Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!

I loved Halloween as a kid.  When I got a bit older, I wasn't really into it.  Until I had a child. All of a sudden, I had an excuse to enjoy the holiday again.

It's F's sixth Halloween this year. It's been a challenge to get into it. The seasonal cues are missing: no crisp autumn mornings; no lingering smell of hops and apples in the air; and there definitely is not any of the commercialism of Halloween in Myanmar. We haven't even decorated. Shameful, I know.

Last year, we spent Halloween with family and friends. I'm feeling nostalgic. We had three Halloweens in the same city with family nearby. Each of those three years, we have pictures of F with her two cousins, just like the shot in the middle. I will miss having a picture like that this year.

Last year, F was a superhero. She is a superhero this year again. At least the mask is a slightly different take on the costume. I managed to make it for her...even though it looks more like a sleeping mask than a superhero mask!

F is more superhero now than she was last year. More confident. More knowledgeable. More grown-up.

Though we're missing friends and the way our culture celebrates Halloween...and just Autumn in general...I know F is doing well. No. She's doing more than well. She's thriving.

Happy Halloween from tropical Myanmar!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Expat Life = Isolation?

 I might be sticking my foot in it, but I’m going to say it anyway: sometimes, being an expat is a little isolating.


(Actually, sometimes it’s not only a little isolating, but very isolating.)

It’s not just that you’re far away from your own home country, your own culture, your family and your friends. It’s not just that you’re living in a place that is so different, that you miss the nuances and possibly offend someone. Completely on accident. Just because of cultural differences. (That’s a whole other post.)

And it’s not that you don’t make friends, either. Because you do. And I have. I’m lucky. I’ve met incredibly talented, creative, passionate, inspiring, kind people. I get to spend time with them doing super cool things like writing and sharing books and being part of entrepreneurial adventures.

But if you travel around in the development expat bubble, you quickly realize it’s a small bubble. A very small one. It’s surprising how many people know each other or of each other.

It’s not just six degrees of separation. It’s usually one. Or two.  Often, you hear that XYZ who used to work for ABC organization in LMN country with so and so is now here in Myanmar. Here’s an example: my husband knows at least four other expats in Myanmar (and there’s not tons of us here) who all worked pretty much together in a West African country many years ago. 

That can be comforting.  Sometimes it can feel strange, too; especially if you weren’t part of that life/world. 

It can also make it difficult to talk about difficult things…

…Because what if so and so who knows so and so hears about this difficult thing. Will that impact so and so’s friendships, relationship, work, reputation? The bubble is super small. So, uh, super-silence super powers are needed at times. 

Editing yourself isn't limited to discussing difficult issues. It's equally necessary to be careful sharing information about any other expat (gossip). We all know gossiping isn't nice. Grown-ups do gossip though. And when you're living in a very small bubble, it's best to be careful.I'm sure some of you living in small towns deal with the same sort of thing, right?

Enter: unspoken-boundaries-of-how-much-you-can-share-with-other-expats. Enter: isolation. Sometimes. Not always.

So, you’re gonna need to reach out to those you can talk to, right?

Well, this is Myanmar. Which means it’s not always easy connecting with people back home.  Maybe the internet is down. Or maybe the time difference makes it really hard. Or maybe it’s something you don’t want to write in an email. Or maybe you can’t finish a proper conversation on Skype because it keeps getting disconnected.

So what to do?

When we lived in other countries, I didn’t know how to work around this and felt isolated most of the time.  In Kenya, we weren’t part of the expat bubble, so I felt a bit more free to share. And I did when I needed to.

How to get around it now?

Creative outlets. All those things I might want to say (like, how sometimes it’s isolating being an expat!), I can write. I can paint.  Somehow, I get whatever is bothering me out of my head so I can move on.

Let's face it: sometimes things that are troubling us aren't as horrible as they long as you can express it in some way. It's keeping things bottled up that hurts us.

The great thing about using a creative outlet is I can express the essence of how I’m feeling without exposing myself too much.  I get to explore ways of communicating raw emotion without being too vulnerable, without spilling all the beans.

Isolation becomes a creative challenge.  And then, it gets fun! (But maybe I’m a bit of a masochist.)

So, I’m learning to harness some of these feelings and put them in a new place. On paper. And let them take their own course from there.

PG Tips

It's getting late here. It's a bit past 10pm. Sunday night. I have to get up early in the morning to take F to school.

But I can't help it. I have to share this. I could share on my FB page here; but, I don't think I'd do it justice.

I found a precious, precious commodity this afternoon.

