Sunday, March 16, 2014

Smatterings and Evolution

"Remember, remember, this is now, and now, and now. Live it, feel it, cling to it. I want to become acutely aware of all I've taken for granted." - Sylvia Plath

I'm feeling more like this lately. It's far better than feeling trapped and cramped, as you might imagine.

I haven't been posting here, but I've been writing every day. Mostly in my head, but still, even that is definitely writing, not thinking, because there is an enormous difference between my thoughts and my thoughts marching across my brain in potential sentences as I test them out before I type them out. Most of the past month has been spent in wide eyed weepy grateful wonder at how beautifully easy my life here has become. I noticed it starting a fair while back, oh, end of November, really, when I first moved into this perfect apartment next to the gay club on a random side alley. There was a budge in the suffocating depression I was feeling, some more breathing room, a relief that was palpable but small, the tiniest of tilts. December built on that, and things opened up even more, not like a wide open field, but more like unfolding from a too small seat, on a journey that unexpectedly took twice as long, and testing out your cramped legs. Christmas break was everything I needed it to be and more graciously applied on top of that; I felt doors opening that had been closed a long time, or maybe even forgotten entirely. I didn't feel like a shadow me playing the part of Cortney. I was still me, I'd just been sad so long I didn't remember how to be not sad; I'd been still and small for so long I didn't know what to do with so much space in which to move. And then, suddenly, everything came together and January and February were just a rollicking string of days and weeks and good times and friends and a sudden realization that I had been enjoying, for quite awhile, a sweet easy feeling towards this place where I'm living. I joked that my relationship with Vientiane started off like a praying mantis courtship dance, where she tried to eat me alive; we're on much better terms now despite that rough start.

When I first started feeling better here, I just didn't trust it. I played it cool, glanced at it side-eyed and wary, and pretended I didn't notice. I didn't want to scare it off, I didn't want to depend on it, I just half held my breath and squinted a bit off to the left and tried to act like I wasn't terribly invested in the small flickering bit of being okay with being here. And then it just kept going. I was... comfortable... then content... and then, really, truly, happy.

I wrote the following in a notebook back in January, and I'm transcribing it here, at least the parts I can make out, since I can't actually read my own handwriting.


Sometime in mid-January, judging by the journals around this one:

I'm sitting outside in a mosquito filled night, sweating at my favorite Indian food restaurant. It's the social part of the evening, after the sun has set, before the streets clear (outrageously early) and all around my corner of the street table Vientiane is humming by. The tuk tuk drivers, exhausted from the heat and the humidity, swing in their hammocks, waiting for the crowd of lanky backpackers to get good and close before they half-heartedly inquire "Tuk-tuk?" It's a yes, it's far too expensive, they all agree, and they're off. Cats creep and meow-growl around the curbs, cautious and waiting for scraps. The kids across the street are playing badminton, their long brown limbs flailing and filled with laughter as they play terribly, and happily, under the disinterested eye of a grandmother who's also tending shop. The yellow lights cover everything in pools of butter reflections, and make the night scenes around me look slightly warped and waxy. A china cup half moon hangs above me between the space of the awning and the festering nest of power lines; I can't see stars and I think again how much I do miss them, and how beautiful they were in Colorado when I stepped outside my tent and looked up and gasped and sat down and blinked back tears. Colorado makes me feel something close to homesick but more like the familiar soft-worn edges of heartsick grief, a purple bruise I can run my fingers over instead of the open wound I used to scratch. I look back at the ever changing parade of tourists in front of me, endless in elephant pants and inexplicably popular fanny packs. The restaurant owner leans, easy, in a plastic chair in this butter light, laughing with the man swirling dough onto the hot stone to make another banana pancake. Street dogs skip lanky and sick across the road, scooters wind forever past, and the ever present coughing sputter of tuk tuks and their perpetually squealing brakes clatters under everything. It sounds cacophonous, but these sounds are somehow complementary, pleasing even. This is no bustling metropolis; the street sounds are local and familiar, not overwhelming, they hum consistently in the way that crickets and frogs do in the woods. As I sit here and contemplate the tourists I realize, finally, that this is really my home. Not just by default, not just because I signed that contract and I'm going to honor my word, dammit, not just because I will not quit no matter how hard it gets- it is, simply, my home. I feel I belong here, in this moment, on this corner, exactly in this plastic chair, feeling beads of sweat roll down my back as I lean over this notebook and scribble out these thoughts. I'll pay out, flag down a tuk tuk, know how much is a fair falang price and negotiate in Lao, and then climb in the back after the familiar walk away/it's too expensive/okay come back dance. I'll know that the driver will take one of two routes to my house, and along the way I'll lean against the metal rails catching the breeze and watching the road roll out behind me, a shifting scene of traffic and sidewalk life framed by the open end of the tuk tuk. The landmarks, the food stalls, the predictable snarls in movement and the near miss awful intersections- nothing is a surprise. I'll feel it before we turn, I won't fumble with money, I'll say my niceties in Lao without a stutter, and I'll hop out in front of my home. My true home, in this moment, where I can actually be satisfied until June. I don't have a countdown in my head anymore, I'm not gritting my teeth and railing against my life anymore. I don't feel so much exhausting spite and bitterness. I don't feel like I'm serving a sentence. I feel once more the reality that I chose this, and for whatever reason, what I chose was a terribly hard thing for me. I can do this. I am doing this. I'm on the other side of that horrible time. I am so grateful. I am so grateful. It was worth the ordeal to feel such rushing joy of relief and peace by comparison. I'm realizing that's probably the whole point.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Gracious Goes

