Reverb 10 - Photo





I'm participating in Reverb10, a daily writing prompt throughout the month of December related to reflecting on the previous year and planning for the next. You can read more about why I'm doing it here. Or read all my Reverb posts here.
Sift through all the photos of you from the past year. Choose one that best captures you; either who you are, or who you strive to be. Find the shot of you that is worth a thousand words. Share the image, who shot it, where, and what it best reveals about you.
I like this photo because I look happy in a caught off guard sort of way. There's no contrived smile or posing (apart from the Japanese peace sign thing they always do in photos) and I feel like it captures a moment of real happiness. And yes, of course I want to loose myself more and more in moments of unabashed smiling happiness!

Dan took the photo and I think we were at the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, Japan.

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The Merry Christmas Edition - Reverb 10 - Everything's Okay



I'm participating in Reverb10, a daily writing prompt throughout the month of December related to reflecting on the previous year and planning for the next. You can read more about why I'm doing it here. Or read all my Reverb posts here.
What was the best moment that could serve as proof that everything is going to be alright? And how will you incorporate that discovery into the year ahead?
Now.

It's Christmas morning and I am sitting in a little coffee shop in Vientiane, Laos. A gigantic faux fireplace has been built up the wall and cheesy holiday music is blasting out of the speakers. The sun is shining, we slept well last night, my bug bites are healing, I have enough to eat, Die Hard I and II are on the television later tonight (yippie kai aye!), I'm excited about my life, I count a group of wonderful people as friends and family, we've actually found a pub that is doing a 'real' Christmas dinner where we'll be heading later today, and I feel such gratitude.

I am a lucky girl and as I spend more time in this beautiful country, with people who have very little but who are still so warm and joyful, it's hard not to realize that this notion of 'alrightness' is a bit of a luxury. Most of the people here are too busy trying to find enough to eat, working insanely long days, trying to support their families and trying to overcome the health problems that are intertwined with poverty. And I'm sitting in a Western style coffee house pondering the degree to which I think everything is going to be alright for me.

All I can hope is that I never become someone who forgets my incredible fortune: I am healthy, I have resources at my disposal, I have love. I don't know what will happen tomorrow, but in this moment, on Christmas morning, everything is beautifully, perfectly alright.



As I child, I used to cry my eyes out on Christmas night, grieving because the day was over and because even though I knew it would come around again in a year, it would never, ever be exactly the same. Even as a five or six year old, I felt time slipping away too quickly and it broke my heart. I still feel that way sometimes. Every time we leave a place, I find myself wondering if we'll ever be there again and if we are, what it will feel like. I think the holidays must make a lot of people feel this way - so many Christmas shows and songs are so sad and wistful. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas by Judy Garland, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer stop motion cartoon (poor misfit toys!), Miracle on 34th Street, It's A Beautiful Life ... Frosty the Snowman is basically a symbol for our mortality... and let's not forget the Peanuts Christmas special, which always makes me cry.

This is all to say that I think it's important to do less crying over the passage of time and spend more time feeling grateful for every moment. And that's what I'm going to carry with me into the next year.



Merry Christmas everyone!

x

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Happy Holidays!



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Reverb 10 - Travel



I'm participating in Reverb10, a daily writing prompt throughout the month of December related to reflecting on the previous year and planning for the next. You can read more about why I'm doing it here. Or read all my Reverb posts here.
How did you travel in 2010? How and/or where would you like to travel next year?
I am on an around the world trip and have been living like a gypsy since May 1st. London - Scottsdale - Las Vegas - Puerto Vallarta - San Blas - Los Angeles - Vancouver - Ucluelet - Vancouver - Whistler - Revelstoke - Calgary - Regina - Calgary - Revelstoke - Vancouver - Sydney - Melbourne - Great Ocean Road - Melbourne - Sydney - Tokyo - Osaka - Bangkok - Vientiane ....

Next up: Louang Prabang - Hanoi - Halong Bay - maybe Southern Vietnam - Bangkok - Koh Lanta and the Southern Thai islands - Chiang Mai - Chiang Rai and maybe back to Laos.

You can read more about my travels on my other website, A Tramp Abroad.

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Reverb 10 - Future Self


I'm participating in Reverb10, a daily writing prompt throughout the month of December related to reflecting on the previous year and planning for the next. You can read more about why I'm doing it here. Or read all my Reverb posts here.
Imagine yourself five years from now. What advice would you give your current self for the year ahead?
  • Trust your instincts.
  • Make time for books, films, kissing, swimming, hand holding and sunset watching. Contrary to what some people might tell you, these things are priority. 
  • Try to get better at sleeping. It's important and you really need to work on improving your skill set in this area. 
  • Stop obsessing about circumstances outside of your control. Learn how to be better at letting things go. 
  • Laugh more and stop taking yourself quite so seriously.
  • Make time for play. 
  • Complain less and be better at really acknowledging how lucky you are.
  • There is no such thing as being too nice. Be mindful of kindness and how transformative small actions can be. 
  • Wear bug spray when you are outside, unless you're in Iceland, Antarctica or Saskatchewan during the winter time. 
  • Keep it light enough to travel. 


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Reverb 10 - Avoidance


I'm participating in Reverb10, a daily writing prompt throughout the month of December related to reflecting on the previous year and planning for the next. You can read more about why I'm doing it here. Or read all my Reverb posts here.
What should you have done this year but didn’t because you were too scared, worried, unsure, busy or otherwise deterred from doing? (Bonus: will you do it?)
Coulda, shoulda, woulda. Whatever.

Now if the heart of this question is about procrastination then I'd answer that I'd like to do less avoiding of writing, reading and moving my body around the world with purpose (also known as exercise). But I don't regret one wasted moment this year.

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Best Reads of 2010 List



Inspired by the brilliant AYear in Reading Series on The Millions, I thought I'd make my own list of the reading that captured me most this year.

Best Reads
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters | Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower | Cool Water by Dianne Warren | One Room in a Castle by Karen Connelly | Last Night in Montreal by Emily St John Mandel |

Books I Most Wanted to Read But They Weren't Available on my Kindle (or were ridiculously priced)
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan | The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Sloot | Memento Mori by Muriel Sparks | February by Lisa Moore | The Gang the Wouldn't Write Straight: Wolfe, Thompson, Didion, Capote and the New Journalism Revolution by Marc Weingarten | The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery | Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol.1 by Mark Twain |

Blogs I Discovered (and subsequently fell in love with)
Frances Farmer is My Sister | What Possessed Me | Italics Mine | Isak | Collection A Day | Maud Newton | Notes from Somewhere Bizarre | Style Rookie |  The Rumpus | Samimi Extremie Is Boss | A Lot of Wind |

Favorite Book Related Technology
Although it will never replace the experience of a real book (and I have some issues with quality and book pricing), the Kindle has made it infinitely easier for me to read while traveling | Runner up is without a doubt Instapaper. It has single handedly made me fall in love with reading long from journalism again.

What were your favorite reads and new discoveries from 2010?


Image from Wet Behind the Ears

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Reverb 10 - Lessons Learned, Try and Healing





I'm participating in Reverb10, a daily writing prompt throughout the month of December related to reflecting on the previous year and planning for the next. You can read more about why I'm doing it here. Or read all my Reverb posts here.

