The perishing green of May,
That knows not
Its due price for time spent
And all because it lives so
Can learn no lesson from
Which might seek to warn the
This post is an installment in my 30 day writing project called “This moment” – where I put pen to paper and write whatever comes to mind starting with the statement This Moment… If you want to know more, this post explains a little more what I’m up to.
This moment I am thinking of you, friend. How our friendship is like a dance. The way you dance with me. Unsure of each other, yet kind and knowing it so we continue to walk trusting that each will step when it’s time to step, stand when it is time to stand and sway when it’s time to sway. Friends are like Ansel Adams cacti on the landscape. All around with arms stretched wide so to catch me when I fall, but not without their thorns. Precious few at times, but they let me give voice to the scary bits, never judging, always knowing they’re there. The warmth of their presence reminds me that all is well with creation, with the universe. I honor the arms and I love them for their thorns that make be bleed.
And what is this universe, if not a web of friendships? Relationships at least, but who is the judge of a relationship and its name? I say, I am friend to that mosquito who just took my blood so that she may walk her path as I must mine. The tree that shades my Florida house in the relentless July sun? She is my friend. The Sun is my friend too, I need her, but have been hiding when she comes to call. Too much, I say. Overbearing. Oppressive her friendship. I’ll need her again though, so I take her call though it pains me.
The man who hurts me – is he friend too? I think yes, though I feel the thorns more than the arms. What about tougher stuff? Fire? Rapists? Can we be friends? Space that is vacuum and inhospitable to me would blow me apart. Is it my friend too? What is my relationship with all of this?
I think that I am here in this form to learn something, to accomplish something. I am in this body so that I may have arms to catch someone else falling. Who shall I lift up? Myself? “Charity starts at home,” the saying goes, but my elbows are wrong for that. These arms are made to hold another, not their owner. Is there a god? If so, would She be so cruel or so loving as to create us with arms that only bend to hug another? I can touch and pat my own back, but it isn’t the same. A dance with you, my friend, always feels right.
I’ve stepped on toes as I’ve danced, I’ve stood and sweated and smelled and made bad conversation while life’s music played. My cactus arms are thorny as any. I’ve been clumsy dance partner to many. Here I am though–Black tuxedo, navy blue socks, pilled white shirt and a smile – ready to dance with you. Will you dance with me? It may be our last chance, though I may see you again as a cactus. Will you remember me then? Ansel did.
This moment I’m exhausted, wrung out. I’m tired like you don’t feel that often. Neck, eyes, fingers, all of it.
Outside my window is laughing at me. It’s all green and waving in the breeze while I breathe this canned air. I stare at a glowy flat thing all day and tippity tap on another flat thing with little square things all over it and call it work. Would my forefathers know this work? Cave paintings and pyramids and wars with gods. Harrumph. I think that they’d say harrumph.
Them all slaying cyclops and flying too close to the sun and pushing that rock up that hill and here I sit tippity tap typing on my little shiny one thing and staring at my little glowing other thing telling myself it’s work. Is it? I think I push that rock too. Mine just glows and beeps and blinks back at me. Moss on this rock rubs off on me like green knowing. It falls off a little at a time as I scrape back the layers. I peel and scratch and fight to dig out what’s underneath and little by little something comes into shape and view from beneath. I find a corner. I rub and fuss and scrape and dig some more and finally I pull it out. There. A tooth. A rib bone, a jaw. A letter. A sentence. A story.
I dig deep in that bone yard that smells all musty and scary and who knows what I’ll find. I don’t know until I find it either, but I’m always surprised what comes up from the earth. The things the world has kept alone to itself forever. Until now. Until I came along. Is that what I’m here for? Am I a maker or a doer or just a teller? Am I the narrator of some story that you wrote? That the worker bees go build and leave to the scribe to record and pass on? I’m the grave digger. The archaeologist digging up the bones you made- the ones you fought and died for and here I sit, pulling them up and pretending I know what they mean and putting them together like building blocks that you never intended. That’s the hazard of what I do. Better to get it right or just get it at all? Make you think, make me work. Tippity tap. Tippity tap.