A week after he told me he was leaving, Bobby left. It was Monday, September 23rd, and the sun was shining because it didn’t know we’d been up all night and the morning hurt when it came. We walked downstairs, said good bye, and I slid the gate shut behind him as if it were any other day and I just had to shut the gate, because that’s what you do when someone leaves the house. I didn’t watch him walk down the driveway, because I didn’t want to ponder what it meant to watch my partner of almost half a decade walk away from me, to a tuk tuk, to a plane, back home to America without me. I didn’t cry. I just turned around and looked at the emptiness of my house, not ours, mine, and the mine of it all felt like too much to have. I didn’t want to stand where I was standing when he left, so I went back upstairs and stood, instead, in the doorway of our bedroom and looked at the bed for a very long time. I felt a wave of anxiety that was so palpable I thought it would knock me down; I couldn’t look at the bed anymore. I sat on the living room floor and felt the immense open awareness of being alone, truly- not just alone because I was out somewhere without Bobby, or we were apart for a while, but because I was alone. Single. Solitary. No invisible thread of fidelity tied me to another person in this world. I pictured that thread that I used to have, and how it was gone, and I suddenly felt disastrously unmoored, like I was drifting out into space and getting lost and couldn’t find my way back because I didn’t know where I lived, in this too big house of mine, not ours. I started shaking and couldn’t stop, so I stretched out on the wood floor and shook against it until I wasn’t shaking. I didn’t cry.  

I couldn’t handle the doorway of the bedroom anymore, so I went back downstairs to fill my hands with a distraction. I picked up the broom, and I swept the entire house. Twice. The mop came next, and then a rag for the stairs, a step at a time to clean places that no one would ever see. I bleached the counters. I scrubbed the refrigerator, which was already clean. Sweat streamed off of me, rivulets down my neck and back, my hair clumped to my neck and stuck to my cheeks,  and I needed water but didn’t get any because I didn’t want to stop. I worked on my hands and knees and scrubbed the baseboards, carefully, because it mattered. I did laundry that wasn’t really even dirty, just for the methodical calm of the process of filling the tank, switching the drain, wringing the clothes, and carefully hanging them all. I gathered up all the dusty wooden chairs in a clattering herd and doused them, one by one, with buckets of water as their legs scratched mine. The mosquitoes came with the water, and the water mixed with my sweat until my entire dress was a sopping, clinging sheet. I was barefoot in the back drain of my house, not ours, mine, surrounded by chairs that just wouldn’t come clean. The sun pressed against my hair and the back of my neck and my shoulders until, between the heat and the sweat and the dirty water running down my arms and legs, I had finally exhausted myself enough to stop. The chairs went back where they belonged, looking none the cleaner. I walked to the gate and put my hand on the lock and thought about living there alone. I didn’t want to think about living there alone. I crept up the spotless stairs and peeled off my clothes and stretched out on the floor of the bathroom with the water pounding down and streaming off of me in gritty brown snakes. It was freezing cold and I would have thought about how good it felt if I had felt anything close to good in general.

