized and together. I’ve missed you all, and I’ve missed writing here, and I’m glad to be back.

xoL

Ceylon, Serendip

The day has come, finally! I’m always a little amazed when it’s finally the day to fly off on one of our vacations. For me, it’s a bit of a strange experience because Marc does all the planning and organizing, so after he and I decide what country we’ll visit, my next task (after setting up the blog) is to pack my suitcase and fly off into the twilight. By the time we leave, he knows the details inside and out to such detail that it’s both extremely real to him and a little less exciting, I would think. He knows exactly what our rooms will look like at each place, exactly the route we’ll take between places, exactly what and where the restaurant possibilities are in each place, exactly where there is to do in the various locations. Me, I know we’re going to Sri Lanka. I know we’ll be seeing Colombo, Tangalle, Galle, Hatton, and Kandy. I know there is a fort in one place, a gorgeous beach in one place, one is in the mountains where tea is grown and harvested. I know the weather has become less perfect than we’d hoped, but that’s often the case . . . and then it turns out to be one gorgeous day after another when we’re actually there.

And so with this, I will not be posting here at the Pillbug Palace until I am back in my Lone Star home. In the meantime, you’ll find me here:

click the image, it’ll take you right to the blog

If you like to see a URL, it’s http://slinkingsrilanka.blogspot.com. And if you’re a fan of email subscription, as I am,  you’ll find the little email sign-up widget on the right side of that blog, right under the picture of us we took at Borobodur earlier this year.

We’ll arrive in Colombo at 4am on Sunday, and Sri Lanka is 10.5 hours ahead of NYC so if you can figure out when you might expect to see a new post from me, you’re a better man than I, Gunga Din, because that whole thing confuses me a lot.

And so for now I say  ගිහිල්ලා එන්නම් (gihillā ennam), which means I say goodbye to you! The next thing you hear from me will probably be something about how amazing it is to eat street food in Colombo.

xo

birthday fortnight

My wonderful and beautiful friend Peggy is like me in that she’s crazy about her birthday. We have a great many things in common, and when I found out that she actually celebrates a birthday fortnight (in part because there aren’t enough opportunities to use the word fortnight) I knew I would love her forever. And so I am a birthday-fortnight-celebrator too. Later today we’ll be hopping in our car for a trip upstate (lower upstate) to the Catskills, to a place we’ve gone every single year at least once, often twice.

Embedly Powered

via Flickr

 

The little cabin we’ll stay in is the exact one we always stay in, and we’ll eat at the exact same restaurant we always enjoy, and we’ll take the exact same walks we always take, and I will relish in the tradition of it all. Growing up with no traditions, no celebrations, has left me hungry for any little tradition I can get my hands on. Since my birthday is in early November, we always go here to enjoy the foliage, unless we’re on a vacation somewhere else; in fact, last year we had reservations to go the weekend after my birthday, but before that could arrive we decided to end our marriage.

Of the many, many, many things that broke my heart so badly when I thought my marriage was over, one of the smaller ones was the loss of these traditions. I figured I would just try to make some new ones, create a different kind of thing for myself, but the thing about a tradition is that it’s always there and it’s always the same. Tradition interruptus kind of loses its essential core. When we cancelled our trip last year, I mourned that I’d never again get to spend part of my birthday fortnight in our little cabin in the Catskills, and I regretted that the last time I’d gone there I simply had no clue it would be the last time.

But it wasn’t. Life is eternally strange, and only death permanently closes a door, I guess. Even when it seems like a door is truly and finally closed — no, for real, seriously — no, it really is, see it’s all bricked over — it might not be. Strange.

I’ll be taking my big photo gear, my big camera instead of just my phone, and will thoroughly enjoy photographing it all once again. Peak color has come and gone but there will surely be some resistant leaves still clinging to the branches. Temperatures are going to be very cold — highs in the low 40s and overnight dipping way way down to and below freezing, from what we can see. So much fun.

Happy Friday to y’all, I hope you are anticipating a wonderful weekend too! xo

up in the air

No, literally. As this posts, I am literally in the air, flying to New York City. The shuttle picked me up at 3:55am, a nauseating hour to be ready and standing at the curb waiting for a blue van. I won’t get to LaGuardia until mid-afternoon and then there’ll be a cab ride, usually a clogged affair mid-afternoon-Fridays trying to get over the bridge into Manhattan. I’m looking forward to so many things, in addition to seeing my husband. The weather is going to be beautiful, I hear (low- to mid-70s, though next Tuesday they’re predicting a high of only 69!), which means I’ll be taking at least one and maybe two daily walks in one of my favorite places on earth, Riverside Park:

my favorite park in the world, and I've seen parks all over the world!
my favorite park in the world, and I’ve seen parks all over the world!

Gosh, I have taken so many pictures of that park, in all seasons, at all times of day, in all kinds of weather. I’m not sure why I love it so much; it’s essentially my back yard in New York, just several steps away.  If you’ve been around my blog(s) long enough, you may even remember my 40-day restoration project, during which I took a picture of the park every day for 40 days to document the slow changes I was trying to make. I have no doubt that I’ll take pictures of the park next week. I don’t think the leaves are changing yet, so it’ll probably look a lot like the picture above.

