Page 383: Reflections On Editing My Novel

Picture of Page 383 of The Horatians novel first draft

For six months, I’ve been thinking about Page 383.

Why?

Page 383 is the end of the first draft of my novel. The first draft that I finished in September of last year.

That draft, when printed in Arial 12 size font with stretched margins, came out to be 383 pages. And since I printed that out—in October, after a break— I’ve been thinking about that last page. Because when I got to it, and only when I got to it, would I have edited that entire stack of paper.

And yesterday, on a gray morning in Rome, I sat the desk in my Airbnb and I finished editing Page 383. And then I walked down to Trastevere and got myself some gelato and ate it as the day cleared and the sun came out.

Picture of Page 383 of The Horatians novel first draft
The first draft didn’t even use spellcheck: “thsi”

It took me six months to get there. When I started editing, much as when I started writing, I had no idea how long it’d take me. In both cases, it was my first time undertaking such a large project. I had no idea the challenges that would come.

One challenge was of my own doing. Because to make the writing part easier, I didn’t edit at all. I sat down each day and wrote, regardless of whether it made any sense or used the right tense or re-introduced a character I had already introduced. Beyond even that, I decided to switch from first person to third person narration halfway through. So that meant that every instance of “I” or “we” or “us” in the first 175 pages had to be redone.

And so it was six months going through all of that and more—one word and one sentence at a time. And I had to make notes, this time, of when I actually introduced a character. Or when I needed to break from the plot to put in some kind of description of where these characters were. In the six months of editing, whole chapters were chopped up and re-added. I still have a list of “orphaned” scenes which got cut that I couldn’t bring myself to delete entirely.

It took me six months to get through those 383 pages. That’s a rate of just over 2 pages per day—if you’re counting weekends, and travel days, and friends’ visits and days I just felt like going somewhere new and doing something different.

Because I wrote the book while traveling through South Africa, South Korea, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.And I edited it while traveling through the United States, Mexico, the United Kingdom, and, finally, Italy.

That’s 11 countries. And 11 different places with their own distractions and museums and wonder to pull me away from the book. I knew I wanted to travel while I wrote this, but that also presented its own set of challenges.

And when it was all said and done, I came out with a pace of just over two pages a day. It sounds paltry, really. But I can assure you it wasn’t. I didn’t work on it everyday, but I did most. And a good day was getting through four or maybe five pages.

Because editing is a slow burn and grind. I love writing. I think I’ll always love writing. But there were some weeks (probably months) where I didn’t care for the editing part at all. Re-reading my own words, day after day after day. Deciding what went where and what sounded better. Should it be “Cole went with the two” or “the two went with Cole”?

Sentences in this book—arbitrary ones on page 178 or 212 or 39, that a reader will glance over as it were nothing, were rewritten painstakingly four or five or twenty times.

And that all gets in your head. It’s hard to escape. On my long walks I’d think about what I had edited the day before—and not unusually with a feeling that I had not done my best work. And then spend an hour redoing what I had done before attempting to get into the headspace of what the next part to edit was.

A grind, I tell you.

But I got there. Slow and steady, I did it. I turned over Page 383 yesterday and looked at the last line of my novel and smiled. That singular moment of relief felt worth all the hard days to get here. Plus now I can say that I wrote and edited my novel—the first without the second almost seems like a foolish errand. Especially the way I wrote my first draft. It actually feels like a real book now.

So does that mean the whole thing is done? Yes and no. It’s now officially a second draft, and that’s good. And it’s a whole lot more show-able than it was on the first draft. But there’s still some tidying up to do.

Next I’ll work on the novel’s first 50 pages. This is the part I’ll send out to agents to gauge interest in helping to find publishers. Any interested parties?

The novel: The Horatians follows four characters through the rise of a fictional start-up—a mapping app that lets users earn cryptocurrency. As the startup succeeds, adopting the Silicon Valley idea of growth at all costs, the relationships start to turn bitter and leaves the characters and reader questioning whether it was all worth it.

Oh, and here’s that gelato!

post editing gelato

A Look Back At Three Months In Mexico

Years ago, when I was nomadic full-time, I wrote in a notebook that I thought one needed to be in a place for 6 weeks to fully feel lived-in—to get some kind of first real understanding of a city. I don’t know the mathematics of how I came to that number (likely none) but I’ve thought of it through the years.

I’ve now spent 12 weeks in Mexico City so by my own theory I should know this place doubly, whatever that means. And I think I do—I have my own places now. Places where I like to get coffee, tacos, croissants; or where I like to read, write, edit, or even where I know there’s a good bathroom to use while on a walk. And then I know the places that I should want to see—the landmarks, which are quite worth it here in their grandness and space. I know the parks and the restaurants that makes recommendation lists and where a good place to sit for an hour would be based on traffic and people watching and maybe a nearby huaraches stand to fill the stomach up.

When I first came here about three years ago this was the vision I left with. Coming back here to get to know the city, instead of just seeing it. I did that, and I’m happy to have done it.

It was an incredibly rich experience which I assumed it could be from that very first visit. But you never know, of course. I had something like a dozen friends come down here that I got to see and tour around. I was in a music video, I saw a soccer game at Aztec Stadium, I played golf on the outskirts, I saw Lucha four or five times. I ate at traditional restaurants, modern ones, expensive ones, and sometimes I just settled for a street taco and it was better than I could have imagined.

On my last day here, I think, too, about the other purpose I came here with—to edit the book I wrote mostly while traveling in Asia. I am almost done with that task, about 5/6 of the way through that first draft and should be done with it soon. As far as editing location, I’m less confident in what Mexico City provided. Not that it was bad. I got it done and had a great time sitting at parks thinking about scenes and characters and purposes.

But part of me wishes I had written here. Mexico City is so full of life that what I did get to write (some short story beginnings, essays, poems, the start of a movie script) seemed more alive than the book itself. At least at times. Of course this could be a symptom completely of the way I see writing vs editing—but the feeling sticks here on my last day.

Because this city brightens me. It enlivens me with its smells, its colors, its squares and parks, the trees that have blossomed these wonderful purples—the people gossiping and walking slowly (goodness do they walk slowly). All of this plus the modernity of a growing city and the traditional past that sits never too far behind. It’s a changing city—I think when I come back to visit in another three years it will look vastly different than it does now—and that liveliness feels ripe for the capture of words.

But it was editing time and editing I did. Here in Mexico City I edited something around 335 pages of text—about 12 chapters of my book and made improvements that I’m proud of. I come away with that accomplishment and the set-up for the next step in the book process of trying to get published.