I thought for certain this would be when I cried, but it wasn’t. This was when I thought of how, when we were first dating, I would stand in the bathroom after a shower while Bobby cleaned the deep wound where a mole had been cored out of me. I couldn’t reach it to clean it, and twice a day, he would. It was a bloody, nasty gash, threaded through with black stitches, and I would wince and pout and breathe the pain through my teeth while he carefully, carefully cleaned it. It had been turning into cancer and my doctor had told me I was lucky to have caught it when I did. Love, to me, in that moment, was Bobby cleaning my wound, taking care of a place I couldn’t reach myself.

I walked my way through the memories of all the times he had taken care of me, and this mental route, inevitably, as I knew it would, led to the night I called him, screaming, to tell him that my sister had died. He was there the next morning and all the mornings after that, and he cleaned my wound, because I couldn’t take care of it myself. I thought about how he held me up as I walked, howling, out of her funeral, unable to bear the reality that so many of us were there because she wasn’t. I whispered to him that he had to get me out of here, I can’t walk, I can’t walk, I can’t walk, but I could, because he held me. For months after he held that grief for her with me when I couldn’t hold it all in my hands. This grief of loss, the shared history of our years of combined lives, this loss had the same quality, if not the same intensity. It felt familiar. It surprised me, because I didn’t know it would feel like that. I didn’t know.  

I cried then. I cried for all of it until I couldn’t cry anymore, and then I crawled into my bed, not ours, mine, and I found more to cry for in the sheets. I cried for the hands of my friends to pet me and let me sleep on their couch in the middle of the day because we’d all been there. I cried to be in the same town as my family so I could find my way to the sounds of laughter and coffee on the back porch. I cried through regrets and fear and found my way into a pathetic, shuddering sob that was little more than my own heavy, exhausted breathing. More than anything, I struggled under a guilt so tangible it hurt to feel it. A heavy guilt that shamed me. A guilt that asked me why? Why did I need things like overseas jobs in random developing countries, when that meant that my partner was so miserable he couldn’t bear to live with me? Why, after all those years we had shared, did I insist on continuing down a path he wouldn’t, absolutely couldn’t, walk anymore?

I kept thinking that what was so hard, so hard, was that we didn’t split apart so much as we diverged; there was no explosive separation, nothing to point to and say here, here is where it happened. Our parting was hard in its soft simplicity. It was a turn to the left and a turn to the right. We were, and then suddenly we weren’t. It surprised us both, I think, to look up one day and realize that the companion walking by our side was now far flung, way out in the world, and all you could see was the shape of the person on the horizon who used to be close enough to clasp hands. I thought of how far away he already was, and how long he’d be that far away, after how long he’d been close. I stretched out into a star, searching hands and feet moving into the wide empty space of the bed, and there on the edges I found more to cry for in the sheets, until I finally found sleep.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Sometimes, Vientiane

Vientiane often tries me. Vientiane often bores me. Vientiane often makes me ache for so many other places I'd rather be, and I often wonder where that rather would specifically be if things had worked out differently.

But, sometimes?

Sometimes, Vientiane can yield a soft, cool night that starts with a random rooftop dance party.

