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!

just a lot of OMGs

In random order, O.M.G.:

  • How have I not read any Tom Robbins as a 57yo person?? Thank heavens Peggy posted a quote by him, which led me to comment on it and led two friends to tell me how great Jitterbug Perfume is, leading me to immediately download the book and start reading it and O.M.G. Here’s the quote that kicked off the whole thing for me (thank you Peggy and Anne!):

beets“The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious.

Slavic peoples get their physical characteristics from potatoes, their smoldering inquietude from radishes, their seriousness from beets. The beet is the melancholy vegetable, the one most willing to suffer. You can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip…

The beet is the murderer returned to the scene of the crime. The beet is what happens when the cherry finishes with the carrot. The beet is the ancient ancestor of the autumn moon, bearded, buried, all but fossilized; the dark green sails of the grounded moon-boat stitched with veins of primordial plasma; the kite string that once connected the moon to the Earth now a muddy whisker drilling desperately for rubies.”

I ended up highlighting the entire first few pages, including the epigraph and the introduction, and throughout the early pages my highlighting is more evident than the non-highlighted stuff. Just, wow. How did I miss him for so long? I think I got him confused with someone else, some writer who does a lot of pulp books, but I can’t quite think of who it might me. OH! Harold Robbins! Yeah, very different.

I’m also newly and re-smitten by Per Petterson — about as opposite a writer as Tom Robbins as you could ever imagine. Where Robbins is out there in plot and inventiveness of language, Petterson is quiet, interior, and dreamy. Here’s my review of I Curse the River of Time, and I can’t recommend it enough. It was my third read of that beautiful book and I know I’ll read it at least a couple more times. I’m currently reading Out Stealing Horses (the guy is great at titling his books, that’s for sure), and moving between Petterson and Robbins is a head-banging experience.

  • I am hardly going to be home in Austin for the coming weeks and months, OMG. It’s all good stuff — my grandson’s birth and the luxury of time helping my daughter and son-in-law, a trip to southern China, and NYC time on either side of those great experiences. Still, I dearly love being home in Austin, in my cozy little place, with my own way of living my life and feeding myself, with my dear friends and family and weekly time with Oliver and Katie, with book club and poetry group and happy hours and brunches and coffee breaks, with nightly walks and an easy stop at Torchy’s Tacos (click here for images, you’ll want to eat there right away). When I’m in NYC or Chicago or southern China I’ll be so happily immersed in all that’s going on, obviously, and my sweet little home will be whispering in my ear. Queenie….come home….. will be home for Oliver’s 2nd birthday, no matter what. That’ll be a big day for us all.
  • I’m so glad I was in NYC for the historic snowstorm! Just, wow. It was amazing. In less than 24 hours we got nearly 27″ of snow. It was pretty hard to take a bad picture that day, but still I think this one I took in my beloved Riverside Park is pretty fantastic:
I took this at the spot I always take pictures of the park, and it was about 4:30pm. It's not a black and white picture, and I did absolutely no editing to the shot except to crop out some sidewalk foreground.
I took this at the spot I always take pictures of the park, and it was about 4:30pm. It’s not a black and white picture, and I did absolutely no editing to the shot except to crop out some sidewalk foreground.
  • We have some amazing travel coming up this year. Southern China in April, so excited about that (and also a little scared), and also the UP in July — the Upper Peninsula of Michigan! We’re going to Manistique Lake, a special place in Marc’s life. His family had a cabin there; actually, his grandfather bought it before Marc was even born, and he went all the time as a kid, and then at critical times during his adult life. Both blogs are set up. We’d been planning to go to Alaska in July so I could see humpback whales, but the places were already sold out so we’re diverting to Manistique and planning for Alaska next year. It’s a gorgeous Plan B, and also without any of the anxiety we have about China.
china
click the image to head to the blog
mheader
ditto — click the image

And a final BIG picture OMG. My life is pretty amazing at the moment and so I pause to acknowledge it. My little Katie family is flourishing (and Oliver is amazing) and I am so grateful for my loving daughter; my little Marnie family is flourishing and about to grow and I am so grateful for my loving daughter; my friends remain essential to my heart and well-being; I have work; the back-and-forth pleasures of Austin and NYC are mostly great, and the less-great stuff is a bearable price to pay; I’m in excellent health as far as I know and my eating and yoga and meditation makes me happy on a daily basis; I’m writing my own stuff and it’s good; I’m reading amazing books that enrich me; and my little year-long project has been surprisingly meaningful already. It’s so important to pause and look around during the peaceful happy periods, to see all there is, to sit with it and be grateful for it.