TWO bags of PG Tips. Be still my heart.

We've been out of it for MONTHS! You can't buy it in Bangkok, either.

They were in a ziploc bag hidden away in a basket where I keep my extra back-up make-up that I shipped over with me when we moved here.

Why on earth I had my most favorite tea in this basket is beyond me.

The discovery was like finding gold. I've been thinking about it all day. Waiting to have a big mug of PG Tips.

Oh. Wait. You might not know what PG Tips is. It's my most, most, most, MOST favorite tea in the entire universe. It's a black tea, a standard household name in the UK. It's packed in perfect little triangle muslin bags and I swear those triangles really do make the tea taste better. And they never, ever rip, so you never, ever get any of the leaves poking up at the top of your tea. Hate that.

Thankfully, we could supply our PG Tips drinking household when we lived in Washington state. Our local Safeway supermarket stocked them. (I hope my friends are continuing to buy PG Tips so there will still be a demand for them when we eventually move back home!)

Well, as you can see, I have made my cup of tea. My great, big, huge mug of PG Tips.

Oh. And a little choccie shortbread biscuit. Shh. Don't tell. I know I'm being naughty; but I decided it was a cause for celebration was only fair that I had a little treat to go with my tea!

I think part of the reason I'm typing this post is so that I take my time drinking it.


See, it's the little things that matter! Especially when you live overseas. :)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Laquerware Treat

A visit to Bagan isn't complete without visiting a laquerware shop. At first, I thought it wouldn't be that exciting, because I'm not that into laquerware.  It was exciting. And it was fascinating, too.

We have some beautiful photos of the laquerware-making process; but the husband is off traveling a lot and he's the one with the beautiful camera and the beautiful photos. He has a couple shots from Bagan on his website and blog here. There's a woman etching and a guy washing off a layer of paint from the laquerware at The Golden Cuckoo shop.

They're stunning photos (I'm not saying that just because I'm married to him, promise!) and hopefully he either gives me some more to put up on my blog, or he adds some more himself, because I want to write a proper post on how the laquerware is made.

In the meantime, what I will tell you is that all the dyes and paints are natural. There are rocks and minerals found both on the mountains and around the sea which contain the red, yellow, and green colors. The rocks are broken and smashed to make a powder. I was told that women use the red stone as lipstick and blush and sometimes the green as eyeshadow! Eventually, the powder is made into paint by adding water.

Everything is hand made. The laquer is made from sap of a certain type of tree. (Alright, sorry that I don't know the name of the tree...)  They can paint it around soft or hard bamboo as well as teak wood. Even horse hair! The whole process is amazing.

The shop at Golden Cuckoo is a family run/operated business passed down for four generations, using the same methods. They place 14 layers of laquer on these babies. Between each layer of laquer, it dries for two weeks. IMAGINE!

In fact, they've been working on a beautiful dresser for SEVEN YEARS. It is now done and will be shipped to a woman in Milan. That gives you an idea of the workmanship that goes into laquerware. It's truly incredible.

Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself because I really want to do this post with photos, showing you the entire process. It will be much more interesting that way.

We purchased tea cups and the tray from Golden Cuckoo. We didn't think we'd be able to get it in our bags, so they kindly shipped it back to Yangon for us.

Can you tell I like the folks at Golden Cuckoo?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Pushing Through Disappointment

I’m a little embarrassed admitting I enjoy positive feedback. Sometimes I’m embarrassed – ashamed, even – that I need it. I’m a grown-up! Why do I need someone telling me my writing is good? Why do I want someone to tell me it’s good enough? I should be able to provide positive reinforcement for myself! It’s juvenile, immature – childish, even – to want someone telling you you’re fabulous, or (gasp!) that they love you and your work!

Unfortunately, I’m not at the stage of such enlightenment that I don’t give a flying fig what anyone thinks of me. I do care. I’d totally fail at being a good Buddhist. 

Probably most of us actually care what others think and want our work to be loved by all. 

So, my heart was pounding yesterday when I read through the email attachment with my professional critique from a US literary agent for the children’s picture book I completed. 

She had good feedback. 

Suggested a couple very easy fixes like sticking to “he said, she said” instead of adding words to replace “said." Like when I wrote “sneered, Tommy.” Changing “sneered” to “said” is fine. I’m not married to the word “sneered.” It’s not a poem.

The last sentence of the critique said she didn’t think the story had a “saleable hook.”  It was a swallow pride moment. Scratch that. It was a swallow pride day.