I also come away with a map. The kind that 12 weeks provides—more expansive than 6 weeks of course. There’s the tangible map on my google account where I’ve bookmarked restaurants, bookstores, plazas and more to remember where they are. But more importantly there’s the map in my head—of where things are and how to navigate this city but also fit with the intangibles of the pace of life, the wide streets where I walked in the middle amongst statuary, and the benches that don’t make a Google map but make life worth a sit down and restful few minutes to take it all in.

The map that’s been created I’ll carry as a memory and additive to my life and its experience. And Mexico City will exist in that map. But what really is going to be the memory of Mexico was coming here without much of a plan and leaving with a solid one. Because during my time here I started a relationship with someone wonderful (and got to host her here for a weekend). And now I leave with a plan and a greater purpose. This city will always be tied to falling for her, will be brightest during the weekend with you, and will be the set-up for what comes next (the great and exciting mystery). I think in all of my years of travel I’ve never been so excited to leave a place I’ve been in for a while—and it has nothing to do with Mexico City (which I love) and everything to do with her.

Two years ago—between my first trip to Mexico City and this much longer one, I tattooed Adrienne Rich’s line “the words are maps” on my right foot as a guidepost for myself. And now, leaving Mexico City, I see words and maps combining in ways I hoped they might. The book editing and the building of the internal map of the last three months here. Everything I wrote in the last year—the book’s drafts, the essays, the poems, the notes to myself—and all the places I’ve gone in the process of writing it. Even this blogpost is taking me somewhere—around the city, to the past, and toward the future. The words are maps.

Vasconcelos: The $100 Million Library

Biblioteca Vasconcelos is a $100 million library with sawtooth windows spanning wide above floating bookshelves. It is a massive rectangular affair, longer than a football field with seven, maybe eight stories going upward. Well, stories isn’t quite the right word. More like seven or eight landing levels with bookshelves.

Each level has a hallway running building-long with exit hallways to six stacked rows of books. Each of these stacks has its own landing, some of which extend out into the vacant space of the middle, some of which sit inside, but all are entirely exposed to the Vasconcelos openness.

The effect is a steel pattern of boxes that hang above any dweller who walks in and looks up. What is the pattern? It’s hard to tell—but there is one. Assuredly there is one. And what does it feel like to go up into these landings? It feels like floating, floating with books, floating with the support of steel wire frames that hold up the landing, the books, the people, the stairs, the hallways, and everything else.

If that doesn’t give you a picture, here’s an actual picture (not by me).

Biblioteca_Jose769_Vasconcelos-1.jpg

Dewey In Verticality!

In Biblioteca Vasoncelos, there is space everywhere, even where there are books. Especially where there are books.

Libraries usually don’t do this. They do not usually give their books space. They give their space books.

Because most libraries are stations of economy. They are not taking profits to build bigger shelves or wider walls. They are trying to fit their readymade purpose with a quantity befitting.

But Vasconcelos is different. It is almost an absurdity of a library, at least in comparison to your something local. It is made in grandeur. The main architect of the project, Alberto Kalach, said he wanted, “the creation of an ark, carrier of human knowledge.”

And it is like a ship, an ark. At times economical with its space like a sailboat and but mostly concerned with keeping the enterprise wide. Wide enough for buoyancy. Its airiness gives it and you that feeling of floating.

It has areas for seating, for public communing, and rooms for rent, but it has wide open spaces to refresh your singular existence. It is not crowded here but it cannot possibly feel empty to anyone. Not with what’s happening above them. Not with whats hanging over their heads.

On the longer two sides, the building is flanked by a garden. More on the east side, where the garden is extensive, almost wild with tall plants and dirty walking paths. There’s greenery on the west side of it but less. Not far away is a mall and a huge train station. Thousands are passing through there in different stages of rush. Thousands will come through Vasconcelos but it’s not in a rush. Public spaces have their own pace.

Inside though, at the train station and the mall, no one is looking up. No one is admiring–with their eyes or with the camera on their phones. The mall, like the library, dwarfs a single human in its size. But malls are not meant to dwarf, malls are meant to quarantine offinto smaller spaces, where people feel big, and wealthy, and rich.

Vasconcelos is a functioning monument where almost everyone is transfixed in admiration. And if they’re not, their soul must be reliving the sublime of another time. They’re just silent about it all.

vasoncelos3

Inside Vasconcelos is something like 500,000 books, stacked in their six row templates. Each is part of a steel contraption, and obviously there are hundreds of these. To get to these books on these racks is a journey. And why shouldn’t it be? Certainly each book is a journey. Why not a journey to the journey?

The journey starts with stairs which hang on steel wires—a bit like hanging ladders—leading to discovery. These sit outside the books, with the words and bones in the center. This is just like us, like our bodies, or like a book with a strong spine. It’s all a collection of loose shoots, ladders, and halls but in the end it all looks abominably sturdy.

The rest of it is an exercise in the un-economy of space. So much exposure. So much empty room. Why? Well, it gives the library room to expand. It gives the citizen a journey to get to a book. It gives the sunlight a chance to slink in through the window and land its rays somewhere.

It gives so much space. That’s okay. It’s an exposed and vulnerable space and what could be more perfect. It is the great house of so much emotional exposure of its authors. There are books, like buildings, that when they bare their entirety it’s 30,000 square meters of room to maneuver in.

Space is vital here. Space is books, the area around which letters are formed (think of letters chiseled away from a block of black ink the way that David was chiseled away from marble) and a book makes space in its sentences, in its flow. There’s a space between reader and book that’s obstructed by the eyes to fully engage. There’s a space when you open a book, and little spaces when you close it where the words still breath.

This all leads to the beginning here. Perhaps you’ve had the question on your mind:

Why do you build a $100 million library?

The same reason you build a $1 million dollar library, or a $1 library in your front yard. To provide space for the communion of mind and knowledge.

Here, there is space enough for an ark-full of minds—to float down the great rivers of wisdom, the seas of possibility, the deluge of everything we deserve to learn.

vasoncelos upview

Pearl Jam And The Power Of Redemption

newspaper article about pearl jam tragedy at roskilde

I want to tell you a story about my favorite band, Pearl Jam. It’s a story I’ve thought a lot about. It’s a story of compassion, death, art, redemption, and much more.

The story starts on September 29, 1996.

The scene is a now-torn-down outdoor stadium on Randalls Island, just outside Manhattan. The stadium holds 22,000 in the seats. The attendance that night is 30,000—with a moshpit on the floor and thousands of others crowding in.