OMG. xoxoxox

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!

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)!

brooding

broodingIt’s gone so quiet here on the blog, in large part because I am in flux between old and new. I’m brooding……but the egg-sitting meaning, not the dark glowering mood meaning. I am sitting in quiet, listening for the creative consequence of this enormous change that has happened to me. As time passes I am feeling more confident in the shift, more solid about it. Of all the things I’ve been in my life, I’d say “professional changer” has been central. Some of the changes took place very slowly and required a lot of incremental shifts and constant effort, which is not to say that the change always moved forward. Plenty of my changes took that two steps forward, one step back route.

Plenty of other changes were short-lived, or visited and revisited and revisited and never really took hold the way I wanted them to. (Which, of course, begs the question of ‘want.’) I’ve only been making these changes since June, but for the last four months there haven’t been any steps backwards and the pull of the old has faded to the point where I can barely see it there, receding behind me. In a strange way, this shift has been extraordinarily simple, like an insight. The cool thing about insight is that it feels effortless, whole, complete — all at once things look different, and you can no longer remember why it wasn’t always this obvious.

Yesterday I had lunch with my gorgeous, luscious, beautifully creative friend Traci. I was telling her that I have nothing to write anymore, and she smiled and said that I will. And I believe her — in part because I trust her, and in part because I feel it myself. I’m beginning to think that what’s ahead in this next stage of my life will look very different. My subject matter before this shift was my own story, but I am beginning to think that my subject matter is moving toward straight non-fiction. It’s beginning to be exciting as I listen hard for what’s coming.

One thing that’s coming — to gently segue — is lots of great travel and times with friends! In the little period of time I’m back in Austin I have so many things lined up with friends and family to stretch out my celebration of my birthday. O I cannot wait for that. I think birthdays ought to be properly and joyfully celebrated — mine and yours! I’m so glad I get to have a whole week of chances to be grateful for another year twirling around the sun. Then a 4-day weekend in Chicago to see Marnie and Tom, then a few days later back to NYC and then a few days after that, we’re off to southeast Asia again.

the morning alms round in Luang Prabang -- my Thanksgiving morning will begin by helping feed the monks
The morning alms round in Luang Prabang — my Thanksgiving morning will begin by helping feed the monks
a great alley of food vendors in Luang Prabang -- my Thanksgiving dinner this year!
A great alley of food vendors in Luang Prabang — my Thanksgiving dinner this year! A heaping plate of food, $1.25, but with a BeerLao it comes to $2. 
sidewalk eating and drinking in Hanoi
Sidewalk eating and drinking in Hanoi. This is just a little cafe on a side street; on big streets, the entire sidewalk as far as you can see is filled with these little stools and tables, and people eating pho, banh cuon, bun cha, chao ca, bun rieu cua, and other stuff I don’t know but want to eat immediately.

Between now and the end of the year, I have so many things going on I may still be brooding, percolating, developing. I have a couple of ideas starting to press on my mind, and I may be hitting you up for some help. In the meantime, I’m also starting to think about goals for my next year. More on that process very soon!

xoxo

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!

so many homes

My friend Dee ran my family tree for me and there were so many shocking and thrilling branches (and a horrifying one, a branch in Georgia who owned slaves iamsosorry). But otherwise, great great stuff, so interesting. I know that my father’s paternal line came from Bavaria, and I knew that a set of branches came from the UK. I’d been told we were Comanche, but actually we’re Chickasaw  (one of the Five Civilized Tribes).

I am not Greek. I am not French. Of all the branches in my family tree, not even a twig ventures to those places, not even a twig on a twig on a twig on a tiny branch on a bigger branch. Nope, nothing. And yet both of those places are homes, of sorts, for me. Those places belong to me because of books.