Three posts in one today. Efficient or lazy?
Lesson Learned: What was the best thing you learned about yourself this past year? And how will you apply that lesson going forward?
When you spend an entire year traveling, when you have no real home, when all your earthly possessions fit inside one suitcase, when you have no nine to five job or office politics to contend with, when you're relatively healthy, when you learn words in a new language every few month in order to communicate in your new country, when you go from summer to spring to winter and back to summer again in a matter of a few months, when your friends and family are continents away: you learn that you can't blame unhappiness on anything apart from yourself and that it's up to you to deal with the ghosts that follow you across the world. You learn that its okay to be sad one minute and happy the next and that life is always challenging but that there are rewards that you never dreamed were possible. You are reminded that stuff matters very little in life and that you probably didn't need all the dresses, kitchen appliances or Ikea furniture. You learn about self-sufficiency and wonder and loneliness and gratitude.

I will never forget this year or the lessons I've learned. They're a part of me and it would be impossible for me to push forward into the next year without continuing to hold them very close.
Try: What do you want to try next year? Is there something you wanted to try in 2010? What happened when you did / didn’t go for it? 
Eat street food in Vietnam | Visit Halong Bay | Sit on an abandoned tropical beach and swim in the ocean | Write more stories | Go scuba diving | See elephants and monkeys in the wild | Get married | Write more | Read more | Snowboarding or Skiing | Visit Nepal | Spend time at a cabin with no Internet | Develop more technical photography skills | Doodle and draw | Get back into running | Swim. A lot. |

I wanted to do a lot in 2010. I did some of the things I'd hoped - an astonishing number of the things I'd hoped actually. The biggest thing was quitting our jobs, selling our stuff and setting out to travel for a year. It was a bit scary - especially the idea of rootlessness - and entering 2010, I'm not sure if I believed we'd actually do it. But we did and it's been the most transforming experience of my life.
Healing: What healed you this year? Was it sudden, or a drip-by-drip evolution? How would you like to be healed in 2011?
I've had the space and time this year to think about how I feel about things and why and to explore all of this through writing, photography and in a number of other personal ways. I've always been a fast moving person - always planning for the next thing, always thinking, always doing and worrying. This year, with so many variables outside of my control, I been forced into a quieter space. I feel like I'm leaving this year with a much stronger sense of who I am than when I entered it.

As for how I want to be healed in 2011? I'm not great at letting things go and I hold onto bad experiences and hurts for a long time. I'd like to be able to let some of that baggage go and to learn to filter out the negativity much earlier in the process.

Oh, and I'd also like to avoid any kind of bug biting interactions if at all possible. Amen.

Photo by me - Vientiane, Laos River Construction

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Reverb 10 - Friendship


I'm participating in Reverb10, a daily writing prompt throughout the month of December related to reflecting on the previous year and planning for the next. You can read more about why I'm doing it here. Or read all my Reverb posts here.

How has a friend changed you or your perspective on the world this year? Was this change gradual, or a sudden burst?
  • My oldest friend Vanessa, who sends me hilarious email updates from her adventures working in the non-profit sector and traveling in South America and Cuba, has taught me that sometimes laughing in the face of intolerable circumstances is the best approach to a problem. 
  • My closest lady friend Jackie teaches me that you don't have to be in the same city (or continent) as someone to keep in touch and let them know that you care. She's also an amazing writer, insightful reader and just about my favorite person to have drinks with. 
  • My newest friends Stacie and Scott teach me how nice it is to have people in your life who take the time to be supportive and encouraging. They are two of the most generous people I've met. 
  • My friend Carrie taught me that I need to do a better job keeping in touch with people who matter to me. We hadn't seen each other in years until this summer and I was struck by how much I missed her.
  • My friend Ali reminds me of the importance of making time for girl dates - particularly if they involve tea and cake. 
  • My mother, who in her 50s found the courage to completely transform her life, teaches me that it's never too late to take back your life and make it wonderful; and her sister, my Auntie Denise, who always manages to send me encouraging notes when I need them the most, reminds me that small acts of kindness can mean an awful lot.
  • Though I haven't seen my friends Miranda and Lindsay for years, the crazy funny Facebook updates about their adventures in higher education make me realize that some friendships can sustain years of distance. If we were ever in the same city, I think we'd have drinks, laugh our faces off and it wouldn't feel like there'd been a gap. 
  • My friend Kate who passed away suddenly this year reminds me to appreciate every fleeting moment of my life. 
  • My friend Gaynor reminds me of how cathartic it is to have a good, long catch up talk. 
  • My friend Michelle teaches me that sometimes the best way to show strength is to have a soft heart and allow yourself to cry until you can't cry anymore. 
  • My friend Crystal reminds me that sometimes, even though it hurts, the only thing left to do is to let go. 
  • My best friend and fiance Dan reminds me that we don't have to enact the same male/female relationships and structures we were raised with. We can do something different and better and we can actually be happy. 
xo


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Reverb 10 - 5 Minutes

I'm participating in Reverb10, a daily writing prompt throughout the month of December related to reflecting on the previous year and planning for the next. You can read more about why I'm doing it here. Or read all my Reverb posts here.
Imagine you will completely lose your memory of 2010 in five minutes. Set an alarm for five minutes and capture the things you most want to remember about 2010.  
The realization that there are multiple ways to live my life and to not let fear stop me from choosing an unconventional path. 
 What it is like to live in physical discomfort and to use it as a reminder for being empathetic to others who will likely always live their lives feeling hungry, too cold, too hot, sick, bitten by bugs and afraid.

How warm and salty the ocean was in San Blas and how the pelicans flying overhead looked prehistoric.

Our beautiful afternoon in Manly, Australia and how, if I was ever wealthy, I would want a cottage there, overlooking the sea.

Seeing penguins, koalas, kangaroos and wallabies in the wild.

The stunning and solitary drive through the rocky mountains between Whistler and Lake Louise and imagining how hard it must have been for people to build the highway that runs through it.

Paco.

Kate.

Carrie May and Michael's wedding - and all the new and different ways it made me think about marriage.

Playing with my nephew Seth and hearing him talk for the first time.

The freedom and exhilaration I felt on May 1st, as we were leaving London to begin our journey.

My happiness with Dan.

The view from the Tokyo Hyatt at night.

Feeding the wild deer in Nara, Japan.

What it was like living in a house for a month with two kids under the age of three - and the recognition of how hard it must be to deal with that every day.

The sun setting over the Mekong.

Cooking in our impossibly tiny Japanese kitchen in Tokyo.

The Arizona desert and the way the sky looked at night.

The relief of writing a complete short story after a long dry spell.

The Buddhist monks in their bright orange robes, riding around Vientiane in tuk tuks.

Photo of my and a kitten, taken in Vientiane by Dan.


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Mekong Sunset

Last night we sat on a roof top bar and watched the sun set over the Mekong River. I suppose I have pollution to thank for it, but it was stunning.

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Reverb 10 - Appreciate



I'm participating in Reverb10, a daily writing prompt throughout the month of December related to reflecting on the previous year and planning for the next. You can read more about why I'm doing it here. Or read all my Reverb posts here.
What’s the one thing you have come to appreciate most in the past year? How do you express gratitude for it?
The problem with this and so many other questions like this is that it assumes that we can sort our experiences into neat little packages. While the obsessive compulsive in me likes the idea, it's an arbitrary exercise. Life is not like a logic problem in high school and to try to pretend that it is possible to roll the complex, nuanced experiences of our lives into "the one things you have come to appreciate" is kind of ridiculous.

