52 Photos: Luang Prabang

The prompt this week was somewhere you visited. As many of you know, I’ve been a lot of places. Picking one was hard.

I decided to go with Luang Prabang in Laos, because I’ve talked about visiting Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia, but not Laos, which was the fourth country in my tour of SE Asia.

I visited temples:

Wat Xieng Thong

that had disco elephants as decoration …

mosaic elephant

I drank bale fruit tea:

bale fruit tea

and BeerLao, the champagne of beers (or so I was told).

Beerlao

I watched monks collect merit contributions:

monks collecting merit contributions

and the sun set behind the Mekong river.

sunset behind the mekong

If you ever have a chance to visit Luang Prabang, I highly recommend it. It’s a special place.

Share

On the internet, no one can hear you scream

This post is about dreams. I know, rule #2991480932 of the Internet: DON’T TELL ANYONE YOUR DREAMS. NO ONE WANTS TO HEAR IT. So, you’ve been duly warned. I’m going to talk about dreams.

Ivar's clam

I have had recurring dreams nightmares for pretty much all of my adult life. There are two themes. In the first one, I’m leaving on a trip. I get to the airport. I don’t have my passport. I’m always going somewhere that requires a passport. I don’t have enough time to get my passport before my flight leaves.

In the second type, I’m experiencing some kind of danger. It’s always vague, but present. I’m always paralyzed and incapable of getting out of harm’s way.

Except, something has changed. Several months ago I had the travel dream, right up to panicking about the passport. When I checked my bag, the passport was in it.

This morning I had the second dream. Except instead of being unable to flee, I got on my bicycle and rode up an insanely steep hill. And I stood up on my pedals (which I’m currently terrified of doing, because the last time I did that, when I was ten, I fell off my bike and scarred my knee for life).

Something has shifted, and it’s showing up in my dreams. I’m not so afraid of what the world is going to fling at me. So bring it on.

For those of you who read to the end, bless your hearts. To the rest of you, well, bless your hearts, too.

Share

On distractions

Sundial

I talked to my therapist today about what enables good writing for me. What it boils down to is not letting my mind get pulled by the distractions. And wooo buddy are there ALWAYS distractions.

This is why I chose return as my theme for 2014.

I chose to focus on writing for ONE HOUR this afternoon. Just one hour. Just after I’d turned the timer on, I swear to everything holy a car alarm started going off. I had to laugh. I could let myself be distracted by the car alarm, or I could choose to focus on what I wanted.

Here’s what I want: I want to immerse myself in the world and characters I’m creating. I remembered what I wanted. And every time the fucking car alarm went off again (because oh, it did), I heard as a reminder to return to my focus.

I’m grateful for the years of practice I’ve had at meditation. I’ve learned that every moment is an opportunity to return to what I want to focus on. I don’t have to shame myself for getting distracted. I can just return. And so I do.

What are you choosing to focus on these days?

Share

Japan: Kyoto and Hiroshima

I have a friend who’s going to Japan in December. She asked me for my advice and recommendations on where to go and what to see. She’s planning on visiting Kyoto, Hiroshima and Miyajima. I encouraged her to spend a couple of days in Tokyo, too, if she could. I mentioned on Twitter I was writing an epic email, and a couple of people requested that I post it to my blog. So, for your delectation, I present it, edited slightly for clarity.

torii hall with lantern

Kyoto

Where to stay

We stayed two different places in Kyoto. The first place we stayed was a ryokan, which is the more traditional/family style inn. It was the Ryokan Shimizu.

We loved staying there. The people were so friendly and we were able to try a traditional Japanese breakfast there. It was very close to the train station, which made getting around rather easy (it’s a hub for the buses, too). We all stayed in one room (me with my parents) and slept on tatami/futons (not like futons in the US – really like pads). It was quite comfortable! They also did cultural programming every night. Calligraphy, Japanese gift wrapping with the cloth, origami … I think they had one night on kimonos!

calligraphy lesson

The other hotel was tiny and right down the street from the station. I have no idea what the name was. We had planned on going on to another town, but the typhoon stranded us, so we just walked around to various hotels until we found one that had a rate we liked :). It was commodious, but lacked any of the flavor of the ryokan.