It can be mysterious the way things resonate so deeply. I’ve read thousands and thousands of books (and thousands), why did the Odyssey get into me so deeply? I at least know why Paris is so deeply wound around my heart — the themes from Hugo’s two best-known books, Les Miserables and Notre Dame de Paris were huge books in my little childhood. The good man damned, the outcast needing sanctuary, I saw myself in those stories as if they had been literally written about me. I’d never seen myself so squarely in books until I read those. I was Jean Valjean. was Quasimodo. Hugo could’ve written my name in those books. Old Paris became so vivid in my mind it was in my dreams and my plans. When I finally made it to Paris when I was 42, I found some of the old wall and put my hands on it and stood there crying. I don’t know how often that happens in Paris.

But Greece? Homer? Why has that struck my DNA in the way it has? And while I love the Iliad, it’s the Odyssey that sings to me so deeply. It’s Odysseus’s trials, it’s the places he went, his constantly frustrated effort, the breaking-down of his pride. Why does that touch me the way it does? It isn’t the storyline of Penelope, of Telemachus, it’s Odysseus. That book means so much to me and I read it over and over and over.  (Robert Fitzgerald’s translation is my favorite.) The last time I wanted to kill myself (and by “the last time” I mean both “just the most recent time” and “the very last time that will ever happen”) I ended up in the hospital. My suicidal mind kept calling to me, pulling me, convincing me, trying to do me in. My therapist called me one night and told me to plug my ears with wax and lash myself to the mast. It still makes me cry that she did that because it reflected such a deep, deep knowledge and understanding of me, that speaking to me from Homer would be the way to reach me. I’ll never forget that.

On the rocky beach at Olympos. We could walk through that opening at the base of the rock, just to provide a sense of scale.
On the rocky beach at Olympos. We could walk through that opening at the base of the rock, just to provide a sense of scale.

When my husband and I went to Turkey, one place we went was Olympos. And of course I was reading Odyssey. And I will be taking it with me when we go to Greece in May, too, and even though we aren’t going to Ithaca I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for Odysseus wherever we go.

I adore Dante’s Comedy, especially Inferno and a little less, Purgatorio (and almost not at all, Paradiso yawn). I’ve read those books over and over again, and will keep reading them over and over again. (I love John Ciardi’s translation for sentimental reasons — it was the first I read, when I was at home with newborn Katie, but the translation by Robert and Jean Hollander is just brilliant.) Although I love it, those books didn’t capture my DNA in the same way, those books didn’t make Italy a home for me. And it’s not that I couldn’t identify! The lost man, the various sins (especially the suicides, torn apart forever by harpies). My therapist spoke to me of Odysseus, but I referred to her as my Virgil, leading me through and eventually out of the lost dark wood. But still, the book has never been home to me the way those others have.

I’ve been thinking about the complete originality of each one of us — chemically, biologically, intellectually, spiritually, every way. The thoughts that come into our minds…from where? You don’t “decide” the things that come into your mind. You can direct your thinking, but the unbidden thoughts, the results of the original and deep structure of your mind. And the longings of your deep heart, the urgency of your deep needs, the places and people that will immediately and deeply be home, original to you. You might come up with stories to explain them, as I’ve just done, but somehow these things emanate from our deepest original selves. And I think that’s just so so cool, so fascinating to think about.

I’m off to my Katie-girl’s house to spend the day with her, cooking, cleaning, baby-prepping. It’s a drizzly morning here in Austin, maybe thunderstorms later today, a very good day to stay in and do happy things. I wish you all a very good Saturday! 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

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

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………..

