Sunday, January 26, 2014

a good book.

I’ve become very frustrated with my writing lately. Well, the lack thereof to be more precise. I imagined having all this time to work on my book, living in a little bubble here with nothing else to distract me and coming home with a finished manuscript. But the reality is I’m just as lazy and come up with just as many excuses here as I do at home and I’ve not put in more than a couple of hours work on the book all told.

And then earlier this week I saw this book posted on Jessica Day George's Goodreads page. She’d praised it so highly I figured I’d give it a shot. It had a hold list on it but came up a lot faster than I’d expected and I was a little frustrated because I was already in the middle of two other library books. The problem with the Nook is you can’t keep them longer and pay a late fee or anything, they’re just sucked back into the ‘net when the due date comes and you’re out of luck. So I didn’t know if I’d get to it before the two week loan period was up. However, when I downloaded it I noticed it was only 43 pages and decided I’d glance through it…and proceeded to read nearly half of it in the first sitting. I’ve since read it straight through 3 times and skipped around re-reading favorite parts again and again.

It’s not that there’s anything really new in it, but it’s everything I needed to hear right now. Some parts are validation and encouragement while others are a swift kick in the pants. The author, Austin Kleon, touches on the struggles to create, the mindsets and expectations vs the realities. He gives practical advice for doing your best and learning when to ignore the critics and the outside world and when to ignore your own inner voice (which is often your worst critic!) And the crux of the book and the idea behind the title is in knowing the difference between stealing and plagiarism (plagiarism is trying to pass of someone else’s work as your own, stealing is being inspired by that work to create something new, improved or complimentary) and how to 'steal' effectively, encouraging you, as the reader, to surround yourself with examples of great work from your heroes and let that influence what you create.

Written as a set of simple instructions and ten ‘life lesson’ type mini-essays, he sets out to tell you what he’d wished someone had told him and what he’s learned along the way. His own words are heavily emphasized with examples and quotes from artists of all fields. While I found myself agreeing with nearly every word there were a few that particularly stood out. Here are a few of my favorite quotes.

Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something different. The good poets welds his theft into a while of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn.  ~T.S. Eliot

The question every young writer at some point asks is: "What should I write?" And the standard answer is, "Write what you know." This advice always leads to terrible stories in which nothing interesting happen...The best advice is not to write what you know, it's to write what you like.  ~Austin Kleon

In the digital age, don't forget to use your digits! ~Lynda Barry

Modern art = I could do that + Yeah, but you didn't.  ~Craig Damrauer

Figure out what time you can carve out, what time you can steal, and stick to your routine.  Do the work every day, no matter what...Work gets done in the time available.  ~Austin Kleon

Nothing is more paralyzing than the idea of limitless possibilities. The idea that you can do anything is absolutely terrifying...The way to get over [that] creative block is to simply place some constraints on yourself. It seems contradictory, but when it comes to creative work, limitations mean freedom.  ~Austin Kleon

And a few of the bits of advice 
  • don't wait until you know who you are to get started
  • step away from the screen/use your hands
  • indulge in productive procrastination
  • don't throw any of your stuff away
  • start a swipe file
  • build your own world
  • keep a logbook
  • know what to leave out
This little volume will be one of the first things I purchase when I’m back in the States so I can re-read it, highlight it, mark it up and keep it as a ready reference and inspiration for those times when I find myself blocked and stalled in my writing. I highly recommend it for anyone who considers themselves an artist or spends any time consistently (or sporadically) creating.

What have you been reading lately?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

a festive weekend.

This past weekend my city, Udon Thani, celebrated its 121st birthday. Since the Thai’s look for any opportunity, large or small, to throw a party this was the perfect opportunity to dance, set off some fireworks, set up a festival and disrupt traffic.

Saturday morning I went with a couple of my coworkers to watch a couple of the other girls participate in a huge Thai dance. They had women from many of the surrounding cities (Udon Thani is the name of the province as well as the name of the city which is the capital—like counties and the county seat) gather together in the street to perform traditional Thai dances in an effort to set a world’s record.  People were there from the Guinness World Records to witness the event.  They’d anticipated just over 5,000 participating but the rumors were they ended up with over 20,000.  It was beautiful madness. The streets were a sea of orange.

