Writing.

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I’ve been finding a good rhythm, back in my space. I start by writing morning pages at the table under the white flowering tree, a cup of coffee, warm against my palm. Whispery Bible pages and the most beautiful words. 

(“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” 1 Corinthians 1: 27-29)

 Then into my little studio working on World Whisperer 4 at a new gifted desk that is big enough for notebooks and papers, for sprawling out. Sometimes I grab my jar of stones and rattle it. The jar of stones reminds me that this is not all there is, that I have been in many forests and on many seashores, that I have friends around the world who know my name and have seen me under many skies. Writing can be so scary that you have to reassure yourself of strange things like that. 

And just like you can hold stones in your hands, you can also hold the different people you have been: the daughter, the young friend, the crazy dancer in the city, the potter, the piper, the painter, the young wife and mother of one tiny baby, the dolphin lover, the cyclist, the student, the fool, the fool, the fool. I pour the stones into my hands and remember how small I am, that the words are just little words, and then I put them back in the jar and begin to write again.

I have dabbled with dictation for a while, and am back to the keyboard. I need the quiet to be able to write. My own voice distracts me. It makes me happy, returning to the keyboard. I feel that it is a familiar space, one that I have fought for over many long years. I do listen to music while I write, so that I can move. I need to move while I write, dancing or rocking back and forth. I’m sure it would look quite comical from the outside. And you might laugh at my collection of songs, which includes weird remixes of indie songs and a Chopin playlist that makes me cry.

***

And for a week I’ve shut myself away in a cheap Airbnb room in Bangkok, living a very Bangkok life of work and street food. It’s a little three room apartment, a bed, a couch, and a kitchenette (which I thought had a burner but turns out to only have a microwave, so I’ve been making microwaved eggs in the morning. I told this to my sister and said “It reminds me of Grandma, at the very same moment that she said, “Does it remind you of Grandma?”

Maybe when I said a very Bangkok life you imagined Khao San road or the Grand Palace, or worse, the party life on Sukhumvit, but the majority of Bangkok is not like that. When I think of Bangkok, I think of small apartments crammed with belongings, of people jogging or doing aerobics in public parks in the hot evenings, people coming out of their offices to pick up street food in the middle of the day, heading back with every finger holding a bag of iced coffee for their office friends, people lined up patiently in the alleyways in the evenings, waiting for a motorbike taxi. I think of the smell of coconut curries, of fried bugs in bags, of tiny intricate desserts. I think of the dividing economic line of AC and non AC, of the skytrain, of friendly distance. Street markets where you can buy colored contacts, jasmine offerings, or fish for your evening meal.

I find that in Northern Thailand, people speak Thai to me, expecting me to understand and respond, so I do. But when I speak Thai here, people nearly choke on their own saliva. It has taken me three times of going to the fruit man for him to believe that I speak Thai, rather than pointing from fruit to fruit, telling me the names of the fruits. Yesterday, though, he told the motorbike taxi guys around him that I spoke great Thai. With a lot of awe. (PS, if you are a foreigner, people will say this no matter how much Thai you speak, so it’s not really something you can judge your progress by. Though it is a little gold star.)

I also overheard boy in 7-11 asked his father what kind of person I was as he pointed to me. That was funny. I’m not sure either, I was interested in what his father’s answer would be, but he only answered “foreigner.” It’s nice when people call me something other than foreigner. At the second hand shoe stall in Chatuchak market, the owners remember me and call me the respectful word for “teacher,” which is cool. And at home in Pai people call me by a version of my name. 

I like to envision myself in other people’s lives, so it’s fun to live this life for a while. I write until my fingers can’t move anymore, and then I go out and get my papaya salad from the street for lunch. Write a few more hours and get some rice and stir fried vegetables for dinner. (That was surprisingly hard to translate- the Thai word for the different dishes you can buy to go with rice is “with rice,” which makes so much sense to me, easy and you don’t have to describe exactly what you ate, but it doesn’t make sense in English.) 