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

desert charms and glories

When I arranged this trip for myself, I was coming to the desert for a specific reason, to rethink things, to figure things out, to find myself again because I’d felt so lost when I made the reservation. By the time it finally came around, I’d done a lot of that work already so the trip became a pleasure trip, to revel in the desert, to be alone in a new place, to try to look hard and see closely. To practice being alone in a new setting, to see if it was scary (it’s not). I’ve always loved road trips, and I’m so easily blissed out, and sure enough, so many times on the drive here yesterday I burst into tears. The landscape chokes me up and reminds me that I’m moving around on the face of a planet. The scale gets to me. The big sky opens me up. The old style windmills pull me back to happy moments from my childhood at Ben and Maizie’s in Bunger, TX, and the new style windmills make me laugh almost hysterically, dozens of them along the ridges as far as I can see, waving their crazy arms at me like wackadoo giants. And then that kind of joy slips into another, as I realize their movement is making the wind visible, the wind that flies over the face of the earth. And then a Spice Girls song comes on the stereo and I laugh and cry. I haven’t passed a car for more than an hour, and I stop the car and stand square in the middle of the highway with my face turned up to the sky. My grandmother was Comanche, but out here it’s Apache territory, and I think I see Injuns lined up along the ridges everywhere I look. I feel the past and the now all wound up and existing at once.

This morning I did the first exercise in my Exploring the World book, which was to jot down 10 things where I was sitting that I hadn’t noticed when I sat down. I didn’t feel I could do this one at home, because everything in my home is brand new, chosen and placed by me, and I live and work there so I don’t think it’s possible there’s a thing there I hadn’t noticed. Dust, maybe (but I notice the dust). I decided to start this project here, in Marfa, where what is present is the desert, all one thing unless you look closer. After breakfast at Squeeze, oatmeal and a cappuccino, I returned to my little trailer, made some coffee, gathered my books and notebook, and sat on the porch. I was a little intimidated by the instruction to do it quickly, not to censor. That produced a mild panic in me, like I could only fail, I couldn’t possibly take in 10 things with a rushed glance, an uncensored opening of the eye, like a camera lens flashing open for a millisecond. And then I laughed at myself for my old easy way of falling prey to a rule, even a tiny little lighthearted rule. I took a sip of coffee, opened my notebook, and sat still. It took me several minutes to get my list of ten things, and that is OK [obviously]. I had to have time for my eye to settle, to quit noticing the sand and scrub and yucca, the prevalence of brown, the flatness of the all-blue sky, the heat burning my neck. Finally, I noticed

  1. The singing mockingbird in the bare tree behind me
  2. Flat-faced flint rocks on the ground
  3. Murmurs of people around the trailer behind mine
  4. The complete absence of clouds in the sky
  5. A huge broken branch lying sideways in the top of a tall tree, completely broken off
  6. The soft breeze blowing the hair around my face, and blowing the soft grasses around my trailer
  7. One big, tall, sharp mountain on the horizon
  8. Nearly invisible birds scrambling around in the dirt, eating something, perfectly camouflaged
  9. The sound of trucks prowling the distant highway
  10. The hot sun burning my left cheek

I wanted to know the names of things. Exactly what kind of birds are on the ground, and gathering in the trees? What kind of rocks are those – sedimentary, some, but others were clearly igneous. What kind of plants grow here, besides the yucca? The tall patch of scary bramble, what kind of plant is/was that? Where are the snakes hiding right now? I wish I’d brought my Birds of Texas book to help me identify the different kinds of brown birds. No red or blue or pink birds out here, at least not that I’ve seen yet.

At the last minute I decided to leave the Jack Gilbert collection behind and bring only the Louise Gluck book, and it is wonderful – even the poems I don’t linger over or mark in some way are echoey. I found one, a long one, that made me laugh with the knowing. I’ll just put a bit of it here and encourage you to track it down. It’s called Averno.

1.

You die when your spirit dies.
Otherwise, you live.
You may not do a good job of it, but you go on—
something you have no choice about.

When I tell this to my children
they pay no attention.
The old people, they think—
this is what they always do:
talk about things no one can see
to cover up all the brain cells they’re losing.
They wink at each other;
listen to the old one, talking about the spirit
because he can’t remember anymore the word for chair.

It is terrible to be alone.
I don’t mean to live alone—
to be alone, where no one hears you.

I remember the word for chair.
I want to say—I’m just not interested anymore.

I wake up thinking
you have to prepare.
Soon the spirit will give up—

all the chairs in the world won’t help you.
I know what they say when I’m out of the room.
Should I be seeing someone, should I be taking
one of the new drugs for depression.
I can hear them, in whispers, planning how to divide the cost.

