Highlights from the AMA.

I held my first-ever virtual book launch party on Facebook and it was not nearly as hard or scary as I had imagined. I guess that’s what happens when you have really nice friends and readers. One of my favorite parts was the Ask Me Anything. People asked great questions. So I’m posting the questions and my responses here. 

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Leaf: As an artist and writer how do you help yourself remember and stay confident that your unique voice is needed in the world? Are there special ways you remind yourself? Especially in times where you may have read a bad review or be feeling small. I think you are incredibly brave.

Rae: Wowzers. Well, I get a lot of kind people, like the people on this page, who say it means a lot to them. I focus on writing what I have always longed to read, and always being radically honest, because it has saved my life. And I do get bad reviews. With The Eve Tree, the reviews were about people not liking Molly. With my Journey Mama books, the reviews are about people not liking me. It has taught me more than anything that you can't please everyone, and I have a few tricks now. I always tell myself that it won't be for everyone, and prepare myself for fallout. 

And when I get a particularly stinging review (one person called me "just a whiny, dysfunctional woman") I go and read one star reviews on the books l love most, just to remind myself that we all get them. I also like to make jokes or read my bad reviews aloud to my friends. ("This lady needed to grow up!")

I think the thing about being honest is that I can easily say, sure, I am a bit whiny, or I was when I was 25, which was when Trees Tall as Mountains was written. And I am totally dysfunctional, but I am beloved, and so are all my readers. People react to things that trigger them. I also have sweet friends in my life who are very, very kind. And because of my blog, I have more kindness in my life than meanness.

Norah: How do you get the courage to move across the world? Did you know any of the languages before you went?

Rae: Chinua and I had fallen in love with India before we got married, and always thought we wanted to move there. Finally, seven years after we originally thought we would go, we went, but it was after a lot of thought and prayer. We had loads of courage before we went, and were perhaps blissfully unaware of what it actually meant to move across the world with three kids at seven months pregnant! We didn't ever learn a language in India- the language used in Goa is Konkani and I speak only a few words of that and Hindi. And we learned Thai after moving here, which has been super fun. It's kind of like having the courage to become a parent- you might not do it if you really knew the courage it would take in advance.

Jacob: What's the homeschool scene like in Thailand? Do Thais embrace it? Is it common there?

Rae: Not at all common. We have Thai friends who homeschool- most of them are in mixed marriages... I think it is becoming more common, but traditional Thai culture is more conformist in their approach to school. Our little bitty homeschool co-op is gaining momentum, though, and there are many like-minded people in Pai who are embracing creative schooling.

Ami: I would love to hear a bit about your writing process. Do you have an entire story in your head when you sit down to write? Do you know where it will end? Or is that all part of the journey ? ;)

Rae: I'm changing the way I write lately, because the way I was writing before took SO many revisions and I would often start the book three times over before I got to what I wanted it to be. 

So TRAVELER'S GUIDE was the old way. I had a seed of an idea, which actually came to me from real life, a friend of mine alone with his baby after his partner died in childbirth. And that sprung a whole story in my mind. But one of the main characters sort of sprang into being from nowhere, halfway through the book. So I rewrote it to include her. 

I'm writing a new series now (the first book should be out in about three months!) and now I dream about the whole thing, plot it out, and still leave room for those surprises, but I mostly know what is going to happen. It makes it easier, to have a grasp of where the book is going, rather than following a nearly invisible trail. I love both ways, one just takes longer and more revisions than the other. And the imagining is the same, but one takes place as the words are being written, and one before. 

Ami: Also just plain curious about your lifestyle. I see glimpses of your kitchen or living areas in photos occasionally but would love to see more . I love thinking about how people love so differently from each other around the world. What do you think you would miss if you came back to live in the states?

Rae: Mmm. Our lifestyle feels so normal to me now that I only notice the differences when I come back. We don't own a sofa- we sit on the floor a lot, at Shekina Garden and at home... I do like sofas. We have an outdoor kitchen, which you've probably seen. :)

 The interesting thing about that is that people are often around when I'm cooking, passing on the street, asking if we are a guesthouse, or looking for a specific guesthouse, taking pictures of our dog or children. :) 

As for what I would miss... everything, I think. We don't have a car, we have a motorbike with a sidecar. We walk and ride bicycles a lot. I take motorbike rides when I want to be inspired. I would miss those things. I would miss neighbors walking by and saying hello, or giving us bunches of bananas. I would miss Thai lanterns. 