We have three large traffic circles in Udon; one with a clock tower, one with a fountain and one with a statue of Prince Prajak (25th son of King Rama IV, born back in 1865.) The event took place in the five streets feeding into the statue circle, orange spilling out in all directions like spokes from a wheel.  It was quite an impressive sight.

Later that night there was a fun street market filled with food and wares of all sorts.  One of the girls I’m here with decided that she would try her luck at panhandling. People here are fascinated with ‘farangs’ (foreigners) and will constantly stare, giggle and even ask to take our pictures.  We’ve commented more than once that if we made people pay even 5 baht (the equivalent of about 15 cents) we could easily make enough money for dinner.  So, she made herself a sign and she walked around the market propositioning people for photos.  She ended up making 30 baht and gaining a new hat and making a lot of people laugh. We followed up those escapades with a fireworks show over the lake in the park.

The next night there was another dance performance.  This one was even more traditional. The dancers dress up in elaborate costumes (demons, monkeys and such) and the dances often tell a story of some sort. It’s sort of like a cross between ballet and hula in my brain, every once in awhile you’ll get full body movement (usually from the men) but often it’s very small steps, turning in circles, and lots of slow, graceful hand movements.  They performed out in front of one of the nearby temples which made for a dramatic backdrop all lit up under the black sky (though killer for getting any sort of decent photo.)  It was a lovely way to spend an evening.

Monday, January 20, 2014

taking a vacation (part 5)

The last section of our trip was spent up north in Chiang Mai. Once the capital of the northern Lanna kingdom it’s been heavily influenced by Myanmar (Burma) and Laos. The city and the surrounding areas were incorporated into the Thai kingdom shortly after the fall of Ayutthaya but didn’t become an official province of Siam (Thailand) until 1933. It’s a big city with a small town feel and an interesting mix of Thai and western influences. There are a ton of tourists so you’ll find many people who at least speak a smattering of English and lots of restaurants and shops that cater to western tastes but also some amazing distinctly Thai cuisine found just in the area. We spent more than our fair share of cash at some local art galleries but also hours (and again, lots of money) wandering through the huge night market.

We stayed at a guest house, which is just one step up from a hostel really. We had to buy our own toilet paper and there were no maid services but we had a private room and a bathroom. And we paid a grand total of $10 a night. Not too shabby! Plus the staff was awesome. They were there to help grant our every whim and answer all our questions. In some ways it was my favorite place we stayed (but oh how I’d hoped for one more hot bath!)

Our first night there we were enrolled in a Thai cooking class. We walked to the local market where they explained some of the ingredients and showed us what to buy and then we spent the next 3 ½ hours making 4 different dishes and eating until we were stuffed. We even came home with a cookbook so I’ll be trying my hand at a few things on my own once I’ve got a kitchen again.

Another day we rented motorbikes and drove up a winding road on the nearby mountain to the summer palace, past several waterfalls and shrines, and to a hilltribe village where we browsed the local wares and ate lunch. Our last full day in town we’d booked a tour to see elephants and tigers. We were picked up at 6:15 am by a darling local lady who drove us around all day and talked non-stop. We asked her questions about the culture and Buddhism and her life. She was a fount of knowledge! She took us up into the mountains just after sunrise and fed us breakfast which she’d bought at a market on the way and then it was off to meet the elephants. We met up with a few other people bringing our group to 6. They divided us up, 2 each on an elephant that we were told how to control (more or less) and then we ventured out into the trees where we realized the elephants really just did what they wanted. The mahouts eventually led us all back to the nearby river where we helped bathe the elephants and engaged in a water fight with the great beasts (one guess as to who won!) After a couple of hours with them we went back to freshen up (ie wash the elephant snot and mud off) and eat a snack.