And I want to scream out
you’re all of you living in a dream.

Bad enough, they think, to watch me falling apart.
Bad enough without this lecturing they get these days
as though I had any right to this new information.

Well, they have the same right.

They’re living in a dream, and I’m preparing
to be a ghost. I want to shout out

the mist has cleared—
It’s like some new life:
you have no stake in the outcome;
you know the outcome.

Think of it: sixty years sitting in chairs. And now the mortal spirit
seeking so openly, so fearlessly—
To raise the veil.
To see what you’re saying goodbye to.

This is just the first of five parts. My own children do not treat me like this, at all, but my stepdaughter does/did. She would roll her eyes, say this kind of thing, think of and talk about her father and me as relics of some kind, something so different from her, “I guess it’s just different for your generation.” I know the kind of dismissal Gluck describes in this piece of the poem, the arrogance of some young people in the face of life.

There are so many things I’m grateful for it’s an endless list. But right at the top has to be my survival, by which I partly mean surviving myself, surviving old efforts and wishes to end myself. Thankful thankful thankful that those efforts and wishes are past, and that they were not successful when I wished them to be. At 54, I feel sure that I am the best I’ve ever been, that my future has so much in it, so much of everything, and that I can’t wait to see it all, whatever it is. There’s something so powerful about surviving, about gathering into yourself all the years, all the pain and lessons, all the scars and marks, and having your eyes gradually open more and more. I wouldn’t be younger for any amount of money in the world.

Marfa is beautiful, West Texas beautiful: spare, bleached, straight up out of the flat ground. An old Mexican man in a  white cowboy hat sweeps the sidewalk in front of his shop; windburned women wear long no-nonsense hair pulled back in utility ponytails; hipster young people wear all black and skinny jeans and clearly-not-from-Marfa haircuts. Marfa now has trendy ornaments, a couple of food trucks with delicious treats like the Marfalafel sandwich I ate yesterday, folded in a soft handmade flour tortilla instead of pita, accompanied by a Mexican Coke with real sugar. Old gas stations are remade into art spaces, studios and galleries, and the art is not of the old west variety. There is no Mexican food here, or barbecue, though you can get it in Alpine, 26 miles away. Fried pies in Marathon, I’ll be getting one (or more) on the way home.

The sky was beautifully black last night, and I sat on my little cedar porch wrapped up in a thick, coarse blanket. It’s so very quiet at night, no birds, no voices, car traffic becoming nonexistent on the road past El Cosmico. I wish I could hear the Milky Way wheeling.

That's my shower, to the left, coming right off my bedroom.
That’s my shower, to the left, coming right off my bedroom.
serious, serious brambles out here!
serious, serious brambles out here!
Buddha even guards the bike rack
Buddha even guards the bike rack
the campground -- safari tents to the left, tepees to the right, and blue skies overhead
the campground — safari tents to the left, tepees to the right, and blue skies overhead
church. stark. white. no-nonsense.
church. stark. white. no-nonsense.
my little kozy coach
my little kozy coach
gorgeous Marfa full moon
gorgeous Marfa full moon
where I sit and write
where I sit and write
dancing yucca! get down, get down, get down, get down you old yucca
dancing yucca! get down, get down, get down, get down you old yucca
desert blooms, desert sky
desert blooms, desert sky
sun overhead, shadows and my eyes taking a glancing look
sun overhead, shadows and my eyes taking a glancing look

My plan for the rest of the day is to write, prowl around, poke at things, maybe eat another Marfalafel, poke some more, read, rest, drink water, prowl a little more, and then sit on my deck under the Milky Way for one more night. What a wonderful trip.

adios, amigas!

cosmico
El Cosmico!
the road to Marfa
the road to Marfa
nighttime
my sweet trailer, nighttime
tables under the stars
tables under the stars
welcome to Marfa!
welcome to Marfa!
Prada Marfa
Prada Marfa

I may not be able to post here while I’m gone, but if we’re facebook friends I should be able to do a little here and there from my phone. I AM SO SO EXCITED! Even though I’m just staying two nights, I’ve got a big bunch of stuff accompanying me, including these essentials:

camera, binoculars, water bottle, exploration book, and poetry collections: Jack Gilbert and Louise Gluck
camera, binoculars, water bottle, exploration book, and poetry collections: Jack Gilbert and Louise Gluck