I would miss outdoor markets and soooo much fruit. In America and Canada, sometimes the cheaper the store, the bigger it is. Here small is also cheap. I would miss shopping in small, non-overwhelming stores. I would miss practically living outside. 

But here I miss family and friends who are back in North America. I miss easily accessible art supplies. I miss places where the outdoors doesn't always want to eat you.

Jacob: When and where do you get the most inspiration for your writing/art? Also are any of the kids into writing?

Rae:  I get a lot of inspiration from real life stories. Both The Eve Tree and Traveler's Guide came from a spark of a real life story. I also take all the things I see and hear and think about, and stick them in my books. So if you talk to me, you might hear a lot of things that you've read in my books because I forget that I've written them. :) 

Now I'm writing fantasy and that gives me all the permission I need to let my imagination go wild! I have a lot of trouble with too many ideas and not enough time, never not enough ideas. Kenya and Leafy are both writing books and Kenya's comic books are something from out of this world. She's going to be amazing.

Heather: What has been the biggest factor in your life that has made you who you are today?

Rae: Good question: There certainly isn't one, so I'll have to list them:

1. My struggle with anxiety- this effects everything about my life, but it changed me because it caused me to be radically honest, which determined all of this- the blog, the writing. It also really effects the way I see the world. I feel a lot of compassion for people with struggles of the mind.

2. Meditation and devotional spirituality. Meditating on the word of God has changed me completely.

3. Mothering. Enough said.

4. Travel. I have traveled in many ways since I was eighteen. The world is a very big place with many, many different ways of doing things. I have traveled to another culture even in my marriage, in my friendships. I think when you continually cross bridges to reach others, you can't really be set in your ways.

Steph: I've just read the three "Trees" books (found the first one free randomly for my kindle) and haven't read any of your fiction yet, but it's a possibility! I was drawn by the way you describe spirituality and your connection with God. My question...how much of that is there in Traveler's Guide? How close is the character's voice/tone to your own? Thank you :) 

Rae: What an interesting question! I think people who know me would find a lot of my voice in Traveler's Guide. There is also a bit about Spirituality in it, in the character's own journeys. But it's certainly a novel, very much a made up story about people who are being challenged and how they work with it.

Jennifer: My question is - do you have a favorite author or a favorite book? Or if you are like me and favorites change a lot, maybe just give us a title or two that have really touched you lately?

Rae:  I really like all of Anne Tyler's books, especially Back When We Were Grownups. I'm a crazy Harry Potter fan. I really liked Where'd You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple, and The Solace of Leaving Early by Haven Kimmel was very beautiful.

Rebeca: What are some of your favorite books set in India?

Rae: I love Sea of Poppies, by Amitav Ghosh, Oleander Girl, which is more modern, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri, (anything by Jhumpa Lahiri) and of course The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. Karma Cola by Gita Mehta is also pretty cool.

Jennifer: How did you find time to write a book with 5 kids? (that sounds like the kids wrote it with you, but I think you know what I mean?)

Rae: I have also written another book, coming out in March, and am halfway through the second book of that series. Here's what I realized when I was frustrated, wanting to write but with what I felt was very little time: even authors often give themselves a couple hours a day. So I realized that slowly, slowly I could write a book, if I could find an hour or two a day. 

With practice, I have gotten much faster. I never wait until I feel inspired. I wake up before everyone else, often at 5:00 or 5:30 in the morning. I make coffee and write for an hour and a half. Right now I can write 3000 words in that amount of time... this is with practice and plotting. I set my mindset as one of a monk, rather than a diva. I go to bed early and I don't watch TV or movies very often. It's what I want to do; to make a body of work, so I work life around that. I also have a husband who has a flexible enough life that he can give me a writing day every week- but I find that so many other things creep into that day that most of my work gets done first thing in the morning at my desk.

Kelli: "To make a body of work". What a great goal. Can you say more about this goal and how you came to want it?