I’ll be joining the Lit Crawl Saturday night, moving from place to place in the Lower East Side, listening to storytellers. I can’t wait for that! And Sunday night I’ll go to a reading at my favorite NYC bookstore, McNally Jackson down on Prince Street. I’m having drinks with a friend, I’ll be eating a LOT of very good food, I’ll be supporting my husband on Thursday as he goes through a scary thing. As always, I have more things to do (and get done) than time to do them, so NYC friends I will be back in October and I hope we can see each other then. And Austin friends, I’ll be so glad to see you when I’m back there!

Living in Austin but visiting New York regularly is a challenge. There are things about it that are great, for sure: of all the things I grieved when my life was upended last fall, I also grieved leaving New York. I love the city so very much, and couldn’t imagine that I’d never live there again. It took a long time for my eyes to readjust to a place the size of Austin, to re-learn the very real joys of living in such a small place — for the joys are deep and good and real. But the noise and busyness and life in New York, and all the museums (seriously? Austin still doesn’t have a better museum?), and all the literary stuff there is to do, and the beauty of the place? I just missed it so much. I have beautiful friends in New York and surrounds, and the idea that I wouldn’t get to see them again broke my heart. So I get NYC in bites, now. I get to see my park, walk in it. I get the seasons. I get all my favorite restaurants and places, and my husband and friends. PLUS I get the beauty of my life in Austin, my sweet little home that I love so much, Katie and Trey nearby, my beautiful beautiful friends, the special treasures of this town.

But I am away for long periods, from both places, and friendships want connection. I miss this event, that dinner party, the get-together, the lunches, I have to schedule so far in advance, sorry, I can’t have lunch until late October at this point, so sorry, I really want to I wish I could. When I’m back in Austin, I have my real life to tend to, so those things get pushed into the windows too — haircuts, errands, appointments — leaving even less time to see my darling friends.

Boo hoo, poor me. I know. I’m not complaining, just giving voice to the fullness of what might look simply wonderful. It is wonderful, but it’s not simply wonderful. So bon voyage to me, and you know me: I’ll still be posting from the palace, because the palace travels with me wherever I go. I hope you have a wonderful Friday, whatever you are doing.

xx

gettin around

I do love my little home, here. I love everything about it. I love that Katie and I picked out each and every little item in it. I love that she did that with me, during such a terrible time for us both. I love the quietness of my home, the peace of it, the way it’s always so clean and just as I left it. I love that it waits for me and welcomes me back. And I love that it holds so much evidence of my travels.

pics
a few of the pictures that hang on one of my bedroom walls — there are currently 35 of them, from every place I’ve been in the last 10 years.

And also on the walls I have a beautiful large sand painting of Buddha feet, bought in Bagan, Myanmar at a temple, and a shadow puppet bought in Indonesia, on Java at Borobodur, and various things tucked here and there throughout. A funny little West Texas calendar I bought in Marfa earlier this year, and some pieces of flint I picked up outside my trailer there. It’s definitely my home, SO my home, and I dearly love it.

But I also need to wander, still. I need to do that, and I need my wonderful little home to return to. So in the remaining weeks of this year, I’ll be going to New York City a couple of times, and back to Marfa for a long weekend, and I’ll spend a couple of weeks here, crossing November and December:

Yeah, that's Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon, floating in the Indian Ocean just off the tip of India.
Yeah, that’s Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon, floating in the Indian Ocean just off the tip of India.

The red X-shape at the bottom plots the route and stops — Kandy and Colombo and Galle and Tangalla. I’m unsure of the specific order, but I don’t even care at this point. I’m going to Sri Lanka. And then I’ll bring back some memories to decorate my cozy little home. And before I leave, I’ll share the blog link, as always, because as always, I’ll be taking a lot of pictures and telling stories.

It’s the wandering that matters to me — of course I love seeing the whole beautiful world, but I’m just as thrilled to watch the west unfold as I drive to Marfa, or to see the NY Thruway whizzing past as I drive from NYC to Phoenicia, or to watch the sky when I’m driving anywhere. Being in my sweet little car, heading somewhere, is one of my favorite experiences. And being in an airplane heading anywhere — except when it’s due to a terrible tragedy I’m having to fly to — is also one of my favorite experiences. I don’t even really care where we’ll be landing, where I’ll be stopping. I just want to see it all, smell it all, eat it all, take pictures of it all, meet all the people, feel disturbed, feel jolted out of my ordinary, see the different ways of living a life in this world, feel those feelings. You could put me in a plane, blindfolded, knock me out, and then wheel me still blindfolded out into the Hanoi airport and as long as my skin and nose worked, I could tell you that I’m in Hanoi. And I love that. I am SO SO LUCKY, and I know it. I don’t think I’ve had one second of taking that for granted. I am so lucky. I have my own whole world of ways I’m not at all lucky, but this one is huge and I am grateful.

I also loving ramblin stuff — that line from Tolkien, “not all who wander are lost,” Steve Martin’s funny little song Ramblin Man, they all sing to my gypsy soul I guess.