The band is on fire. They’d end up playing a three hour show that night—remarkable for a band with only four albums released.  The crowd is alive and singing—it’s New York City and the summer is fading away. Everyone’s looking for that last kick before the sun ashes itself into autumn’s ashtray.

At one point, Eddie duct-tapes his body and crowd surfs in the pit. Someone throws an ‘Eddie Vedder For President’ shirt on stage (it’s an election year). By all accounts, the show is absolutely electric. Here’s the whole concert.

Yet, something’s off. The band has to stop playing a few times to address it. Eddie gets a bit angry having to repeat himself.

The “pit”—the standing area right in front of the stage—is looking a bit dangerous. There’s a bad sway to the packed-in crowd. The band is worried that someone could get hurt. Eddie, the voice of the band, pleads for reasonability and safety.

At 16:07, Eddie stops a song entirely. He points to a person in the audience and waits for them to be kicked out. He tells the people in the back that they have it good because they’re not in the pit. The PSA to clear out the danger lasts for almost two minutes. It’s a total concert buzzkill.

They start playing again. At 21:15 he implores the crowd to “watch out for your neighbor”. He’s now making announcements between almost every song they play. And the concerts only just begun.

We’ll stop there for a few paragraphs. Hang on to this scene though.

pearl jam randall island 1996 concert poster

Source: pearljam.com

Fast forward to four years later.

It’s June 2000. The band is playing a series of shows in Europe, mostly festivals. One night they play one in Denmark—a festival called Roskilde.

They start playing. The crowd, exciting by those opening chords of what will likely be an epic rock n’ roll vision quest of a concert, rushes toward the stage.

But the ground is muddy. Things start going terribly. People are crushed. Nine concert goers end up dying by being trampled on in the chaos.

It’s an excruciatingly sad entry on the band’s timeline—the saddest. They cut the show short and leave. They cancel forthcoming tour dates. The police blame Pearl Jam for the deaths, though the band refutes that. Here’s a news report from the day.

No one is sure if they’re going to play again. The band said later that they weren’t even sure. There’s no good playbook for how to come back from something like this. They talk to the families of the deceased fans. The band, having had some issues from sudden fame, is bound together in a closeness that hasn’t existed for years. It’s ten years into the existence of Pearl Jam.

It takes them months to play that next show. They play, they say, because it will help them heal. In their documentary, all of them point back to Roskilde as a crucial point. A before-and-after day in their history.

Their first show back they play in Virginia Beach. It’s almost four years after that New York show (we’re still coming back to this). It’s an emotional show, to say the least. They dedicate songs to the fans who passed. They improvise. They shed some tears.

Eddie asks the crowd to do something. He says the last time they asked it didn’t work out (where they tried, like in New York, to have fans give each other space). But this time it’s singing.

Eddie pleads: “Sing loud because you’re outside. Sing loud because you’re still alive. Just sing loud.

The crowd does. They sing “it’s okay, it’s okay”—a cover of this song. It’s therapy for everyone, but it’s the band that needs it the most. They’ve gotten fans through so much, now it’s time for the return. As Eddie said that night, “it’d be nice to start anew.”

Later, Eddie would say, “When we were trying to figure out what to do, the thought was not to react, but to respond. How to make the best of a really screwed-up situation.” He also pointed to The Who—his favorite band—who played on shows after losing their drummer, played on after losing their bassist years later, but mostly Eddie pointed out they played after a concert tragedy of their own: losing 11 fans at a show in 1979 in Ohio.

newspaper article about pearl jam tragedy at roskilde

Source: newspapers.com

Die hard Pearl Jam fans know the Virginia Beach 2000 show. The first one after Roskilde. But many don’t know the New York show in 1996. It wasn’t particularly notable—another great show in the pantheon of great shows. Even the band’s cautions to the pit were something Pearl Jam had to do regularly in the 90s. Before venues themselves started cracking down on moshpits.

I didn’t know anything about the New York show. But I like to put on full concerts when I write and as I was listening to the show one day something caught my ear. I stopped writing immediately and went back.

It happens right around the 25:45 mark. Eddie’s addressing the fans for the third or fourth time that night.

At 26:00, he says, “If someone was hurt to the point where they didn’t live after tonight, I don’t think we’d ever play again. Some bands they continue on, I wouldn’t be able to do it. Music ain’t that important.”

I was stunned. Four years before Roskilde he gave a prophetic statement of where he’d stand should something hypothetical happen. And then it happened.

And then he did exactly what he said he wouldn’t do.

Since then, I’ve been searching for meaning in this. What does it mean? Was my favorite lead singer a hypocrite? Or was he just saying something to say it way back in NYC in 1996?

I don’t have that answer. Perhaps Eddie does—along with Mike, Stone, and Jeff.

But here’s what I think.

First: we can make claims about anything, including ourselves, in the hypothetical. We’ll never know what we’d really do until that something materializes.

And there’s some wisdom in this—but the wisdom is wiser when we try to establish an opinion on how someone else acts when we’re still in the realm of hypothetical. Like we learn in the famous movie scene, experience is a greater teacher than mere learning passed down through words.

For Pearl Jam, Roskilde is a story of redemption. It’s taking a terrible event and turning it into fuel to keep going. From pain to purpose. The fact that Eddie said something about that event years before may simply give it another point of redemption. Redemption from ourselves, from the hypothetical part of the first point above.

Second: What the New York concert shows is fear. Eddie’s fear of something terrible happening. But he, like all of us, can’t know what happens if that fear is manifested. Because we often fear fear itself, as the saying goes, we live in the hypothetical as though it were the reality. It’s not. The reality deserves its own judge—and we deserve the space to be separated from what we had thought in the hypothetical.

Third: the things that we create—the art we pour our hearts into, whether its music, poems, drawings, 3D models, etc…may be the only thing that can heal us from the depths in which it has hurt us.

Ten years later, in 2010, at a concert in nearby Berlin, Eddie spoke about that day. After a false start met with some tears and Stone’s and the audience’s encouragement to keep going, he said:

“It continues to be the hardest day in our lives….It’s not like we’re thinking about it any more today, because it’s thought about every day….

I’m still sorting out what the lessons are here. Well, I’m sorting them out in logical. What they mean given the evidence and history I’ve gone into above.

There’s another part though: the emotional lesson. And that’s already figured out. It’s a group bouncing upward from both fear and loss. That’s a lesson I can carry with me without the need for more clarity. I’m grateful for the lessons the band learned and the lessons I’ve learned in being a fan.

2018: In Review

Well, 2018 is stubbing out its cigar. Closing its chapter. It was an important chapter in my life. In the story of my life it’d be a chapter with a true character turn, a tension point in the plot.