Rae: Mmm, I think I got the idea from Madeleine L'Engle's book Walking on Water. She writes about the artist's service to the world being to create a body of work, and that really struck me. It takes the emphasis off the celebrity status of any one work of art or book, too. It's about them all, together, collectively, and what they have to say to the world.

Gunda: What have you gained from living life in India and Thailand, for you and your family? I know you could write a book on this subject alone.

Rae: Oh my. I think the question might be, what have we not gained? I am very, very thankful for every moment that we have been able to live in Asia. I have gained the ability to do without, to be creative in raising kids because none of what I am used to is available. That was certainly true in India. I have gained an intense love for these places, and the beauty of acceptance, when people accept me even though I am different. I do well in traditional cultures because there is more of a script- a way of greeting and being- and that calms my anxious brain. :) 

I have gained an understanding of food, and the ability to make nearly anything from scratch because it is my only option (or the only affordable option). I have gained a language, here in Thailand. India has given me beauty beyond belief in my heart. I think of traveling in Kerala with Leaf, blown away by the food and the color and beauty. I have learned to live where I am an alien in a way, and that gives me understanding of what it is like to be an immigrant to Canada or America.

Gunda: I am sure you are very thankful for raising your children in these cultures because of the riches and love they hold, but is there anything in particular that you believe has or might help them in their future lives?

Rae: Absolutely. I can see it in them already. The ability to be flexible, to be friendly to strangers, to welcome people in and figure out how to say something in another language, to be a bit of a spectacle and learn how to handle it. To go without. The older ones are already joining us as adults, helping people find their way around, sharing in circles. This is partly from growing up in community and partly from growing up in Asia. They will never be "normal," but they will know how to be global and how to deal with their differences.

Leaf: What were three of your favourite 'quirks' about India? And what are three of your favourite quirks about Thailand?

Rae: Just three? Ha ha. Okay-

India: 1. People brushing their teeth outside in the morning with more toothpaste than you can imagine, or brushing their tongues on the train with tongue cleaner. 2. Old men gesturing away on the back of a motorbike though no one can see their hands-can't talk without those flowing gestures. 3. Random parades or painted animals or things that are completely unexpected. 

Thailand: 1. The electrician drove up on his motorbike yesterday with a nine foot aluminum ladder under one arm. 2. Monks with orange ipads. 3. The handsome cop who sings Thai love songs at the end of my street. 

All the days that made you.

We never know how another person's heart looks. No one can know all the patches or stitches, the place where it got stretched out of recognition, the time it was run over in the street.

You are made of your days and weeks and no one can know how meaningful they were to you, how you grew up from a seed and you tried to do some things over when you failed, and you tried to believe the truth that God was always speaking in your ear, though you often couldn't hear him. No one can know the nights of insomnia that put lines under your eyes or the pure euphoric love of a newborn you have experienced. No one has you figured out, not even the people who have been through things with you because you are all shades and hues and lines of difference, and the resonance of a broken down car will make a different crack in you, and the beauty of a perfect cloud will radiate differently when seen through your eyes.

This is good news, though, because you have so many different tools at your disposal, ways you can tell your story or try to figure out what it is that you want to say. And you can listen with humility, knowing that you will never fully understand what it is to be another person, you will never reach the bottom of their well. 

And it is good news because the only person who knows completely and has touched and breathed on every stitched together, patched, tire tread-marked part of your soul, is full of nothing but the desire for the best for you. He will not pull away or be mad at you for being a mess. Your perfect days were his delight, your long hard roads brought him beside you, the many meetings you sat through, the unsafe places, the dark lands, the fire in the grasses, the time your house fell, the great seas collapsing, the hospital corridors, the oceans of paperwork, the crying in your pillows, the goodbyes and long lonely evenings, the way you've loved and not been loved in return, the paint strokes and endless breakfasts, the old days, the broken teeth and scratches, none of them, none of them are unfamiliar to God, who sees them all will perfect clarity and does not pull away, choosing instead to gently beckon you on, into the days to come. 