What to see

As for what I would recommend in Kyoto, I would say go to these temples:
Northern Kyoto
Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion)
There’s a Zen temple, Ryoanji with a stone garden next to Kinkakuji. We were underwhelmed by it, but maybe it would interest you?

Eastern Kyoto
Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion)
Kiyomizudera – and when you go there, make sure to pay the 100 yen to go down in the thing. You walk down some stairs and hold on to a chain of wooden balls. It gets darker and darker as you go through. It’s supposed to represent the birthing process, and you can make a wish when you get to a stone in the center.

Also, we loved walking through the Nishiki Market (or at least, my mom and I did :P).

Nishiki market

Take the train 5 minutes to the Fushimi Inari Shrine, which is the place with all the red torii gates (shown in the image above). Fantastic place. I think they are lit at night in the winter, adding another magical element to an already otherworldly place.

I think we spent 5 nights in Kyoto. It was really great, because it gave us time to get adjusted to the time and rest every day (my parents napped and I wrote in my journal).

My friend Yossi has a delightful restaurant, Colori Caffe, outside the tourist areas. Please go visit her and say hi from me if you do! If you want the directions, please contact me and I will send them to you. It’s very easy to get to.

Hiroshima and Miyajima

I have no idea where we stayed in Hiroshima. We used the TripAdvisor site to find a place. We didn’t book it until we were in Japan. I couldn’t tell you AT ALL! It’s so funny. It was a very pleasant place, so my takeaway is, trust the reviews on TripAdvisor :).

Miyajima is the island. You could spend the night there, or just do it as a day trip (which is what we did). I would recommend going to Miyajima after the Peace Museum. Being in Hiroshima is intense, as you can imagine. The island is a beautiful respite.

egret in red reflection

General advice/tips

As for flying in to Kyoto or Tokyo, I don’t know if there are any direct flights to Kyoto anymore (from Seattle). I think one reason we went with Tokyo was that it was more direct and cost less (even including the hotel). We stayed here. It was right outside the Tokyo Station and was a fantastic oasis in the middle of the city. The staff were super friendly and helpful.

I would recommend talking to people and ask if they’ve been to Tokyo, and what they would recommend doing there. I think we had a kind of odd/different experience. I had some friends I’d worked with at Amazon, and we met them for lunch one day. We did some shopping. We did take a day trip to Kamakura to see the giant Buddha.

OH! Also, the department stores have restaurants on the top floors that are very reasonable for eating dinner. This is true in Kyoto and Tokyo. We also ate at izakayas (bars), but they can be VERY smoky. My mom and I loved eating at them, though.

The Japan Rail pass was fantastic. It works on any JR line – which means we were able to use it to get around Tokyo itself, as long as we stayed on the JR line. It can also be used on certain buses. If you are taking the shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto and back, I think it pays for itself, but you should check the math on that. I bought mine from a place in downtown Seattle. I think I went to the office and placed my order. Came back an hour later and the vouchers were ready!

***

You can see the pictures I took, organized by location.

I think that’s everything I can think of for now! If you have ANY questions, or something doesn’t make sense, please feel free to ask me. Also, if you start making reservations and have difficulty, let me know. I seem to remember there were a few hiccups we had.

Share

Baby Steps

One of the things I’ve been working on with my therapist is learning to slow down, so my response isn’t laminated to my reactions. We can’t control our reactions; we can control how we respond to those reactions.

little red car

On Monday I took the bus downtown to meet up with some friends. I sat toward the rear, facing forward, and wore earbuds (which are bright blue). A few stops later, a man got on the bus. He came to the back and sat across from me, on a bench that faced the middle.

I could almost predict what would happen next. I turned toward him, and he started talking to me.