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Raaaaam……….BLIN. Happy ramblin to those of us who need it, and happy staying-at-home to those of us who need that. And happy Tuesday, y’all. xo

we live on a PLANET y’all

there's Earth, that little dot, shot from Cassini, from the other side of SATURN. Which is ANOTHER PLANET, incredibly COOL.
there’s Earth, that little dot, image captured by Cassini, from the other side of SATURN. Which is ANOTHER PLANET, incredibly COOL.

We live in our little houses or apartments, on our little streets, in our cities or towns. On occasion we focus on our country. And that’s usually that, right? But we live on a damn planet, circling around a sun! In a solar system, with other planets circling and whizzing around the sun — some giant and WHOA-inducing. Rings, really? Giant spots, wow.

And don’t get me started on the Milky Way, and then the whole dang universe. BOGGLE.

For me, this doesn’t bring about some reminder of how unimportant I am, how small I am, how inconsequential my life might be. (Although all those things are true. BLIP.) For me, this kind of scale boggles me and leaves me kind of wordless. I remember once I was flying across the country and I think the lighting was very particular — clouds, a lot of them; the sunlight coming in underneath and through, and a good view of the landscape below. There was a system of lakes with rivers coming off either end, but the whole view looked like one of those flocked Christmas balls, with the flocking scraped off in some way and the shiny ball showing through. I think I saw that 30 years ago, and I still remember it so very clearly. The Earth as a Christmas ornament, with features scratched into it.

nebulae totally freak me out. i can hardly tolerate looking at them! the one that looks like a blue eye terrifies me.
nebulae totally freak me out. i can hardly tolerate looking at them! the one that looks like a blue eye terrifies me.

Looking up into the universe, or down into the depths of our oceans, kind of freaks me out.  It makes my stomach fall into my feet, it makes me pant and my eyes get very big. But looking at our planet, or having that momentary awareness that I’m moving about on the face of a planet, thrills me. Are you like that? I think it’s a manageable scale, perhaps. I’m not going to be risking death . . . not like if I were in space looking at Earth, or down in the depths of the ocean. Instead, I’m just moving along the face of our planet. It’s one reason I love west Texas so much, the giant skies. I can see the curve of that horizon and it’s easy to see the planet. It’s easy to put myself in the context of a video game, moving my little car or self along the surface of the globe. It’s one reason I love traveling to the other side of the world, watching that map on the seat in front of me, seeing the Earth revolve underneath me. There we are, moving over Greenland, Iceland, northern Europe, all the way wherever we’re going. WOW. Flying across the face of our planet.

flying over Sumatra May 2013 -- left Singapore at sunrise
flying over Sumatra May 2013 — left Singapore at sunrise

Do you remember being in elementary school, coloring maps of other countries in the world? I remember coloring India and Japan with colored pencils. I remember learning about the customs of those places, I remember how exotic they seemed. (And now i’ve been to both.) Do you remember being completely dazzled by the planets in the solar system? By Saturn’s rings? Do you remember being in awe of dinosaurs, and extinct animals? Do you remember feeling confused and strange about Neanderthals? I do. I remember all that, I can quickly and immediately feel those memories in my body. We don’t have to lose that wonder, that awe. We just have to remember. Every day, we can remember to see how strange and beautiful it is that we have a blue sky filled with all kinds of clouds — a show for us, every single day, we just have to notice it! Most nights, there is some kind of brilliant moon in the sky (I always get kind of giddy thinking how bizarre it would be if we had multiple moons in the sky, so easy to amuse myself), and it’s different every night if only we pay attention.

I love this world.

propinquity

When I first heard this, I laughed. Sitting in my Intro to Social Psych class as an undergrad, I laughed. Out loud. It was the chapter on interpersonal attraction, and the claim was that “the propinquity effect” is one of the primary factors in interpersonal attraction. That means the main reason we find someone attractive is that they’re around. They’re nearby. On the face of it, it’s obvious (well how else could you ever find someone attractive, if you never encounter them! As a little girl, I used to worry, what if my true love is born in China and I never meet him?). And on the closer face of it, it’s disheartening. Really? That’s all it takes, is nearness? Is that all it takes, is that why we marry our high school sweethearts, is that why we hook up in college, because we see each other all the time so we are attracted?

braised tofu and quinoa salad, such a California dinner!
braised tofu and quinoa salad, such a California dinner!

Last night I thought about this while I was having dinner. There is a restaurant in my little boutique hotel, kind of sweet but small. The bar is a nicer place to sit, so I took a stool, ordered a glass of Pinot grigio and a salad, and started thumbing through a magazine I found in the lobby. The place was empty, just me and the bartender, but it was a friendly kind of quiet. He and I weren’t chatting at all, which made him my kind of bartender. He took my order (saying, “Nice!” when I ordered the salad) and then another woman took a seat at the bar. On the TV behind the bar, with the volume off, a hockey game was being played — the Stanley Cup maybe? — and the bartender noticed the other woman’s interest in the game. She said she loved hockey because she’s Canadian. Well, he’s Canadian too! And they were off to the races, talking and talking and talking, so excitedly. It was kind of adorable. When they started talking about how people get the Canadian accent so wrong (“It’s not aboot, it’s aboat!”) I decided to jump in too, since you know accents are one of my favorite subjects. Then she and I were talking when he turned away, then he and I were talking when her friend came, and it all started because the two of them were from Canada.