You go hunt buffalo. I’ll sit here and paint on the cave wall about it with your bones as my quill.
What I’m up to of late
One of the things I do is write. I’ve decided to get more serious about developing this facet of myself and to actually finish one of several books I’ve gotten underway.
This latest round of interest was sparked at a retreat I attended recently. Janet Conner was one of the session presenters and I learned about her story and her passion around writing. Her book, Writing Down Your Soul is a compelling read for anyone who’s been through trying times. It isn’t journaling. It isn’t prayer. It isn’t meditation. Yet it is part each of those.
Janet’s work and message connected with me so much that I am plunking down the money to take her once-yearly writing course (which starts in a week or so).
To prepare for the course, I’ve been working through several other books she recommended (Ray Bradbury’s Zen and the Art of Writing, and Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones).
One exercise that caught my attention was to write every day. That’s a sometimes daunting thing to do, especially when your mind is everywhere but on the page in front of you.
I’ll be doing a project called “This Moment” to build my writing muscles where for 30 days, I write something starting with the statement, “This moment,” – and then just roll with what comes.
Yesterday’s post, “The salad knows.” was the first of these. I may share more on this website.
Additionally, I’m working hard on Prolificate, my business coaching practice. I continue to feel in my bones that there are ideas trapped in minds around the world that I can help bring into being by using my business chops (chops? or are they merely business cutlets? Oooh, how about “business bacon”! You heard it here first.)
At any rate, I continue to meet business owners (current and future) who are good at their craft, but feel too intimidated by the obstacle of turning their dreaming into doing (a business, non-profit, NGO, or club, etc.). It’s slow going, as there is much competition for people’s attention, but I know I can help. I just need to figure out how to have my voice be heard and trusted. (open to your ideas here).
Look for more from me on multiple fronts including travel photos, personal and business writing, and other inanity soon.
This moment I am eating grapes. Sour fat green ones that seem to huddle together for protection from something – me. I imagine them cringing and shrinking away into raisins from my searching fingertips in the bag.
I grab one. It’s fat, green, and afraid as I pull it from the arms of its family. Cold and glistening with water droplets that quiver from something I don’t recognize, but I recognize delicious.
The grape feels cold between my lips as I put it in my mouth and BITE.
What is that? Eyes closed and glimpses of lights flashing as tart becomes–sour–becomes near painful. Little grape weren’t going down without a fight.
A fight I’m always ready for, so I grab his partner. She’s the one crying right next to the hole where he came from. Just as refrigerator-cold but more stubborn I think. She brought mother’s arm with her, clinging to the last. I pull the woody bit away from her hands and she painfully, grudgingly gives up her purchase. Into my mouth she goes and WHOOSH. The sour burst she learned from her litter mate.
I wonder if grapes are all like this or I got the only ones who could think and tell me how they feel. Then my mind wanders to berries and all summer’s floral bounty. Is it all a farce? They all know. They feel pain, they want things and know things and hope. They hope. Dear god of it all… here I sit with a refrigerator full of them. All colors from the deepest reds, to pretty greens, heavy, gravid summer squash and melons and the kale, oh the gaudy kale. From the kohlrabi to humble broccoli. His fancy italian cousin broccolini with his jaunty hat and his sophistication. They all know. I’m coming for them.
How must it feel to be relegated to this fate? At least the fauna have legs or wings or hooves and a chance…. a chance of evading, eluding me. The plants just sit and cringe and wait for my clumsy, fumbling fingers to seek them out. Perhaps each time hoping – praying?–that theirs isn’t the firm, wet, nourishing body I pick from the crowd.