Sometimes, you can climb the stairs, zig-zagging upwards through a tunnel of muffled distant, now close and clear, social sounds, and find a corner from which to watch the lights of Thailand glitter snaking on the surface of the river. You lean over the railing and you lean into the conversations around you and you learn new names. A stutter step slow start of music and sparse movement quickly turns into a crowd of clapping laughing stomping dancing under the stars, and for the next few hours you're lost in it. The party ends and then it's zig-zagging back down those stairs making plans for the next stop. You get there and the next stop is inexplicably closed, no matter, something else. Now you're flagging down fancy trucks and finagling your way into hitching rides in the back, the wind in your face saying remember? and telling your cheeks and closed eyes the memories of Texas summers on the way to rodeos, or to the creek to swim off a weekend. You're hopping the tailgate and thanking the strangers for the ride, kawp chai'ing, sincerely and windblown, their refusal of money or Beer Lao. Now the night is heading into that dingy club draped in spider webbed green lights woven through with dubious dub step. You're yelling the words and wringing yourself out and feeling yourself sweat still more. Moving moving moving. Forgetting forgetting forgetting. In this place you feel and see the tattered edges of a grime you don't want to touch, but more than that you're in a place where you just want to keep chasing that head thrown back rapture of feeling music go through you in the dark. Early morning comes and closes the club; now everyone's piling into the tuk tuk of So, who knows exactly where you live since he's taken you home so many times before. Those three wheels strain under the five of you; you shift weight to help out, but mostly you're huddling in a puppy pile of twisted legs and arms to stay warm. One by one people drop off into the night and back to their homes, and then you find your way to yours, walking through the tile path palm tree tunnel up to the first door on the right at the top of the stairs. You get a hot shower and a 5 a.m. bedtime. You have sore feet and a sweet deep exhaustion that helps you, finally, to catch some real sleep. It comes quickly, and when it does, it's dreamless and unbroken.

Sometimes, I can live here and forget how I got here, or what's happening there where I am not, and haven't been for so long. Maybe sometimes will be more often, or at least it will keep being sometimes often enough that I can make it through to June and whatever happens next.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Take Me With You

I'm getting on a train tonight and leaving the country for the first time since I came here. I'm hoping I can come back to Laos in 2014 and have a do-over. I just pulled out my backpack for what will be my first experience using it without needing to also move and carry everything I own. The last time I used my pack I was moving from my house to my apartment; the time before that I was creeping overland across Europe and Asia like a turtle moving from Albania to Laos with all my possessions strapped to me; the time before that I was sailing across an ocean and training my way down to Albania.

When I dragged it out from under my bed, I also found an unexpected heap of feelings about my partner leaving. Considering the fact that he got it for me, and every trip I took with it he took with me, bringing it out for my first trip since he left felt far, far heavier than carrying everything I own in the world.

For now, it's that train, and Ayutthaya and Bangkok for a week. I have no idea where I'll be the week after that, and I am more than okay with that.


Fast train
Where do your passengers wait
What's at the heart of your engine's rage

To what smooth place at the end of the line
With crackling fires and quiet plains
Do the trees bend down
Fold their limbs round you
Welcome home faithful one
We forgive you

Slow down fast train
Slow down fast train
Take me with you

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Vientiane in December

Vientiane still isn't on the level of "impromptu dance party to street music in Estonia" happiness, but it's something better than where I was when I started here, so I'll take it.

I figured it was time for an update of sorts considering how generally gloomy I was about Vientiane in this post and yeah, for sure, in this one, too. Okay, let's get real, pretty much every post I've made since moving to Laos has included some element of side eyed exasperation at the fact that I am contractually bound to be here in this town until June rolls around. I don't retract anything I said before, and it's not that any of my fundamental issues have changed; rather, I've forged an uneasy truce with this town by changing some things in my control and then just accepting the patterns of life here and finding a way to work around the ridiculous thorny bits which are certainly still inexplicable to me.

Moving improved my situation exponentially. This has reinforced my skepticism of the oft quoted maxim of "Wherever you go, there you are!" Sure, just moving somewhere is not going to take your life from Shit Town to Ivory Tower if things are fundamentally really awful. Are you depressed, addicted to something, in a terrible relationship, stuck in debt, in a dead end job you hate, did you make a huge mistake and are now dealing with the consequences? Yeah, moving isn't going to change anything. Same problems, different place, this is clear. But where you live, from your house to your town all the way up to your country, absolutely affects your quality of life; if the fundamentals are good, but you're still not happy, a change of scenery really can make all the difference. In my case, my location was not only steeped in some bad memories, but it wasn't supporting me in being very social or active. By that I mean it was too easy, in the state of mind in which I found myself, to walk the 5 minutes to home and just stay in for the night. In contrast, now I walk 15 minutes home and at that point I'm only a 20 minute walk downtown to the river to watch the sunset. It's far easier to just keep going, or to drop off my bag and go out, than it was to drag myself back out of my house again. Of course, if I had a scooter this would be a moot point, but I do prefer walking or bicycling, so again, my new place supports me far better.

