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.

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“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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Sri Lanka & A Second Blog!

Greetings friends, family, and whoever else has navigated this way.

Hello from Ella, Sri Lanka. A sleepy little backpacker town in the hills of Sri Lanka; around some of the world’s most famous tea fields.

I’ve been in Sri Lanka now for about two weeks now; starting in Colombo, and venturing through the middle of the country. It’s been a great experience—this small island has so much to see—tuk tuks, temples, beaches, mountains, elephants, etc….And the people have been unbelievably kind (both as a hospitality-based country and just as a part of their culture.

One example: I asked the managers of the hotel I’m at currently if I had the right plan to get from Ella to the airport on Tuesday and was counter-offered with a free ride to Colombo (near the airport) with one of them. Five and a half hours. And in this wonder of an automobile.

I’ll post some pictures below of Sri Lanka. But it’s been a blast—traveling with friends for the first half and wandering alone for the second (where my daily life has been hiking, eating, writing, and reading. Not bad!)

In between all of that, I’ve been writing a lot on my first novel and things are going well. How well? Well, I won’t tell you yet.

Instead, I’m going to direct you to my other blog; which is still in a work in progress but does have some writing posts up and running on it.

Why the two blogs? I’m not totally sure yet. Other than the other blog (a) having an amazing name (hopefully you’ll get it once you explore), and (b) being on squarespace as opposed to wordpress, the only reason I chose to have another is because it felt like the right thing to do. That I could keep this as something personal and that as something, I don’t know, professional? Or focused on just writing. Singular. Topical.

But we’ll see. For now, I am in two places online. I’ll be posting updates on both—likely travel and other thoughts here and all writing-related items, like updates on my novel and a series I’m doing on pieces of advice I read on how to write fiction on www.iAmEricAnAuthor.com (do you get it yet?).

So check it out. And then check back.

For now, I bid you farewell from Sri Lanka. I’m heading back to Indonesia on Tuesday and then to Laos on August 17. Will be updating from there.

Thanks for reading!

Some pictures, yes?

Goodbye Chicago, Hello To All Of That

Greetings from Indonesia. It’s been 10 days since I left the U.S and it’s already felt like a whirlwind—returning to Asia, bouncing around places familiar and un-.

I wanted to post some thoughts on leaving Chicago before I did actually leave, but I didn’t get a chance to. So I’ll post what I had written (you’ll see it’s still not finished) and give some updates after that.

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I’m going to be leaving Chicago. Fairly soon.

I’ve been here for 33 months. Pippen’s number. Maybe that means something, though likely not. What 33 months does mean, though, is the most I’ve been in one place since college. My Pilsen apartment here the most I’ve lived in one place since my parents’ house. This has been a home. That was already a home. That will always be home, even when it’s not.

And so I wanted to write a bit on leaving and remembering and home.

I’ll start with coming back. I called it my “Ithaca”. I have a soft spot for Odysseus and though there was no Penelope, there was some sort of fighting off sirens and plotters led me back here. I just don’t know what those things are or were.

When I got back, I felt lost. I had been a nomad for over 5 years. I wasn’t one anymore. I got a place. I got some life essentials I didn’t have. A garbage bin. Forks. A bed.

I read this wonderful letter fifty times. I posted a quote from it on Instagram with the first picture of my Pilsen apartment—where I was for 24 of those 33 months.

I was looking for something. An answer to why I came back. Why I had sort of lost the desire to be a nomad. I wrote this. I wrote a lot more that’s in some notebook somewhere.

I met a girl. I had my Ryan Adams ‘Dear Chicago’ moment on Friday after work.

I had a job I liked. I worked hard at it. It helped me adjust, it gave me new friends, new experiences, and a cache of good memories.

I saw my friends. I hadn’t seen some in years. I saw them a lot and it was tremendously comfortable—full of laugher, life. Wholehearted goodness.

I saw my family. I had only gotten to see them sporadically, and always on my schedule (when I’d be returning). I got to see my baby sister grow up, my other sister live her dream and succeed. I got to spend more time with my parents and take from them more important lessons on being an adult. More pictures, more smiles, more of them in my life.