I've had an amazing year and I'm not willing to single out one thing. But here's a sampling:

  • soft sheets
  • the ability to travel the world relatively cheaply
  • laap, vegetable pakora, garlic naan, gyoza, nachos, summer rolls, good cheese and bread, fresh vegetables and fruit, and Trifon's Pizza
  • an internet connection
  • air conditioning
  • the kindness of strangers
  • the love and encouragement of friends and family
  • that my suitcase has wheels
  • that I have the ability to mostly choose the course of my life, unlike millions and millions of other women in the world
  • calamine lotion and tea tree oil 
  • life changing great books like Wells Tower's Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned
  • being able to work on projects I'm excited about with people who respect me
  • not being in a city that is creatively, physically or emotionally stifling
  • bug spray and bug proof lodgings
  • that creative work still fulfills me and that I have the luxury of making time for it
  • relative good health
  • cold beer on hot days
  • overnight flights that don't have screaming babies
  • the smell of a campfire or barbecue
  • Japanese politeness
  • the Mekong River at sunset
  • my partner who is infinitely patient, kind, generous and who brings out the best in me; and who I still like kissing
  • the smell of rain and clean laundry
  • wild horses running down the beach in Mexico
  • strange desert creatures  - like Javalinas  - and the night sky in rural areas of Arizona
  • a quiet, cool, dark room to sleep
  • swimming
  • flushing toilets
  • cool night prairie air
  • people like Maggie Doyne who are saving lives every single say
  • 'magic hour' light
  • the distinct lack of divas in my life at the moment
I express gratitude for these things by trying my best to say 'please' and 'thank you' and by trying to take moments out to breath deeply and recognize how lucky I continue to be.

Photo of me in Vientiane, Laos taken by Dan.


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Reverb 10 - Action

I'm participating in Reverb10, a daily writing prompt throughout the month of December related to reflecting on the previous year and planning for the next. You can read more about why I'm doing it here. Or read all my Reverb posts here.
When it comes to aspirations, it’s not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen. What’s your next step?
The lovely Friday Films answered this prompt more cleverly and thoughtfully then I could. I totally agree with her. So instead of making more noise over here, just head on over and read her post:
What is this new obsession with ideas and making things happen? When did a nice way of delving into the hearts and minds of regular people turn into a rat race for some hazy, distant prize of...what? I’m still trying to figure this out. Is it money? Fame? Recognition? It’s not enough that we get to live a life largely without constant hunger, pain, grief or hopelessness – we want our big fat future reward too. We want a trophy that will prove to ourselves, and to those around us, that this life of ours really means something.
Photos: Friday and me, last new years. 

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Reverb 10 - Body Integration


I'm participating in Reverb10, a daily writing prompt throughout the month of December related to reflecting on the previous year and planning for the next. You can read more about why I'm doing it here. Or read all my Reverb posts here.
This year, when did you feel the most integrated with your body? Did you have a moment where there wasn’t mind and body, but simply a cohesive YOU, alive and present?
Well, given that I've not yet reached nirvana (cough!) I don't know that I can pin point a moment when I felt like  "a cohesive me, alive and present." Ignoring the poncey assumptions and language in this prompt ... which is hard ... the most integrated I've felt with my body this year was in Mexico. We spent six weeks there during the height of summer in a small, buggy, hot bungalow in San Blas. Bugs were feeding on us day and night, the heat was like being trapped under a wet blanket - with a hot steamer blowing underneath - and the rains were intense, flooding the little road we were located on so that for days we had to wade ankle deep through muddy water to get out of our little compound. I can remember washing out laundry by hand, dripping in sweat; I can remember being itchy; I can remember wanting to take the two hour bus journey to Tepic just because it was air conditioned and despite the motion sickness the bad roads would cause, at least I would feel cool for a few hours. I remember not being able to properly fall asleep until sunrise because I was so afraid of the giant spiders, millipedes and cockroaches crawling on me in the darkness. And I remember the few wonderful nights when the wind would pick up and cooler breeze would come in off the sea, and we would lay there on top of our sheets, feeling finally, mercilessly like we weren't crawling out of our skin.

It sounds horrible but it was actually wonderful to be so present, to have my anxieties reduced to worrying about the heat, my bad stomach and the bugs. I could sense the slightest breeze picking up, the most subtle drop or rise in temperature ... I was grateful when an itchy mosquito bite would suddenly feel cool under the tea tree oil I'd applied. Although I would never want to experience it again, I recognize that the luxuries of my life are designed to keep me apart from physical experiences. I put up barriers between myself and discomfort and sickness so that I can ignore my physicality.

I would be reluctant to trade away my physical comforts, but I learned a lot about myself during those long hot weeks in San Blas.

Image: San Blas Palm Trees by me.

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Reverb 10 - 11 Things

I'm participating in Reverb10, a daily writing prompt throughout the month of December related to reflecting on the previous year and planning for the next. You can read more about why I'm doing it here. Or read all my Reverb posts here.
What are 11 things your life doesn’t need in 2011? How will you go about eliminating them? How will getting rid of these 11 things change your life? 
1. Passive aggressive behavior. Seriously, let's call shit out rather than beat around the bush. Things are much simpler that way.  
2. Bug bites. Something about me is like sweet candy to all flesh eating insects. Given that I'm likely spending the next five months in tropical (read: buggy) South East Asia, it might be hard to eliminate this without destroying the ecosystem of the region, but I do intend to invest heavily in DEET.  
3. Excessive procrastination. I don't know why I'm so tempted to put off doing things that I love. Like writing. I've got dozens of story ideas swimming around in my head and while I note them down, I rarely make the necessary time to actually write. I don't know why I'm so inclined to do this but I am going to try schedule time in to do the things that matter to me as I've realized that I work best with a bit of structure. 
4. Doing work that I don't love. Yes, there are bills to be paid (or guesthouse rooms to be rented in our case) but I've been lucky this year. I've found that it is possible to achieve a really lovely balance between doing the things I'm passionate about and getting paid for it. We spend so much of our lives working - I want to do work that motivates me with people who are excited and talented. Whether I'm working in a bakery or continuing with the web consulting work I've been doing, I vow to love it or leave it.  
5. Frenemies and people who make me feel sad, inadequate or overly competitive. This year I'm going to invest more time taking care of the relationships that are encouraging, positive and mutual and a bit less time worrying about the other people. I wish them well, but I am also officially letting them go.  
6. My addiction to technology and obsession with always being connected. As I wrote about here, I love technology and as someone who is location independent I rely on it to keep in touch with friends, family and clients. But I want to do a better job of managing the time I devote to it so that I feel more in control and less like I'm obsessed.  
7. Physical lethargy. Although I've done and seen more this year then in any other year of my life, I've felt physically quite tired and rather unmotivated to move my body. I live in my head and I have trouble pulling myself out to go for a run, do yoga, or swim. I've been healthy and have had no more than one cold all year, but I feel tired and my muscles are tense from not being used enough. I want to use this body more.  
8. People pleasing. It's not that I don't want to make people happy in 2011, but I want to stop worrying about making people happy.  
9. The intense desire to control 'what's next'. I've gotten better in this regard during 2010 in part because when traveling you quickly learn that there are a number of things you can do absolutely nothing about. The bus might be late, the tuk tuk driver might rip you off, the dinner your received may not be the one your ordered, the mosquitos swarm, the temperature rises and falls, lightening may or may not strike the small house you're living in ... In my childhood home everything - every single detail of every moment - was planned and I've carried some of that tendency into my adult life. I want to continue to work on letting go a bit more and accept that the world will not end when things don't go as planned.  
10. Stress and worrying. From September until about two weeks ago, we were intensely busy with freelance projects and although we balanced everything and came out in a really good place, I found myself feeling intense panic on occasion. It usually came on most abruptly when I would go to bed - instead of sleeping, my heart would pump and I would consider every possible outcome until I felt like I couldn't breath. This is a new development for me - I've always been someone who thrived under stress, particularly work-related stress. But I'm aware of my family history of stress disorders and am determined to keep a better handle on these symptoms if and when they arise, and to deal with them accordingly.  
11. Soda. I shall not drink Pepsi Next, Fanta or Sprite. It's bad for me. I must stop. 
Image by me, Kamakura, Japan