Plus my big camera bag full of lenses of all kinds and a tripod or two, and notebooks for writing, and a laptop for faster writing, and hats and clothes and shoes. And that’s all. And a thermos. No ordinary thermos, though. And my French press and some fresh ground coffee. Because come on, we don’t have to be heathens in the desert.

cattle call

MAN. Yesterday morning when I got to the airport, I saw from afar one section that was clogged up, crowded, the lines snaking halfway down the ticketing area and back again, crossing in front of half a dozen airlines. NO….NO…..yes. It was for Southwest Airlines.  All the other airlines had just a few people standing in line waiting for ticketing agents. What the hell. So, with my extraordinarily heavy backpack on one shoulder, my big camera bag filled with lenses and flashes and camera on the other, and with two enormous stuffed-to-the-brim suitcases, I got in line. I wish I’d looked at the time when I started; maybe I didn’t in order to protect my blood pressure. So I don’t know how long I stood there, but when I finally got my bags checked I thought the worst was over.

My gate was the last one in concourse B, and when I was about halfway down the concourse, the crowds stopped moving. There were so many people clogged up there, it was nearly impossible to move forward. I asked the people standing around me what gate they were needing and they all said my gate. Gate 8. NO. Yesterday morning was very foggy on the east coast, and in my experience, if anyone even says (or thinks) the word “rain drop” in the vicinity of LaGuardia, the whole thing crashes to a halt. So fog? Yeah, fog is really going to make it a mess.

Apparently, two flights had been cancelled, and one had left for Baltimore but turned around and came back. So there were three flights full of pissed-off and already-tired passengers needing to be rerouted. And whoo boy, they were not happy. If you’ve ever flown SW, you know that all the employees tend to be . . . um . . . “perky.” So the gate agent kept making announcements trying to cheer up the people waiting, trying to get them organized. His announcements became increasingly cranky, though — even he couldn’t maintain perkiness in the face of all that — and his last announcement was stern: “OK then, I guess THIS is what you want. We’re not going in order now, we’re going to deal with you by final destination. I guess you want it this way, apparently this is what you want. So sit down and we’ll call you by final destination. Sorry if you’ve already been waiting a long time, but I guess this is how you want it.” YIKES. I didn’t blame him, but hearing a SW Airlines employee talk like that was a bit shocking.

So the flights were all packed, not a seat to spare and not nearly enough room in the overhead compartments. Fellow travelers were hostile and not in the mood, man. My too-long layover in Chicago was unpleasant because Midway has such crappy food offerings, at least in the terminal I was wandering in. Bad hot dogs, mall food court Chinese, junky “local” restaurants that weren’t, food court Italian. Ugh. With 2.5 hours still to go, I was sitting at my gate, engrossed in work, when someone called my name. I looked up, and it was one of Marnie’s very best friends from Smith College standing in front of me! That was an exceptionally wonderful treat; I always loved Sophie, and how she spotted me in that terrible crowd was a miracle, but a wonderful one.

Before she picked me up at the airport last night, my sweet daughter Katie stopped by my place and turned on the heat, and turned on lamps in every room so I’d come home to a warm, well-lit place. SO THOUGHTFUL, my daughter. I unpacked everything and climbed into my own beautiful bed, and slept like a log all night. I’m home now, in a place of my own that I cannot be kicked out of, I cannot be told I have to leave. My place, my home, oh so sweet. It is so very good to be home.

