“By going the way of your wishes, from one to another, from first to last. It will take you to what you really and truly want.”*

This post was written on Thanksgiving Day, November 26, a day after Loy Krathong. I’m currently in Luang Prabang, Laos.

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When I opened up Facebook on my phone at three a.m. today, a message from the FB team was waiting for me on my news feed. Turns out, since the social media service knows where I am at all times, it Spidey-sensed I was in Thailand, and wished me a happy Loy Krathong.

When you’re drunk and tired and your contact lenses are glued to your eyes, and Facebook wishes you a happy holiday you don’t know, you stare at your phone like a dog stares at humans when they try to speak long complicated sentences to it.

Derp?

So I Googled “Loy Krathong.” On the night of the full moon of the twelfth month of the Thai lunar calendar, Tai cultures (Thai, Laotian, and people from various parts of Myanmar), launch krathong on a river, canal, or pond, and make a wish. Krathong can be anything but is usually a little boatlike basket made of banana leaves and containing incense, a candle, and sometimes a coin. Some folks translate loy krathong to “to float a basket.”

A large part of me wished I’d spent the night launching little banana-leaf baskets onto a river instead of drinking vodka out of a plastic pail more suitable for sand-castle–building children. A smaller part of me now wishes I’d made a Kaitlin-size krathong and floated myself somewhere, just to see where I would go.

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The first time I went to Southeast Asia, I cobbled together vacation days, sick days, and personal days at my nine-to-five in order to take an eighteen-day trip first to Cambodia and then to Thailand. Before I got to each of the six cities I’d crammed into less than three weeks of traveling, I read up on what I should see and how to see what I wanted to see, and when I got there, I was hungry and I was listening. My mouth and ears and heart were open, and my expectations were low. I stayed in hostels. I walked everywhere, maybe even places I shouldn’t have. I talked to people, tourists, locals as best I could. And all I hoped for was that I would figure out a little something about myself and my life, and if I didn’t, I at least went on a kick-ass trip, one I worked hard to take, and one for which I was grateful.

Of course, if you know me, you know I figured out more than just a “little something.”

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So far this trip has been different.

I took a minibus to Ko Pha Ngan’s half moon party my first night on the island, but after that, the farthest I’ve been from my hotel (not a hostel) has been about three-tenths of a mile. I haven’t met anyone I’ve spoken to again following our first meeting. I’ve been working, copyediting, yes, as work doesn’t stop just because I’m in Thailand, but when I have had time, and when I considered venturing out, scared wasn’t the word I’d use to describe how I felt. Reluctant, maybe, or apathetic. Uninspired, for certain. So far I have used paradise as the backdrop for my work, my daily routine, and have all but ignored it, its people, and what it values. Hope. And making wishes.

I’ve always liked the concept of making wishes. The word making implies effort, creation, and I think that wishes are more often silent pleas for the strength to achieve a wish, instead of the wish itself on a platter. I worked on a poetry book recently in which the author said that dreams don’t come true but are made true, and wishes, I think, are fashioned much in the same way as dreams.

Embarking on this trip, I saw it as an opportunity to get a lot of work done, finish my book, and really start creating my business, which is, if I haven’t said, dating advice and coaching for women. I expected—no, more like demanded—that Southeast Asia drop a pat of inspiration and motivation on me (as it had the last time), while I shuffled around the grounds of my hotel, didn’t make a single friend, and vowed that tomorrow, yes, tomorrow, I’d stop making my first question in restaurants, “What is the Wi-Fi?” and then reading on glamour.com about what Reese Witherspoon’s real name is. My mouth and ears and heart have been closed, and I’ve sat like a fat cat, trying to get an entire continent to write my book for me. And I have been, up until now, ungrateful for its unceasing beauty, lack of frivolity, and smiles.

Tomorrow I take a ferry to Ko Samui, where I’ll get on a flight to Bangkok, and then Luang Prabang, Laos, a city known for markets, coffee (ahhh), and quiet, the bars closing early. No full moon parties. No half moon parties. No neon T-shirts with Kanye West sunglasses on them and quotes like Sex with me = free breakfast. I haven’t yet said to myself, Things will be different in Laos, as they will be different only if I make them so.