So why leave?

Well, that’s a complicated question but one I’ve answered several times for people. The short of it is two-fold:

(1) I love travel and recognize that life events will shape my opporunities to do so: and

(2) I’ve wanted to write a novel since I was 15 years old and I have a sort of window to do so now that I wanted to take.

So I march on—to Asia and into my soul to extract whatever writing talent I have in there to draw out onto the proverbial page.

On leaving Chicago, though, few thoughts stick with me.

Do you know the now-infamous David Foster Wallace speech on “water”? If you don’t, check here.

What the water here refers to is the mundanity of everyday life. The check-out counter at the grocery store. The trifling through of email. The plans made, cancelled, rain-checked, etc…The day in, day out stuff.

He goes further into what that means, and since it was done as a commencement speech, proceeds to give graduates advice on what watter means to them.

For me, in these particular thoughts, what I come to is that Chicago is the most water. Or the place of most water? The deepest pool? I don’t know how to articulate it (change)

Can something be that? Are there levels of water? No, but there are levels of society, of everyday-ness, and this place is the most for me. And that’s not a bad thing. Sometimes, on crushing days of brokenness, this is the most splendid of all things, to be held in comfort and in what I know. The alternative? Well, travel has almost no comfort to step into. It is life constantly thrust at you. And that gets me down, but not as much as it pumps me full of energy, of vitality. And it makes me forget about water, which I have not yet learned how to swim through. I see these commuters and ask, “what spirit is getting them home?” and what I’m doing is really asking myself.

Big cities amaze me. So many people. Everywhere I go there are people. Who are they? What do they think when they see me—that I’m just another person in this metropolitan wallpaper. Chicago has this. Others do too, but since I call Chicago home, it has a more sincere oddness that so many others make this their habitat, and that they move. And some own boats. And some are working three jobs. Some get off at four in the morning when no one is around and I am fast asleep. Where do they eat? Shop? Is anyone in this city of 3 million thinking of me? See last four lines.

My sister asked me what I’ll miss the most about Chicago aside from friends and family? I had to think about it. Chicago has a lot. Some things I don’t like. Nothing I ever missed so badly I needed to see it when I got back. Away from here, it was easy to criticize Chicago. The sports bar city. The big four firm city. The segregated city.

But I’ll miss it. Even those things.

What I said was nostalgia and sentimentality. The streets here can provide that like no other city can. Memories written into glass, dunked in potholes. I know the Ogden exit is close to the United Center from being a kid. I know how the John Hancock stands proudly at the end of Lake Shore coming down, like you’ll drive right into it. And I always love these things, even if they’re drowned in the water that we’ll never get out of it.

Because no place else is home.

___________

Okay, so that was my post. I wrote that about two weeks ago, maybe three. And to read it now is nice. I do miss Chicago. I always did miss Chicago, but the world is so big and full of everything that I wasn’t ready to stay?

What happens later? To come home or not? I haven’t the slightest ideas.

For now, I can tell you this. I just had a brief but oh-so-wonderful foray back to South Korea with some great friends. The memories and laughter were overwhelmingly postive and brought me back to a sentimental happiness from and for my time there.

And now? I am sitting inside my “villa” in Lombok, Indonesia. Yesterday I surfed in the morning and laid on one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen (the one pictured). And I’ve resumed my writing.

I am still adjusted to whatever this is—travel, lifestyle, whatever—but I’m not too worried. I have words and maps ahead of me. And those that know, know those things sit at the foot of wherever I go.

Ciao for now. Thanks for everything to those back home. More updates somewhere further up along the road.

An Update: The New Project & South Africa

Hello from Stellenbosch, South Africa — wine capital of this part of the world, and all-around beautiful little slice of land. South Africa has been a dream for the first 9 days and I expect it to continue to be so. Cape Town was hilly, unique, cloudy, sunny, wet, wonderful, empty, full, etc; everything and all of life bursting in so many ways. Inspiring, sure, but moreso just a great place to pass some days in joy.