And I started thinking about how little we need to find each other. How little it takes to make a bond. Propinquity. Or how we grab these karasses, to use Vonnegut’s great word, and act like they really mean something important. But it’s a mistake to be contemptuous of these shared aspects of our identity, to dismiss the bond we can feel over having gone to the same school, having lived in the same city, having been born in the same country, or rooting for the same team. Those things don’t mean anything important in themselves, but they give us the merest little whisper of something we can grab, some tiny little way we can connect, and I find it so dear that we do that. It left me feeling so tender about people, watching those two Canadians, unknown to each other and living in LA, rush into eager conversation about what it really means to be cold (“I laugh when people here say they’re cold!”), how important hockey was in school, and then branching out into the rest of who they were. I think we long to do that, and we just need a touch of some kind to open that door.

One very interesting thing I’ve found about Beverly Hills — verified by both Canadians last night — is that the people seem very open and eager to connect. It’s easy for me feel put off by them because so often they are aggressively groomed (or else they remind me of the Dude) and boy that’s not me. I’m there in my traditional outfit — old, inexpensive jeans and a sailor shirt probably — with a need for a pedicure, hair carelessly tended to, mismatching accessories, no make-up, and I think we are just so different. But we aren’t, that’s my mistake. When I went to the restaurant for dinner a couple of nights ago, the waitress was sitting at a nearby table eating her dinner. She was exquisite, even in her black shirt and pants, the uniform of waiters. She got up and came to my table and the way she spoke to me, even with her soft voice, felt like she was my friend taking care of me instead of someone doing her job. After my meal, we talked for several minutes in a personal way and it was so lovely. At lunch yesterday, my client and I were eating at a sidewalk cafe and two cars smashed into each other right in front of us — very powerful and terrifying, I always forget how terrifying that sound is. The waiter came right over and talked about how people in Beverly Hills are always in such a rush, and we had a 10-minute conversation that drifted from this to that. I thought he was going to pull up a chair. Easy conversations all around, and not about the weather (maybe because the weather is almost always the same, and perfect).

I can’t wait to get home to Austin and have easy conversations with my people — it’s been interesting being here, and I’ve learned things and had lovely moments like the one I had last night, but I’m so ready. Tonight, though, I’m having dinner with an old friend from our high school years and his wife, also from his high school. They’re taking me to the Santa Monica Pier, so I’m sure I’ll have photos and stories to share. Happy Thursday y’all!

in which i will complain

When I was a kid, there was a period of our lives where we moved ALL THE TIME. Several schools a year. And then, once we were at the grocery store and as we got in the car, I was trying to imagine pulling into our driveway but no matter how hard I tried, I didn’t know what the driveway looked like. There had just been too many, each one “ours” for too brief a time to get stuck in my memory.

ubud alam jiwa ganesh3The other night I had a dream like that — I dreamed a driveway, then the dream kind of rebooted and it was another driveway. Reboot, another driveway. Reboot, another driveway. I think the dream went on like that through a dozen driveways. When I lived in New York — the longest I’d ever lived at any address, ever, 7 years — I’d honestly believed I’d never have to move again. But then I did, my 81st move. That was a wrenching thing, losing that thin root I’d believed would stick forever. For the last several weeks I’ve been here and there, and it’s been wonderful! Three weeks gone back to New York and on to Indonesia, sheer bliss that Indonesia trip. I didn’t mind at all being away from home for those three weeks.

And then home for a couple of weeks, then I stayed at my daughter’s house for 6 days to take care of their puppies and their house while she and her husband took a much-deserved vacation. And it was sheer bliss to do that, to get to do that for her. Nothing short of bliss. For too long I lived too far away to do anything for her, and for too long before that I had less than zero money and couldn’t help in urgent ways, and she and her husband have had such a terrible time the last couple of years, so truly: It was bliss to get to help them in such a small way. Every morning I drove to my own house to water my plants and fetch my mail, then back to her house to stay and sleep.

beverly-hillsAnd then home for a couple of nights, then off to Beverly Hills for an all-expenses-paid trip to work with a client. Who gets that! What lowly freelance editor (who works in yoga pants, a t-shirt without a bra, sitting on her couch all alone all day every day) gets to do that! I usually read bad vampire novels, how did this happen! I haven’t been to Beverly Hills since 1980, whee, back to a very pretty place for 6 days.

But I really just need to be home for a while. I really just need to pull into my own driveway over and over and over, until I see it in my mind when I think “home.” No matter how wonderful all this traveling and elsewhere-sleeping has been, it’s really time to be home for a while. It’s funny how this feeling shows up in the tiny moments. My room here in Beverly Hills has an espresso machine (no boring “Mr Coffee” for Beverly Hills, nosirree). A Lavazza machine. The instructions on the top of the machine aren’t all that clear, but I did my best. And made a bit of a mess, and got one and then another poorly made coffee. That was the moment that broke me today. I JUST WANT MY OWN COFFEE. I want the morning pleasure of making my French press pot, that ritual I relish each morning. I know how to do that, it turns out rich and delicious every time, my day starts in a predictable way and then whatever, bring it!