it was a bumpy flight

​Under the best of circumstances, Hong Kong to JFK is a tough gig. The flight is ~16 hours, two long workdays. Cathay Pacific is a decent airline, but it’s no Signapore Airlines, which was the first airline I ever flew around the world. Back then, October 2005, my husband and I flew nonstop to Singapore, for our first trip to Vietnam, and it was as luxurious as a flight can be when you’re not in first class. Since our tickets are always free, I have no idea what first class is like — but Singapore Airlines was pretty great. We had plenty of room, just the two of us (not 3 seats side by side, just 2), and in the big back lounge was arranged a constantly replenished buffet of fresh strawberries and other fruit, cheeses and meats, snack bars, SNICKERS (so thrilling I had to capitalize it), soft drinks, fruit drinks, all for the taking. We were newly in love and kept our heads together the whole trip, whispering to each other, staying awake, wandering to the lounge, standing around talking, sitting next to each other talking, holding hands, eager. Of course that kind of attitude makes any flight better. 🙂  Seven years later, we tend to do our own thing a little more, I read and knit, we each tune in and watch our own movies, we sleep, we try to make the time pass. Cathay Pacific doesn’t have the lovely well-stocked lounge, just tight quarters around the bathroom, and the seats are 3-4-3 so it’s only if you’re very lucky that two people get to sit alone.

We were very lucky. We took our seats near the back of the plane — an aisle and a window — and watched each person approach, hoping hoping hoping that they didn’t have our middle seat. Of course we ask them to switch, and they always do, but this strategy gives us at least a shot at sitting by ourselves because the middle seat is everyone’s last resort (especially in the back). When the cabin doors closed, we still had the middle seat empty, joy! Rapture! But my husband turned to me and said, “I don’t feel well honey, do I have a fever?” He felt clammy when I first touched him, but very quickly he had a fever. Aches, chills, sweats, that awful headache, the poor guy caught the flu. So for the entire 16-hour flight, he was suffering. He tried to stretch out, lie down, sit up, lean over, everything possible, but he found no relief.​ And there was quite bad turbulence the entire flight, like being in a cargo van driving through Mongolia on rutted rocky unpaved roads. Seriously.

​For some bizarre reason, as we walked off the plane the crowd came to a halt. I still can’t figure it out, but immigration and customs was immediately off our gate, and it was jammed. As far ahead as we could see, there were big crowds. Finally there was a little break in the crowd and I could that American citizens were being taken a little more quickly, in the right-hand lane, so we scooted over. Half an hour later, we finally got to the immigration room, and my husband sat on the floor near the wall, suffering and miserable, while I snaked through the lines. The only good thing about the insanely long wait was that by the time we got through, our luggage was waiting. I’ve never seen the lines so terribly long.

We got our luggage, called the parking lot number, waited for the van to get us, ​drove through JFK to another terminal to pick up another customer, then off to the parking lot to retrieve our car. Then the long drive back to our apartment, then the fingers-crossed hope that I could find a parking spot at that late hour, and we were finally sitting in our living room at 1am, after landing at 10:30. My poor feverish husband, so miserable and suffering he keeps crying out. We’re now in the topsy-turvy world of recovering from jet lag, and from 2 weeks spent in a world where night was day. It’s 6:08am as I write, and my body thinks it’s 5:08pm. 

​But what a wonderful trip it was. It was frustrating not to be able to share the photographs on the travel blog, so one thing I’m going to try to do today is get some photos uploaded into the old posts and rewrite them (oh, the typos!), and finish writing about the end of the trip. Today is laundry, getting a new phone, catching up, recovering, moving slowly, and reentering the world. I don’t know quite how long I have, since little Grace could decide to make her appearance just any day now. Her due date is Oct 27, but there are some things going on that make it likely she’ll come early so I may suddenly fly away with little warning.

I read 7 books while I was gone, so I’ll tell you all about them later. Although the coffee was amazingly quite good — dark and rich — in Myanmar, it’s a pleasure to have my own French press coffee this morning, sitting on my own couch in NYC. I hope you had a good time while I was gone!​

around the world again

Well friends, the day has come when we leave for Myanmar.​ Of course I hope and plan to be blogging the trip, and have the blog all set up and ready to roll (http://myanmarus.blogspot.com).  We read conflicting reports of internet availability, and we have no idea if we’ll be dealing with dial-up, so all I can say is that I’ll post stories and pictures as often as I can — as always. I hope you follow along! 

As best I can tell, from the time we leave to the time we arrive in Yangon, it’ll be ~28.5 hours. That’s a long, long time. ​I hope the next couple of weeks are good for you, and I hope I come home with a lot of great stories and photos. Mingalar Ba!