The papaya salad lady has been the most friendly. Turns out she’s from Chiang Rai, in the North also. Maybe people from Bangkok are a little more reserved? I wouldn’t blame them, big cities are massively overstimulating, with advertisements blaring from every possible surface. 

Also, my rooms are decorated to look like hipster Japanese decor, so I can also make believe that I live in Japan. Except I imagine Japanese apartments have more buttons, at least on the toilets. This one is pretty simple. 

I went out only (past getting lunch) a couple times so far. I went to Chatuchak market to buy used Birkenstocks from the amazing used Birkenstock place there (pretty much the only place I buy shoes) and then to the mall to go to Kinokinuya, the giant bookstore, which is a treat like no other. Surrounded by books: art books, design books, poetry books, comic books. They have a piano music section and a Chinese book section. You don’t know how much you’ll miss being surrounded by books until you have no libraries or large bookstores in your life. It’s been ten years for me, so trip to a big bookstore is as exciting as a helicopter ride. 

The same mall has one of the largest art stores I’ve ever seen in Thailand. Since I’ve moved here, we’ve gotten quite an impressive art store in Chiang Mai. It’s not big but it has everything. Everything I need (nearly, I still have to order ink) and lots more. But there is no beating this Bangkok art store for the pretty way they arrange their pens. I’m a girl of simple pleasures. Let me look at a pen store and some art books and I’m happy. I left without buying anything other than two new black fineliners (an addiction). I don’t need any more art supplies. I need to use the ones I have.

So that was my artist date for the week. Maybe I’ll make it to a gallery or something while I’m here, but I’m really focused on this book. And my face is a tiny bit disfigured right now, because it turns out that I can injure myself even alone in a couple of rooms without anything else here. I woke up one morning and ran straight into the glass door that separates the kitchen from the living room, crunching my nose and gashing it open. I lay there bleeding and couldn’t get up for quite a while, feeling like I was going to faint. If it broke, it broke straight, which is good, but I’m going to have a scar. Like a cage fighter. Although, unlike a cage fighter, it was only one punch to take me down. I told my friend Ro that I’ve ruled out MMA as a possible career choice. I’m a bit too much of a wimp. Anyhow! Back to Aria and Demon’s Arrow, book 4 of World Whisperer. 

I will finish this book. I will. 

***

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Play time in the sun.

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Everything seems beautiful to me lately. The hazy edges of the mountains, the way the color is bleached out of the landscape. The gentle browns and lilac at the edges of the day. The orange sun, bright as a marigold in the late afternoon, just before it drops behind the mountains. My neighbors, our old blue motorbikes that are so good to us, Chinua’s whole person, jasmine and nightqueen flowers, oh, the flowers everywhere. 

***

Maybe things seem more beautiful because of a lot of play, which restores the soul and body and mind and spirit. It’s Song Kran, one of my favorite play times of the year, because everyone I see is playing together, and there is no other time I can be riding my motorbike and have a complete stranger stop me, smile at me, and proceed to dump a bucket of ice water over my shoulders. Ro, Josh, Winnie, Kenya and I went out on the first day, which was a good one because it was crazy hot. We decided to leave the younger kids home so we could have one round by ourselves. We brought our water guns and roamed the town, getting a lot wetter than we ever made people wet. 

Families from neighboring villages went by in trucks, dousing us from buckets and coolers on their truck beds. Our artist friends had a crew by their art shop, and a refined artist I’ve known for many years turned a hose on me again and again. Ro was alternately for us and against us, but then so was I, using boring moments as chances to shoot water at my friends. 

I hope to never forget the sight of her when she got her hands on a hose, the pure glee in her face as she soaked us. The water droplets in the sunlight. Josh and Winnie marching along, united in a quest for fun. The man who grabbed me in a gentle hold and held a gigantic piece of ice to the side of my face, having done away with water entirely. (What? What is happening?) We went back and got the kids and had a great time roaming with them as well, although it was short-lived for Isaac, who screamed his rage when three people doused him with ice water, one after the other. I took him home and got him a towel, then ran out to find my friends and play some more.

Play restores. Let's not forget to play.