What I want to write about here though is my new project—the beginning stages of my attempt to write a novel. It is the most daunting of tasks I’ve undertaken, and I’m just beginning so nothing has happened so deserving of praise quite yet.

But I’m on my way. I’m sketching notes in my notebook, writing words and fragments that come to mind and starting to form my foundation. I said that my timeline goals for South Africa were: committing to a plot (done!), writing 10,000 words (done!), and settling on a disciplined approach to daily work/writing (not done yet). So, well on my way for Part I, with some decisions left to make on just how I’ll get this project done.

I’m not going to reveal the plot here quite yet, nor the characters. That will come soon. But I did want to take a minute to take a stepped-away look at the novel writing and be happy with what’s come so far.

The next part will provide some writing break as I wrap up life in Chicago before taking my longer hiatus to try and do this whole thing. I expect that to take several months, but more likely longer—a year? (longer?) and really challenge me to dive deeply into these characters and myself. Of this, I have fear, nervousness, and a tremendous deal of an anxious, excitable orientation. I have no idea how I’ll take to the challenge.

What I do know is that what I’ve written so far is the easy part—clips of scenes that have come to mind easily. Smoothly. Without resistance. The basics of characters. But what about the longer scenes? What will happen to one of them when chaos ensues? Disaster strikes? Disagreement descends? I don’t have these answers but I’ll need to after some time. So far, too, I have exposition. My explaining of these things. I’ll need to turn that into dialogue. Action. A narrator that does not know everything. Setting. All the things that go into a novel. Luckily, I’ve read some great books, so I’m in the hands of some great teachers. I just need to make sure I’ve paid attention—the right attention.

But, for now, I have another 11 days in South Africa—including a safari! So I’m going to enjoy that, keep dreaming of my half-made characters, and work on finding whatever routine is best going to help me get into “flow” so I can write at my best.

More updates soon!

20180501_175047

2017: In Review

I’m a few days late to wrapping up 2017, but I think that will hardly matter in the grand scheme. This is my 5th year recapping, so happy to continue a good tradition. And, well, years usually seem to shift more on my birthday (January 9) then the Gregorian calendar (January 1st), but that’s not too vain……

I always enjoy answering the questions below, but always struggle a bit to do this part (this intro). How to sum up a year?

Not sure. Still not sure.

2017 was light(er) on travel—which is super relative, considering I went back to Asia, both coasts (a few times), and I think 10 states if I’m counting that correctly. It was full of concerts, parties (the Mardi Gras party from February may have been the best one I’ve been to, and we hosted it!), movies, books, the like. For these, I’m always grateful and looking back fondly.

It was a big year for weddings. Three of my best lifelong friends got married to wonderful women; and I even got to officiate Kevin and Emily’s, which was most certainly a highlight of 2017.

What else? Too much. I still find these years filled with so much richness that it makes it hard to summarize. That’s a gift. To live variously to a degree that simple summations cannot possibly do justice.

My goal for this year was to be ontologically leaner. That meant to be consume less, take less, register a bit less in the atmosphere. I wanted to see if I could produce more with less weight, burden, energy, etc….I don’t know how I did. I know I bought less. I built more. 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 I still went out. Still bought things unnecessarily, still drank more than I needed. I guess the leaner part will have to be a lifelong pursuit; and that’s probably a good thing.

And 2018, what does that have in the waiting? A whole lot. Big, big plans for this year. The biggest? Get started on this book. Do my dream thing.

But that’ll come. Here’s the rest of my notes from 2017. Thanks to anyone reading for being a part of it!

Other Notes

Travels: Chicago > NYC > Santa Fe > Manila > Bali > Manila > Phoenix > Florida > Lake Geneva > Martha’s Vineyard > Phoenix > Los Angeles > California Road Trip > Minnesota > Madison/Lake Geneva > Austin > San Diego > Los Angeles > San Francisco

Writing: Lots of notebook (learned what a commonplace book was and realized I’ve been doing that for years…). Did an experimental month of poetry, wrote a few blogposts. Overall, probably my lightest year of “public” writing—but I think a lot of that is gearing up for a massive 2018 where writing takes over my life.

