Monthly Archives: September 2010

Whatcha reading, friend? Part 2

I recently filled out all the blanks in my first blog about reading, which you should go back and check out here.  It only gets me up to 25, so at this rate I’ll be lucky to hit 50 books by year’s end, let alone 100, but I have to say reading has indeed become an immense pleasure for me again, and that is better than trying to hit a meaningless number goal (says she who knows she can’t hit said meaningless number goal.) Anyway, I wanted to take a minute to also highly recommend a few of the books I’ve read recently, which are surprisingly mainly non-fiction.  Most of the fiction I’ve read lately has disappointed me. Go figure.  It’s been a crazy time in life and oddly enough, reading is the only thing that allows me to focus and be still lately. Anyway my top 5 of the past few months:

The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner

Dishwasher by Pete Jordan

God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Marukami (although if you aren’t running a marathon, you probably won’t care.)

Moving forward, here is space for the next 25 entries. Hopefully it will be full by the end of the year.

(I’m embarrassed to admit that I’m currently reading The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown, which simultaneously makes me want to gouge my eyes out and turn the page to see what happens next. So, I guess that’s a kind of talent…)

26. Now and Zen- Linda C. Gerber. Very light young adult fiction featuring travel.  I would have loved them when I was 14, now I find it a little heavy-handed. But good fluffy reading for when my brain is too full.

27. Dishwasher – Pete Jordan. Heard about this guy on This American Life, which never leads me astray.  Really entertaining stories of a dude who dreams of washing dishes in all 50 states. I just thoroughly enjoyed it, man.

28. Sightseeing – Rattawut Lapcharoensap. A collection of short stories by a Thai-American author, read on my trip. They are just really simple, lovely tales of family and compromise.

29. Fieldwork – Mischa Berlinski. Another novel about Thailand I bought for my trip, I mostly really enjoyed this one, though I did find it a little overwritten when it came to the anthropology parts.  But still a pretty compelling read.

30. The Lost Symbol – Dan Brown. Oi. You know I enjoyed The DaVinci Code for the pseudo-intelletual thriller that it was.  I was entertained.  But this book was boring. I just didn’t care. It took me a month to read. I wish I could put things down when I don’t like them without that need to finish what I start I bought this because I thought it would be a quick read…not so much when you’re not interested.

31. Mockingjay – Suzanne Collins. Yay for completing trilogies! Team Peeta forever!

32. Runaway – Alice Munro. A collection of short stories that I had read a lot of good things about but that I was mostly tepid about. Some stories were sort of a slow burn, but so slow that I had a hard time picking the book up to read at all.

33. The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Another book that sneaks up on you so that you’re so immersed you cry when it’s over. Truly beautiful writing. I like pretty sentences.

34. The Yiddish Policeman’s Union – Michael Chabon. I love Michael Chabon. I liked this book a lot. He makes me jealous the way he uses words to create images. The ending might have been a little underwhelming, but I still thoroughly enjoyed it.


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#9: England…er, Thailand: A Brief Coda

The 30×30 said go to England. Not Thailand.

I realize this is the second item swap on the 30×30, and there’s another on the way, and I’m never going to read 100 books by December, that was never actually possible. Part of me – the rigid part – wants to beat myself up over this.  I’m a little namby-pamby who can’t achieve the actual goals she sets for herself, and thus has to tweak her experiences to make it seem like she did.

I have a friend who told me his philosophy is basically (and I’m paraphrasing, I hope I don’t offend him): make plans knowing you’ll probably break them, or make plans even intending to break them. I think I’m just starting to understand what that means: intend to do something because even if you do something else, you’ll still have had an experience. If you don’t make any sort of concrete plan, chances are you won’t do anything but sit on your couch and think about what you might do sometime, somewhere, when you have the [time, money, right partner, right transportation, perfect set of circumstances].

I may be far from completing this list but I’ve lived with more intention this year than any year previously.  I’ve said yes to things I used to say no to because I’m trying to live more fully. Plan or no plan, I’m doing stuff. And it may take until I’m 60, but all 30 of these items will get done. Or they won’t, because I don’t need them to any more.  I change and it’s okay to let go of things as I do.

So, yes, I didn’t go to England. But I did travel. My intention was to get a new passport stamp, to see a part of the world that doesn’t go through a tunnel under a river where I don’t see anything.  The spirit if not the specifics of this list item was fulfilled. It surprised the heck out of me that I allowed it to happen this way, but I’m really glad I did.

And throughout the trip itself I let myself go with the flow. I had an outline of what I was going to do, I had ideas and goals and plans, and when something else came up…I went with it.  And it was always a more unique experience.  Sometimes almost too unique…

Anyway, I just want to say: thanks, friend.  Your philosophy guided me on this trip more than you’ll ever know – and I’m taking baby steps toward letting it guide how I approach life itself.  I appreciate the way you’ve inspired me. It was a really good trip. 🙂

Categories: 30x30, Fluff and Philosophical Nonsense | Leave a comment

#9: Go to Europe…then take a giant leap right and end up in Thailand

September 1-24, 2010

I blame Kyle.