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Wild Geese



You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting--
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

By Mary Oliver

Image by me, taken with my Holga in Toronto's Eaton Centre

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Reverb 10 - Wisdom

I'm participating in Reverb10, a daily writing prompt throughout the month of December related to reflecting on the previous year and planning for the next. You can read more about why I'm doing it here. Or read all my Reverb posts here.

(I've skipped prompts December 7th through 9th because I've been in transit from Osaka, Japan to Vientiane, Laos and I'm busy and mostly because I can.)

December 10th Prompt - Wisdom
Wisdom. Wisdom. What was the wisest decision you made this year, and how did it play out?
Hands down. This year I decided to quit my full time job to travel around the world and let life take me somewhere I couldn't possibly have planned for. I am currently sitting in a lovely guesthouse in Vientiane, Laos - a city of strange contradictions - and I don't regret one single moment of the last six and a half months*. How many people can say that?

* Okay, I do regret going outside three nights ago without bug spray on.

Strange photo by me, originally posted on my now mostly defunct Lost and Looking website. 

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Reverb 10 - Make

I'm participating in Reverb10, a daily writing prompt throughout the month of December related to reflecting on the previous year and planning for the next. You can read more about why I'm doing it here. Or read all my Reverb posts here.


December 6th Prompt - Make
What was the last thing you made? What materials did you use? Is there something you want to make, but you need to clear some time for it?
I am always making things - there's almost always a short story or an essay half written or just completed (whatever that means). I get to make interesting web projects as part of my job, I constantly make photographs and recently I even made a pillow case into a dress.

If I want to make something bad enough, I generally clear time for it.

Super 8 Girl image, by me. 

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Reverb 10 - Let Go

I'm participating in Reverb10, a daily writing prompt throughout the month of December related to reflecting on the previous year and planning for the next. You can read more about why I'm doing it here. Or read all my Reverb posts here.

December 5th Prompt - Let Go

What or whom did you let go of this year? Why?
Since taking on a location independent life, where we are traveling to a new place every month or so, I feel like I've let go of a lot of things. By necessity I've gotten rid of most of my 'stuff' and can now fit almost everything I own into one standard size suitcase. Although I still consider London my home base, in some ways I feel like we're homeless - we've learned to adapt to new cities, new beds, new surroundings, new social rules in a way that I would never have believed myself capable of.

Stripping away everything has also forced me to get rid of excuses. I am living this amazing traveling life and if I'm not happy, there's very little I can blame it on but myself so I'm forced to be a lot more self-reflective than I used to be.

Finally, I've let go of the idea that I have to be anyone other than who I am. Some people aren't going to like me and I'm pretty okay with that these days. I've also learned that sometimes friendships run their course and by letting go of old relationships, I'm not devaluing them or what they meant to me, just recognizing that not everything was meant to last forever.

Photo by me, taken in Yoyogi Park, Tokyo, Japan

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Reverb 10 - Wonder



I'm participating in Reverb10, a daily writing prompt throughout the month of December related to reflecting on the previous year and planning for the next. You can read more about why I'm doing it here.


December 4th Prompt - Wonder
How did you cultivate a sense of wonder in your life this year?
In some ways this entire year has been about creating opportunities for wonder. Feeling weighed down by a life that was not fulfilling me, we changed everything, risked everything, sold our stuff, and set out for a year of travel and exploring the world.

Now half way through our adventure, we've explored the deserts of Arizona; drank too much under the Vegas fluorescents; been eaten by bugs and stung by jelly fish in a sleepy sea-side Mexican town; wandered the cobbled streets of Puerto Vallarta; spent a glorious month in Vancouver; drove through the mountains from Vancouver to Saskatchewan; explored Sydney, Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road; and have spent the last two months falling in love with the strangeness of Japan. Every new place brings with it a sense of being lost woven with an overwhelming sense of amazement. There have been countless moments where I've the words "Look at where I am!" surprise and root me to the place and moment and for a short time I am completely and happily where I am.

The image above was taken in Wilson's Promontory in Australia. The water is brown because there is a plant in it that actually turns the fresh water to tea. Yes, tea! I think that's wonderful.

Photo by me, taken in Wilson's Promontory, Australia

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Reverb 10 - Moment

I'm participating in Reverb10, a daily writing prompt throughout the month of December related to reflecting on the previous year and planning for the next. You can read more about why I'm doing it here.


December 3rd Prompt - Moment
Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail (texture, smells, voices, noises, colors).
Early on the morning of May 1st, Dan and I strapped on our backpacks, did one final walk through around our London flat and locked the door for the last time. It was a beautiful, bright spring morning in London and everything looked and smelled clean because the night before it had absolutely poured. We'd gotten stuck in the storm on our way home from seeing a movie; as we ran the few blocks from the cinema to our flat, jumping over puddles, getting absolutely soaked, I remember feeling the weight that had become permanently wedged in the pit of my stomach begin to lighten and it occurred to me that the biggest thing I had to worry about was how I was going to get our clothes dry enough to pack before we left to catch our flight in the morning.

For the first time in our lives, we were almost completely unencumbered, on the brink of a year of travel and possibility. My gigantic 80 liter backpack was heavy and I was tired - we'd slept on the floor the night before and because of that and the buzz of anticipation, neither of us slept particularly well. As we walked towards the underground station near our house (the same one we'd used for our daily commute to work) to go to Heathrow airport, I felt something nearing pure hope. The train was almost empty because it was early on a Saturday morning and I tried to soak up the smells and sounds of the life I was leaving behind. I can remember us making an audio tape of the noises of the train as a way of bringing a little piece of London with us, and I held Dan's hand.

Photo by Dan, taken at Kawagoe, Japan

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Reverb 10 - Writing

I'm participating in Reverb10, a daily writing prompt throughout the month of December related to reflecting on the previous year and planning for the next. You can read more about why I'm doing it here.


December 2nd Prompt - Writing 
Writing. What do you do each day that doesn’t contribute to your writing — and can you eliminate it? 
I spend way to much time getting distracted by the noise of the Internet: Facebook, Twitter, email, my RSS feeder. Recently I wrote about some measures I'm taking to deal with some of these distractions and it's going alright - though I still check the RSS way too often.

It's challenging to eliminate these distractions altogether because I work in the web space and because I'm location independent and the web is also where I do most of my networking and where I keep in touch with loved ones. But I can do a better job of managing the amount of time I'm spending there so that it's less of a compulsion.