Then it was off to what was probably my favorite part of the whole trip. The Tiger Kingdom. It’s basically a glorified petting zoo but you get to pet tigers! I have had a fascination with tigers my whole life, mostly because my grandmother had a fascination with tigers. She would always comment on how when the millennium came she was going to have a pet tiger. And even though she passed away when I was young, every time I see a tiger it makes me think of her. There is some controversy around any facility with human/animal interaction. Is it safe? Are the animals treated well? I don’t have all the answers but this one does seem to have a decent reputation. The animals are raised from babies and are used to humans, they’re fed frequently and watched carefully. There was a part of me that felt a little guilty about it, as I do any time I see an animal caged no matter how well they are treated. But when the alternative is for them to be hunted to extinction in the wild, well, at least there are places like this that will ensure that my children will know what an actual tiger looks like. And I had to leave my conscience with that (same with our elephant encounters).

Anyway, we paid our money and then went in to wait our turn. The enclosures are grouped by size; largest cats, medium, small, and smallest. We paid for smallest, small and large and started with the large. A trained handler goes in with you and walks you from animal to animal (there were 4 or 5 in each enclosure) where you get a chance to sit next to them, pet them, and pose for pictures. The largest ones were the most docile, basically sitting and sleeping hardly twitching a whisker while we stroked and petted their stomachs and tails and feet. They were so majestic! Seeing them up close and personal was amazing. My arm was as long as one of their feet but their paws were just like your housecat’s only bigger. And all I wanted to do was stroke one of their noses! But that’s a no-no. J

The smaller cats were more frisky. We got to pet a few but we also watched them chase each other around and splash in the nearby pool. And then we got to go see the smallest ones which were just a couple of months old. They were truly like overgrown kittens. I had one on its back while I rubbed its belly and I’m sure if it had been a little quieter I could have heard it purr! And Kat had a little more lively experience. While she was scratching one on the back it reared its head around and bit her hand! At first she wasn’t too concerned, like a kitten they just sort of nibble but soon that nibble turned into a real bite. She ended up with a nice puncture wound and three matching teeth marks. But even she agreed that it was worth it. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. And I’m certain my grandma was watching us from heaven that day.

Our last stop of the day was for a ziplining adventure through the jungle. Again I was worried that my heights thing might do me in but I had no problems (though I did do my fair share of screaming and squealing and the guides took full advantage of the opportunity to scare and tease me!) There were a bunch of zip line tracks but we also had a couple of swinging rope bridges and ladders and some abseiling as well. It was kind of fun to mix it up a bit and gave you a chance to see things just a little differently each time. The organization that did it went all out giving us certificates of completion and t-shirts and a late lunch when we finished. Our drive back to the city was a bit quieter despite our friendly guide. It had been a long, adventure-filled day and a great way to end our trip.

The next day we had to do a lot of repacking to fit in all of our new purchases and we spent our last couple of hours adding to those purchases, eating some delicious food, and getting in one last cheap massage before we went our separate ways at the airport. It was a fantastic trip and I’m so grateful that I was able to have a little bit of home around for the holidays. It made everything just that much better. That may be all the touring I get a chance to do before I leave, too. I don’t have any breaks from school until the end of the year and I’m shooting for a trip to Australia on the way home which means I’ll need to save every cent of my measly paycheck. But I think I hit most of the highlights; the cities, the ruins, the beaches, the mountains. Not too shabby!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

taking a vacation (part 4)

Our next beach journey took us to Krabi which is actually part of the mainland. We had a poolside room this time at our hotel that was a 10 minute walk from the beach. The beach itself wasn’t nearly as beautiful as Kho Phi Phi but the surrounding area was gorgeous all covered in trees and composed of limestone which made for amazing cliffs and rock faces and formations everywhere. We spent one afternoon at the Tiger Cave Temple, a large temple compound at the foot of a mountain. Several of the buildings were at the bottom along with caves, giant trees and monks’ quarters, but the main attraction was the shrine at the top of 1237 stairs. They were brutal but the view from the top was amazing and the quiet and peace there were different than at any of the other temples we’d visited. We also made quite a few friends during our various stages of the climb (or let’s be honest, during our various, and in my case very numerous, stops throughout the climb.) Nothing like a little physical exertion bordering on torture to bring out the commiseration of a group!