Reading:  Finished 24 books, and somewhere in the middle of half a dozen more. 2017 was the year I finally finished Moby Dick. I read two Anne Lammott books, two Irvin Yalom books, and focused more on books about writing or the self. Less reading of novels (fiction) (only 5 of the 24) than previous years too. I said I wanted to touch on spirituality in reading this year and I didn’t do that specifically, but I did dive in where in certain places (poems, psychology…..actually I barely did this. Hmm). Full list of books read in 2016:

  1. The Argonauts (Maggie Nelson); January 1st
  2. A Sport and a Pastime (James Salter); January 28th
  3. Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith (Anne Lamott); February 12th
  4. The War of Art (Steven Pressfield); February 17th
  5. Desert Solitaire (Edward Abbey); March 2nd
  6. Wise Blood (Flannery O’Connor); March 6th
  7. Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life (William Finnegan); March 15th
  8. Iron John: A Book About Men (Robert Bly); April 25th
  9. The Servant: A Simple Story About The True Essence of Leadership (James C. Hunter); May 9th
  10. Book of Hours (Kevin Young); May 10th
  11. The Harmonious World of Johann Kepler (Sidney Rosen); May 12th
  12. Collected Poems (Jack Gilbert); June 8th
  13. Meditations (Marcus Aurelius, trans Gregory Hays); June 14th
  14. Liar’s Poker (Michael Lewis): July 18th
  15. The Dog Stars (Peter Heller); August 14th
  16. You, Beast (Nick Lantz); August 25th
  17. It Ain’t No Sin To Be Glad You’re Alive (Eric Alterman); September 6th
  18. My Favorite Thing Is Monsters (Emil Ferris); September 11th
  19. Moby-Dick; or, The Whale (Herman Melville); September 23rd
  20. The Counterfeiters (Andre Gide); November 12th
  21. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (Anne Lamott); November 19th
  22. Love’s Executioner (Irvin Yalom); November 20th
  23. The Three-Body Problem (Cixin Liu); December 5th
  24. Creatures of a Day (Irvin Yalom): December 26th

For record-keeping purposes, I read 19 books in 2015, 21 in 2016, and 24 now!

Professionally: Another year at Uber down—with some amazing progress here! Expanded my team and put in some first-of-its-kind infrastructure that wil surely outlast me in my role there. 2017 was a year in which the team and I took those steps; rather than being hustling to be reactive to the calls of the business. We got more organized, more streamlined, more specific, and because of that and the talents of those around me, achieved more than we have in any other year. Pretty proud of 2017s professional accomplishments!

Pearl Jam: no shows, but Let’s Play Two came out and saw the premier at The Metro.

 

Favorites

Favorite 2017 New Thing: Cryptocurrencies

This is an obvious one even if it’s not my favorite “thing” as the title suggests. It certainly consumed a good chunk of my time this year, after consuming so little of it in years past (even after buying some Bitcoin in 2014—I wasn’t reading or writing about it).

I think crypto has become a favorite thing of many in 2017 (as I’m sure bull markets make favorites out of many things). So it has some of the cliche and I’m okay with that. But it wasn’t just monetary growth, it was actually a hobby of learning about this technology, writing about it on a few sites, and discovering little-known “coins” that have intriguing offers. In other ways, this became part of my identity as people found out I knew a bit about it. No idea where this whole thing goes, but 2017 was certainly the year I dove in.

Others: Commonplace Books (link), Mardi Gras parties 🙂

Favorite book I read in 2017: A Sport and A Pastime by James Salter

Salter’s book is well known for its eroticism and probably some readings of misogyny, as well. I won’t deny the latter and 2017 has certainly opened my eyes to more of these readings. But I think what gets written off with both of these summations is the prose that the author composes here. It’s fresh, it’s French, it’s sort of full and light at the same time. I haven’t read a book in a long time with so much underlying and marginalia—a big part of why it was the favorite book I read this last year.