This year was a turn from a bit of normalcy into a great unknown. A great unknown that I’ve been anxiously awaiting for many years now. I’ve begun a career as a writer, writing my first  novel. I finished the first draft of that this year and have spent the latter part of the year tearing it apart in pursuit of further excellence. This will be a pattern I’ll become quite familiar with the further I go into it. And 2018 will be when it all materialized.

But it wasn’t just the writing. I reverted back to being a nomad, giving up my apartment and a home, this time in Chicago, for the road. I did quite a bit of traveling (listed below) but the crux of it was four months in Asia. I’m ending the year in Mexico City where I plan to be for several months.

Last year, in my reflection, I wrote that in 2017, “I spent more time with myself—meditating, reading, writing, floating. But Chicago is still a city of friends and I’m still an unabashed extrovert.”

So you see, things have changed. I spent much, much more with myself this year—traveling alone for significant stretches. And though I was in Chicago for the first half (and living my extroverted life), the writing life turned me much more introverted. Focused and dedicated to my project. I’ve asked myself if I thought this might be a pattern, which time will only tell. Exploring that idea and more on the writing-focused website I launched this year.

In summation, it was an exciting year. It revolved around one big change, sure, but it had moments of exultation as well. I officiated not one but TWO weddings this year. Grateful to have had those honors. I visited three new countries; rented houses with friends in Wisconsin and California, went back to New Orleans. Got to be a third-wheel roommate with some best friends who graciously took me into their apartment in the sky. I transitioned away from work with some relationships still strong and in tact from Uber. I kept up with people far and wide, visited friends all over the place, and read a tremendous deal of fiction and beyond. Another year down and another year of experiences that guide me into a fuller life.

I reflected upon that growth of experience in a poem I wrote at the very beginning of the year, for my 30th birthday, which I performed in front of dozens of people at perhaps my favorite event of the year—a house concert with my friends and family in my old apartment in Pilsen. It was the best way I could have imagined to start this whole year and it set the tone I hoped it would.

Other Notes

Travels: Chicago > San Francisco > Lake Geneva > San Francisco > Sea Ranch, CA > Phoenix > Napa Valley > New York City > Savannah > Cape Town > Garden Route >  Balule Nature Reserve > Johannesburg > Los Angeles > Minneapolis > South Korea > Indonesia > Sri Lanka > Indonesia > Laos > South Korea > Vietnam > Thailand > San Francisco > Los Angeles > Chicago > New Orleans > Mexico City 

Writing: Oh boy. 2018 saw more writing than perhaps any year of my life—even the creative writing years in Madison. Why? Well I wrote the first draft of a novel, clocking in above 160,000 words. And beyond that I journaled my travels, wrote letters, wrote halves of short stories, travel essays, and more. In 2019, I hope to spend more time writing, even if the word output isn’t as prolific. 

I tracked my word count for most of my first draft writing time in Asia. Here’s the average daily word output from each of the countries I went to:

Vietnam 4375
Korea 1,693
Laos 1,984
Indo 2 1805.9
Sri Lanka 1918.6
Indo 1 1,240

Reading:  Last year, only 20% of the books I read were fiction. This year will flip and be much closer to 80% fiction. This was purposeful. Much advice given from writers and articles is to read prolifically while you write. And so I picked it up in Fiction. There are two dangers with this: (1) you start to bend your sentences toward the style of whoever you’re reading, (2) you get wildly intimidated by reading fiction that’s way better than yours. I’ve been a victim of both. 

Here are the books I finished in 2018, with their date of completion.

1. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (Michael Chabon); March 25
2. The Secret History (Donna Tartt); April 23
3. The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt); May 6
4. Horace and Me (Harry Eyres); May 9
5. The Little Friend (Donna Tartt); May 20
6. Notes on Camp (Susan Sontag); June 12
7. Siddhartha (Herman Hesse); June 16
8. Special Topics in Calamity Physics (Marisha Pessl); July 13
9. The Caveman’s Valentine (George Dawes Green); July 19
10. The Immortalists (Chloe Benjamin); July 21
11. My Absolute Darling (Gabriel Tallent); July 23
12. Less (Andrew Sean Greer); July 26
13. Your Heart Is A Muscle The Size Of a Fist (Sunil Yapa); Aug 2
14. Colorless Tsukuru Tazkai And His Years Of Pilgrimage (Haruki Murakami); Aug 6
15. A Little Life (Hanya Yanagihara); August 18
16. American Psycho (Bret Easton Ellis); August 24
17. Old School (Tobias Wolff); September 1
18. Lincoln In The Bardo (George Saunders); September 23
19. The City In Which I Love You (Li-Young Lee): September 25
20. The Hours (Michael Cunningham); September 27
21. A Way In The World (V.S. Naipaul); Oct 1
22. The Rosie Project (Graeme Simsion); Oct 3
23. What Wast Lost (Catherine O’Flynn); Oct 8
24. The Underground Railroad (Colson Whitehead); Oct 21
25. The Game (Neil Strauss); Oct 23
26. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers (Renni Browne, Dave King); Oct 23
27. The Circle (Dave Eggers); Oct 26
28. The Sellout (Paul Beatty); Nov 13
29. Poetry Will Save Your Life (Jill Bialosky); Nov 21
30. Letters To A Young Writer (Colum McCann): Nov 27
31. Draft #4 (John McPhee); Dec 1
32. Angle of Repose (Wallace Stegner); Dec 13
33. Memory Wall (Anthony Doerr); Dec 16
34. The Locals (Jonathan Dee); Dec 21
35. Bright Lights, Big City (Jay McInerney) Dec 23

For record-keeping purposes, I finished 19 books in 2015, 21 in 2016, and 24 in 2017.

Professionally: Well, I did a little bit of a wardrobe change here (probably literally—though interesting that on some days I get more dressed up to write, not quite Tom Wolfe status but still). I left my Learning & Development job in corporate America to make it on my own; writing my novel and freelancing through some connections to pay for some travels. And that’s been fantastic. 

Pearl Jam: No Pearl Jam this year. It was the first time I missed Pearl Jam playing Chicago since I stared seeing them in 2003. 

 

Favorites

Favorite 2018 New Thing: The Siblings Folder

This one comes with gratitude to my sister Sammi. She realized earlier this year that with her travel, mine, and our other sister growing up we would have less time dedicated to talking with each other, learning about each others lives, and forging our bond as siblings. In February, we started a dropbox folder where each of us asks a question to the group (that we’ll also answer). Then, before the end of the month, each person writes a life update and answers each of the three questions.