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On December 2, Todd and I will fly, I from Laos and he from Thailand, to Siem Reap, Cambodia, the country I went into loving and hugging, from which I asked nothing, only to receive everything I didn’t know I needed. And there, I’ll float, my arms open, no expectations, pushing a banana-leaf boat with my wish to the fore, poised to ride the current of an inspiration entirely of my own making.

*From The Neverending Story, by Michael Ende

Photos: View of Laos from the plane; full moon party on Ko Pha Ngan; the Killing Fields, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, March 2013; the moon at six a.m. over the Ko Pha Ngan port
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when great trees fall . . .

when i was a freshman in college, we were all required to take two semesters of rhetoric (i and ii). we had to pick “hot” topics in the media that were both controversial and important to us, and argue one side or the other in a five-page paper and then in a five-minute long speech in front of our class. paper writing has never been a problem for me, but just the idea of public speaking made me ill (though it doesn’t at all now, oddly enough), and i obsessed over not only mastering my speech (i practiced for hours in the creepy basement of my freshmen dorm) but choosing a topic that most people a). wouldn’t want to touch and b). was out of the ordinary. my classmates picked subjects such as abortion or capital punishment or the like, the usual debated issues, but i decided to focus on the problem of school shootings. why so many school shooting perpetrators are white males. and why, despite this fact, our society continues to act as if individuals of other races are the ones to be afraid of. and further, why we continue to ignore these very sick individuals sitting right in front of us. when i say sick, i don’t mean “disgusting.” i mean “mentally ill.” i pissed off a number of my peers. i think someone accused me of spouting reverse racism (i’m white, for the record). whatever. my professor liked it.

mental illnesses are messy specimens that many people refuse to understand. aside from analyzing brain chemistry and some other physical indicators (i’m sure you’ve seen those “depression hurts” commercials), it’s not as easy to pinpoint a mental illness as it is to, say, diagnose the flu or the measles. how many times have people who don’t suffer from mental illness said to their friends who do, “well, just cheer up and be happy. you have so many good things in your life.” as if it were that easy! i remember, as a twelve-year-old, my friends complaining that i was sad all the time, and all i could think was, what’s wrong with me? i didn’t know what depression was, and it wasn’t until the eighth grade, when we had a unit on mental health and my teacher ran down the list of symptoms in our textbook, that i realized what i was experiencing. it was as if someone had flipped on a light switch. apparently, however, not everyone was paying attention to that lesson. (oh, and anyone who uses the term shrink needs to realize how derogatory it is. people with true mental illnesses are not self-centered assholes who need their heads shrunk. if anything, it’s the opposite.)

anyway, returning . . . so would someone tell the same thing to their friend with a cold? “think” your way out of it? “just be well”? i guess it can be argued that positivity and an upbeat attitude could help ward off the common ailment more quickly, but bed rest, medicine, and fluids are probably more effective. anyway, mental illness can make people without one feel uncomfortable, and can do the same for a person with one. experiencing the urge to lower your voice when you say, “well my therapist told me that . . .” or “i can’t drink alcohol because i’m on antidepressants” are just two very minor examples on the less serious end of the mental illness spectrum whereas, obviously, wanting to kill yourself and your classmates is up there on the most serious, most terrifying end.

the shooting in newtown, connecticut, occurred last friday, and since then i have been trying to figure out a way to write about it without blowing a gasket. as a high school freshmen i remember columbine vividly, and i most certainly recall watching the virginia tech shooting details develop on tv. but this, this is the most horrible thing i have ever seen. i didn’t think anything could be worse than those first two incidents, but this is, without a doubt.

the other day someone i know posted this, i am adam lanza’s mother, on facebook. it has been garnering a lot of attention in the media. i overheard newscasters discussing it yesterday morning, and one newscaster wondered aloud what the problem is. are more people being diagnosed with mental illness because in the past the diagnostic methods weren’t as accurate or people simply didn’t get tested? or are more people mentally ill? are we overmedicating said people? why don’t all health insurance companies cover mental health care? should they? this answer to this last question isn’t even debatable in my book.

just for the record, part of the reason i blog about what i do (usually trivial crap that is sort of humorous or insightful and usually personal) is not because i am selfish and self-involved (at least i don’t think so), but because i am a liberal, opinionated person, and i know that i can rub people the wrong way. and while i try to watch the news and read up on various topics, i don’t necessarily think i am as informed as i should be about most things, so i don’t want to go around spewing rubbish (another aussie-ism from my friend) and acting as if i know about a given topic more than anyone else does. but i couldn’t let what happened last week escape my blog. i write about what i know.