Him: “Hi. Didn’t I see you on the bus yesterday?”
I pause the podcast I’m listening to and take the earbud out.
Me: “No. No you didn’t.”
Him: “So I couldn’t have met you before?”
Me: “No. No you couldn’t.”
Him: “What’s your name?”
At this point in the conversation, my stomach starts to clench. Because I know this is coming. And every time a man asks me, I tell him. And then I hate myself for it. But I am learning to pay attention to what I want. And what I want is definitely NOT to give him my name.
So I say, “I don’t want to tell you that.”
I’ve disrupted the social script. He doesn’t know how to respond. He falls silent.

I turn away from him and face the front again. I turn my podcast back on. A stop later, he moves up a seat. A young woman sits next to him.

I like being friendly. I like talking to people. On the bus, even! But for the short duration of a bus ride, no one needs to know my name. I couldn’t wait to tell my friends my story.

Share

52 Photos: Stairs

This week’s prompt: stairs. For you, a few staircases and a brief story. First the pictures:

The staircase in the shopping center at the JR Train Station in Kyoto:

lighting design on JR Kyoto stairs

Spiral staircase in Lisbon:

spiral stair

Dragon staircase in Chiang Mai:

dragon staircase

Powell’s bookstore in Portland, Oregon:

self-published

Ayutthaya Staircase:

stairs to ferry

Before I start telling you this story, I have to show you a picture of something else. It’s a bicycle:

Good luck bike #2

In 2011 I spent 3 months in SE Asia. The first place I went after I got my head sorted in Bangkok was Ayutthaya. It was a great place for me to rest and sink into a new rhythm. The guesthouse where I was staying had bikes available to rent. This was my trusty steed as I ventured out from the safety of my idyllic quarters. What you can’t tell from looking at the picture is how heavy that bike was. I’d guess it weighed around 25 pounds. Nothing like my lightweight 15-pound aluminum frame bike at home.

And yes, I did carry that damn thing down those damn stairs. And back up on the other side. And then again in reverse. And I felt quite pleased with my accomplishment.

Share

Shopping for therapists

I promised Summer and Carla yesterday that I’d tell them the story of finding my therapist.

Day Lily on fire

In December of 2012 I knew I had a problem. I was interpreting everything as a threat. I couldn’t tell what was what. I felt like the Farside cartoon, where the amoeba wife is saying to her husband, “You’re just stimulus, response! Stimulus, response!” I felt like I was living at DEFCON 1, ready to push the red button that means nuclear annihilation. Recognizing that this response was utterly out of whack with the external stimuli, I decided to get help.

I have gone to counselors before, so this wasn’t the first time I’d gone looking for one. I had at least a little bit of experience and idea of what I needed. I got a referral from a dear friend and went to see her therapist. He turned out to be awful. Case in point:

  • In response to me saying I’d stayed at my job 2 years past the pain point, he said, “You’re a masochist!”
  • For some reason Jodie Foster’s coming out came up. He said something along the lines of, “I don’t mind if women are lesbians, but why that one?” Ironic because I’d seen something on twitter a few days earlier saying that sentiment is so ridiculous. I mean, like he would have ever had a chance?
  • I told him about the first manuscript I wrote, and he said, “You’re not nice.” Um .. it’s a story. And it has to be interesting. Which I said to him. Also, he could have said, “That’s not nice.” Me not nice? Grrr.

So after that first meeting, I went home and thought about it. I talked it over with some friends/support people. I came to the conclusion that he wasn’t right for me and I fired him. I felt so vulnerable and exhausted. I didn’t want to go through this ten more times. I didn’t think I could go through this ten more times.

I took a step back. I thought about all the people I knew, and if any of them were therapists. There was one person who fit the bill. I had met him on Twitter, through a mutual friend. And not only that, he’d visited Seattle the month before and I had met him in person. We’d connected and I knew I could trust him. I contacted him and asked him if he would be willing to work with me. He said he’d give it a try.

As much as I’ve gotten out of therapy, I cannot emphasize enough how powerful this first action was for me. I’d learned to dismiss my intuition and sense of what was right for me. This was the first action I’d taken in YEARS that was in alignment with my core.

