Saturday, May 24, 2014

It's Hot Season and I'm Gross, or, We're Up all Night to Get Sweaty

It's all well and good that I insist on hand washing my clothes, but the key element of that choice being effective is that I actually, at some point, do hand wash my clothes. I'm just going to go ahead and say that I did laundry this week... for the first time in a month. But wait! Before you start running through the implications of that admission by working some quick math about the ratios of average pairs of underwear owned to days in a month- it's not THAT bad. I have a (lazy) system wherein I handwash them in the sink while I'm taking a shower, since it's all one big room. Here's what laundry day looks like around here.

High tech cleanliness- it all happens in one room, and cleans the clothes and me! EFFICIENT

Drying rack + burglar deterrent
Okay, so your first "Holy shit, that is so gross" moment of disgust has been assuaged, right? Unfortunately, that reassurance must be followed swiftly with the fact that, just as I don't have enough pairs of underwear to make a month's hiatus from laundry doing not-gross, I also definitely don't have enough clothes for it either. And yeah, it's hot season, which sees every day dawning bright and solar flared with temperatures that soar majestically into the 100's most days. I am constantly sweaty. My clothes are constantly bearing the brunt of that situation. They are losing; my skin is winning. But honestly, that's exactly why I just stopped washing my clothes. It seemed so pointless, and I found that if I just hung them back up, lived in denial for a week, and then "discovered" them again, they really only smelled like sunscreen and my too-expensive, locally made, all natural citronella bug repellent. I could be a poster child for the efficacy of deodorant, basically. There were a few times I exercised restraint and lobbed certain particularly offensive items into the permanent "No, for real, you are actually dirty" zone of my laundry basket. And...just as many times I would go to that basket and do a re-evaluation. I'm just glad that I will never be judged by the justification laden monologues I gave as to why I reneged on initial pronouncements of "Do not wear this until it has been scrubbed. Twice." My threshold for dirty has reached that burning sun of Vientiane. I embrace my animal ways. No hairbrushes, no make-up, sunscreen and sports bras and sweat forever.

It's not just me, though. Vientiane is altogether a shimmering nest of slippery human mess right now. I like being sweaty, when we're all in it together and no one cares. Now, finally, FINALLY, I am not the only one drenched on the dance floor- even those who stand very still and cling to cold beer are glowing, salty, under the yellow lights. At the bar last night people danced without a care for enormous sloping sweat marks on their shirts, bangs made stringy plastered to wet foreheads, smiling under-boob Cs of "This girl is HOT", shirts stretched and stuck to various body parts made visible under the wet accordion of material, dark jeans made ever darker by being soaked through. Everyone is a glistening crush of flesh turned liquid, draped in damp material. This is the kind of heat that you just give up to, to the point where you kind of forget it's there- there is no fighting it, and you're too tired to try, so you just let it cover you. Hot hot hot. Never ending sweat.

I love hot season when I don't have anything to do. Sitting on a chair at a restaurant patio and feeling your body pour itself out of you and slide down your back, behind your knees, between your legs, down your neck, the heat so palpable you feel it in your nose and throat as a humid, you can't escape me reminder- there is something utterly relaxing about it, provided you have free and full access to the cold beverage of your choice (water for me, for always). It always strikes me that there is such a vibrant outdoor social scene going on day and night in temperatures here, which, in Texas, would be considered unacceptable for anything more than darting from an air conditioned car to an air conditioned building. I surprise even myself with how much I have adapted to just being a hot and sweaty situation everywhere all the time. The only problem is when I have to do something that requires exertion- a long walk, exercise, waking up early to do something before school. No. I have absorbed the sun and it has made a hot opiate of my blood. I cannot move that fast or that far or for that long. The only exception is dancing, which I'm somehow still able to do for hours.

The rain comes sometimes, lightning filled and wind whistling, and it drops itself onto an earth so hot that it is immediately thwarted and the temperature barely changes very much for very long. The sensation of riding my motorbike with the tent of my poncho making a greenhouse around me is one I won't soon forget. I love the sound of the drops on my helmet, and that strange experience of feeling water sliding off you but not making you wet. I don't love the cars passing fast and spraying arcs of dirt water all over me. Thank you for everything, poncho. When it's not raining and I'm on my motorbike the longest time in all the world is the waiting space under the open sun, sitting on the hot pavement, waiting for the light to turn green. I've glimpsed eternity in that space, and it feels like heat stroke and sliding off the seat of my bike because my legs are so sweaty.