okay, profiling isn’t the answer. or, well, i don’t think it is. but i do think there’s something to be taken away from this “outburst” as it’s referred to, despite its extremism. for pete’s sake, anyone can become unhinged. white or black or whatever. it’s not about profiling, but accepting the fact that mental illness doesn’t pick on certain people, and being aware of and dealing with worrisome behavior or patterns is key. and that’s all i’m going to say about this before i move on.

quickly, though . . . i’m also not going to trash-talk the nra (although, come on; they were a bit late to the party about making a statement. if they were going to wait to let the families of the victims grieve, they’d never have said anything. as if the parents of those tiny kids are going to ever, ever stop grieving), but the ease of which almost anyone, it seems, can get a gun, is simply mind-boggling. every time i think about this, i picture charleton heston running away from michael moore in bowling for columbine as moore is showing heston photos of very, very young school-shooting victims. sometimes mr. moore is too much for me, but he has his moments, for sure.

we can’t blame only gun control or mental illness or any one thing. it’s a combination of these things, and others. but asking our society to accept mental illness as just that—an illness—is a huge step in the direction of fixing what has become a deeply disturbing national issue. the “we should have known” replies are growing tiresome. just as with obesity or hypertension or type ii diabetes, prevention is the solution. i’m not currently in a position to have children (at least not in the “traditional first-comes-love-then-comes-marriage-then comes . . .” sense), but i struggle with the idea of bringing anyone new into the world as it is right at this moment. there are so, so many beautiful things about life, but its dark parts are quite dark, not mention dank and gruesome.

i posted part of maya angelou’s poem “when great trees fall” on my facebook wall last week and i am going to include it here again. i’m not sure how else to end this post. sometimes you have to admit when someone else can say it much better than you can.

and when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing, electric vibration.
our senses, restore, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
they existed. they existed.
we can be. be and be
better. for they existed.

lend me your hand and we’ll conquer them all

yesterday i felt weird about blogging. i even felt weird tweeting. i think few americans forget where they were when they saw that first plane hit the north tower. i remember thinking, as an almost-eighteen-year-old sitting in my second-period class during senior year of high school, that whatever was happening could not be real. my parents remember where they were when both kennedys were shot, as well as when martin luther king jr. was assassinated. i guess 9/11 is my generation’s tragic event. i don’t doubt that people my age, nearing thirty, are going to have that memory burned into their brains when they’re tomorrow’s leaders.

having the pleasure of walking through new york city more days out of the week than not is something i used to take for granted. i used to get mad at people who bumped into me, tourists who were wandering around aimlessly, etc. etc. i avoided times square at all costs. but over the past few months, i’ve been willingly walking through it. i’ll watch people staring up at the buildings around them; maybe these people are seeing the city for the first time. the energy is incredible. there are so, so many people. and the air is buzzing. i keep my headphones on and like to make sure i have some upbeat song playing, forming a little soundtrack for what can only be described as a bustling environment.

yesterday, as i walked to work, i couldn’t help it. it was a tuesday. clear and crisp. just like the one eleven years ago. i cried a little bit, wondering why anyone would want to hurt us. why anybody did. i can’t imagine working anywhere else in the world, and even though i live across the hudson, i take ownership of the city and all its quirks, bright spots and dark, tragic moments and joyful ones, as if i did live here.

what’s even more disheartening, after allowing ourselves to breathe when another september 11 has passed and we are safe, is to wake up and hear about what happened at our embassy. so i guess we can’t allow ourselves to breathe. not for even a minute, not ever.

but to those who fell, every year we remember you. we should remember you every day. i like to think that i do, even if it’s subconsciously, whenever i walk through this city and think to myself that i am lucky. i have freedom. and life is good.