England was the target.  I haven’t been to Europe in ten years, and I’ve been craving it. Yes, I spent a semester in London, and there’s a lot of Europe (and the world) I haven’t seen, but I’ve also been craving surfing, an activity I’ve only done once (in New Zealand) but loved fully.  England has surfing: in Cornwall, the southwest corner.  I’ve never been to Cornwall, so it would still be new, and I don’t know, I liked the romance of traveling to places called Land’s End and Penzanz.  I love Pirates of the Caribbean, sue me.

Plus, I liked the symmetry.  I started my 20’s in London, and it was four months that made me grow up a lot. It changed my ideas about theatre. It made me more independent.  And as I begin a new decade, with a lot more ideas about a lot more growing up, I liked the idea of rebooting in a familiar location – wandering, remembering, planning – but still seeing new things. There’s a lot of ground in London I didn’t cover.

Double plus, I have a friend who was thinking of heading in that direction too, a friend I thought it would be enlightening to travel with. He has different ideas on travel than I do, he’s more spontaneous and go-with-the-flow, and I thought it would be wonderful to be flexible and see what happened organically.

And when his plans inevitably fell through and I knew I’d be traveling alone, I thought:  phew, first major solo trip, I surely do want to go somewhere they speak English so I don’t have to worry about communicating on top of worrying about being raped and killed (which I do worry about. A lot.)

English, England. Going “home” to start again.  Culture of the city, physical challenge of the beach.  Visiting works of art that are old friends and getting tan. Seeing new things but still being comfortable with my surroundings.  England it is.

And then my friend Kyle verbalized a thought that already nagged me:

“Haven’t you been to England?”

Why, yes, Kyle, I have.

“So…why don’t you go somewhere you haven’t been?”


Why don’t I go somewhere I haven’t been?

It’s a great big world and I’ve seen .000005% of it. If that much. Why am I returning to a country I’ve seen? It’s the first time I’ve left America in three years and at that rate… I mean, I haven’t even seen all of Jersey.  This thought really has been gnawing at me lately, literally giving me anxiety attacks:

How am I ever going to have the time to visit all the places I want to see before I die?

And so…I zagged where I was gonna zig.

Of course, being the ridiculous creature I am, I didn’t just take a baby step outside my comfort zone: I flung myself off a cliff. I mean, there are other countries in Europe. I have a vague familiarity with romance languages.  There are other English-speaking countries I haven’t seen.

But no.

I went to Thailand. Where they use an alphabet that isn’t…mine. Where speaking is based on tones so the same thing can have two meaning based on HOW you say it. Where there was political unrest less than six months ago.  Where they barely accept credit cards. Where it takes TWENTY HOURS to fly to.

Oh yes, I weigh my options and choose the hardest thing. I wouldn’t be my perverse self if I didn’t.

If I reached into the recesses of my brain to remember why Thailand first became appealing, I think the reason was twofold, and the double-sided coin begins and ends with google.  As you know, I’m interested in meditation and have a friend who did a meditation retreat in India.  So I googled “Best Meditation Retreats” and came across a travel magazine article that listed ten, including one in Thailand which sounded nice and cheap (I did do a meditation retreat in Thailand, but the same type that my friend did). Then I googled “most Buddhist countries” and the result was: Thailand.  Meditation and Buddhism go hand in hand as far as I’m concerned.

Basically, I let google choose this trip for me.

I’m going to write a lot of blogs over the next few weeks describing many aspects of my adventure, so I don’t want to go into too many details now.

Suffice to say, it was amazing.

England would have been amazing too.  But what this trip ended up being about couldn’t have happened there.  I could never have known exactly what this experience would be about until I was in the thick of it, but I know now it was about what I needed it to be about at this point in my life. Cryptic, much? More later.

I can say this: in England, I would have known exactly what to expect.  Exactly. It would have been safe and easy and great but unchallenging.

And I think the best part of travel, the most important part is to literally shake up your world view.  I used to keep a globe in my head, to picture where I am on it compared to where other people I know are. It’s been a long time since I’ve even thought to do it, since I haven’t been anywhere in years.  But I could look out from the globe in Thailand, and the world looked like a different place.  The view from my head was no longer the only outlook.

It was scary, hard, exhausting. There were things I failed at while I was there.  But it was mine. All my own, for better or worse. I learned a lot about what it means to be Thai, and I learned a lot about what it means to be me, the good, the bad, and the ugly.


Thanks, Kyle.  Your guilt trip was possibly the best of my life, and I’ve experienced a lot of guilt trips.

Watch this space. There is SO MUCH to tell…

Categories: 30x30 | 6 Comments

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