Most months, though sometimes every other, we gather for a siblings chat to go over answers and talk about life with one another. If we’re able to do it in person, we try. Otherwise we do it over Skype which will likely be the case going into 2019.

But it’s been fantastic to get to know my sisters better and to get to keep them updated in my life, as well as answer tough life questions honestly.

Other Favorites: Birthday House Concerts,  Vox’s Earworm,

Favorite book Read In 2018: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

I read some good ones this year but none took my breath away like Tartt’s debut. I’ve written about this elsewhere on sites but I picked up the book without knowing much about it on a Heathrow bookstore en route to South Africa.

I was swept in immediately. It’s a brilliantly written book but also just speaks to other interests of mine—overly educated erudites at college, reading all day and debating dead authors and dead languages. So I loved that. Toss in a murder mystery, and an innocent narrator swept up in over-the-top worship for another character (her Henry is like a prep school Gatsby who speaks 7 languages and can knock a guy out with a single punch).

Anyway, I finished The Secret History in two days, of nearly non-stop reading, even as I got to Cape Town. My first day and a half there was reading in cafes and devouring every word in it. It’s my most dog-earred and marginalia-ized book of many years and I return to it as I begin writing my own.

Other Favorites: Less, A Little Life, The Hours, Angle of Repose

I haven’t made a category for new favorite quote found in a year but I’ve been coming back to this one from The Hours:

“We throw our parties; we abandon our families to live alone in Canada; we struggle to write books that do not change the world, despite our gifts and our unstinting efforts, our most extravagant hopes. We live our lives, do whatever we do, and then we sleep. It’s as simple and ordinary as that……There’s just this for consolation: an hour here or there when our lives seem, against all odds and expectations, to burst open and give us everything we’ve ever imagined, though everyone but children (and perhaps even they) know these hours will inevitably be followed by others, far darker and more difficult. Still, we cherish the city, the morning; we hope, more than anything, for more.”

Favorite 2018 movie: Roma

This one surely carries both recency and location biases, but that’s okay. Watching Alfonso Cuarón’s ‘Roma’ while in Mexico City was a special gift. Because there’s so many nuances he got right (of course he did). Dogs are always barking here, for instance. Garages are beautifully constructed and marvelous. And anyone doubting that street parades happen at random is dead wrong—I’ve encountered three in the 13 days I’ve been here.

But really what got me about this movie was its insistence that no matter what your circumstance (and each character is given their own), life around you continues on. Whether chaotic or in order (depending on your worldview), it marches on. And that’s what made Cuarón’s long panning shots on the streets so powerful. He does the same with water. It’s a masterpiece as I see it; a force combining the brilliant character studies and writing of ‘Y Tu Mama Tambien’ and the innovative direction (and editing, done by him) of ‘Children of Men’.

Other Favorites: Springsteen On Broadway, Three Identical Strangers, The Favourite, American Animals, First Reformed

Favorite 2018 album: ‘More Blood, More Tracks’ (Bob Dylan)

This wasn’t even close. And it’s also not an album. There was some good new, original music this year, but nothing groundbreaking as others have been. Or maybe my tastes are being left behind.

So 2018’s favorite album is a collection of unreleased bootleg versions (some aren’t even versions, just attempts) of Bob Dylan’s piece de resistance 1975 album ‘Blood on The Tracks’. Instead of spelling all of that out, you can read my thoughts on it here.

Favorite 2018 song: ‘Father Time’ Axel Mansoor

I may be biased here since I got to see a live versions of many of Axel’s songs at the memorable birthday party mentioned above. But know him or not, I’m going with ‘Father Time’ as my favorite new song of 2018. And the bias can be disproven with the numbers. According to the fact crunch of Spotify, ‘Father Time’ was my second most played 2018 song and in comparing the only above (Brian Fallon’s ‘Watson’), I’m going with Axel. Especially because this version puts it over the top.

In some moments, the song has been an emotional lift in remembering the existential inability we have to reconfigure time’s arrow. In other moments, it’s a simple and beautiful ode.

Well done, Axel. Proud of you for making this but much more grateful to be a listener.

Other Favorites: ‘Neptune’ Brian Fallon, ‘Young Lover – piano version’ St. Vincent, ‘Me And My Husband’ Mitski

(For non 2018 songs, there was a clear favorite from this year and that’s ‘Lover’s Spit’ by Broken Social Scene – both the original version and the Feist version)

Favorite 2018 Place Visited: South Africa

It’s always hard to pick a favorite here but South Africa was really an incredible experience—I think perhaps for containing so much in one country, I got to spend three weeks there, starting in Cape Town and ending in Johannesburg. Along the way was a few days in wine country, a roadtrip through the southern coast’s Garden Route and an amazing safari experience near Kruger National Park.

While traveling through South Africa, you needfully learn a lot about the nation’s history, as well as its amazingly diverse wildlife. These add to the richness of the country. It’s a fantastic place to visit and since it offers SO much, it can really fulfill any traveler’s desire. I loved that and I loved my time there.

(South Africa was my favorite new place visited. 2018 was also the first time back in South Korea since my year there in 2011; that was magical. I love that country!)

Favorite 2018 Meal: Bollywood Eggs (Samadi Cafe, Bali)

I love eggs. But I learned that I love eggs even more when you add in green chiles, mustard seeds, fresh curry leaves, tumeric, ginger, garlic, shallots and coconut milk. Add in sides of green sambal, coconut curry, warm chapatti bread and a side of kimchi and I’m sold. I think I got this three days in a row in Canggu, and pledged to figure out a way to make it for myself. That’ll be in 2019!

 

And now some pictures from 2018 (hover over for captions!)

 

I Lived Here Once, Sorta: Thoughts on NOLA.

This colorful lovely is a house in New Orleans. For some months, over half a decade ago, it was a house that I called home. Fresh with a new paint coat of whatever colors you’d call those, the house looks as full of its character now as it did those years ago.

But this was the first time I’d seen the house since I left New Orleans in the summer of 2012.

My relationship with the house, like my relationship with New Orleans at large, is as undefined as it is positive; fuzzed of definition, bright with life. Perhaps the house, then, is a metaphor for the poignancy we all want, perhaps it’s just the type of perspective one gets from the lez bon temp roulez lifestyle of New Orleans.

I say the relationship is undefined because this might not have truly been a home, not for that long anyway. Or was it? I stayed in New Orleans for less than half of a year. Is that “living” somewhere? What’s the definition for that length of time, anyway? One month? Three? Eight? Years?