The horrors. Blanched. Pickled. Stir-fried. Creams, soups, garnishes. Our mothers happily and self righteously feeding them to their children like the children are kings and queens. Somehow our children matter but the plants don’t. They aren’t kings and queens. These crispy leafy serfs suffer on in silence and in salad.
Or maybe they don’t.
Another grape lets me know what it thinks of me.
What I remember most about Hanoi was the green. It’s a busy city, but not busy like Saigon. Even in the most dense neighborhoods, there was always a park or a tree-lined boulevard. This city is full of interesting sights, sounds, and smells like the rest of the country, but Hanoi is somehow more personal, a half-step slower. More intentional, maybe.
Another theme was food. Of course everyone needs to eat, but here, food is such an integral part of daily life. It is prepared and enjoyed everywhere, unlike in other places where it is restricted to only restaurants and homes (though great and interesting restaurants abound here too)
I found myself catching glimpses of people that seemed familiar. Conversations that might have been between me and my friends or family.
I remember moments of personal connection, not quite intimacy. A hand on a shoulder, a half-second meeting of the eyes that made me feel I was somehow part of a family gathering of six million.
Hanoi’s Old Quarter is divided up into sections that specialize in different trades or merchandise. Here we see the ancient craft of scooter repair. (seriously, there were probably a hundred shops repairing scooters on this street)
Here is a gallery of the full-sized photos
You are enough.
Your mind is full of your shortcomings, might-have-beens, and obligations.
But you are enough.
You spend lifetimes quietly punishing yourselves for what you should have done better. You think no one notices.
Look in the eyes of your sons and daughters, THAT is unconditional love.
We admire you. We know what you’ve done for us.
You warned us about fire and we got burned anyway.
You worried about whether we would decide to graduate high school or go down the wrong path, or just find a way to be happy in this world.
We made my own choices about all of those things, but still –
You are enough.
Mothers worry about other things.
But the world mostly never knows about your self-questioning.
Do I earn enough? Why can’t the doctors fix this? What if she grows up blaming me?
Men are a different breed all their own. Most will never really know one.
If you’re lucky, you might someday catch a glimpse of the burden he carries for you.
Or maybe not. That’s okay too. That’s the way he intended.
Forever the fixer, defender, and guardian – the job done best is the one finished quietly, without fanfare. Some of the hardest things he’s done for you, you will never know.
The greatest things I’ve ever learned were given to me by my father – most without his saying a single word.
He didn’t have to.
He’s a father.
Have you ever heard the saying, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.”?
The bitter taste of failure and disappointment is still fresh and nearly overwhelming as I write this from St. Petersburg, Florida back in the US.
If you’ve been reading my posts, you know that I decided, along with my wife and 2 daughters, ages 7 and 16, to leave our longtime home in Cincinnati, USA to travel and explore the world. We bought one way tickets to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and set out to travel Southeast Asia for an indeterminate amount of time. It turned out that “indeterminate” proved to be shorter than I’d hoped.
Because not everyone in the family was able to adapt to the traveling lifestyle, we were forced to change plans after a little more than a month and look for something different.
With stops in Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, we lived our goal of traveling slowly, staying in places that allowed us to see things through the eyes of those who live there. This is either a laudable goal, or a laughable one – maybe both. The more we traveled, the more I realized that it’s difficult, if not damn-near impossible for a westerner to really live like a native Khmer from Cambodia, or anyone who has grown up living in a developing country. We could get close for a short time, but growing up with luxuries I didn’t even realize were luxuries has made me soft. Staying in inexpensive guesthouses and a few even more modest digs gave me a whole new level of respect for those who have no other choice.
I’m trying to tell myself that I knew when we set out that there was no guarantee of success – no certainty that a family of 4 people would all be so in-tune that we would be able to function in a dizzying world of constant change and the randomly interspersed moments of ecstasy & boredom, of gritty discomfort and stunned amazement that are a part of long term travel on this earth.
