Wednesday, November 9, 2011

See ya later.

Building it up, collecting tidbits here and there, brainstorming ideas… I’ve gathered a handful of thoughts on the “closing” of my blog over the past few months, all the while anticipating that it will have to end. Granted, it doesn’t have to. But had to or not—it is, finally, coming to a close.

So—with a heavy belly and a light heart—the end:

Writing this blog has been awesome. It’s been good for me. It has mostly been good for me because it has forced me to organize my ideas so as to regurgitate them in an understandable way (as opposed to many of my other hard-to-follow rambles). And I’d be lying if I said that the ego boost all the wonderful compliments gave me were unhelpful. They were greatly helpful. It’s good to know some people out there empathize, agree, disagree, and well, actually think I can write well enough to entertain at least a few raccoons.

And, truth be told, I’d like to add more to those ideas and keep writing because it makes me really, really happy. But for an audience? Well, that I will not be doing anymore. At least not for a while.

Thus, as the prolific lyricist Nelly Furtado so rightfully howled alongside her wolves, all good things come to an end. And all bad things too, as this blog has caused more than its share of angst as well. So with that, adieu. Or, since we all know I don’t do goodbyes: a bientot.

Yeah, talk to ya later. Email me. Call me. Skype me. Facebook me. Link me in. I will pick up. I will respond in so many words it’ll make your heart froth. I have nothing better to do with my life right now than catch up with old (and new) friends and I’m languishing in the knowledge that I better get it in now because someday that leisure will be less easy to come by. Someday I will be more interested in the desk, ideas, toddlers, xyz in front of me than my dear friends from afar. I’m aware of that. So now, my friends: bye, hi!

Friday, November 4, 2011

completely self-serving (unlike all of my other posts)

Wobbling around the house in my slippers, groaning some Godzilla-like rumbles… among other disgusting niceties that I will leave out, this is me. With a cold. Spending my time applying for jobs for which I greatly lack the credentials, trying to keep the fire going so no one can write an Into the Wild-esque story about me, and putting a little half-hearted time into my new skills… I’m so happy when Mom comes home and says she’ll make her lil’ punkin eggs and toast any way she likes them. Well, since you've asked, yes, I am fourteen. And, scrambled, please.

Of course, this being at home thing comes with its downsides too. Namely, I have realized just how easily blurred the lines between being sick at home “recuperating” and being home actively job searching can be when the other day Dad said, “Look at how pretty our Lyssa can look even when wearing her Aunt Dot suit.” Referring, genially, to the turquoise sweatshirt and sweatpants that our loving (and quite rotund, it must be noted) baby-sitter used to wear when tending to my sister and I. The fact that I haven’t taken my dHas tux off once since I got sick, and then realizing that I was actually wearing it most parts of the days before I was stricken with this miserable cold pointed out a couple obvious things:

Who you think you are, and who you are may be two different things, but who you are is, for all intensive purposes* the person that appears externally to others. And right now, I appear frumpy and unemployed. Even to the two individuals who most love me: my parents. Furthermore, I hate to admit it, but—I really can’t expect any sweatpants romance to come of this (particularly given that whole, living with my parents in Lake Placid thing (not to mention the whole... sweatpants thing)).

No worries, this is not going to be one of those Sedaris-like accounts of how I nearly went mad living at home with my parents, but not mad enough to move out and find gainful employment. Nopers. The move-out will happen soon, gainful employment or not, and (fingers crossed) money will follow thanks to any number of positions I end up filling (dishwasher at Starbuck’s, first assistant to Ban Ki-Moon?? …no worries, my money-houndishness and common sense will prevail!). So, the feelers are out on the town (and country, and globe) and I’m sure something will come up. But until then, I’m practicing the interview skillz, brushing up on ma francais, and trying to remember what it is like to be an active member of society who spends her time doing things a tad more constructive than chasing Charlie, waddling to LP’s bars in a wetsuit, and getting owned by a pumpkin in the Halloween Fun Run.