Stay

It’s a quiet morning and I’m drinking my coffee out of my new owl mug that my friend Christy gave me the other day when she was visiting from California. She was unsure of whether I would like it, because her husband, our friend Ian, had declared it hideous. What he didn’t know about was my tendency to become obsessed with objects (especially ones that I can call “he” or “she”) that are given to me with love. He will always be my coffee mug now, as long as he remains in one piece. (Time is ticking, our family is long-limbed and our tiles are unforgiving, but I will protect him as much as I am able.) I think I love him more because Christy was so smitten with him and Ian thought he was hideous. It’s everything good and funny about marriage and friendship, wrapped up with love in one mug. 

I believe in marriage and friendship, by the way. I believe in love. I believe in God.

I’ve been mulling over a concept lately, something I’d like to write about more. I call it “Stay.” Stay. It’s an ironic topic for a woman with journey in her blog name (and blood), but the idea is shaping around me as I live out my days. How to find yourself where you are. There are so many books and writings on people finding themselves while traveling, leaving everything, shucking off the old, being on the road. I deeply, deeply resonate with journeying. Sometimes I think my eyes are only properly open when tracks are clicking beneath me. But can I find myself when my feet are in the kitchen? Because if there’s anything that these years have taught me, it’s that as a mother it doesn’t really matter what part of the world you live in, you are still the center in your home, small people are orienting themselves around you, and you are still getting stepped on and elbowed and hugged and your ears are ringing. 

Stay. Is there a way to find yourself in a deeper way while staying still than while escaping? Sometimes when I am feeling claustrophobic in my life I think, “I wonder what it would be like to be a Korean woman living in Korea. I would like to be a Finnish woman and take a sauna every day. Or someone living in the Midwest of America with a dozen squashy couches and a bird feeder. But then I think, if I was one of those people, I would still need to grow roots in my own existence. 

I wake up really early in the morning so that I can write and paint and dream. I can tend to think, once the kids are up and the day is moving, “Okay that’s it for now, there will be more tomorrow.” By more I think I mean more for me. My moment is done, now the day is for everyone else, as I help with math and read aloud to them and preside in my wise judication of whether The Hulk is allowed to be invincible in a fight, or whether that is totally and completely unfair. (The rules of invincibility have given me more than one headache. Superhero legislation is beyond me.)

Is there a way to find myself in the center of it all, the storms and laughter howling around me, the hands and cheeks and hugs and tears? Can I really and truly Stay, with my heart, with my attention, with my deepest longings? Can my longings be merged with the deep calling of mother so that I don’t have to wait for my time? I believe so, in all of this life's crazy messiness and snap decisions, the broken honey bottle, the tweens grouching at each other. 

Perhaps I have been writing about this for years, but it’s breaking out of me more and more, especially when I read the opening lines of memoirs about finding ourselves by leaving. But what about those of us who stay? I wonder. And I wonder. And I want to be found. 

What do you think? Are you interested in reading more musings, meditations, essays on this? Also, here’s a question: in your blog reading, do you prefer more frequent, short thoughts, or rarer long posts? Thanks, friends, I don’t say it enough, but you are truly wonderful.

A long loop.

I drove a long loop on the motorbike tonight. The moon was ripe and waxing. There were ropes of fire on the mountains; the ones nearby, and the ones in the distance as well, at the very tops. 

When the moon hangs like that, like a gold piece of fruit ready to fall, it seems to be calling to be seen. So I stopped and looked. 

Can I actually be loved? This is my eternal question. Some days I dive into the question with joy, with the promises of God spooling out behind me; all the days of sunshine and love. But other days, with the weight of my peculiar anxiety curving my spine, I can barely believe it. I can't believe it. 

I drove again. Sweet frogs chirped in the fields, and I tried not to run them over when they hopped up onto the road, though a few came very near, mindlessly approaching me, perhaps to say hello. I read today that one reason the forests are burned in Northern Thailand is because of the fast-growing kudzu vines that take over and choke everything out, including the light. 

There is some kind of analogy here. We will be cleared, we will be scorched. John the Baptist eating wild honey in the wilderness, scorching the way to Christ. 

If anxiety was something that made me cool and brooding, well, that would be something. But it isn't. It often makes me immature, fearful, and petulant. Inconsistent. It is the worst part of me. (Is it a part of me?) These are not attributes you want in your wife, your mother, your friend. And this is the truth, and this is what I face as I drive under the moon, the smoke from many fires stinging my already tearful eyes.