On December 10th Dan and I are heading into South East Asia for three and a half months - starting with Vientiane, Laos, then Hanoi, Vietnam and then Chiang Mai and other parts of Thailand. Although I need a certain amount of access to the Internet to work, I am genuinely hoping to try and schedule one or two days a week where it's mostly inaccessible to me so that I can try to find my way into a deeper practice of writing and thinking. We are also looking at renting some remote accommodations, which I'm hoping to be able to use as a retreat of sorts.

Image by me, Imperial Palace Grounds, Tokyo, Japan

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Reverb 10 - One Word



I'm participating in Reverb10, a daily writing prompt throughout the month of December related to reflecting on the previous year and planning for the next. You can read more about why I'm doing it here

December 1st Prompt - One Word
Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2011 for you?
My word for 2010 is: flux. Flux because it encapsulates not just 'change' in a calm, easy way but also the struggle inherent in change - the acknowledgment that it can be hard. Flux is also appropriate because it doesn't imply complete control; although I've made a lot of conscious decisions this year about travel and career, I've come to realize that I can't plan or control every detail of my life (though I do try!). Synonyms for flux include: flow, to purge, to make fluid. While many people my age are working hard at making their lives more tangible, for me this year has been about deconstructing what I think I should want and allowing myself to move into something that actually leaves me feeling fulfilled.

My word for 2011 is: reconcile. In many ways I'm living the life that I want but I still feel this tug towards the past and I know I'm holding onto things that it would be better to let go of: certain anxieties, self-doubt, friendships that may have run their course and to some extent anger about unkindnesses and slights. I want to work on putting some of those feelings to bed to make room for better things - more travel, more creativity, and more space to give attention to the people in my life who are supportive, generous and challenging in all the right ways.

Photo by me, Kamakura, Japan

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Tying Up Loose Ends and Planning for a New Year


Making New Years resolutions can feel a bit cliche and forced. If you need to do something, why wait until New Years to do it? How many of us make these resolutions every year only to forget about them by the end of the first week in January? 

Despite this, I think there's something to be said about the importance of creating routines or rituals that can tie up loose ends and help us to move forward. I like scheduling in times to take account of where I am with my life and what I've been doing recently that either adds to or detracts from my happiness. Didn't someone wise say something about madness being the process of doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different outcomes (anyone know who said it?). How can we really know if we're caught up in same patterns without some reflection? We do this in business all the time - review our annual results and then set achievable and tangible goals for the next year - so why does it seem so silly to devote the same amount of space and time to do it in our personal lives? 

This brings me to Reverb10, which I found through one of my favorite bloggers Susannah Conway. The idea is that every day in the month of December you get a prompt that makes you think about how the previous year went and to try and nail down where you want your path to go over the next twelve months. I like the idea of a structured accounting of where I am, especially because this year has been so full of change for me. I'm a few days behind, but I'm going to be posting these daily here (or at least for as long as I have an Internet connection - not sure how reliable the wifi is in Laos, which is where we're heading to next). 

If any of you are participating in Reverb10, please let me know. I'd love to read your entries if you're making them public. 

Image by me taken in Kamakura, Japan


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I Hope This Gets to You



The story: a girl moves across the country for grad school and her boyfriend writes her this song and makes this video for her. But he isn't going to tell her about it, he's going to see if by the magic of the internet and serendipity, it will find it's way to her.

My inner cynic tells me this is just a marketing ploy and that the quality of the video and track mean that we're going to shortly find out that Sony is behind it or that it's the new theme song for Toyota or something. But I'm going to turn that off for a few minutes and pretend that this guy might really be trying to do something sweet for someone he loves with no other self-serving force motivating him.

And if my inner cynic is right and this is all about making something viral, well, at least the song is good.

x

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Note to Russell Smith: Start Thinking, Stop Generalizing

I am mildly annoyed by Globe and Mail writer Russell Smith's latest column, Note to Canadian Writers: Stop Tweeting, Start Writing for a bunch of reasons:

  1. The title of his piece is click bait at its most obvious - controversial just for the sake of it, not because he has anything particularly enlightening to add to the conversation. 
  2. He's used my friend Dianne's picture at the top of his post, which infers that she somehow shares his perspective. Dianne doesn't Tweet or Facebook, but I suspect that her reasons for not doing so are quite a bit more thoughtful and considerate than the ones Smith presents. Also, Dianne did do an extensive 'blog tour' of her book when it first came out, which is pretty social media clued-in. I don't like that he associated his column with her just because she doesn't tweet (but note: I don't speak for Dianne in any way here).
  3. The column doesn't say anything valuable or new and offers no indication that he's done even a tiny bit of research to back up his assertions.
It's not so much the basic premise of his assertions that bugs me (although some do) as the condescending tone and implication with which he tries to make his point. You can read the article yourself, but here are the basics:  

Publishers are increasingly putting the responsibility of self-promotion on writers because they believe that writers with a greater profile and relationship with an audience might sell more books.

I'm sure this is true and there and it makes pretty good sense. Canada isn't unique in the reality that the arts are underfunded, that old publishing models aren't making money anymore, that large bookstores have taken the place of small local shops (which means they buy huge quantities of books in bulk to sell cheaply - and everyone on the food chain makes less money) and with the advent of digital technologies such as E-Readers, the entire trade is changing much like it did in the music industry when MP3s first became popular. 

Writers, even writers with award winning books, usually can't make a good living off of writing. They can teach, take on freelancing writing gigs to supplement their income, give talks, act as consultants ... but they generally can't make a living off of writing alone - this is especially true of short story writers and poets. I wonder how many writers in Canada can actually say, "I live off of my writing alone to a standard where I'm not worried about paying the bills and have some money in a savings account". Probably not many. Even Dave Eggers, who Smith refers to as an impresario of self-branding, runs a range of businesses to make ends meet and by his own estimation, is still pretty broke. In a March 2010 interview with The Guardian Eggers says, "Vendela [his wife, author and editor of one of their publications] doesn't get paid. If we are genius tastemakers we wouldn't be running this broke company. I mean, we're not going to fold any time soon but I wish we were what you say." Dave Eggers was on the New York Times Bestseller list and was a finalist for a Pulitzer for A Heart Breaking Work of Staggering Genius. Dave Eggers is not living off his writing.

Smith writes for The Globe and Mail, which is itself still figuring out how to monetize in a new world that wants its content online and wants it free. Despite this, surely even he realizes that traditional modes of promoting the work of writers are not as relevant anymore. Print advertising is dead, the new mega book store is really only interested in promoting the latest bestseller by big names like Stephen King or Nicholas Sparks and fewer people have cable or listen to radio because they get to pick and choose what they want to listen to online. Pretty or not, social media is increasingly a place where people get their content and where they find interesting links to books, authors or music to check out. It is one of the only surefire places left to reach potential consumers.

Publishers increasingly want writers to do some of the marketing legwork on Twitter and Facebook. This could be because they are lazy or underfunded, or it could be because they understand the medium and know that people are less interested in receiving marketing tweets from a monolithic, impersonal publishing house than from the unique, individual voices of the artists themselves. I probably wouldn't pay attention to tweets by Random House but I would definitely want to hear more from any number of its writers. Russell Smith might not realize this. When looking at the Twitter feed for the online men's magazine he co-founded, The DailyXY, it's obvious that whoever is managing it thinks that Twitter is for broadcasting, not for conversations. Captain, we have a problem.