Everyone here refers to this place as paradise — “here are your tickets for your trip to Paradise,” “Ah, you’re finally coming to Paradise!” “See you in Paradise,” and it is lovely. It’s strange, it kind of feels like Disneyland in some way I can’t quite pin down, surreal in some way, but it’s lovely. Not my idea of paradise — my idea is grittier — but lovely. Still, I just want to be back at my own cozy little home. Waah waah waah, poor me.

i get around

If you are lucky, life is long enough to surprise the hell out of you. If you are lucky, life drops beautiful little treats and treasures at your feet, gives you experiences that leave you slack-jawed and changed forever. Some of these will be terrible and some will be out of left field and some will be better than rubies. For me, one of these better-than-rubies surprises is that I’ve been lucky enough to travel. I left Texas for the first time when I was 22; my then-husband and I went to Cozumel for a long weekend.

yeah, my hair was platinum then. and i was out of my mind with joy.

The first time I left the United States  (except for that Cozumel trip) was when I was in graduate school, in 2002, and went to Paris and Glasgow. I was 43. That was the most amazing thing to me, since I love Paris with all my heart. I went immediately to Notre Dame and stood there just crying. I was jet lagged and goofy, but my joy and tears were real. As a literary location, Notre Dame has meant so much to me over my life, and I never thought I’d get to see it in person. I stood: across the Seine from it, in front of it, inside it, I walked around it, I touched it, I bowed my head and cried some more. I was in PARIS. Me. Me. I walked and wandered. I touched the old wall, I wandered in the great neighborhoods, I lounged at sidewalk cafes and drank many an espresso and watched elegant Parisians do their elegant Parisian thing. I went to the Louvre, the Centre Georges Pompidou, the Musee d’Orsay, and the Picasso Museum. I ate beautiful food. I was too shy to speak my Texas French. In my rental car, I drove through brilliant yellow fields to Chartres and cried in that rose-windowed cathedral. I was dazzled.

My people never traveled, except for their on-the-run life. All our moving was just around Texas, and we didn’t take vacations. My family did once, but I was living with my father and missed it (they told me it was so much better since I wasn’t there . . . jerks). They drove to LA, I think. That was their big travel. So I didn’t grow up with traveling, didn’t have it in my mind as something that could happen for me, not something I could even dream of. The Paris and Glasgow trip was a gift; the man I was seeing at the time had to travel for his work and invited me to come along. He dropped me off in Paris and he went on to Germany, so I had that glorious city all to myself. Still, that seemed like a one-off, a surprise present, not the beginning of a new way of thinking about the world.

When I met Marc in 2005, in March, I hadn’t done any traveling since that Paris trip and I was astonished by the world traveling he had done — but again, didn’t think it was in the cards for me and my life. That August we went to Vietnam and the die was cast for me. I can’t not travel now, I can’t not eat up the world, I can’t stay put while there is so much world to see. Traveling has been a whole treasure chest of gifts.

The world includes Marfa, and Palo Duro Canyon (“The Grand Canyon of Texas” and the next home state place I want to venture), and places I’ve already been and those still to be seen. Of all the ways my life is kind of strange and unimaginable to me, getting to see the world is the most mysterious. I often forget I have a PhD and got my education, and I don’t dismiss it but somehow it’s not as wondrous. It was a tremendous accomplishment, and it was very hard since I was doing it while raising three kids mostly by myself, and I’m grateful for it and never thought it would happen for me, but it’s this travel thing I can’t wrap my head around in terms of my good luck.

When we lived in Connecticut — right in the middle of the state — people in our neighborhood had never even been to the CT coast. Which, you know, in such a tiny state is practically within spitting distance. I know a woman who never left her hometown in PA because she’d have to go over a bridge and she didn’t like that idea. I know a lot of people who just have no interest in traveling, and a lot more who like traveling but don’t want to veer away from familiar comforts so they stick to Europe and the Caribbean. I wasn’t in any of those groups; travel was just not even conceivable. I didn’t have opinions about it because it wasn’t even among the possibilities I could think of. Now, though, in addition to my deep love of Paris I add my deep love of Hanoi, and Phnom Penh, and Luang Prabang, and Bagan and Nyaung Shwe, and Varanasi, and Cusco, and Ubud, and if only there were several of me, I’d send one copy to each of those places to live forever. And then I wonder how many other places there are in the world that I’d love just as much? And the people — oh, the energy of the Vietnamese, among my favorite people in the whole world, and the charm of Cambodians, and the gentle warmth of the Lao, and the wonder of the Balinese people. I might never have known about that.