Revisiting New Orleans this month I am reminded that I know the city. I know places there—and I know streets, and restaurants, and where to go for this or that. I know more than someone who has just visited. Being there, I found myself wanting to explore what exactly what my relationship was to the place that I knew, but still felt like a visitor. Because spending time there again, I was flooded with love for the city; the special things only it has. And there are a lot.

What I decided was that my relationship in terms of living/passing through there didn’t matter as much as the positivity of what my memory had kept and the path the New Orleans brought me down.

Because when I decided to go to in late 2011, I had no idea what the city looked like. I hadn’t seen as much as a single map of it. So I certainly didn’t know what my future neighborhood, the Treme, was—or where it was. Or, perhaps more importantly, what it meant. Because in New Orleans, like some other cities of noble histories, neighborhoods are more than their names. They are stories themselves.

I definitely didn’t know how to pronounce ‘Ursulines’ either. I’m not even sure I do now.

But I found a post on Craigslist. It was a couple looking for a housemate or two. They had just found a house in the Treme. It was recently “fixed up”. They couldn’t afford the whole thing on their own to rent, but they wanted to move in the same day I was planning to come down. Most importantly, they were open to temporary arrangements. I was intrigued and that was before they really even sold me on the house itself. It had a backyard like you wouldn’t believe, with a patio surrounded by a tangled giant green garden. Beyond that backyard, just steps away, was a historically black church built in the 1840s.

I called. Things clicked. I was in.

In for something I had no idea about. What was a ‘shotgun’ house anyway?

But that didn’t matter. I was 22. I had just gotten back from South Korea and had no discernible plan but finding some kind of way to make money and continuing to travel. A friend was in New Orleans. He spoke highly of it, especially for someone looking to find something interesting.

I was dating a girl at the time as well. She was on the East Coast and I somehow convinced her to join me on the journey. We packed my car and drove from Chicago, right up to Ursuline Street where we’d find this house behind its purple shutter stacks.

I’m not sure if it sounds like the kind of barely-baked plan that it was. But it was certainly that. And I was proud of that, in a way—the way that a 22 year old should and could be proud of throwing his life in a car and driving to a city like New Orleans to figure some shit out.

But here’s the twist. Here’s what came back to me when looking at that house this last weekend: it all worked out.

The house was bare when we got there but soon it started getting filled. With furniture and things we brought, but also with music from the roommates who played several instruments. The ceilings were high, the garden grew in the warm February, the neighbors were all interesting. They played trumpet deep into the night. It echoed everywhere. It was a quintessential New Orleans house in some ways, without even knowing it.

The days filled in. I found work. We didn’t have wi-fi so it gave good reason to explore the various coffee shops of the city and really dive into virtual work. I made friends, and got to spend good time with old ones. I explored the long avenues Uptown. The (unbelievably talented) roommates played house concerts, the Red Hot Chili Peppers filmed a music video on the corner, we met Quentin Tarantino in a  bar while he was in NOLA filming Django.

Drinks were had, nights went long. Mardi Gras was celebrated; as was French Quarter Fest, Jazz Fest, St. Patrick’s Day, Sunday Second line parades. The food was relished: gumbo, po-boys, red beans and rice, alligator sausage, crawfish, way more. Visitors came to see the city and I got to play host; at Commander’s Palace, at Le Bon Temps Roule, on Frenchmen Street.

The lists are incomplete here but are dizzyingly long for the short time there, because the days are so full of life there.

And that’s what my relationship comes back to me as; for the house on Ursulines Street and for the city. Life being packed in; crowded hours of joy. Little sleep, lots of laughs.

But what compels me to write is what it all means to me now. Because New Orleans was a start for me. A start of a nomadic, off-kilter way of living that I’ve kept in spurts since then. And sure, I went to South Korea first which started the whole travel vibe, but I knew I’d get a foreign-ized experience traveling so many thousands of miles away. And it was contained there; come for a year, teach, leave.

NOLA was open, an experiment in living with a loose plan. And it turned into this gift because it worked so well; because it showed me I could live beautifully by being groundless. In that, it inspired in me a lifestyle which I am still crafting. Which has lived on now for the better part of a decade.

Some things have changed in New Orleans, some have not. The house is still there, though it looks fresh. When I left New Orleans this time, my thought was one of relief. That New Orleans is still there. That the house is. That my plans are still loose—this time I escape to Mexico City with as little reason as I went to New Orleans, but with a whole new goal. I left NOLA last week knowing that if I need to, the city would be there to return back to. Should I need it for another experiment.

 

Read More!

While you’re here, read some other posts involving New Orleans:

 

 

“Absorb Six Authors A Year”

This article was written for my other site, which features a blog dedicated solely to my pursuits in writing. It’s part of a series I’m doing of culled-together writing advices and how I’m trying to use those advices to write my first novel. This was a more personal one, so I thought I’d post it on this blog too.

Advice # 5. Fitzgerald’s [supposed] advice to his daughter Scottie —— “absorb six authors a year”

I’ve been back in America for over a month now. I have another few weeks before I leave again. I’ve found America to be a bit of a pause button on my novel; for reasons that are partially due to my own discipline and dedication, and partially the facts of my life here.

I know a lot more people in America than Asia. I have more responsibilities here, many of which are delightfully encumbered again. Some, though, are distractions that I’m allowing myself, while I figure out the process and framework for tackling the next phase of my project: editing the 400 or so pages I’ve written.

In the meantime, though, I’ve been observing the ceremony that many writers have said one must do while writing. I’ve been reading. I’ve been reading a lot. Every day, for hours. It’s been glorious—a real dream for me. I’ve always wanted to read more. Now that I am reading more, I wished I was reading more. It won’t stop, but I’m at least getting my fix.

So I think back to my advice set here and found one that stuck with me when I read it a while back and still does. And that’s from a note, quoted in the letters book (though I can’t confirm that anywhere online) that F. Scott Fitzergald wrote to his daughter, Scottie. His advice was to “absorb six authors a year”—each year.

I’ve read 31 books this year (24 of those since I quit my job in June), but here are the six authors I’ve been trying to “absorb” as Fitzgerald put it.

1. John McPhee A good chunk of my reading this year as been reading about writing and when you do that enough, several names keep surfacing. McPhee is one of them. And though his name comes up for nonfiction instead of fiction, it comes up enough for the former that it seemed worth diving into him. Between Draft No. 4 and his essays online, I’m hooked. He clearly has a genius for storytelling and his notes on structure have guided me both in my novel and in thinking about this blog.