Dealing with a teen who was not doing well with all the turmoil was a challenge I just could not overcome. The thing about being a parent is that – no matter what – it’s your job to make sure your kid is ok.
Imagine: The one thing you’ve wanted most for as long as you can remember turns out to be the thing that wrecks the confidence and emotional well-being of one you love dearly. My desire to go out into the unknown and explore the world firsthand was something that was simply too much for one whom I am sworn to protect and nurture.
The conflict and turmoil I am feeling right now is overwhelming. I wasn’t up to the task. I couldn’t overcome the obstacles. I failed at my goal. There it is.
Nevertheless, if there was ever a situation I was cut out for, it’s dealing with a defeat. So, here we go.
As a parent, part of the deal is that no matter what, your kids come first. Their long-term needs trump your short-term plans. Every time. They deserve our love and support. They deserve the very best us we can give them, so we’ve tried our best to make some lemonade out of this particular lemon. Though we could have continued to parent and do the best we could alone, we found that our emotional reserves had been depleted (silly in hindsight that we didn’t anticipate this), and we knew we needed some support around us.
Like a quarterback who finds his offense ill-suited to execute the play that was originally called, we’ve changed our plan midstream – called an audible, if you will.
We headed back to the US, and to St. Petersburg, Florida, which has a (for us) magic trio of a walkable urbanism, access to ocean beaches, and soul-replenishing sunshine. We are still proudly car-free, and have stumbled on an amazingly flourishing homeschool community. We hope to become a part of this community and contribute to what is an emerging creative class here. We don’t know how long we’ll stay – only that it feels right here for the moment, and that is enough.
There you have it. As a writer, I try to highlight the best and brightest of what I see, but sometimes life isn’t what you plan for. It isn’t always good or all that bright. Sometimes life, uncaring and ruthless, hits unexpectedly. So we get back up, wipe off the dust, patch the wounds, and move forward. Always forward. Where else is there?
Make no mistake, our travels yielded some amazing discoveries, beautiful moments, and good memories that will last forever. I’ll tell some of those stories and post pictures of some of those sights as I move through this process. I need to heal a little. I think sharing more of the experience will help with that.
In the meantime, I know that many of you have faced challenges and setbacks that make mine seem laughable. I honor those defeats and setbacks. I honor the courage and strength it has taken for you to face them. Only if we embrace the setbacks and struggles, do we earn the privilege of savoring the victories.
Here’s to the shitty view from down in the valley.
Here’s to the amazing view from atop the next peak.
What say we all meet there over a drink and talk about the climb up?
We planned our travels around mostly local culture, flavor, and minor or less-well known sites. Angkor Wat is an exception. I couldn’t rightfully travel through Cambodia with 2 young kids and not take in this historic site. I’m glad I didn’t miss it.
Located about 2 miles north of the city where we were staying, Angkor Wat is only one of the many impressive temple ruins located around the area. Much like Mayan sites spread throughout the Yucatan, Guatemala, and Honduras, the Hindu-turned-Buddhist temples here are mostly undisturbed ruins. For every restored and tourist-overrun temple, there are who knows how many that are vegetation-covered mounds in the jungle, slowly being reclaimed by nature over a thousand years after they were built.
I went out to the site solo at around 5am to try and capture the sunrise over the main temple complex. Well, when I say “solo” – that is if you don’t count the few thousand other tourists who had the same idea. It was insanely crowded, and this was a quiet day – just after Khmer New Year – a major holiday here – saw the park full with 10 times the number of people. Wait – I wasn’t a tourist. I was a photographer. It’s different.
After my early morning sortie, I returned to the hotel for breakfast with the girls, and then headed back out with them to actually tour the temples and ruins.
What follows is only the briefest sampling of the hundreds of photos I took.
First, the sunrise trip:
The walk to the gatehouse…
Now beyond the gatehouse looking at the temples of Angkor Wat. These photos are taken over about a 40 minute timespan as the wolf-dawn light transitions into full-on sunrise.