In the last year and a half, I’ve spent a lot of time learning to identify what I’m actually feeling. I’ve learned to scan for support, rather than see everything as a threat. I’ve learned not to take things personally. I used to worry about being an asshole. I still do, a little bit, but mostly I consider whether or not I’m being kind. I’ve learned to recognize and go after what I want. I’ve learned that if I want people to see me, I have to be willing to show myself (eep!).

I’ve worked on developing my awareness and slowing down the time between reaction and response, so I can choose my response, rather than the two being laminated or magnetized into a single action.

My therapist told me, “Look for where you fit, not where you fit in.” I could have made excuses with the previous therapist. I could have found reasons to work with him. But I didn’t. I knew in my marrow he wasn’t the right fit for me. And I did feel a little bad, then. Now I understand. It wasn’t about me. It wasn’t personal. And he wasn’t the right person for me to work with.

If you are currently shopping for a therapist and you are having trouble finding someone to work with, I hope you won’t be discouraged. Keep looking. There will be someone who is kind and who can help you.

Share

Vive la France

vino

On Bastille Day (or Le quatorze juillet as the French say), I mentioned something about the day online. My French/German friend Ollie told me they say joyeux or vive la France, instead of the greeting I gave. That reminded me of a very short story.

In 2006 I went to Paris for my birthday. Now that I’m une femme d’un certain age, I won’t reveal which one, but those of you playing at home probably already know. My sweetie and I had a fabulous time. We traipsed about, eating cheese and chocolate and visiting the various tourist sites. I think that’s a separate post.

The morning we left, we knew there was going to be a strike (or greve). We left for the airport early, because we weren’t certain how often the trains would be running, etc. As an American, I found this strike quite … well .. striking. People showed up to work. But they didn’t do their work. In America, they would picket outside the workplace. By doing it this way, no one else could come in and do the work, either.

Needless to say, we got all the way through and on to our flight (sans the corkscrew I had to leave behind). As we taxied to the runway, the pilot came on and gave an announcement in English. He said there was going to be a delay before we could take off. We were tired and grumpy and ready to go home. RIGHT NOW.

Then the pilot made the same announcement, but in French. Except instead of being vague, he said, “a cause du greve.” My French is middling, but I understood that! I turned to my girlfriend and said, “It’s because of the strike! Vive la revolution!

We sat back in our seats, content. We could wait.

Share

52 Photos: At the Water’s Edge

This week’s prompt was at the waters’ edge. I didn’t think I had much, and then I realized I was going to Discovery Park for a -3 foot low tide! For your viewing delectation, I present without further comment, this week’s set.

discovery park panorama

clam shell with seaweed

clam shell vista

green and purple seaweed

You can see the rest of the pictures here.

Share

When the going gets tough …

leap leap

I swim laps a few times a week. In my ideal world of lap swimming, I would have my own lane and never have to share. The reality is, there are usually more swimmers than lanes. Which means sharing lanes. I generally don’t mind sharing. It’s about finding a rhythm with the other swimmers and then praying no one runs into you.

My point is, sometimes swimming is easy and effortless, sometimes there are obstacles. I’ve been working on paying attention to my reactions – that is, the knee-jerk, unconscious responses. I have a tendency to quit or shut down.

On Sunday, I started swimming with my own lane. Ahh, perfection, I thought. Soon enough, one woman joined my lane. Then another. And then another! Before I knew it, there were 4 of us sharing one lane. The flow was fine, but I noticed I was getting annoyed. They had disrupted my peace. MY peace, I’m telling you.

I contemplated getting out of the pool. I’d swum enough. But then I paused. A thought surfaced: When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

Fuck that shit, I thought. I hate that. But then I relaxed, and I had another thought. What do I want??

What did I want? I wanted to keep swimming. Focusing on what I wanted, rather than on toughing it out, changed my experience. Rather than having to prove myself, I could return to the activity. I could relax and let go of the irritation.

The next time I feel frustrated, when things are hard, and I feel like quitting, I hope I can remember this. It’s good to stop every once in awhile and re-evaluate. Am I still on the path? Is this serving me? Is this the direction I want to be going?

I want to pause and say, When the going gets tough, what do I want?

Share