The second thing is that I just gave up trying to understand what is, to me, a very bizarre social scene, compared to other countries in which I've lived and traveled, and other states in which I've lived and traveled. I don't know if it's Vientiane's fundamental culture, the intersection between local culture and expat culture, the fact that it's SE Asia, the impact of the backpacker trail which is fully blazed through here, but whatever it is, I felt like I couldn't get any footing or human connection on almost any level that made any sense and so many interactions felt strange. I still find the social stratification and groupings here to be oddly formal and segregated, but it is what it is and I'm learning to just work around the random awkwardness that I encounter. This is wholly and utterly new to me- I have never, ever, ever, ever, I'm going to say never again just for emphasis, had any issues with feeling out of place with people in any country in which I have lived or traveled. Those of you who know me in real life know of my penchant for making friends just about anywhere, and many of you reading are people I have been lucky enough to meet along the road, and I'm so glad our paths crossed and you resonated with whatever crazy I was putting down when we met. On that level, Vientiane humbled me- I couldn't figure it out, I clearly wasn't getting it, what the hell was going on, I'm the Make Friends Everywhere Girl, why does this place feel so deeply icy and reserved toward me? Looking back, I think that I was probably so out of sorts from everything falling apart in the first month I moved here that I was just incapable of being a fundamentally pleasant person to be around. I was resentful, stressed out, overwhelmed, and often depressed. Sounds like a good time, right? Who wants to hang out with that person? I didn't even want to hang out with me, but I had no choice. I also know that I certainly wasn't feeling up for extending myself that much (see that entire previous paragraph about coming home from work and just staying in my house).

Graduate school deserves a shout out for making my life suck at the beginning of my contract here. It was really hard on me this semester, and unnecessarily so due to just getting behind because of a lack of internet access. Those 6 weeks of backlog have dragged me down this entire semester and it has been something I have worried over almost every day. I've just now, finally, gotten a handle on it but make no mistake- I'm still not finished, and I'm learning to accept the reality of an incomplete. Speaking of school, work has finally hit that excellent spot where you're over the first three months and you know your kids, your schedule, the flow of daily work, and you have your planning and grading down. School and teaching finally shrinking down to a much more manageable pace and workload help more than I can adequately express.

I also have to cut myself some major slack because this summer marked a year since my sister's death, and shortly after that I moved here, started a new job, my boyfriend left, grad school kicked off, I felt socially isolated, and I was doing everything I could just to hang on by my fingernails. I don't mind admitting I barely made it, and there were many days when it took everything in me not to quit my job and go somewhere else. Not home, just not here. As it turns out, that feeling was satisfied simply by moving into my new apartment.

If someone asked me if I like living in Vientiane, I would still say, in general, no, but there are many specifics that I really enjoy. It has to be said that this is not just Vientiane's fault- by the end of this contract I will have lived and worked in two developing countries for two years back to back with no break to go home. It's been interesting, I've learned a lot, I've honestly had more fun than I thought was possible, but I can definitely feel the fatigue of lack of infrastructure, healthcare, museums, parks, public libraries, and certain basic regulations I really need in my life. My next contract has to be somewhere that has governmental regulations and city infrastructure that is more Western, because I'm weary and I feel my interest and curiosity turning into annoyance and frustration. Related to that, I can't keep working in this middle ground of mid-sized, kind of sprawling towns. I would like Vientiane if it were far smaller, quieter, and more slow paced, but right now, I feel like I'm in a boring American suburb with poor public transportation and too much traffic. I don't want to put up with the inconveniences of city life without any of the benefits. If I'm going to be walking through traffic, I need to walk through it to get to a beautiful park. If I'm going to live right next to my neighbors, I want the building to be well made and have noise regulations so that I'm not kept up all night listening to yet another wedding or a football game blared on a loudspeaker. I would still recommend living and working in developing countries, but know when it's time to bail. For me, that's this June.