Those places in the world now belong to me. When I hear terrible news from any one of them, it’s personal. I care very much and can now be heartbroken in a different way by tragedy that hits those people. Travel does so many things: it jolts you out of thinking that the way you live is the way people live; it shows you a lot of different ways people live and organize and think about life; it shows you how very lucky you are, and how rich (even if like me you aren’t rich at all by US standards); it shows you how impoverished you are by the limited ideas you started with about how life is meant to be lived. And you get to see beauty and ugliness and strength and courage and the effects of badly used power and cruelty. And you have to face the policies of your own country, and I promise you will hang your head as we did in Laos and Vietnam. Travel makes it a lot harder to keep your head in the sand, and that’s both good and bad of course.

Even though I’m terribly jet lagged and kind of goofy still from the Indonesia trip, I’m already scheming and planning for where to go next, what to see next. I’d love to go back to Marfa, or to Big Bend, but I’m really kind of thinking about going up to Palo Duro Canyon. It’s an 8-hour drive, more or less (like anywhere in Texas, it seems), and I haven’t seen it since 1980 so I think it’s time, don’t you? Maybe you’ll go along with me…..

(almost) home again

Dear Pillbug friends,

I am back from my [literally] around-the-world travels; I left NYC and flew to Istanbul/Singapore/ Jakarta, and then on the way home I flew from Jakarta to Tokyo to NYC, so for once I really did circle the globe. If you have been following the travel blog you have a sense of what a fantastic trip it was, even though I changed the itinerary quite dramatically. My plans for today, while I’m here in NYC, are to prepare all the pictures and get them uploaded to flickr and write a final summing-up post for the travel blog. Tomorrow I’ll be once again in the air most of the day, flying back home to Austin (yay!), so I probably won’t be back here in the palace until Wednesday, but oh how I have missed writing here. And oh, I have so many things to tell you.

But apropos of this blog, guess who I saw in Narita, at the giant and beautiful Narita temple (Narita is one of the big airports near Tokyo, and we left the airport during our 10-hour layover to explore the small city) — some of my dear darling little pillbug subjects!

Japanese pillbugs!!
Japanese pillbugs!!

I’m crazy jet-lagged — I woke up at 3am this morning, raring to go — so for the next month or 6 weeks  I’ll be very grateful that I work for myself, at home, so I can allow myself to readjust without too much  pressure. As I learned to say in Ubud, pagi! The morning greeting is selamat pagi (there’s a different greeting for 11am to 3pm, for 3pm to dark, and for evening — also, a different goodbye if you’re the one leaving vs the one staying, it’s very cool!). No one says the selamat part, apparently, they just jump right to pagi which is pronounced pah-gheeeeeee.

xo
Lori

off to the equator!

Yep, it’s nearly time so I’m logging off here. Time to leave for Indonesia: Jakarta, Yogyakarta, Borobodur, Mt. Merapi, Solo, Manado, Makassar, Tana Toraja, Rantepao, Bunaken Park. Time to snorkel (I hope!). Time to see ancient Buddhist ruins. Time to eat new kinds of food. Time to see things that will startle and shock (funerals and bulls slaughtered). Time to hunt for gifts and souvenirs in the land of batik and shadow puppets. Time to fly to and around active volcanoes. Time to take an overnight bus through the mountains. Time to take taxis and boats. Time for time, and time for me.

For US readers, often untrained in most geography outside the US, here is the location of Indonesia. Friends in NZ and Oz already know this of course:

indonesia

I’m traveling light this year in so many ways. Lighter in spirit than ever before. Lighter in stuff (though heavier in books).

these books, along with my clogged-up Kindle and my beautiful leather-bound moleskine with a silver Tiffany pen, engraved (a gift from an author)
These books, along with my clogged-up Kindle and my beautiful leather-bound moleskine with a silver Tiffany pen, engraved (a gift from an author).
and these bags -- the suitcase comes up to my knee and is only ~3/4 full. i've since combined the mostly-empty backpack and the mostly-empty bag
And these bags — the suitcase comes up to my knee and is only ~3/4 full. I’ve since combined the mostly-empty backpack and the mostly-empty bag

And so, with small bags in hand, I’ll be shutting down my laptop in a little bit and preparing myself for the extraordinarily long trip, nearly 35 hours. I’m always a little anxious — will I have enough stamina to get through the getting-there without losing it and becoming horrible? And then there’s the being-there part: Will I even like it? I almost always do (there was one notable exception), but the whole point is to get outside my comfort zone. Will there be a lot of funerals in Tana Toraja and will be there a great many bulls and other animals slaughtered in front of me, and can I bear that? When I think about what I’m most excited to see, I realize that with every trip, the best parts turned out to be things or experiences or places I didn’t anticipate — sometimes I didn’t even know about them — and often, the places and experiences I’m most excited about turn out to be disappointing. So all I can do is look ahead with open eyes and open hands and know that I’m going to have a huge experience of some kind, and that’s what living is all about.

Selamat tinggal semua orang (y’all)!

getting shit done

and always use a fat red pen!
and always use a fat red pen!