PS- more insightful blather to come before I wrap up ze blog for a time; I just can’t write anything too insightful while I’m currently fighting a league of snot away from my precious brain. (no retorts about the value of my brain, thankyouverymuch!)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A lot of words, but saying little... (a post on communication)

Well, after my last post had settled with me I felt a little obnoxious. If people are interested in reading my blog—why, thank you. I’m flattered. I spoke to Jenny on the phone today and she mentioned she’s been catching up on my blog and I immediately apologized for the post… I hadn’t realized she was still reading and it was just a reminder that I may not know exactly who is reading my blog, and furthermore, the people I’m writing my blog for are all people who I care about, and who care about me. So, while this is ultimately for me, it is also for those who care enough about me to keep reading. It is for those who think that what I write is interesting, and for those who it speaks to in some way. Perhaps even in a way that I personally could not, or that no one can at this point. So I suppose it’s time to stop belittling myself and this very self-serving writing and accept that it has been a wonderful and therapeutic thing for me and the friendships that have grown as a result of it (whether I am fully aware of it or not).

Whew, now that I’ve got that aside. Thailand. What’d it do for me? What’d it do to me? And where does it leave me now? Okay, so the where it leaves me now is a bit much for a blog post, and thus this is going to be entirely reflective: What did it do for me?

It changed me. A lot.

I know I mentioned that I have fallen back into some of my earlier mind traps now that I’m home again, but I have also learned to deal with those traps much better. I’ve gained a more open understanding of those around me and of how I interact with them. Forgive me if this is redundant because I’ve mentioned it to a number of people already and may have touched on it in my blog, but Thailand changed me primarily in two ways: it changed how I interact with others and it changed how I view the path I see ahead of me.

I’ll focus this post on interactions. Well, I never posted that language post I’d been crafting, although I’m sure I still will at some point. So briefly, being surrounded by so many other languages was absolutely thrilling. It was more than that, it was exhilerating, it was contradictory, it was rewarding, and it was damn hard. Really, really hard. Speaking French with Miléna was SO much fun, but it took me until our last dinner together before I felt comfortable conversing only in French, and even then I still brought in the occasional English phrase. It’s hard and it’s scary to be stuck in a language that you don’t know. It took me a while to realize what it felt like for the Burmese people I worked with to speak in English. When you are struggling with a language so many people look at you like you’re less intelligent and just plain dumb. I would say more on this, but I have déjà vu about a blog post where I made the connection between dumb (eg: stupid) and dumb (eg: literally unable to talk), so sorry if I’ve said this before. Well to put it simply, succinctly, and as always, eloquently: that feeling sucks. It is so frustrating to know that you are as (or more) intelligent than someone, but just lack the vocabulary to get it across. This realization took me a while to come to, but now that I have grown aware of it I find that it translates in many different ways.

Namely, this inability to best express oneself has nagged me visciously in my own tongue, and no one is free from the trap of having words come out wrong. But this realization has developed in me, very basically, a greater acceptance of others. This is not to say I won’t point others out on their contradictions, because I will, but I will not (generally) hold these mistakes against them.

Yeeeeet, I feel very contradictory saying this because I find that while I now place more emphasis on the intentions behind words when listening to others, I still at the same time realize the importance of words and how particularly we must craft them in order to be most accurately understood. I suppose I can expand on this conundrum most clearly by laying out two examples.

When I was in Thailand I received an email from someone I know and respect, but whose words I had never seen in writing. While reading his email I was surprised by his misspellings and occasional grammar mistakes but realized that my admiration for him mixed with my newfound appreciation for what lies behind poor grammar (ahem, decoding Burmenglish emails) kept me from judging him on them. However, I realized that had I read this email in a different context, I may have thought lesser of him based on this one skill. And how ridiculous is that? Yes, okay, the ability to write is in many ways an indicator of intelligence. But… what kind of intelligence exactly? The writer I’m referencing is, as I mentioned before, someone I greatly respect and admire, and I have to say, pretty freakin intelligent in my opinion as well. So why should his writing, something he never was given the chance to cultivate (or he never saw as necessary to cultivate) alter my view of him? Well, in this case, it absolutely shouldn’t. And, thanks to some view-changing experiences, it doesn’t. That said, it does not lead me to think my own writing skills are unimportant. Just because I grant him those concessions does not mean that I expect others to do the same for me.