2. Donna Tartt In April, facing a long layover in London and a longer flight to Cape Town, I went to the airport bookstore and picked up The Secret History. I had no idea what it was, or why I picked that book. I read the cover. Murder? Linguistic majors? Pretentious educated elites? I thought I was in for something like Cruel Intentions with a few more Dickinson sonnets, but what I found was a complete revelation. The book knocked me on my ass. I read all 700 pages in three days in Cape Town. And then I read her other two books and marveled at them, and then marveled at the fact that she took about a decade to make each book. I’ve absorbed no one this year like Tartt (since I’ve read everything she’s put out), and I brought my Secret History copy with me all around Asia just to have on hand, while marking it up in the marginalia like a serial killer, trying to steal as much inspiration as I can get from her structure, characters, and wit.

3. George Saunders I read Saunders a few times before this year. A short story here and there, the collection of shorts in Civilwarland. New Yorker pieces. This piece he did about the writing process. But I wasn’t absorbing him until this year when I picked up Lincoln In The Bardo and Tenth of December and starting prowling the internet for more. Why Saunders? Well he’s a master of story. Of character, too. He’s tremendous at using dialogue and details to create these characters, whether in spots of the Lincoln novel (which really pushes its own category as a novel). He’s so good at this that it makes me gush with inferiority, but in absorbing I am trying to be a student, not a critic.

4. Wallace Stegner Stegner’s a later-year addition to this list and I’ve only (so far) absorbed the first two-thirds of Angle of Repose but his influence is real. Nothing this year has made me rethink my sentences, each and every one of them, like reading Stegner. Each sentence of his seems to breath, seems inevitably itself, and creates the aura of his story. After not loving the reading of my first draft, I’m determined to mine through my own sentences with this lens and work to make each one sing. Stegner leads the way.

5. Nicanor Parra The “anti-poet” of Chile, I’ve both discovered Parra’s poetry this year and fell quite deep for it. Because he freed himself of what he saw as the shackles of poetry itself, his work can be wild, imaginative, and untamed. I dig it. Lots of other poets have been read this year (Merwin, Gilbert, Rich, Dickinson, Li Young Li, have all gotten their various stage calls) but Parra has been most the most new, the most shocking, and the most delightfully returned back to.

6. Bob Dylan Oh yes, the rock star makes the list. The only person on this list that could crank out the metallic chords to ‘Just Like Tom Thumbs Blues’, Dylans’ also the only person on the list to have won the Nobel Prize in Literature (go figure!). Dylan makes the list for being the soundtrack to many of my writing sessions, but also for being a wordsmith himself. And with the release of this this year, I’ve gotten an amazing insight to his creative process that I’ve absorbed and used as a motivator for me to tinker long and determinedly with my own art.

Elif Shafak’s Essay ‘Why The Novel Matters In The Age of Anger’

Elif Shafak with a novel essay

I believe kids these days would put it like this: this article is giving me life rn.

It certainly jarred some life in and out of me. Wow. Just wow.

I read it without knowing who the author was (I’ll get to that) and was immediately taken with the essay’s words. It, as the title suggests, deals with writing and the purpose of writers and their work, but it’s as much also about life at this time in history. Life in this world—not in a small way, in a big, big way. And whether you think we’re in the ‘age of anger’ or not, it has some undeniable proclamations. Take this:

We have plenty of “information” – and if we don’t we can always google it. Then there is “knowledge”, which, however imperfect, requires depth and focus and slowing the flow of time. “Wisdom” is harder won – I would argue that it embodies not only knowledge but also empathy and emotional intelligence….Wisdom is difficult to achieve because it requires cognitive flexibility.

Where the writer comes in here is a quasi-antidote, quasi-burdensome state. Shafak goes on about the purpose of a writer, but also the responsibility. And not just the writer, to readers who stand behind these writers and read despite the times.

But let’s get back to the writer. Because she is unbelievably accomplished. I felt silly gushing over her words, reading it the first time like it was some amateur’s essay.

Here’s her wiki page:

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Again, wow.

So, what does she have to say about the novel in the age of anger. A lot. And you should read the full essay. I’ll post just a few favorite parts of it:

Here is where the novelist must speak up. For writers, there is no “us” and there is no “them”. There are only human beings with stories and silences. The job of a writer is to rehumanise those who have been dehumanised.

The novel matters because, like an alchemist, it turns empathy into resistance. It brings the periphery to the centre, it gives a voice to the voiceless, it makes the invisible visible……The novel matters because it punches little holes in the wall of indifference that surrounds us. Novels have to swim against the tide. And this was never more clear than it is today.

Novelists need to speak up about the dangers of losing our core values: pluralism, freedom of speech, minority rights, separation of powers, democracy. Benjamin believed storytelling had to turn information into wisdom. Today a bigger challenge awaits writers: how to turn misinformation into wisdom.

What does all this mean?

Well it’s quite personal for me as I’ve set out to write my first novel. And I think about WHY I’m writing the story I’m writing and what I’m adding to a conversation in this age. I have these answers (I’ve explored some on the blog for that novel here)—but there’s a bit of an outrage to Shafak’s essay that resonated with me that has nothing to do with my novel. Something that deals with the revolutionary-ness of our time. My novel attempts to humanize some who have been de-humanized, but the characters (mostly white, mostly middle-class or above) are not the ones being most de-humanized in today’s world. Not even close.

So there’s still that resonating in me that my work isn’t solving. So I think about where else to explore these thoughts. My other places of recording thoughts and broadcasting.

And here’s one thing I’ll note in relation to all of this: I haven’t posted anything political in nearly two years.

By political I don’t necessarily mean our political system, but I’m using it here as an descriptor in which an article provides an opinion and then uses itself as a method of convincing a reader that that opinion is correct.

Why the wait? Why nothing after two years? Well, I’ve been trying to do more listening. More questions, less talking. I’ve been writing, just not posting. Not finishing with answers, but prompting questions with new questions.

I might be ready to share some of that but that remains to be seen. The first priority is listening to the wonder that Elif Shafak espoused, and working on my novel.

As she put aptly in her essay:

A writer’s job is not to try to provide the answers. It is neither to preach nor to teach; just the opposite. A writer must be a student of life, and not the best student either, since we must never graduate from this school, but keep asking the most simple, the most fundamental and the most difficult questions. In the end, we leave the answers to the readers.

So perhaps there will be more from here. Perhaps not. Either way, I’m proud to be working on my writing in this time and age. It is my skill and my best way to explore questions as I work on being my own “student of life”.

September: Korea & Hanoi

At the end of August 2011, I flew from South Korea back to the United States. I had spent a full year living near Seoul and a full year not being in the United States. It was, and still is, the longest sustained travel/living abroad experience of my life.