Long drives, lots of curves.

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We’re back and we just had our six year anniversary of living in Thailand. No wonder it feels so good to be home. Remember when I was searching for a home around the earth? My friend Winnie reminded me the other day, “You found it!”

I can be forgetful sometimes. It seems as though as soon as I leave my home I forget it. I start searching for it. "Where is it?" I panic. "Is it here? Is it there?" I am working lately on finding a home in my heart.

But here we are, back at our physical home. When we first got back to Thailand, we spent time with our friends who have a kids’ home here in the city. They are like family, hospitable and easy with their hospitality, and it’s a good place to land. Two large families live on the same property and when we arrive we bring the kid count up to 19! They all play together well, and I find it so soothing to be around big families and feel normal and not compare myself to single people’s time management skills. (I shouldn’t compare myself to anyone at all. I’m working on it.) 

The families flow effortlessly between English and Thai all day long and I love the music of it. I’ve borrowed a Thai story book and a Thai Bible from my friend to practice my reading. 

After we spent some time with the families—Chinua teaching some of the kids how to make a trumpet make a sound (you’re welcome, parents) and Leafy and Solo effortlessly absorbed into a group of eleven-year-old boys—we drove home. We dropped Kenya and Leafy off at camp first. (More on that later.)

We arrived home in Pai to rediscover the furniture that our dear friend gave us after she downsized from a family home to a condo. (All of her own kids grew up.) It was delivered on the day we left for India, so we had just put everything in the house and locked the door behind it. Arriving home to find it was like a very grown up Christmas. I’m most excited about the bigger dining room table and the dresser in my room. (No more pile of clothes to tear through when I’m looking for something to wear.)

In going through new stuff, Chinua and I thougt we should use our fresh eyes to do a whole spring cleaning and rearranging. So we moved the school stuff from the front room to the back, and made a table space outside under the tree. (Finally! I have been wanting a table under the tree forever. When we first moved in, there were a couple of falling-apart tables that I used to sit at till they truly fell apart. Now I have one again and we’ve been eating every meal out there. So happy.) 

After two days, I had to leave home again (what?) to pick up some Kenya and Leafy from camp and drop off Kai and our friend Vrinda for Senior High Camp. I left Solo and Isaac with their Superstar Dad and keep looking around to see if my kid is yelling, only to remember I left the yelling ones at home. The camp didn’t quite live up to Maple Springs fame, (nothing does) but it was fun and they had a great time. Leafy missed me, and today he seems a little like he needs to go home. To be fair, it was weird to land in the airport and then be dropped off at camp without even getting back to Pai. Yesterday we roamed the mall like a bunch of teenagers (well, they are teenagers and I'm sort of like one sometimes) and wandered through the art store and book store. We’re in a SPENDNOTHING month, so I restrained myself to buying two pens and an eraser, and a pour-over coffee filter. Which isn’t nothing, granted, but I’m out of pens and our coffee filter broke in the travels. 

My friend Prang and I went for a long walk around the neighborhood last night, and talked and talked and watched starlings darting around in the dusk. Leafy played Settlers of Catan with three of the girls, and Kai, Kenya, Leafy and I played Taboo with my friend Cindy and the other kids. We did away with points and competition and just yelled out guesses.

This morning I woke up to the sound of spotted doves, bulbuls, and koels, and soon kids were playing in the yard and I heard those sounds too. We may or may not be able to drive home after Kenya’s dentist appointment this evening (I’m not so great at making myself drive at night, not because I can’t but because I don’t want to, but this time I may do it, just because I want to be home so badly) and I can’t wait until Thursday, because it's art day and Kai and Kenya and I have plans. Right now four little girls in this house are preparing for a birthday party with scissors and tape and lots of paper folding, while listening to Zombie by the Cranberries. They're not so little anymore, these girls, but they are the same ones who told me they loved eating fish eyes, back when they were adorable five-year-olds in princess dresses. And I realized, I am in another country. And I realize I am now again, and all the little details of life—the shopping and chopping vegetables and cleaning out the old stuff— they all feel new and beautiful. Traveling does that, I guess, helps you to see your home through new eyes. Helps you to fall in love again.