My second example is shorter to explain, though in experience much deeper. And that one is my relationship with Miléna. She and I began as shy friends, me speaking quickly and nervously in English (I was a bit of a spazz-case when I first arrived at FED, I will admit it…), her nodding occasionally and responding in slow, methodical English, responding to maybe ¾ of what I was saying (a good percentage, I would soon realize). Now, it is true that our relationship grew from one of acquaintances to one of quick and comfortable friends thanks to our increasing ease with our positions at FED, the copious amounts of time we spent together, and her rapid improvement at English (not to mention rainy late night post-bar bike rides, ocean romps, and countless wonderful conversations over green curry, fried rice, or just our singha water bottles in the spider-webbed volunteer room) but I would be remiss if I did not attribute a large part of why we became such close friends to a growing acceptance in each of us for the unspoken words lurking behind apparent miscommunications. During many of the aforementioned conversations there were many moments of potential misunderstandings, but at the end of the day each of us understood the other’s intent, and whether we agreed or not we were each still able to grant the other the acceptance and understanding needed to keep the conversation going.

This acceptance comes from a realization that not only can words sometimes not fully express something, but that even if there were words that could completely, perfectly express a point, we can still easily make due without them. This is not to say that I feel I don’t need to express myself any better (in English or French), but merely that even though the majority of us can’t express ourselves as well as we’d like, miscommunications are not the end of the world. If we face others with a little more acceptance, we may realize that beneath these miscommunications we aren’t really being misunderstood after all. During many arguments I have often been known to roll my eyes and say, “it’s only semantics”. Now, that’s a cowardly way out of an argument, particularly because those semantics do often matter, for example, in politics. But truly, when it comes to life and our day-to-day exchanges, underneath those petty matters of semantics we’re basically all saying the same thing anyway: “I want to be understood, and I want to understand you.”

So that’s big lesson #1 from Thailand. It’s okay if you let little “misunderstandings” slide by, as long as there’s agreement on the underlying message. (And now I will end this post before my counter-argument threatens to bubble over a few more pages… this is a nuanced topic, so don’t think I naively believe it’s settled just because I choose this as a closing)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Starting again, a little past square one.

“as for me, i’m as changed as a girl can be
can’t you see
that i’ve flown to the edges of the earth and home i’ve flown
from your chair i can tell you can tell it from there that i may have been everywhere
but i’m back, back to the starting square”
-Lucy Wainwright, “starting square”

The number of blog posts I’ve started and then hung up for weeks (and months) is inordinately high, and I find with every new post I start that I am further and further from something coherent as some unplaced anxiety develops from the pressure of being home and having to, once again, start life from scratch. Granted, “scratch” today means something more substantive than what I was working with last June, but after three months of galavanting and effectively putting working life on hold, I am back home with somewhere around $4,000 fewer dollars than when I left in July, and nowhere closer to a job.

I am also… back home. After all that fuss about home, I am surprisingly anxious about escaping the dreariness of Lake Placid weather and the depressing life I see in its bars (oh well, perhaps my response isn’t surprising at all). I came across the above quoted Lucy Wainwright song by following a link to another one of her songs, “October”, which was posted on an email thread about the month we’re currently ensconsed in (or so says the calendar).

October. The reason I came home early. Of course, I forgot that leaving Thailand in the middle of October and slowly making my way home from there wouldn’t get me back to Lake Placid for another ten days, leaving me with only a week or so of Lake Placid October to revel in.

And then, I arrived home ready to tackle that one full week of pumpkins head on, only to realize that Lake Placid seems to think that November has already come, ten days early. However, others have told me that were I here in the beginning of October I would have found that what I was really looking for was September, which provided the North Country with the crisp autumn weather I was dreaming of a month early (as well as a spectacular, barn-heaving hurricane to break things up in the middle).