What feels better than crossing things off a list — especially when you’re extremely busy and overwhelmed, and especially-er when you aren’t sure you’re going to make it? Not much, from my current perspective. It’s always like this before a big trip, a push to get an unreasonable amount of work done before I go since I don’t get paid time off and no working = zero income, plus the regular big messy to-do list before international travel. The frequent spastic Oh wait! Did I get my passport?! checks, over and over. The sudden memory of that thing I need to be sure to pack but had forgotten and oh no if I forgot something that obvious, what else am I forgetting? And then the other stuff, don’t forget to bring enough books to read [which ones!], don’t forget to bring chargers for everything, don’t forget to check the meds — oh, and remember the sumatriptan in case I get a migraine! And Pepto, is there enough Pepto for the whole trip? Am I taking malaria medicine this year, or just sticking with Levaquin? Must check the particular strain of malaria in the places I’m visiting. Must do research. Check.

Before I left Austin, I packed my suitcase so I’ve already gone through the clothing, books, and toiletry lists. All that was left were things to get in NYC (like contact lenses) and then work. Lots of work, lots of hunkering down work, getting work done. I’ve been working from wake-up to sleepy time and it now looks reasonable — if I keep this pace, I’ll make it. I’ll finish everyone’s work and fly off without leaving anything or anyone hanging. What a huge relief. (Of course what usually happens is that even if I do leave work unfinished, by the time I get on the plane I don’t care that much anymore. 🙂 The problem will be later-Lori’s problem, she’ll deal with it, but now-Lori just doesn’t care! Tra la la, off I go into the wild blue yonder!)

The getting-there is a bit of a nightmare, this trip. Usually it’s one flight, maybe two — changing planes once in Frankfurt, or Singapore. This trip, though, will take more than 35 hours. I fly JFK to Istanbul. Change planes. Istanbul to Singapore. Change planes. Singapore to Jakarta. Change planes. Jakarta to Yogyakarta. Taxi to hotel. CRASH. I always have sandwiches, chips, and candy in a bag, and an external drive stuffed with movies, and I have books and knitting (but not this year; I haven’t been able to knit a stitch since we lost Gracie). All that helps pass the time. With the trip taking more hours, but comprising more legs, I don’t know what that’s going to be like. But I will soon find out.

It’s a gorgeous day here in NYC, as I see it out the window. That’s mostly how I’ve seen NYC since I’m trying to finish work. Maybe the next time I’ll have time for sightseeing, for museums and plays, for friends, for wandering, for park-walking, for restaurant-trying, for sidewalk-cafe-drinking. Maybe next time. But right now I have this to-do list………..

start spreading the news

OH yes how much do I love New York City. More than you might imagine, for a girl from such a small, small place. I love it so. I miss it terribly, for all its great and terrible. Being in Chicago last week was a crush, that wonderful feeling of being back in a great big city, a city that is its own thing whether you fucking like it or not. Chicago is just about as great as New York City, though so very different. I love knowing the ways they’re different, appreciating their differences, loving them both.

I arrived as the daffodils are making their last stand, the tulip trees are dropping their blossoms, and the cherry trees are in full bloom:

aren't they stunning? That candy pink against the beautiful blue sky -- and in my favorite place, Riverside Park of course
aren’t they stunning? That candy pink against the beautiful blue sky — and in my favorite place, Riverside Park of course
if you used to follow me on Thrums, this is a shot you've seen over and over and over. Riverside Park, my dearly beloved. I love it even more than Central Park.
if you used to follow me on Thrums, this is a shot you’ve seen over and over and over. Riverside Park, my dearly beloved. I love it even more than Central Park.
Tulip trees, dropping the last of their beautiful blossoms. Aren't tulip trees amazing?
Tulip trees, dropping the last of their beautiful blossoms. Aren’t tulip trees amazing?

Coming home to New York City as a person who no longer lives here is such a mix of feelings, but I am strong enough to bear them all. I’m such a different person coming back than I was the last time I was here, last December, when I came to retrieve the remnants of my library. I’m not in such need, or in such pain. My time here is on my terms, and that’s such a good feeling. What I’ve learned during the dark winter months is that I’m just mighty mighty fine with myself and anything else is gravy — and I get to decide who gets my gravy. 🙂

So much to get done in the few days I’m here — some shopping, some business, some trip details, a trip to try to get disposable contacts for the snorkeling, and trying to get as much work done as I possibly can. Busy busy busy. And I mean that in both the ordinary sense and the Bokonon sense (“Busy, busy, busy, is what we Bokononists whisper whenever we think of how complicated and unpredictable the machinery of life really is.”) And while I’m in a Vonnegutian mood, my feeling also calls to mind this other great passage from Cat’s Cradle — another thing you’ve heard before, if you’ve been following me from the Thrums days:

“God made mud.
God got lonesome.
So God said to some of the mud, “Sit up!”
“See all I’ve made,” said God, “the hills, the sea, the sky, the stars.”
And I was some of the mud that got to sit up and look around.
Lucky me, lucky mud.
I, mud, sat up and saw what a nice job God had done.
Nice going, God.
Nobody but you could have done it, God! I certainly couldn’t have.
I feel very unimportant compared to You.
The only way I can feel the least bit important is to think of all the mud that didn’t even get to sit up and look around.
I got so much, and most mud got so little.
Thank you for the honor!
Now mud lies down again and goes to sleep.
What memories for mud to have!
What interesting other kinds of sitting-up mud I met!
I loved everything I saw!
Good night.”