Or I'll end up in Cambodia and read this post and laugh. Who can say. Just kidding. Actually, I don't know. I add this at the end without thinking about it, which is both confessional and prophetic I'm sure. Not Cambodia specifically, but the reality that I have no idea where I'll be next contract. So, all of this is subject to change and it could change quickly. When I think of how miserable I was at the end of September, and compare that to the end of November, I'm astounded that two months can make such an incredible difference.

Friday, December 6, 2013

And So This is Christmas: I Keep Forgetting

All of my lessons for the next week are planned, so I'm taking advantage of a rare opportunity for solitude at work by grading upstairs in our classroom. Clearly I am not grading in this exact moment; trust me when I say grading is a tedious and (no exaggeration) revolting task for me, in spite of my Type A penchant for charts and organization. The only way to get through it is with frequent carrots sprinkled throughout any session involving me, a red pen, and a mountain of my students' work. For one, I actually don't really believe in grades in terms of homework or classwork (it's all too easy to cheat, it's easy to misunderstand a question, I'm more concerned with understanding than with perfection, we could go on, but this isn't about educational theory) and for two I find the endless accounting paperwork of it all to be an insulting theft of time from the much more enjoyable and fruitful task of lesson planning and analyzing my students through the lens of often informal, usually formative, assessment. What I'm saying is, I'm taking a break from that racket to pound away on the keyboard about nothing.

The nothing in particular today is Christmas. Or, I should say, the holidays in general. Right now, our classroom is festooned with garlands and lights and wreaths and ornaments, dripping in tinsely bits and shiny balls, shimmering in glitter and sparkles and just generally being a bright and happy holiday place. It is one of the few places here that reminds me that it is, indeed, the holiday season of my home country (and of those who celebrate such holidays everywhere in the world, including here in Laos). This is also the second year in a row where I will be spending the holidays away from family, somewhere off in the world, celebrating with friends I made a mere handful of months prior. Yet I can tell you, in all sincerity, that it doesn't bother me nearly as much as the Colorado Christmases without family. In Colorado, Christmas was everywhere. Everyone I knew was gearing up for big holiday dinners, enjoying family traditions, staying up late to make purchases into presents with so many sheets of gift wrap and scotch tape, making elf dolls do precocious things, going to Christmas parties and Secret Santa affairs, making cookies and chocolate and all sorts of other outrageous Pinterest explosions of seasonal sugar. In the middle of all that? My God, the absence of my presence back home in Texas was a physical ache. It was something I could reach in and touch, gently, like a bruised rib. That was hard.

Here in Laos, or in Albania, or even in Japan, all of my acquaintances are in the same boat of expat living, floating on the often indifferent to holidays sea of our host country. No one is the odd man out, away from family for the holidays- we all are. Most people around us, the locals, actually don't give a damn about Christmas, at least not in the hyper family time extravaganza that I have known it. I spent my Christmas in Japan with Mormon missionaries who brought me along to tuck into the rare treat of a turkey dinner in a country without ovens and a traditionally passionate love for KFC during the holidays (horrors!). I did manage to sing Christmas carols with a group of other teachers, but we were swiftly dismissed by a stern policeman and then sent on our merry way home. I spent my Albanian year Christmas road trip criss crossing the gorgeous roads and treacherous mountain passes of Greece, landing in a stone cold closed down Athens and going on a do it yourself graffiti walking tour with my co-worker and his boyfriend. The hostel in which we stayed was a $6 a night Christmas tree and holly bedecked paradise, with lights and poinsettias to spare. I hung out the window on Christmas day singing "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" to the deserted streets before we headed out for a long walk through a city naturally empty of tourists because of course everyone was with their families- who wouldn't be, on Christmas?