I had been (foolishly?) optimistic and eager to get this particular critique. Earlier, I had paid a children’s book author to critique the same manuscript. Her critique was very positive and said the story was “delightful” and what editors look for.

I felt proud when I heard the author's feedback. I felt proud of the manuscript. I had worked very hard and enjoyed every minute of it. The positive critique felt validating in some way, like “Yes! You can write. You can do this!” 

That’s not how I felt yesterday.

I really had to struggle with those little – or not so little – voices in my head telling me, “I told you so. What do you think you’re doing? You’re not cut out for this! Just quit while you’re ahead. Your writing is nothing special and that story is dumb. All your story ideas are lame and your writing is flimsy. You need to do something different. I don’t know what you need to do, but it’s not writing!”

I wrote in this post how I’m just learning to be courageous in my dreams and pursuing what is in my heart. I’m at this little tender, vulnerable, fledgling stage.

In the past, I would’ve listened, and listened hard, to those nasty critical voices in my head.  The truth is, in the past, yesterday’s news was enough to make me give up writing my story. I would’ve stopped editing. I would not have submitted it.

And this wasn’t even a QUERY or a submission to an agent.  It was a critique I PAID for. I ASKED for it! But I promise you this: I would’ve given up, dream shattered into ten million pieces. No lie.

But I didn’t do that. I told myself I’m not going to give up. In fact, I made myself …yes MADE myself…sit down and write yesterday. I didn’t want to. 

What I REALLY wanted was a gigantic Halloween sized bag of candy for trick-or-treaters. I really wanted to eat bags of KitKats and Rollos and Reeses Peanut Butter Cups. Luckily, I can’t buy anything like that in Yangon, which is a very good thing. (Right?)

Thing is, I was pissed off at writing, like writing was a person who had bitten me. Had hurt me and betrayed me.  Writing was NOT what I wanted to do.

But I did. I wrote. I didn’t write much. But I wrote enough to make me come to my senses and realize an action, like writing, did not hurt me or my little fragile ego.  Writing is my lifeline. Why the hell would I try to cut that line now?

Look, I know the children’s picture book market is extremely competitive. I paid the agent to give me a critique. She did.

I also know this isn’t like a big rejection in some ways because I have NOT submitted to agents or editors. I’ve only asked for it to be professionally critiqued by two people and critiqued by dozens of friends. LOL I got what I asked for.

I will edit this story and take on board her advice with the other two children’s stories I’m working on.

Would I really like to be published? No. I would really love to be published. That just means more hard work. And writing query letters. And being brave enough to actually send my manuscript to an agent. For submission. Not critique.

And that is what I’m going to do. 

For the first time in many years, I’m not giving up.

Monday, October 22, 2012

She is Made from Stardust

All Rights Reserved.

The other night, F came home from a faux campout with her Girl Scout troop; she was too young for the actual sleep over part. (Well, actually, I misplaced the permission slip to let her sleep over; and I would've had to sleep over with her because she was too young. Mom: FAIL.)

F had loads of fun and was anxiously telling me about it when she stopped mid-sentence, declaring with a gasp, 
     “MOM! I’m talking in exclamation marks! That’s when you’re excited about something!”

     ME, caught in the moment: “I LOVE exclamation marks!”

     F: “MEEEE, TOO!!”

We shared a gigantic, squeezy bonding-over-grammar hug. I’m nerd enough to admit I was extremely proud and excited that my five year old had newly discovered her love for punctuation. Part of me couldn’t help wonder if she’d end up loving semi-colons as much as I do.  I nearly shivered in anticipation.

Uh. Yeah. I’m a nerd.

As I recounted the experience to my husband later that evening, it dawned on me it wasn’t really any surprise F loves exclamation marks.

 All Rights Reserved.

She is fearless. All passion and intensity. She’s one of the most inquisitive children I’ve met and she doesn’t take any middle-ground-grey-around-the-edges-bullshit. She wants is straight. No tip-toeing. Black and white. 

This isn’t easy for me.  I live in the middle, in the grey, and am very comfortable exploring that. There aren’t lots of exclamation marks in my circle. Many pauses, sometimes mid-sentence, taking you in another direction. (Must be why I love the semi-colon. And parentheses and commas.)

F wants the beginning and the end. Give it to her like a dagger: quick and sharp. She respects it. Understands that way of communicating.

I’ve had to learn a lot because I’m not straight, quick, or sharp. But she needs that. It’s the world she lives in. Her world calls for extremities. For fast, confident declarations. 