That and a undeniable desire to be in Paris and around love and lust and freedom. Salter has enough in there to leave you kind of gasping for that experience a few times over.

There was some serious contention here with The Three-Body Problem which became (I think—trying to avoid some recency bias here) my favorite science fiction book.

Other Favorites: The Three-Body Problem (Cixin Liu), Collected Poems (Jack Gilbert)

Favorite 2017 movieLady Bird

I really liked Lady Bird; it stuck with me for some time after and I was happy that my mother and sister saw it and liked it as well. I normally find my pretentious self looking for holes in first-time directors films, but Greta Gerwig pulled this off with amazing style, grace, and some serious conflict with Sacramento.

The acting, too, is great. The script much the same. Really enjoyed the

In general, 2017 was a low one for me with movies. I’m still working through a bunch so maybe the tides will change, but no movie blew me away the way that some in the past few years have (Moonlight, Deus Ex Machina).

I did see The Handmaiden this year which I thought was excellent. And Jules et Jim, and I’m sure a handful of others that were great. Nothing just blew my hair away.

Other Favorites: Columbus, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Personal Shopper

Favorite 2017 album‘A Deeper Understanding’ (The War on Drugs)

Lots of solid music came out this year (this album and the other favorites below are probably four of my top 10 current bands, hard to ask for more from one year).

Other Favorites: ‘Capacity’ (Big Thief), ‘We All Want The Same Things’ (Craig Finn), ‘Sleep Well Beast’ (The National)

Favorite 2017 song: ‘Mary’ Big Thief

Probably the easiest pick of favorites from the year. This song stopped my cold on the first listen (after a pretty magnificent album (it’s the second to last track). Simply put, this song is beautiful—it’s Adrienne Lenker’s voice over a piano and it’s as bare as its lyrics are winding. She takes it to the last of her breath, giving off a surreal vision of something wonderful. It made me remember that one single song can be a tremendous journey; unconfined to itself, a marvelous trip the ears lead the mind down, hand in hand.

Other Favorites: ‘Knocked Down’ – War on Drugs, ‘Happy Birthday, Johnny” – St. Vincent, ‘New York’ – St. Vincent, ‘Carin at the Liquor Store’ – The National

Favorite Place Visited: Sequoia National Park

There’s a somewhat common trope of Americans traveling abroad and marveling at other nations’ natural (and manmade) wonders without remembering or realizing that the U.S. is home to some of the most marvelous landscape our planet offers. That’s certainly true and my trip to Sequoia helped me remember that. I hope it’s long before I forgot it again.

The trip to Sequoia is coupled with the roadtrip taken to get there—which involved renting a 31-foot RV. For free. Yes, that’s right. For free.

Favorite Meal: Dim Sum at Din Thai Fun

Had some very solid meals in 2017, including some homemade ones. This one made an impression (truffle dumplings, seriously?) and I went twice in one trip while in Manila—so think I gotta give it to this place.

 

And, that my friends, is a wrap on 2017! Some more pics!

 

Dum V. V. | hyperlinked poetry series | #5

What goes up
Must stay in sky. Dum v. v.

What ain’t ancient
Ain’t coming back. Dum v. v.

I howl Dum v. v.
From the back of my throat
Which is filled with malbec
Matched moonlight
And you say you can’t hear.
Dumb to see. Let us be.

What spills from the block of clouds
Are gifts we string to pearls.
Dum v. v. is a blessing
Of your sacred art.

I flop with dum v. v.
In ocean and salt sticks to hair
And you are sandside, waving in a black bathing suit
And the sun is a knuckle. We get drunk
And stay drunk
And get drunk again when we come down
And live where music never stops
This is Mexico and all else before anyway
It’s easy to say dum v. v.

I found my Ithaca to come back to every night
Excited and with barrels of wine, dum v. v.
And you dum v. v. late nights with you finish before they’re done
V.
Very
Merry
I’ve never had a bad time living hard.

What we miss don’t matter
What we build is the only standing thing
Dum vivimus
Vivamus.