Unpublished writers in particular are taking this advice from publishers to heart and are spending time building up a following even before they have a book deal, in some cases, even before they have a book.

If you want write a novel, it probably won't pay off to spend all your time on Twitter or Facebook. But does he think writers, even the great unwashed, unpaid and unpublished, are stupid? The people who are really serious about writing will find time to write, whether they are doing it while Tweeting, Facebooking, working two full time jobs or raising a family. It's always been this way and will always be so. Others will have all the time in the universe and will never get down to business. Participating in self-promotion via social media and the act of producing brilliant writing are not mutually exclusive. 

Given how hard it is to get an agent and a publishing deal even with a range of great work in your wake, many young writers likely see self-promotion as one way they are able to potentially by-pass the traditional publishing bureaucracy. Self-publishing has come a long way and although it will certainly result in a lot more junk than you get through the traditional system with all of its gatekeepers and mediators (though anyone who's read a Harlequin or a Danielle Steele novel may disagree with me), there are occasionally big successes through alternative modes of publishing. Although now published by HarperVoyager, Canadian writer (now residing in the UK) Cory Doctorow has seen huge success through self-publishing and making his work available using the Internet. Even now, with a big publisher backing him, Doctorow releases free e-book versions of his work and encourages people to repurpose his content for educational or artistic uses. 

In the non-fiction world there are lots of examples of people who have built up a relationship with followers using social media tools and then have gone on to sell a book to a publisher that has seen huge sales. Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project and Gary Vaynerchuk's Crush It are two examples from the last year that have been on the New YorkTimes Bestseller List. 

Many writers who are signed with publishers will tell you that when their book comes out, there is almost no attention given to marketing or promoting it. Just because a publisher signs you, does not mean they are going to invest any money in making your book a success. If you're someone who has the inclination to take on social media so that you are not completely at the mercy of other people to see your book properly marketed, I think that's great. And it doesn't have to happen at the expense of your writing.

Canadian bestsellers are determined by prize juries (like the Giller and Governor General's awards) and many of the writers who win these awards have not been participants in self-promotion using social media. 

Yep, probably true. But let's be honest, as much as they are talented and deserving, the writers who have won the prestigious awards are lucky. Fucking lucky! There are plenty of really wonderful books out there that will never win an award because awards are based on a jury system and juries are a crap shoot. Do you want to base your future success on roulette?  

For five years I worked for an arts funding agency in Saskatchewan and for some of that time I handled the administration of grants. I organized applications, I sat in on juries, I recorded their findings and I found that the results varied wildly depending on the composition of the jury. An application could come before one jury and it would be criticized and ranked incredibly low, six months later the exact same application would be put before a different jury and would be lauded and receive funding. Unfortunately, writers hoping for a big literary prize have it even harder because their book will only go before each jury one time - there is no re-submitting it to a different set of jurors a few months later.

Jurors are human beings and even with strict adjudication criteria as their framework, they bring their own set of biases to the table. I think it's an intelligent writer who decides to not put all her eggs into that one extremely unreliable basket. Telling a writer to replace self-promotion with hoping for a high profile prize is like telling someone to quit their job in the hope of winning the lottery. It's stupid advice.

Self-promotion won't make any difference to the success of your book so just focus on writing a good book and hope for the best.

If this were just about telling people who wish to become writers that they should write first for love because it's highly unlikely that they will ever make a living from the sales of their books, I wouldn't disagree. People who are driven to write because they believe that they are going to be the next JK Rowling are sentencing themselves to a path of disappointment and likely poverty. First off, write because you love it and accept that you'll be lucky to get paid. 

But Smith's column is all about book sales not about the motivation to write. He says that writers should "stop wasting their time on self-promotion because it has not been proven to make any difference whatsoever to one's sales." Smith's proof? His research? Well, if he's done any, he doesn't mention it. 

I would love to see formal research done to really examine what the impact of social media promotion is on book sales, but I suspect it would be difficult because unlike the centralized model of traditional book marketing and publishing, social media is all over the place. It exists on blogs that are all created on different platforms, twitter accounts, Facebook, Tumblr memes and reblogs ... It isn't neat and tidy, which makes it an easy target for someone like Smith who seems to have discounted these tools just for the sake of being contrary.

Despite the lack of hard evidence, there are lots of anecdotal examples of how social media has helped sell books. Last month Edan Lepucki released her novella called You're Not Yet Like Me via a teeny publisher called Flatmancrooked. Many people 'know' Edan by following her Tumblr, which is only writerly in that she occasionally talks about books and literary things but mostly it is just about little daily happenings in her life. I suspect that a lot of us found her blog because she writes for The Millions, a popular online literary journal. The Millions does not come out in hard copy print and promotes itself mostly via social media channels yet they have thousands of visitors and actually pay money to real published writers - like Emily St. John Mendel who wrote the critically lauded piece of Canadian fiction Last Night in Montreal - to contribute interesting criticism and reviews. I wonder whether Smith's social media bias is applicable to publications like The Millions - are they wasting their time with social media despite the fact that it has enabled to them publish literary content that some might argue is more arresting and unique then what's published in papers like The Globe and Mail? As traditional, stodgy literary journals falter, the web and social media has enabled a bit of a renaissance of literary criticism and online journals that publish new work - for the first time in a long while, people (under the age of 40!) are excited about reading work by new authors and are engaging with literature in a critical way. 

Back to Edan. Is her novella on the New York Times bestseller list? No, but why should aspiring to sit at the head of old school hierarchies be the only yardstick for measuring success? Using social media, Flatmancrooked and Edan sold out the first edition of 400 copies of her book in only a few days. They did this by Tweeting, Facebooking, blogging, Tumbling and by promoting the book using a movie-trailer style video uploaded to Youtube. DIY culture is back baby and it applies to more than knitting socks. 

I doubt that the sales of Edan's novella are making anyone rich, but they've helped to fund a small independent press, have given Edan some monetary compensation for her time (more than many writers receive) and if you consider that these books were not created with the philosophy of mass production but instead with the principals of "low run, high quality collectibles" at heart, I would say that social media has helped to make Edan's little novella a smashing success. 

If you tweet or twit, you aren't smart enough to write.

The above was one of the comments left on Smith's article and I think it sums up my biggest problem with the entire premise - although Smith isn't as obvious as the anonymous commenter, his underlying message is that writers who are self-promoting on social media are somehow less serious. 

Social media has taken down some of the barriers that used to exist between artistic producers and consumers. Although there is still a role for the traditional gatekeepers of the publishing industry, increasingly that industry is being forced to work out how to remain relevant as a generation of people who have never known life without the Internet begin to force changes to this decades old model. Change makes people feel uncomfortable - particularly the self-appointed arbiters of taste who find themselves increasingly irrelevant to a world filled with people that continue to put greater emphasis on trusting people with a connection - even a tenuous one via social media - instead of so-called expert critics. 

People like Smith can continue to preach the luddite view that social media is a waste of time but he's really only talking to other luddites who are feeling just as threatened about their role in the new publishing economy. The establishment has an interest in protecting its boundaries and one way of doing this is by trying to make the people who feel like they can do it themselves feel lesser. 