well, i don’t know if it is / i don’t know if it should be / i dont know if i could be satisfied that way / today is not the day you will hear me say that is what i want*

one of my single friends hasn’t quite decided to make her match.com profile visible, so this past thursday night, during the monsoon that attacked the new york metropolitan area, we had a good time perusing the various bachelors available within thirty miles of her zip code. i don’t know if it was the weird weather/freakish lightning or if the sushi we ate had been infused with nitrous oxide, but we were in hysterics over some of the profiles we stumbled upon. here was one gentleman’s idea of a perfect date, verbatim:

gun range. arabica. dinner. whiskey. movie. cuddle time. (not necessarily in that order, but that’s an amazing lineup!) 😀

personally, i think the order should be: arabica + whiskey. gun range. cuddle time. eighty-six the dinner and the movie. who needs food and cinematic entertainment when you have firearms and spooning?

sometimes you have those weekends that, when attempting to recap, you don’t even know where to start. this past weekend’s adventures have left me wondering how i possibly did everything i did in forty-eight-hours. so much happened that i even forgot that my friends and i listened to—i use that verb loosely, because, in fact, we could hear him from my friend’s dwelling in ocean grove as we were getting ready to go out for the night—kirk cameron give a talk about marriage and god and whatnot (oh, and sing the growing pains theme song a few times) while in the background gay rights activists protested his appearance. (if it sounds like i made this up, please, by all means, read this article.) i’m not going to comment at length on this, but all i will say is that anyone who knows me knows that i’m a). an agnostic, near-atheist, b). a gay rights supporter (HRC gets $15 of my hard-earned money every month), and c). indifferent about who wants to get married to whom.

moving on . . . as daniel tosh would probably say in this situation, here’s this weekend’s breakdown.

a combination of: celebrating the engagement of your oldest friend with your second-oldest friend and being named co-maids of honor while eating dinner and drinking wine at langosta lounge in asbury park; severe lack of sleep; going to bed in your contact lenses two nights in a row; wiping out during a two-mile fun run for charity and letting an attractive (yet married) officer bandage you up while you and your friends recite quotes from super troopers; taking part in an hour of free miller lites at 11 a.m.; getting low; having a dance party in the rain; watching ryan lochte win a gold medal; engaging in no fewer than five USA! USA! chants; sweating with five of your closest friends and countless acquaintances, frenemies, and strangers in the parker house, a once-victorian-beach-house-turned-bar-and-restaurant in manasquan; watching a severe thunderstorm pass while you eat lunch on the porch of said place; fighting with your two oldest friends like you’re still in high school; buying gauze and surgical tape in rite aid and taking pictures next to walkers, canes, and depends because you think you’re funny; getting and (failing) to give piggyback rides; going to the turning point, a quaint family breakfast spot, wearing matching parker house run shirts and looking hungover; eating beach pizza at three a.m.; taking three-hour naps in an ocean grove tent; having photo shoots at the bar; climbing over locked gates and potentially plunging into deal lake; taking a photo with albie and chris manzo’s roommate from the real housewives of new jersey; wearing sunglasses indoors; learning a great new pickup line involving a parrot (if you want to know, ask); and, of course, getting a lesson in life and love from the one and only kirk cameron.

i wonder if anyone would take me up on it if i were to describe the above as my idea of a perfect date. i don’t think it’s too much to ask. i hate to be a product of my generation, but, as a wise canadian rapper once said, YOLO.

*from “that is what i want” by michael zapruder

but then somebody will play the right song, and you’ll dance again. . . .

a gray blip on the radar today is obviously the mass shooting in colorado. makes you think twice about your small dramas. makes you wonder why this happens so much more often here than in other countries.

an older man sitting next to me on my path ride into the city kept nodding off and doing that awkward head bob until he very nearly came to be sleeping on my shoulder no fewer than ten times. all i could think was: is he still working? this economy is worse than i’d thought. that poor, sad gentleman should be sipping mojitos on an island somewhere.

it has been raining on and off all day. my roommate said to me this morning that sometimes she likes a drizzly day here and there. i’d have to agree.

i started reading leftovers by tom perrotta. it’s about what would happen to society if the rapture were to actually take place. interesting concept, but i’m not far into it enough to know whether or not i like it.

i’m meeting a friend for dinner soon at friend of a farmer and i’ve never been there before, so all i can picture are red-checkered table cloths, tubby waitresses wearing aprons, and oil lamps adorning each table. i have a feeling i’m totally off-base, but it’s fun to use your imagination. we’re going to check out some stand-up comedy afterward. considering the lack of laughs in this post i’d say that i could use a few. so could some people in colorado. i wish i could toss some their way.