Believe it or not, just out of frame to the left were about three thousand people all doing the same thing I was doing.
Even with all these people, the atmosphere was every bit as reverent and quiet as it seems as you look at these. You could almost hear a pin drop. In the grass.
And then we went back. We spent another nearly 4 hours touring all the other temples – believe me, this is only a taste. You could easily spend a week here exploring, wandering, reflecting…
It’s been a bit since I posted. Turns out that travel is a couple of things that I forgot:
- Hard Work
- Fascinating. In fact, I’ve been so busy immersing myself in all the richness and wonder that is Southeast Asia that I’ve done very little in the way of writing about it.
It’s now the end of April, 2014 and we’ve been on the road since April 1. We’ve been to Kuala Lumpur and Penang in Malaysia, Siem Reap, Cambodia, and Ho Chi Minh City and Hoi An, Vietnam.
A couple of observations: It’s hot here – but not unbearably so. Temps range anywhere from 80’s to upper 90’s F. We love the omnipresent sunshine and the warmth that soaks into bones long-used to being cold. The sun brightens our spirits more than I thought it would and the lush greenery everywhere has a similar effect.
In general, people are friendlier than I expected. Some countries or cities more than others, but we found that, just like everywhere else we’ve been, if you are genuine, sincere, and willing to try something, people want to help you. (We found it also helps to learn ‘please’, ‘thank you’, and maybe a few other words (beer, and bathroom are my other go-to’s).
As we have moved from southwest (Malaysia) to northeast (Vietnam), signs of Western influence have been everywhere. In Malaysia they were British. Cars drive on the left side of the road, English words have British spellings (like “colour” instead of “color” for example). The farther east you go, the more French influence there is. Many of the mid – to large cities were laid out by French planners. Phnom Penh and Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) feel distinctly like Washington DC or Paris in places (yes, D.C. was designed by a Frenchman)- with those broad tree-lined boulevards connected in a latticework joined by large traffic circles with monuments or fountains in the center.
The cuisine gets increasingly French-influenced as you head east as well. Headed east from Bangkok, starting in Cambodia, the ever-present street cart vendors switched were selling Banh mi – a delicious sandwich, often with pâté, head cheese, or chicken on honest-to-god white baguettes (and damn good ones too). The coffee also gets more French in look and taste. Tiny cups of darkly roasted stuff. The local twist is unfortunately instant and is combined with syrupy sweetened condensed milk. After a few weeks without 16 ounce mugs of the great stuff from Coffee Emporium in Cincinnati, though, I’ve become somewhat of a convert.
Scooters are everywhere –
thousands millions of them. Bicycles too, but not so much as 30 years ago, I’m told. As in many developing countries, people learn to make do with very little – hence the common sight of families of 4, 5, or even 6 on a tiny scooter. Saigon has been the most hectic city so far, with the scooter traffic so thick, it almost had a pulse of its own. Learning to cross the street was intimidating, but once we got the hang of it, was akin to snorkeling through a school of fish. As long as you set a straight and predictable course – and didn’t make any sudden changes (meaning once you start, for god’s sake DON’T STOP!) – they literally schooled around you and you weren’t given a second thought.
Enough babbling, here are some pictures I’ve taken.
The night market in Penang, Malaysia…
Bangkok train station…
Taken from the Thai train: Running out to wave hello
Some things that happen in Cambodia on scooters…
From the beautiful Royal gardens in Siem Reap, Cambodia
Our workspace in Siem Reap at the lovely Rosy Guesthouse.
Vietnam. It just doesn’t get any greener. This is what rice paddies look like. I’ve heard about them since I was a kid. For some reason, seeing them in person was captivating.
Ho Chi Minh City is an odd mixture of hectic and go-go-go, along with being loaded with lovely green park space like this. We were unexpectedly fans of this town.
More pics later…. Until then, do something that makes you uncomfortable. It’s a good thing.