Meanwhile, people like Edan Lepucki know better and are quietly building their careers outside of the system using social media. I'm sure the goal is still to someday win the lottery, but like my grandmother always told me - clever people always have a plan b. For artists with talent and drive, social media isn't a bad place to start. 


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Travel Plans Sometimes Change



For those of you who were worried about me after I posted that quote yesterday - don't be. I just thought it was beautiful but yes, a little intense.

Things here are good but a bit stressed. We are working on wrapping up about four projects and are just really looking forward to taking some time in December to relax. Having too much work is really a good thing for people in our situation (freelancers without a stable paycheck), but we're both feeling a little bit burned out. Also, we're half way through our last week in Tokyo and try as I might to stay calm, I always get a little tense as I begin to emotionally prepare to move on to a new apartment, a new city. We've gotten really comfortable here - we have our little corner store, our favorite local pub (Standing Bar Clover in Shinjuku - we love you!), our nightly ritual of ice cream - and as much as I love this vagabonding life style, you do give up that warm comfort of the familiar every time you move on. Occasionally it all feels very sweet and I begin to feel a little less like Kerouac in On the Road and a little more like the protagonist in Last Night in Montreal (a good book - go read it).

On Sunday we'll be taking the train south to Osaka and Kyoto where we'll intersperse working with taking in the stunning turning of the leaves and enough shrines to last a life time. I'm looking forward to it - but I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the things we're working to get done in the meantime.

In other news, today there was an escalation in the conflict between North and South Korea. North Korea bombed a small South Korean island and South Korea responded in kind. All is quiet at the moment but of course the international heavyweights (America, the UK and China) have all weighed in and it remains to be seen whether this is just a blip or something to be worried about. We are due to take the ferry to South Korea on December 10th where we were planning to stay, mostly in Seoul, until January 3rd. Now we're kind of second guessing ourselves and wondering if we shouldn't just spend the holidays somewhere cheap and cheerful like Laos. I'm going to sleep on it.

For those of you who are interested, we've been involved in a few interesting projects lately:

  • Last week the Groubal Customer Satisfaction Index website launched. It takes social media data from places like Facebook and Twitter and analyzes sentiment to determine how satisfied the customers of over 200 brands are. The data updates hourly. It's pretty cool. 
  • To complement the game, we also worked on a stock market like Facebook game that allows players to try to anticipate how companies will rank, earning or losing game currency depending on whether they make the right bets. 
  • Yesterday I published an article on Contentini called Micro Copy: Content Strategy and Writing the User Interface, which is getting quite a bit of web love. For the most part, I find the content strategy community really encouraging and connected. It feels like we're forging new territory and instead of fighting for a piece of a pie, we're working together to try and build the best knowledge base possible to do truly outstanding work. 
  • I try to update A Tramp Abroad once a week. My last three posts have gotten 18, 36 and 20 comments and it's great to be able to connect with such a great group of travelers over there. 
Good night Internet. 
x


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Untitled

"Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.” — Louise Erdrich, The Painted Drum

Quote found on Slaughterhouse 90210.
Photo by me.

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Music Will Save Your Life



Lovely.

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Still Enchanted, Still Busy



Although I doubt it's scientifically provable, I am almost completely certain that time moves faster in Tokyo than anywhere else in the world. I feel a bit like I'm in a time lapse video where time is flowing instead of ticking, shadows are swimming in and out and light moves a bit too quickly from day to night and then back to day again. It's a conundrum because it is one of the most magical cities in the world - I want to be here - but time slips away too quickly. I feel like a girl trying to catch water in my hands.

We've been busier than usual, partly due to a lovely visit from some UK family during the past few weeks. Dan's aunt, uncle and cousin swung by Tokyo following a short holiday in China. Though I haven't felt at all lonely during our travels, it was almost surprising how nice it felt to see familiar faces again. While they were here we pulled ourselves away from laptops and work a little more than usual and took in some great temples, smaller towns and Tokyo sites. Although I am definitely a city girl, it was so wonderful to get out into the country where the trees are all turning gold and red and just sit and take in the less hectic pace. Japan is such a contradiction. It's all bright lights, big city, overwhelming technology and modernity, but it's equally ancient, spiritual and traditional. I've seen a lot of Shinto and Buddhist shrines over the past few weeks and there will be much more of that when we eventually make our way to Kyoto.



In between being tourists, we've been working like crazy people. We've got a few big projects launching this week and we're in that frenzied, last minute stage of tying up loose ends and testing and then retesting again to try and avoid any bugs or glitches. I can say with complete honesty that, at the moment, we've got more demand for our services than we can possibly take on. I know that times are hard in a lot of industries but I suspect this might translate to some small gains for the freelancer - where companies are afraid to hire someone full time, which is a commitment, they are quite willing to fill their gaps with those of us looking to take on interesting, short term projects. Our plan is to take off most of December and focus a bit on some of our own ideas, which have take the back burner as we work on other things. It's a hard balance though, because we've also had some enquiries lately that are pretty amazing in scope and scale - some of these things would be pretty hard to pass up.

We'll be spending Christmas and New Years in Seoul. I'm excited about it, but it's kind of bittersweet. I do think I'll miss the turkey dinner and the quiet, insulated way the holidays usually feel. If anyone knows where to find a traditional Christmas dinner in Seoul, please speak up!


I think we'll try to have a quieter week this week. We've got a little grocery store across the lane from our flat and I've been cooking a bit in our tiny kitchen, which consists of one hot plate, one microwave, one frying pan, one pot, two bowls, two plates and some cutlery. The only thing I've missed a little it is having an oven, but even that is negligible. I can remember when I moved into my solo place in Cardiff and I felt the need to buy a ton of dishes and cooking things from Ikea. I was so used to having hand blenders and all kinds of pots and dishes that I thought I needed them. If and when we ever settle in somewhere again, I really think I'll feel quite differently about what I really do need. Although two burners would be nice, we've made due really well in our small Tokyo kitchen. I think the key is to clean as you go because there's no room for a mess and no extra dishes to allow for it.

And when we don't want to cook, we can pick up fresh sushi across the street for about £2. Not bad at all!

x

All photos by me. 

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Report from the Frontier ... Tokyo Typhoon



I am just waiting to get my call from Sophia Coppola - obviously she will want me as a creative collaborator after watching this gem.

x

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Clearing Out the Clutter


I've been reading Leo Babauta's new e-book Focus. Leo is the person behind the wildly popular website The Power of Less, which is essentially about how to be more productive by doing fewer things and with a particular focus on disconnecting from technology-driven noise. Although I subscribe to his website, I've always been quite skeptical about his premise; I am someone who works and makes a living primarily in the online space. It might be fine to tell a bank manager to disconnect from technology every now and again, but how can I possibly do it when almost all of my networking and work-related activities occur online. As a small business owner, it is even more challenging to disconnect because the more I put in, the more I get back. And I want a lot back.

This all means that I spend an incredible amount of time online. Seriously, I can't even really bring myself tell you how much time because it's embarrasing. I'm talking double digits. And I am always multi-tasking. At any given time I am simultaneously checking two emails address, following about two hundred people via Tweetdeck, checking in with Facebook every 15 minutes, replying to threads and networking on LinkedIn, responding to requests through a network of travel bloggers I belong to, connecting with people on Digg, Friendfeed, following dozens of blogs and websites via my RSS feeder .... This goes on all day long and even though I enjoy a lot of it, it is exhausting. This is in addition to creating content for four plus websites and doing the occasional stint as a guest blogger, taking and editing photos for iStock, and then there's the consulting work. Contrary to how it sounds, I'm really not complaining (at least not much). This is the life I wanted and I love the incredible diversity of my job. I love that I get paid to do the things I want to do and that because of these long days I am able live a location independent lifestyle. Right now I am staying in a lovely apartment in the middle of Shinjuku in Tokyo. How cool is that?