The next day we took a boat tour out to James Bond Island with a stop at a Muslim village for lunch. (Nope, I haven’t seen the movie so I couldn’t truly enjoy its significance –it’s on my list—but it was beautiful.) While 95% of the country of Thailand is Buddhist there is a hefty portion of the last 5%, particularly in the south, that is Muslim. We passed several mosques and were able to hear the muezzin call the listeners to prayer at various times throughout the day, which I loved. That was one of my favorite things from our trip to Egypt and it brought back all those memories to hear it again. I get the same thrill out of hearing the sound of bells in so many Christian churches. I think we, as Mormons, are missing something there!

Our last day was New Year’s Eve. Originally we had been dividing up to go our separate ways that afternoon, Kat and Dave back to Bangkok to catch their flight to the US and me back to Udon, but because of the flight cancellation and all the rescheduling we ended up with a few more days together. So we spent the morning at Railay Beach where Dave took a much needed break from us while Kat and I did some rock climbing which the area is famous for. Kat had done some climbing but I’d never done it and was a little worried that my fear of heights might manifest itself. (I’m not super afraid, especially if there’s some sort of barrier like a railing or something between me and the edge, but when there’s nothing there I get a little panicky.) We hired a personal guide for a few hours and he took us to an area of the beach crowded with climbers of all expertise. He gave us some quick tutorials and Kat took a turn and then it was all me. Aside from realizing how not strong I am I had a fabulous time! It definitely takes some getting used to, my brain did not see things the way Kat and the guide saw them even after they would yell out to me where to put my hands and feet. But it was an awesome feeling to be able to look down (I was even able to do that without freaking out) and see how far I’d come. I think I might have to look into some climbing classes when I get back to Utah. Any recommendations?

Well, after a brief kayaking trip and one last dip in the ocean we had to make our way to the airport for our flight back to Bangkok. We missed all the New Year’s celebrations on both ends. By the time we got to our hotel it was nearly 11 and we had to try three different rooms before we got one where everything worked. So I was in the shower listening to the fireworks usher in the new year. There were still a few going when I got out and I saw the tail end of them from the balcony but all in all it was a bit anti-climactic as far as the holiday is concerned. I guess that means I’m truly getting old, huh?

this tree is ginormous!

that's me!

James Bond island

our lunch stop

Thursday, January 16, 2014

taking a vacation (part 3).

Day six found us heading to the beaches. I’m not a huge ‘hang out on the beach’ person. I get bored too easily and spend most of the time worrying about whether or not I’ve got enough sunscreen on. I love the ocean but generally prefer the rocky cliffs of say Maine or Oregon to the tropical spots but can be swayed for a day or two if I’m busy doing something. So even though we had a fair amount on our schedule (snorkeling, kayaking and such) I wasn’t really looking forward to five beach days. It didn’t take too long for me to change my mind.

First up we spent a couple of days on Kho Phi Phi Island. Our bungalow looked down over the white sand beach and the turquoise water. It was rather breathtaking. The island had been hit hard by the tsunami a few years ago and it was interesting to talk to the locals about the change and the damage that had been done. We were able to walk up to an overlook (which now serves as the tsunami warning evacuation zone) where you could see the two main bays divided by just a narrow strip of land and see pictures of what things looked like before and after. And of course we then had to look up youtube videos of it actually happening. Amazing and terrifying all at the same time. (If you want a good dramatized account watch The Impossible. It will tear you to pieces but it seems pretty darn accurate based on the all the videos we watched.)

We took a boat tour to some of the surrounding islands to feed the ‘wild’ monkeys, see where The Beach was filmed, swim, soak up the scenery and snorkel. The water was so clear you could look down from the boat and see hordes of fish swimming without using any masks or anything. But of course you got a better view actually under the water. We were able to see sharks, Nemo and Dory, sea urchins, coral and a million colorful creatures I’ll never know the names of. I wish I wasn’t so claustrophobic because I would love to be able to scuba and really immerse myself in the sea world but snorkeling is a close second to that experience and this was an awesome place to do it.