Hot season for me in this time and place is: dry blue skies, the end of so many contracts and contacts, going away parties and dancing all night, soaked to our bones with ourselves and each other, cold beer and yellow lights, fronds of palm trees curling a groaning green in the sun, a motorcycle gang you never asked to be a part of heaving hot exhaust all around you, wet chairs at restaurant patios, glowing faces and talk of what comes next, summer plans hanging in the air with the heat, dusty dogs panting in the shade by the woman making your mango shake on the side of the road. It's the Vientiane sun in your head and on your ever browning skin, rivers in your elbows and behind your knees and stinging your eyes and salting your lips. It's the end, burning bright, bright.


Thursday, May 1, 2014

On How to Write Photography

I never like going this long without writing here. I come back every time after a long absence and stare at the page and think "I don't know how to write anymore." And then I start writing but it seems either forced or rushed, but certainly not natural or easy like it does when I'm doing it frequently. It's a stutter step I don't know, holding down the backspace again and again until I just stop, sitting without typing, thinking of a million different things I want to write about but haven't. I just did it right now, actually- I stopped and re-read what I just wrote and I almost never do that in the middle of the thing, the work of getting it out. I just type it out, and then re-read it for glaring errors, and then post it for better or worse and we'll see what happens when we get there.

I sent my friend a link to my blog, and after a while he wrote back and said he felt like he had read my diary. I took that as a great compliment, coming from someone who knows me in real life.
I far prefer writing about personal experiences that aren't readily apparent or seen or experienced in concert with other people. I like writing about something that happened and how I felt it, or what I thought while it was happening, and usually that circles back to some random bullshit that's been percolating in my brain that is suddenly illuminated. Whether or not I am retroactively applying the light, I always manage to find some meaning in the practice of re-telling the event, freezing it and peering at it for all angles, shaking it up to see what falls out that I might have missed. I see more of my life when I sit back and try to write about it than I do when I'm living it. It's the step back, the hey wait a minute, what was going on there, the zoom in, crop out the rest, hyper focus of telling a story that draws me back every time. I can read back over something I've written in spontaneous prose and feel genuine surprise- not because what I've written is a fabrication, but because when I look at an incident through the lens of the story teller, I gain some distance and I can see myself and the incident more clearly; suddenly all sorts of things come popping out. I can slow it down, bump up the details, expand on a fraction of a second when a human connection was made, or a color moved across the sky, or the traffic opened up and I saw that old woman crouched over her cart and I saw that I'd be there some day. It's the way I could write a paragraph about the way the light hits at a certain time of day. It's all the words I want to say about the feeling of the breeze moving across my shoulder when I wake up from a nap on clean sheets and the birds are singing. It's the moment when I see two little boys sitting together on a river bank in Cambodia, and how it makes me think of my sister and my brother and all that they mean to me, and I feel like I've seen more than two little boys sitting together on a river bank and I want to capture it in a sentence to share it. The experience is there and gone in the time it takes me to see it and then not see it, but the writing of it expands all that it was. Inside of that writing I can see the depth and be astounded at just how much we are given to feel and know, hidden below these small ticks in time. It's an exponential increase of reality, to a degree that feels like discovering universes wrapped in minutes.

Last week, it was a monk in an orange robe, carrying a blue bag under a gold umbrella. He was walking at such a distance from me that in the instant I happened to look up, he crossed my vision right in the middle of the rainbow arches of the temple entrance, through which I could see a half circle of sky. All of it was framed just so by hundreds of flowers on the branch of the tree stretching in a sweep of red above me. I was walking on a sidewalk littered with fallen petals so bright they looked like embers. It couldn't have been more perfectly orchestrated than if I had been told to sit and wait for the things around me to arrange themselves solely for my benefit. I've been wanting to write about that since I saw it. And in the writing of it, I remember even more how much joy it brought me to see it, and to realize that the monk didn't even know I saw him, and that just as quickly as it all came into focus it fell apart as he and I kept walking forward in opposite directions. But before that, when the flame colored flowers and that young monk and the gold umbrella and I came into the ideal ratio of distances to make that scene, I tell you that everything I have felt about my current life here in Vientiane came into focus and I saw the inside of my heart reflected back to me in moving color.

I know I didn't realize how much I saw it, though, until I wrote about seeing it. That's the process I keep returning to. That's what reminds me that I need to keep doing this.