Knowing all of this and feeling the way I do about my life and my career path, I wasn't expecting to find much of value in Focus. Last night after spending a huge chunk of my day flitting around online, I picked up my Kindle and started reading. While I read my mind wandered: had I responded to that email, did I remember to write that Alexa site review, had so-and-so responded to me on Twitter? I kept looking over at my lap top, nearly picking it up once about every two minutes but telling myself, "just get to the end of this first chapter, then you can check in..." And then I read this:
Here's a little excercise that might prove useful: as you read this chapter, how many times were you distracted or tempted to switch to another task? How many times did you think of something you wanted to do, or check your email or other favorite distractions? How many times did you want to switch, but resisted? ... In an ideal world, the answers to all those questions would be "zero" - you'd be able to read with no distractions, and completely focus on your task. Most of us, however, have distractions coming from all sides, and the answers to this little exercise will probably prove illuminating.
He was completely right. Here I was, disconnected from my media devices for all of 15 minutes and instead of focusing on the book in front of me, my brain wouldn't stop firing, wouldn't stop obsessing about checking in. It wasn't a choice; I wasn't feeling the need to check Twitter, Facebook and email out of some real business need. I wanted to check these things because I've actually become addicted to them and that's a bad thing.

A really good example of where I see this behavior in a damaging light is my absolute OCD-like relationship with my Google Reader. For those of you who don't use a feedreader, it's something that allows you to import feeds from websites. When a website you follow gets updated, it shows in your feedreader and you can read the new content right there - all your websites in one place. It's a useful tool that allows me to keep up with what's going on without having to actually visit a bunch of websites. But I've become nuts about the thing. It's grown from a few dozen sites to close to 500 and every time I see a little dark number indicating that someone has added new content, I feel like I *need* to read it immediately. Some mornings I'll sit down in front of my computer and say to myself, "Okay, you only get half an hour with the RSS," and I'll still be sifting through it hours later. In a way that I can't really account for, I feel a bit like I've failed if I've got too many unread items - and yet I keep adding sites to it so that it is virtually impossible to clear it all out. Sometimes I feel actual anxiety about this.

So yeah, something had to give. Just because my career relies on me engaging with social media and keeping on top of what's going on in the online space doesn't mean that it has to consume my life and give me nightmares. Sometimes I have anxiety dreams about Twitter - the kind I used to have when I was a waitress ... All of a suddent the restaurant was really busy and I had a hundred impatient angry patrons to serve, oh, and I was naked! But I'm not a waitress anymore and I work for myself and part of building a practice that I love and find fulfilling means learning how to balance all of these things in a way that doesn't make my heart beat wildly. And although I consider myself to be productive - I mean, some credit please, we've built a lucrative location independent business in about six months and that's no small thing - I could be so much more productive if I could only learn how to focus a bit more on the things that matter, learn how to filter out the noise and stop treating social media like its heroin.

To address some of these things, I'm going to go on an online consumption diet of sorts. I'm not going cold turkey because it's simply not realistic given my lifestyle and profession; plus I think social media is valuable and exciting and I want to remain a part of it. But here's what I am going to do/have already started doing to be less of a junky and regain some control over my time:

  • Unless we have a big launch or client need at play (this happens rarely) I am going to limit my email checking to twice a day: once when I begin my work in the morning and once in the evening. I have also already configured my email inbox to filter certain content related to a lot of the networking I do to folders so that I don't have to see it until I am ready to deal with it - once a day during that second email check in.
  • I have spent a few hours today de-cluttering my RSS reader. I've still got a lot more in there then I probably should, but I've elminated about 100 sites from my regular stream. It was strangely similar to what I've experienced when moving house - at the beginning you get rid of things you don't need with a great deal of hesitation because you imagine that you'll miss them. As the process wears on you are madly throwing things out. I've never missed anything I've gotten rid of during these kinds of cullings and I'm certain that I won't miss the sites I've removed. I've also sorted my remaining items into folders that allow me to better regiment how and when I'm allowed to look at certain content. Instead of sorting feeds by topic, they are now divided into folders called: daily, weekly, monthly, blue moon and networking-related. I will allow myself 45 minutes every day to check the daily folder, one hour once a week to check the weekly folder, one hour once a month to check the monthly folder, I will rarely check the blue moon feed but it mostly consists of sites I couldn't quite bear to part with yet (yes, I'm this crazy), and the networking feed are sites that I don't really enjoy reading but are important to keep up with for other professional reasons. I'll check these once every few weeks or so. So my new schedule will allow me to open my Google Reader for about 45 minutes once a day. That's it. When I'm not actively using my allocated time, the Google Reader will remain closed.
  • I'm going to be a little less regimented about Twitter and Facebook, because in some ways I feel like these channels are the way I connect with people in the day - in the same way that other people work in offices and get to occasionally look up from their work and chat to a colleague. I've started using this free bit of Mac software called Slife that tracks the programmes you use throughout the day and tells you how long you've spent on them. Because I use Tweetdeck for Twitter, this should give me a pretty good idea of much time I'm spending there. If it starts to look like too much, I'll come up with a plan B. Facebook isn't as easy to track because it just counts as Internet browsing, but I also don't feel like it eats up too much of my time and I don't feel the same kind of anxiety about it that I've felt about my RSS feed and other time suck activities.
  • In order to really focus when I'm writing, I've started using Ommwriter, another free bit of software for Mac. It's a very basic word processing program that fills your entire screen with just a writing background and your text. Because it covers the entire screen, there are less distractions and therefore (hopefully) I'll feel less inclined to jump inbetween programs and tasks as much as I have been. I've written this in Ommwriter and will just copy and paste it into Blogger once I'm done. So far, so good.
  • When Dan and I decided to take this journey, he bought me a Kindle so that I could surround myself with books but not have to deal with the weight of lugging them around. There's a really great tool that can be used in conjunction with my Kindle called Instapaper. I have a little button installed on my browser and when I run into a longer article that I really want to read but don't have the time or inclination to focus on, I can click on it and it gets stored away. Once a week or whenever I choose, I can visit the Instapaper site and download the articles I've saved in my queue and put them on my Kindle. Then when I actually have a block of time to read, I can lay back and focus on what I'm doing. 

Those are the biggest changes I can manage at the moment, but I'm hoping they will make a big difference in having me feel a little bit more in control of what I choose to consume and where I choose to invest my time. I want to feel connected but I want to feel like I control the impulse - not as though I'm driven by some addiction to constantly be checking in with things, most of which are probably not where my focus is best directed.

Although I'm not done reading it yet, I do recommend Leo Babauta's Focus if you're trying to gain a bit more control over the priorities in your life. So far it's not at an an airy-fairy bit of self-help but actually has some really practical suggestions for how to understand and shift negative behaviours. He also links to practical tools and programmes you can use to make all this a bit easier. It's available on his website here as a free PDF download or if you want the Premium version with a bunch of additional features you can purchase it here.

Photo by me. 


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