Towards the end of our last dive I brushed up against a sea urchin or something that burned my whole arm. I climbed into the boat and it was all red and covered in little angry welts. I told the guide and he assured me I’d be fine and he’d fix it when we got to the last island (meanwhile I’m having visions of invisible jelly fish and me convulsing and dying on the boat as my arm is getting redder and redder.) But sure enough he tossed me a few leaves later and instructed me to tear them into little pieces and mix them with my spit and rub it on my arm. I felt a bit ridiculous but the sting went away instantly. Amazing that wherever there is a threat there is also a cure. What don’t we with our western knowledge know? What have we forgotten or refuse to see?

the view from our hotel
the overlook

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

taking a vacation (part 2)

Our next stop took us a little north west of Bangkok to Ayutthaya. The former capital in the 1300s, it was sacked and ruined by the Burmese in the 1700s and the capital was then moved to Bangkok. It’s now a UNESCO world Heritage site.

We ended up in a super nice hotel a bit farther outside of the historical center than we’d planned (that’s what happens when you have to rebook everything and look at way too many hotels in a short amount of time). They ended up upgrading us when we checked in and giving us a suite so we had a kitchen, dining room, front room and two bedrooms each with full baths. It was great! There was also a business center with afternoon snacks, a gym, a great rooftop pool and hot tub and more. We ended up spending the first afternoon lounging around the pool and avoiding the tourist spots altogether. And I took a steaming hot bath for over an hour one night, the first I’d had in months. It was heavenly!

We did leave the hotel eventually though and hit the night market for a smorgasbord dinner followed by a river tour to see the ruins all lit up. The old city was built on a small man-made island (the Chao Praya River ran nearby and was diverted to form the island), with the moat/river used for commerce and as extra protection. Though obviously it didn’t quite work!

The next day we spent climbing among the ruined temples and channeling Indiana Jones. I think I enjoyed the ruined temples better than the functioning ones. There’s a bit too much gilt and gaudiness on the facades for me. You could see the remnants of the decoration on the ruins as well, the carvings and mosaics and plaster where the colored glass would have been stuck but somehow they’re more appealing in that dilapidated state, more humbled and worshipful somehow. What do you think?

Sunday, January 12, 2014

a vacation (part 1)

My sister and a friend came out to spend the Christmas break with me and we toured the country from one end to the other. After several delayed flights and weather issues and rescheduling half of our itinerary and a ton of headaches we finally met up in Bangkok on the 22nd in the midst of all the political upheaval and protests there.

Our hotel wasn’t far from everything going on but aside from a couple of cab drivers refusing to go that way from the airport we didn’t have any problems at all. We even stumbled on the demonstrations one night and saw truckloads of people making their way there each evening after work. I know they’ve had some violent breakouts and even a few people killed but we were lucky enough to miss all of that.

Instead we spent a huge chunk of our time visiting temples, shopping on Khao San Road and getting massages. We made a stop at the Grand Palace and got our fortunes told (we were all assured that we would be rich, successful and happy and that we should wait to get married, “no worry, no worry!”) We visited the largest reclining Buddha at Wat Pho and braved the madness of a night flower market. (What do they do with all of the leftovers? Soooo many flowers!)

Christmas Day came and went with relatively little fanfare. I’d mentioned before how strange it was to celebrate a Christian holiday in a Buddhist country and while it helped a bit to be in a hotel filled with westerners (the hotel had put up some decorations for us) and to have Kat and Dave here, it just didn’t ever feel like Christmas. My aunt had sent some gifts and a cute felt Christmas tree so we hung up our tree, opened our gifts, listened to some holiday music on my ipod and, in keeping with our family tradition, read a Christmas story together. But, other than the chocolate Santas and Peeps, there were no special meals or anything to set the day apart from any other. It made me a little sad. I can’t wait til next year. I’m going to pull out all the stops and make up for everything I missed this year!

We came back to Bangkok a few more times on our journey. It was our transfer point for buses and airports along the way. But the big city was/is my least favorite place to visit. I much prefer the smaller cities with a little less crush of humanity and a little more space to breathe.

the making of a Buddha

Oh Christmas tree!

protest or party?

on their way to the rally

pick of the bunch

one of many temples

Buddha toes-the longest reclining Buddha

fortune telling