I miss my family and friends, but I miss them in general, not specifically around these dates between late November and early January. I miss them on a Tuesday night when I want to be sitting on a couch and laughing until one a.m. about nothing but the fact that we find it funny. I miss them on the weekends when I think of Texas thunderstorms and coffee cups on back porches with tin roofs. I miss them on their birthdays, when I can't see their faces and tell them thanks for showing up here in the world when they did. I miss them on their wedding days when I wish I could see them put themselves into another person's life and make serious promises that change their lives forever, and I want to hug their bravery and tell them good luck and congratulations. I miss them when I'm out on a weekend and remember the hijinks we got up to, the banter we had, the outrageous predicaments with bricks (I'm looking at you, Tiara). I miss them when they have babies who won't be babies by the time I meet them. I miss them when they call me and their voices sound so very far away and they tell me dark things that make them cry and I can't do anything more than send my small voice back out across the line to the other side of the world, from my night to their morning, and tell them I love them. I miss them when they do the same for me. In light of all these everyday moments that I miss, the holidays, with their annual reliability of showing up right on their appointed date, just don't really bother me. The intimate spontaneity of proximity is the real gift, and I do daily know what I miss and am grateful that I have had that and will have it again.

So this Christmas I will be somewhere in Laos, possibly Northern Thailand, taking a much longed for and (I damn well think) well deserved break. I hope that I will be looking back on what ended up being a productive semester of grad school; I want to avoid what is still the real possibility of an incomplete that will nag at me all break and follow me like an unwanted puppy into next year. I'm hoping that my Christmas present to myself will be putting this past semester fully and firmly behind me, looking back on 4 months that felt like something much longer, and thanking whatever Gods might be listening that I never have to do that again.

Christmas 2012: Hanging out in the abandoned, graffiti covered streets of Athens

Monday, November 25, 2013

Right Now in Laos: Book Reports and Bedtimes, Passed over Motorcycles and Lost Novels

After two days of grading book reports I'm still not finished. I gave it up for the night, took a shower (a strangely daily occurrence now, instead of... well... it used to be more infrequent, let's just put it that way) and pulled up some Neko Case to put me to sleep, because I must say, I am so tired that I truly do wish I was the moon, regardless of how fruitless such a wish may be.

 Instead, I sat down to blog about things of little to no (okay, all no) consequence, like what I'm doing in this moment on a Monday night after a long day of working hard just to stay in one place. My apartment is filled with plants now, thanks to a weekend investment in making my life more livable. I have orchids hanging on my wall instead of art; they are cradled in silver wire and their roots frizz out of the cracks in the bamboo that holds the minuscule bit of soil they need to live. They hold themselves in such a spindly-dainty way and they are so outrageously beautiful that they make me shudder with happiness when I look at them making crooked strange shadows behind themselves on the wall. I'm sitting at my desk (not the product of procrastination desk, that one I left at the old house, and it was for the best). The scarf I dyed in frothy, stinking indigo runs over the top of the desk under my laptop, and my gold toes (thanks to the women whose services compelled me to move into this new place) are curled round the bottom slat. Really, this desk is a dream, and I didn't even have to buy it. It was just hanging out here when I moved in, and I have to say, it is a great roommate. My hair is so dirty I cannot even bear to think about it (look, I'm showering every day, isn't that enough?) but that's what buns and bobby pins are for, and oh believe you me I am bunned and bobby pinned. My nightstand lamp is on and the room is dim and saying "Hey, come crawl into bed with a book, why don't you?" But I'm still coming to terms with the fact that I left "The Moor's Last Sigh" on a table at the coffeeshop the night I met up with a traveling French man, whose motorcycle I thought I would want to buy now that he was finished taking it all over Cambodia and Vietnam. I don't know, it just seemed like the kind of bike that would have a home with me, with a history like that. After taking some tentative turns in the parking lot and mastering the clutch, I realized I really didn't want a motorcycle with a clutch at all, in terms of the stutter stop traffic that slowly slugs its way through the streets in this town. In the excitement of learning to ride something I actually didn't need to buy, and in the ensuing "Hey, let me buy you a coffee since I didn't buy your motorcycle" guilt, I totally forgot about my patient book, waiting for me on the table. I can't tell you how frustrating this is, seeing as how there is almost certainly no way I can find a replacement in this town in any good time. And oh, that book, it was a good one.

I can't wait to wake up to the birdsong tomorrow, and open my windows to let the light block walk in all over my bed while I get dressed. The mornings here, with the sun in the palm trees making slat shadows that shift and bend all over my kitchen like so many pick up stick prints, are really excellent. I have plans to get fresh noodle soup and Lao coffee for breakfast from the family down the street. Here's to fighting through more book reports on the other side of some sleep.