I would like to write a poem for everyone I lived with, everyone who has been touched by my anxiety. 

Hello (the poem would say)
I'm sorry about the times I was fighting
when there was nothing to fight
but the empty air of my fears,
and you blinked at my fists in confusion.
"Oh," you must have thought. 
"I didn't know we were boxing." 
I wish I could stop the constant hum
the thousand cicadas in my veins.
But anyway, I love you.

This is it, here, because as much as I have learned and adjusted to what it means to be myself in this unsafe mind, I don't want to bring my friends into it with me. I look at my friend Leaf's eyes looking back at me and I think, No, no, I don't want this near you.
I don't want these beautiful new friends to be scorched. And it is worse somehow, that they meet me with love, because I can't run from love.

But this is the great mystery. That I greet God with my tiny fists raised, and he sends back love, in the form of sweet singing frogs, a waxing moon, my friend's kind eyes, and the inky night with its ropes of fire beating back the encroaching jungle. This is the great mystery, this is what redemption means, this is my question, Can I be loved? And somehow, the answer is, "Yes."

New Year Dreams.

"Good work finds the way between pride and despair.
It graces with health. It heals with grace.
It preserves the given so that it remains a gift.
By it, we lose loneliness: we clasp the hands of those who go before us, and the hands of those who come after us; we enter the little circle of each other’s arms, and the larger circle of lovers whose hands are joined in a dance, and the larger circle of all creatures, passing in and out of life, who move also in a dance, to a music so subtle and vast that no ear hears it except in fragments."
 Wendell Berry- What are People For?

What a beautiful thing: the gift of a new year. In a way it is a fake construct, in a way it is as real as it could be. There is something so exciting about looking forward and saying, What work will I do this year? Last year I took on a photo project with my friend, what creative things will I do this year? 

I don't really set resolutions in a strict way, but I do find things that I want to focus on in my life, and looking over my past journals, I'm happy to see that these intentions have born fruit. Slowly, slowly, it's true. But with one small step in front of the other, I am building a creative life, for myself and my family.

This year I want:

* More art in my life. From pictures on my walls, to my own paintings, I want to continue to sketch, paint, make things. Sew things. Fill our lives with color. 

* More beauty here at Journey Mama. I want to breathe more life into this blog and when I think of what I want it to be, it's very simple. I want it to be a space of beauty here on the web-- a place where people can come to rest and sigh and dream. It also has to be honest and representative of my life, a little journal.

* My hands in the dirt. More gardening. 

* Creative schooling. We are headed into our next school year, a little later than usual, but we have lots of time, days ahead of us to learn. Solo, who has been slower with reading than the others, is diving into reading. Kai needs to work on his writing. Kenya on her math. Leafy is blooming and thinking creatively. I want to talk about homeschool a little more on this blog, give you an idea of how it shapes our days.

* Deeper friendships. I am putting time into connection this year. We have a beautiful community and lovely family and friends far away. I want to be a good friend, sister, and daughter.

* To live without fear. My words for the year are Do not be afraid.  I'm undertaking some counseling this year to get a little more close to healing the deep fear in me. (Ironically, I'm terrified of counseling.) Will I ever really be fixed? Probably not in the way I wish. But I have a deep desire to grow, and I pray that I will.

* To have deep spiritual practice. My life work is to know that I am loved by God and to love others. To do that, I need to grow in my spirit and spend time close to the knowledge of God's love, in prayer, in dreaming, in reading, in meditation, in fasting. 

* To continue a good writing practice. I am attempting to publish my new book traditionally. We'll see what happens. In the meantime, I have finished a first draft of a middle grade/YA fantasy, and am scheming up a series. I also want to hone my non-fiction, to write with clarity, to remember how to tell a good story, and to not get complacent or stagnant with writing. 

* On that note, to broaden and deepen my journaling practice. 

Oh, and there are so many things. I take the opportunity often to review what I want to do, a month at a time, a week at a time, a day at a time. In fact, the plans we make at the beginning of a new year won't have much effect without taking stock at other times of the year. I rarely get all I want to do done, but if I set some things forth, I always get some of them done, whereas if they go unplanned, nothing may happen at all. 

What about you? What are your desires for the year?