For exclamation marks.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was not a man for exclamation marks. He said,
 “Cut out all these exclamation points.  An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.”  
 I don’t think he and my daughter would've got on much.  There's no way he was a Scorpio. 

As much as I respect Fitzgerald, as much as I live in the world of vagueness and grey, as much as I squirm being direct and straight and super expressive, I think he’s missing out.  I think I’m missing out, too.

What’s wrong with feeling something – your own joke even – with such pleasure, such joy, that you laugh at it.  That you feel it on a cellular level.  My daughter definitely laughs at her own jokes. Tears-streaming-down-her-face, holding-her-side, belly laughs.  Why shouldn’t she?

 All Rights Reserved.

 She’s filled with such fire, such strength, that she shocks me. In this post, I talked about how I have never been able to express myself and be as free as she is. Not outwardly. 

You have to give me a pen and paper (or a keyboard, or a piano, or maybe some paint) for me to be bold. To express so unabashedly whatever is steaming inside.

I understand that part of her passion is because she’s a child; but I also know it’s who she is. She was born this way. She hasn’t changed. I only hopehopehope that we don’t stamp the magic out of her.

Of course F LOVES(!!!!) exclamation marks. 

It is how she lives.

It's who she is.  She is an exclamation mark.   

May she always be.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Practicing Courage

All Rights Reserved. My daughter, ever so fearless.
I’ve been very fortunate to take a five week e-course from multi-media artist/author, Kelly Rae Roberts. Her work inspires us, reminds us, to speak our truth and to find the beauty in all things. All-ways.  You can read more in these posts here and here.

This is the last Flying E-Course Kelly Rae will run and I feel privileged to have been part of it, to have been part of an incredible community of beautiful, encouraging, brave women. 

Despite it all being online, we truly have created community, a homespun e-family of like-minded creative people who gently push one another to have courage.

I’ve joined up with a sub-group of sister flyers to participate in a blog circle. On the third Thursday of each month (today!), our circle of 13 women will each post on a particular topic.It's kind of like a game of "Tag! You're it!" The first blogger writes her post, sharing a hyperlink to her sister blogger at the bottom. This goes on and on until the circle is complete. If you click on all the hyperlinks (please do!), you should experience an array of creative, inspiring blogs and posts!

Today’s topic is courage.

(Remember: at the bottom of our posts will be a link to another sister-blogger and you’re invited to check her post out.)

If you’ve visited this blog much, you know I can be a real scaredy cat. Heights freak me out, I feel claustrophobic in crowds, and I really, really, really don’t like bananas.

Pretty minor stuff, I know. 

Finding the courage to press against my comfy, self-imposed boundaries isn’t. It’s hard. It’s scary. 

For years, I’ve limited myself in many ways. I stopped dreaming. And dreaming big? Fuggedaboutit.  There are physical, emotional, educational barriers I firmly looped around my heart.

Yet, in the last few years, I’ve tried creating a new set of rules.  One that opens my heart up a bit more.

And I have. I’ve risked failure, risked disappointment, risked looking like a fool, risked not being enough…

And (mostly) magic has happened. I’ve met incredibly special new people. 

All Rights Reserved. Through reaching out to another mom (of my daughter's bff in the US), we became BFFs, too. And I was so, so lucky to then be introduced to another new person through her.  She, too, is now one of my besties. How lucky am I?
 Some have become my dearest friends ever. 

All Rights Reserved. All of us together. How blessed we were to have found three families that became so close. It really all happened because of kismet, and because I made an effort to reach out. Something I usually found nearly impossible. But I did. And I have forever friends because of it.

I have tackled many of my physical limitations (I’m not perfect and still have a way to go, but who doesn’t?). I’m writing. I’m meeting people.  Ticking off goals one by one.

I’m starting to dream. 

I’m starting to believe in myself.  To listen to the kinder part of me who is kind to everyone else.

I’m beginning to practice courage by listening to that gentle, quiet part of me who knows I am deserving and important. That part who knows I do matter. Knows I am enough. Just the way I am.

So, I will continue to straighten the stubborn spine my great-grandmother gave me and trod along. Perhaps slowly at times. Perhaps not how or when anyone else would choose. 

We have to find our own bumpy course.  No straight lines. Not for this girl.

I’ll get there in the end. I will do the best I can, when I can.  To me: that’s being brave.

This month, I’m honored to be linked-up with my sister flyer, the very talented photographer, Gail Haile, of New York. Please follow this hyperlink to her gorgeous page, Haile Fine Photography, and read her lovely post about practicing courage.