And at the end of August 2018, seven years later, I flew back to Seoul. This time I came from Vientiane. It wasn’t my first time back in Korea (that would be just eight weeks earlier, this July); but it did mark a bit of an anniversary. Seven years since I left; eight years since I first arrived there.

In July I spent five days in Korea, this time I spent 19. They were wonderful; Korea has been, and will continue to be, one of my favorite places to visit in the world. Why? Well it helps that I know the country and culture a bit (even some of the language). It makes it easier to navigate; physically and conversationally. I know how to get what I need to there. But it’s also most certainly the country itself; weird, (surprisingly) geographically diverse, traditional but also cutting edge. It’s full of interesting and unique people and others who work had to blend in. It’s also safe, modern, clean, etc….Those all help too.

This time around, I wasn’t entirely in Seoul. Thanks to an more ambitious-planning friend; this time we hiked in a Korean national park, went to another metropolis that wasn’t Seoul or Busan, and even went to Jeju Island; Korea’s “Hawaii” (but also kind of its “Scotland”? It’s in the featured picture of this post.

I wrote almost every day in Korea, which is good. But I didn’t feel like I wrote all that particularly well. In a journal I’ve been keeping, I said that I never felt like I wrote well there (even in 2010-2011), though of course this is just my subjective judgement. And there seems to be no good reason for it. I wrote that perhaps it’s just in my desire to be out, mixed into the culture, observing instead of creating (words/stories, etc…). So perhaps that’s it. Still, I had a great time there and am so glad I swung back for the extra weeks in Korea.

Because now I am in Hanoi, Vietnam. And while there are some really interesting things on on here, it hasn’t been my favorite city. It’s different, in many ways, to Seoul and where I’ve spent my last few months. It’s loud, busy, and full of motorbikes. The last one wouldn’t be a problem except the motorbikes do very little to obey any sort of traffic conventions, so a pedestrian is constantly dodging them. Constantly.

But while I reflected that I wasn’t writing well in Seoul, that’s changed in Hanoi. And for that I’m highly appreciative. Most days here I duck into a coffee shop (of which there are an infinite supply it seems) and write. And read and then write some more when I go back to my Airbnb later. When I first got here I said I wanted to finish my first draft (not entirely sure how much more I had to go) within my first 10 days here; and I finished it in 5. Mostly thanks to a coffee-fueled four hour writing session on a Friday night. But I got it done. My first draft came in at 161,000 words and took my about 12 weeks to write (the last week of which saw the highest contribution even when not considering the final sprint toward the finish line).

Here’s the screenshot I put up on social media of the first draft numbers:

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In this way, I’m thankful for the chaos of Hanoi—for pushing me to write and keeping me awake and alert with your honks and busyness.

More pictures from September here. Next up is Thailand!

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Ten Reasons I Love Laos & 100k “Shitty” First Draft Words

I’ve been in Laos for nine days now, and I leave tonight. Despite daily downpours (it’s rainy season), it’s been a really fantastic trip here. There are a few reasons for this, so I’ll go through some of those.

(1) Laos is very, very chill. In some travel blogs for Vang Vieng (the first city I went to) some of the recommended things to do were “chill, like the locals”. This was quite true; as locals sometimes hang in these little huts along the river and picnic there; or some lay in the many hammocks there are here. When in Rome, right? Laos kind of has an island country vibe that just is unfortunately landlocked; though still quite green!

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It also means that Vientiane isn’t quite the bustling capital like neighboring Bangkok is. Vientiane is about the size of Milwaukee, though it feels much smaller. There’s little traffic (or people, really) except during the sunset when the (2) whole city (it seems like) goes to the river (Mekong) to walk around, eat, and watch the sunset. Oh, and you can see Thailand on the other side.

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The eateries here are all impromptu food carts that pull up, put out some tables and plastic chairs and (3) serve delicious noodle or wonton soup. There aren’t really that many Lao-restaurants per se, mostly just these places to get food on the side of the street. And it’s all (4) very, very cheap of course. (Meals are usually $2-$3).

 

img_20180825_183737.jpgThere are other restaurants of course, and one of my favorite things about Vientiane is that it’s really a (5) melting pot here. There are French restaurants, Japanese, Chinese, American, and Korean. Lots and lots of Korean restaurants. Why? Because there are (6) so many Koreans here. The two nations signed some kind of agreement and there are really cheap flights between Seoul and Vientiane and so Koreans come here to kind of let loose. It’s kind of like a party place for them (with some sightseeing and adventure sports). And this is great; generally, I align with the idea that the more Koreans there are per capita the happier I am. Especially when I can get kimbaps for $3.

In Vientiane, there are a few historic sites to see which were great; lots of temples where (7) in the mornings you can watch the monks coming and going, while you drink a good coffee. And there is (8) TONS of good coffee. There are a few coffee shops on each block; something Laos takes very seriously. And each comes with a delicious array of pastries; either croissants or these wonderful hot coconut macaroon bites they have.

IMG_20180826_214814Like the daytime, the nightlife here is fairly chill. Most places set up some tables outside, like the bar that’s right below my apartment here. They play odd live cuts from bands like Guns n’ Roses and then blast country music; but they (9) sell Beerlao for $1.25 so it’s all good.

The other nightlife experience was going to (10) Lao Bowling Center; easily the worst tactical bowling alley I’ve ever been. The lanes are ALL crooked so if you hit the wrong spot on the lane it’s an automatic gutter ball. BUT they sell BIG Beerlaos for $1.50 so you get over it quickly. And I went during a rainstorm that didn’t seem to want to quit so I had several of these beers and talked with two Canadian guys and a few French girls which mostly about the state of the lanes and how it sort of metaphorically fit Vientiane as well; wonderfully quaint without needing to impress you.

Aside from all this, I’ve had a good run here with writing. Something about the coffee shops, relative chillness, and rain-forced indoors time has resulted in a lot of good writing sessions. A few nights ago, I hit the 100,000 word mark which I feel quite good about. I wrote a bit more about that on my writing blog here.

I feel quite fortunate to have the time to get to 100,000 but am also proud of the work I’ve put in. Even if I’m not yet totally satisfied with the quality of all of those words, I know I have a whole bunch of editing to come. And I’m following the sage advice of Anne Lamott who said you should always start with a shitty first draft.

So I shall.

And tomorrow I am back in South Korea where I’ll do some hiking, some Seoul flaneuring, and some time on Jeju Island in the south. Excited for that wonderful and wacky nation; and chamchi kimbap, galbi, and noraebongs.

 

One last pic from Laos (this one from the top of the Patuxai monument in Vientiane!)

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