So I missed October, boo hoo. But I cannot say that’s the biggest burden my tense shoulders are currently bearing. No, as I’ve mentioned before—the need to solidify my still very loose “plans” has me hyperventilating with a growing awareness of all the competing forces facing me right now. Namely, how can I escape Lake Placid asap while still making sure that everything is organized and settled where I’m headed next? Furthermore, it takes time to think about why I’m making the decisions I’m making, and what I feel if I successfully separate all of the factors playing into my decision (entirely impossible, but I’ve got to at least give it a real fighting shot). And time, at this point, is something I feel I cannot afford, particularly if it is spent in Lake Placid, NY.

This post is not an apology to the obstinately dedicated few still reading my blog for my long vacance of a few weeks (I'm sorry, but what word is better than obstinate to describe this un-prodded dedication??). I wrote that post yesterday but it needs some oomph’ing before I can post it. Formulating my thoughts on how to close this “travel” blog takes time—it is hard to distinguish writing for myself from writing for the few people still reading. At the end of the day, this blog is propelled almost entirely by a graphomanic obsession with exposing my thoughts to an unknown readership; however, knowledge that my readers are not unknown makes it a bit challenging to that whole “writing for me” thing. Yet for some reason I am stubbornly clinging to the idea that I must write a closing post that is for me, and (to the best of my subjective heart’s ability), only me. Therefore, expect a most personal closing to come, and to those of you still interested—please excuse me for leaving you (at least explicitly) out of the post.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Not all 7/11s are created equal...

Surprisingly, Thailand’s biggest store chain and the provider of at least 1/3 of my food here has not warranted a blog post. Until now!

“Seven”, as the locals call it, has provided me with the opportunity to test many tasty Thai/Asian snacks, and as my time here winds to a close I’ve made it a point not to buy something I have already tried. Which is why tonight, when all I really wanted was a panini’d ham and cheese croissant or something “sandwich-y” and the seven-eleven next door was completely cleaned out, I instead opted for one of the filled buns from the hot case next to the cash registers. The case, filled with many dim sum-esque buns, was something I avoided my first couple weeks here, but finally I caved and have since tried a couple of the buns—veggie (only offered during the veg festival!), pork, and tonight… rabbit cream. Yeah, I know. I told myself that, in my partial venture away from vegetarianism, I was totally able to handle bunny cream.

I think that’s where the problem began... I called it bunny cream. I wouldn’t have been so tempted to try it, but the saleskids made such faces when I inquired about it one day that I thought I must try it just to prove to them that a Westerner enjoys eating rabbit cream! But then, breaking into the bun, I thought of it as bunny cream. And how the hell was I going to eat a creamed bunny!??! 

I bit into something that tasted, well, creamy. No bunny flavor anywhere. But the damage was already done. All I could think was, “there actually is a bunny hidden in here somewhere!” Nauseated, I couldn’t finish it, and even typing about it now I feel a bit like I’m going to vom up the creamy bunny that is currently floating around in my belly. Poor, poor bunny!

This experience is just one of many that leaves me with no doubts that I will happily return to vegetarianism when I’m back home. It’s not (usually) that I feel for the animal I’m eating, but mostly that I simply do not enjoy eating it, and I find that I always pick around my meat (usually chicken) for the often scarce veggies anyway. One of the biggest struggles, however, is justifying myself to others. It sounds so silly, but I have had trouble confidently adhering to my own morals and beliefs while here. Ashamedly, I must admit to being influenced by others in the oddest, high school girl kind of way in my time here. Of course, I have been true to my biggest beliefs and goals, but I’ve found that through many tiny transgressions every day, I had lost feel for who I am. I recently started working out again and with it came a flood of emotions… I hadn’t even realized that strong emotions were so profoundly missing for much of my time here.

I have a lot more to say on this flux of morals and the ‘tuning out’ that precipitates it. I am currently crafting posts on these thoughts as I consider what the past few months have been and as I prepare to leave Thailand. From wishing I was more actively curious about the culture around me to reflecting on how much change I truly have undergone despite my immersion shortcomings, I have lots to share.