I don't want to forget...

 Mom and Dad at the National Children's Day festivities. Dad is holding Isaac's balloon. (Not his own.)

Mom and Dad at the National Children's Day festivities. Dad is holding Isaac's balloon. (Not his own.)

Bad jokes from my dad that Kai always laughs at. 

Sitting with my mom at the bamboo bridges over rice fields, laughing at water buffalo who escaped their pen after a woman gathered them up and locked them in.

Devotion circles with my parents attending, singing and sharing in the circle. Hearing their voices in such a familiar way, in such a familiar place, but after a long time of being apart.

Having a second cup of coffee together in the late mornings.

My dad helping Solo get his bike fixed, Leafy build a project, or Neil and Chinua build a work bench at the garden.

My sister, Becca, turning up yesterday, all beautiful and laughing, getting hugs in the street as the younger boys caught sight of her. 

Dinners at our house, around our too-small table, cozy and happy. Papaya salad and fried chicken, sticky rice and corn on the cob. 

Eating cake for Dad's birthday and talking about what we love about him.

Sitting on the porch outside my house every afternoon together. 

Making quesadillas together in the kitchen. Brendan and Dad bonding over jokes. 

Going for a motorbike ride with my mom on the back, through rice fields and on narrow streets, looking at cows and flowers. 

A special dinner with the four of us last night.

Seeing Dad and Chinua walking up to the garden together, ready to work on building the work bench. Talking and walking together. 

My landlords trying to convince my parents to move here, doing their very best. Welcoming and kind. 

All the tiny, lovely moments that are beautiful and rare. I am so thankful for this visit.

 

Very special people.

We have a house full of Devenishes, Chinua says. My parents have come for a visit! I drove down to Chiang Mai the day before yesterday to pick them up, and we ate papaya salad, sticky rice, and grilled chicken in celebration before driving back over the mountains to get home. My sister was also here for a few days and will be back after she visits the beaches in the south.  

I see everything through new eyes; how beautiful Thailand is, as well as how sparse our furniture and how differently we live. How strange some of it would appear— no couches, little softness, our mattress on the floor. 

Yesterday we were all up in the dark making coffee in our outdoor kitchen. My parents woke up in the wee-est of hours, jetlagged and body-confused. I was up for work, so we drank coffee and sat on chairs in the kitchen. I went to write for a while, then came back to sit on the porch with them. My dad climbed into the chariot with me to drive to the market. I showed him off, telling all the market ladies that he was my dad, and they exclaimed that he was still so young and strong! Parents are a big deal in Thailand, so it is suitably gratifying to show them off. 

We bought a lot of vegetables and my dad pointed at various things and asked what they all were. He started planning a stir fry. Shopping for vegetables in the market is one of the very best things about living here, so it felt amazing to wander around the market with him. I’ll take him and my mom to the afternoon street market next. 

Yesterday we ate, and cooked, and rested, and talked. Leafy told Becca that her Star Wars name would be Chewbecca. My mom made friends with Wookie, our little white dog. Kai sat and chatted with us, breaking out with his amazing smile often, showing us pictures of what Wookie’s babies would look like and begging for puppies. Solo and Kenya went for a macramé class and when they came back, Becca and Kenya and I had some of our insane cuddles. At one point Kenya “sat” in my lap for a while, and Becca came and joined her, until I was on the bottom of a puddle of my favorite girls. Isaac ran around telling stories and refusing to give hugs. There was a lot of love, a lot of happiness. 

 Brendan and Ruby came over for Pad Kee Mao (a noodle stirfry) at dinner time and we pulled out google maps of Vancouver Island to explain how big it is and how it is oriented. Brendan told them about his retreat on a lake in Ontario, and they told him about living in Australia in the early 80’s, comparing place names and wondering if they knew the same people. 

I love it when people I love meet each other. I think it’s going to be a good few weeks of a lot of chatter and goodness. I want to remember all of it.

***

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