Yes. As one of the mud people who so happily gets to sit up and look around, I am so grateful. Happy Sunday y’all, from one of the greatest cities on earth. xo

catching my breath

Marnie and Tom, my sweet kids
Marnie and Tom, my sweet kids

It was so cold in Chicago! Sleety and snowy the day I arrived (but mercifully not flooding), and then just cold and windy the rest of my time there. But it was wonderful, and we didn’t let the cold slow us down.

Marnie and Tom just moved into a new place, so it was such fun getting to see their new home. Mothers, are you like this too — I always need to see where they live as quickly as I can, so I can know them in their homes, and have them there in my imagination for all the times I think about them. One fantastic thing about my kids that may have come from our own itinerant lives is that they really know how to make the coziest little homes. Katie and Marnie both have such homey homes, filled with such personal details, decorated so sweetly, and so comfortable and . . . well, home. I love that about them.

So Marnie and Tom and I mainly did a lot of walking and eating. The destination on Saturday was the Field Museum, and on Sunday we took a long walk through Graceland Cemetery, which was absolutely wonderful. We ate magnificent breakfasts (chocolate tower French toast with bananas OMG, and a BLT eggs benedict) and dinners (yummy Cubana sandwich at Xoco, an amazing bowl of pho, and mussels and frites). We talked for hours and hours, and it still wasn’t long enough.

Sweet Marnie at the Field Museum
Sweet Marnie at the Field Museum
Eternal Silence (Graceland Cemetery)
Eternal Silence (Graceland Cemetery) — isn’t that amazing?
Enlarge this so you can read it -- Pinkerton!
Enlarge this so you can read it — Pinkerton!
Louis Sullivan, the great architect
Louis Sullivan, the great architect
mussels, frites, and a wonderful beer!
mussels, frites, and a wonderful beer!

And now I’m back home in Austin for a few days before I head off to NYC, and then shortly after that off to Indonesia. Much to do between now and then — preparation for my trip, a lot of work, seeing friends. On the flights to and from Chicago, I read more of Bluets, and found this beautiful piece:

79. For just because one loves blue does not mean that one wants to spend one’s life in a world made of it. “Life is a train of moods like a string of beads, and as we pass through them they prove to be many-colored lenses which paint the world their own hue, and each shows only what lies in its focus,” wrote Emerson. To find oneself trapped in any one bead, no matter what its hue, can be deadly.

I really love that because it’s so true — and a good thing, too, because we don’t get just one thing. We get joy, blue beads, and we get sorrow, the matte gray beads, and we get grief, black obsidian, accepting no light, and we get light happiness, pink and orange beads, and we get everything if we just live long enough. It goes up, it goes down, it goes flat, and then joy and beauty come back, even when you thought they wouldn’t. Which brings me to these lines, which I share in the hope that you love them too:

Imagine yourself a caterpillar.
There’s an awful shrug and, suddenly,
You’re beautiful for as long as you live.

—the final lines of “Poem For People That Are Understandably Too Busy To Read Poetry” by Stephen Dunn

Also by Stephen Dunn,

Solving the Puzzle

I couldn’t make the pieces fit,
so I threw one away.

No expectation of success now,
none of that worry.

The remaining pieces seemed
to seek their companions.
A design appeared.

I could see the connection
between the overgrown path
and the dark castle on the hill.

Something in the middle, though,
was missing.

It would have been important once,
I wouldn’t have been able to sleep
without it.

Happy Tuesday, y’all. xo

off to Chicago

taken yesterday morning!
taken yesterday morning!

Oh happy happy day — I’m off to spend time with my wonderful daughter Marnie and her equally wonderful husband Tom, in Chicago. At least I hope so; Chicago has been hit with so much rain they’re having pretty terrible flooding. Flights have been cancelled, so I’m just hoping hoping hoping that I get there. Otherwise, I’m not sure when I’ll get to see them and it’s already been way too long. The last time I saw Marnie was last October during the dreadful agony of our family’s loss. And that’s way too long to go without seeing my daughter, you know?

one my favorite pictures of Marnie, ever.
one my favorite pictures of Marnie, ever.

We always have such a good time together, the three of us. We eat good stuff, we ramble around, we talk and talk and talk, we solve world problems, and we’re just easy together, the three of us. Both Tom and Marnie are thoughtful people with a lot to talk about, so that’s just such fun. And Tom is a sociologist and I’m a psychologist so we take different approaches to interesting questions, and that’s really fun for me. I love getting to talk about academicky stuff, and Tom knows very cool stuff I don’t know. And Chicago, love that city so so much.

They’ll be coming to Austin for Christmas this year (and staying with ME!), so I have that to look forward to. It’s awful only to see your beloved kids a couple of times a year. That’s not nearly enough. If you live near your kids and get to see them whenever you want — as I do with Katie and Trey, and I feel so grateful for that — you are lucky.

Here’s a wonderful picture of Marnie and Tom right after they were married. See what I mean about them?

jumping for joy on wedding day
jumping for joy on wedding day

I won’t be posting while I’m away, so have a wonderful weekend! I’ll write when I get home. xoL