Just how much.

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Today I spent a few minutes going through my archives, wriggling all over from the cuteness. 

Cuteness like in this post:

Or this one.

We are all so old and sensible now. The kids are sensible at least. Except maybe Solomon, who is still as crazy as ever. 

Do you know that feeling when you just want to break out? Break out of the wrapping and the cellophane, the fetters and the sticky raincoats, the customs and the politeness? Maybe I want to break away from gravity and just fly. Clouds heap up in the sky and in the evenings the sun touches their edges. I would like to touch just… there. That bright line between cloud and the dark sky behind it. 

I want Solomon to bloom with all the genius within him.

I want to do what I say I’m going to do.

I want to run faster than anything.

I want Kai to move into the realm of adults with ease and grace. 

I want them to know how much I really really love them.

We are fettered by the laws of gravity and language, of our own neurological abilities, of life with all its bathroom breaks and digestive needs. Food of course, and water. At intervals throughout the day. 

So I settle back down and write fantasy. And read books full of adventure to my kids. And suggest hikes to waterfalls. 

We did go on a hike the other day. We went with our friends Alisa and Emiko, and all our kids as well as a couple more. Sort of a homeschool co-op event. It’s a beautiful two-hour hike into the jungle, and at the end you find Elephant’s Head Waterfall. It is true jungle and the beginning of rainy season, so bugs are everywhere. There were bees (I got stung) and ants, and little flies that clung to your legs, and biting flies, and mosquitoes, and it was still worth it because of the beauty.

The kids climbed to an upper level of the waterfall and I nervously watched them (I’m always a nervous wreck around heights combined with slippery surfaces.) Two boys climbed to an even higher part of the waterfall, and Kenya and her friend Vrinda tried to as well, but they gave it up and splashed around in the pool. When the boys were climbing back down, there were sudden screams from the others.

“Snake! There’s a snake right beside your hand!” 

The boy, Joe, identified it as a green viper, and there was more screaming. The snake was coiled in a crevice in a rock that the kids had been using as a handhold.

They all got far away quickly, but Taran was still stuck up on the higher level, and the only way down was right beside the crevice. I called the kids to come back down, and when Taran looked around to find another way to us, he spotted a long tree that had fallen, high above the waterfall. It stretched from where he was to above where I was, and he gestured at it, asking if he should take that way out. Because he is a ninja, I said yes. It seemed like the lesser of two evils. So then he crawled along the fallen tree, Mowgli style, and I nearly collapsed with relief when we were all back down on a lower level again. 

Goodness. 

Perhaps it is enough flight, enough near-death experience for anyone. But still I find myself wanting a boat or a pilot’s license, or simply to be able to run like a cheetah.

And then sometimes a pile of yarn and a cup of tea are enough for me. Especially after a day in the jungle. 

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The things that help us remain.

 The punniest ones.

The punniest ones.

Well, May has taken me by surprise. I forgot how busy I always am, and how much emotional space is taken up by my life in my family and community. It leaves me breathless. I am sinking in, settling and staying and remaining in it all. 

This morning the world feels full of possibility. It rained all last night, which had me wakeful because of the tin awning next to my window, where I could hear the drops amplified like large beasts dancing around in our eaves. But gray is a color that the sky can be, and sometimes large beasts spend the night trampling around and you flow in and out of sleep, waiting for oblivion.

I have found a spot for quiet moments- a large boulder where I can sit and see the whole valley beneath me, a place away from people. I love my house in town, but I can’t see very far from it; only into the friendly eyes of my neighbors. Sometimes I need a farther view. The other day I drove out to my spot after a long day of talking, and found sweet breezes in the hills as I went. The day had been hot and humid, in between rains, but the breeze on the bike cooled my hot eyes. 

The spot I love is in the midst of a litchi orchard, and since the litchis are ripe right now, there were bikes that belonged to the farmers who own the orchard. They were harvesting and also, I noticed, pruning the trees, probably preparing for next year’s harvest. Litchi season is so short. So the trees were barer and shorter than when I had last seen them, and large branches were piled at their bases. 

I wondered what the farmers would think of me sitting there, but I went and sat. I hoped they would know I wasn’t trying to steal litchis. I read a few lines from Anne of Green Gables, but was too keyed up to go very far, so I lay back on my rock and watched the light change and the trees move in the wind. 

There is truly no way to order your life to escape hard things. Sometimes you have to settle into them. But what is the reward? What is the thing that helps us remain? I guess there are many. Cloudy mornings like today. Poems. Quirky kids. 

Quirky kids: all of our teenagers (my own and others in their group of friends) are currently obsessed with puns, which is killing me. I try to discourage them by telling them I’m not impressed, but they see behind my words to the amusement and love beneath. They know I think they are amazing, so they keep pulling out their shiny puns, offering them to me grinning, and no matter how mean I am in response, they know I secretly love it. 

Yesterday Leafy was missing when we went to do read alouds, and we called for him until it was apparent that he wasn’t in the house, or around the house anywhere. It was very unlike him to be gone during a part of school that he loves, so eventually I got worried enough (kidnapping! I would kidnap Leafy, he’s a prize!) that I called his friend Taran. 

“Is Leafy with you?”

“No, but my mom saw him out running.”

“Out running. Hmm. Good to know.”

He came back shortly, dripping with sweat. Apparently he’s in a fitness contest. He lifts weights that he made out of milk jugs with water in them and pvc pipe. And he had finished most of his school and gone out for a run. 

And I had five extra boys over for a while yesterday. One of them kept walking around wearing our Power Rangers costume. I’m so glad to be in a life where I get to see people wearing Power Rangers costumes out of the corner of my eye while I’m baking bread in the kitchen. 

So yes. Quirky kids. Also, color and bread dough in your hands. Rising like a mad thing.

Deep conversations during Bible circle. Deeply smart women making incredible discoveries about the words of God. Salad. Music. Possible future travels.

And behind it all, layered behind all the layers, sheets and swathes and reams of God’s love for you. He loves you and loves you and loves you. You walk around in a spotlight of love. He thinks you are adorable. He loves your laugh and your quirky ways. So that’s a thing that helps us remain.

I watched the sky from my rock and then a farmer spotted me as he turned his motorbike around, ready to head home. He smiled and called out, gesturing for me to come, and then he piled as many litchis into my hands as I could hold. I went back to my rock and sat with my lap full of litchis, and it felt like a lapful of light. 

 

***

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A list of sorts: (Or stopping to tie your shoe.)

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* This is what the kids want to listen to in the car (when we take turns choosing).

Kai- Daftpunk

Kenya-Arcade Fire

Leafy- Fleetwood Mac

Solo- Coldplay

Isaac- Imagine Dragons

* We have hot humid days, and then storms that break the heat. It is lovely and unpredictable. The landscape is becoming green again, and sometimes the sky is spectacular and blue, clouds flung everywhere.

* Our house is filled with tiny biting ants. They get in our clothes and in our beds. We’ve never had so many of this variety before. Under the earth, there are migrations of ants moving back and forth without checking with us at all. There are much fewer of us. Many more of them. 

* Leafy has begun weaving. He made a loom and wove a very nice piece of cloth. It took him a whole day and he didn’t seem to get tired of it. He did have a headache by the end of the day though. He has recently built a boat out of old milk jugs, and he is waiting for me to edit his first book. He is also one of the kindest people I have ever met. There are no words to describe the tenderness I feel toward this kid of mine. 

* Speaking of tenderness, I feel it toward people for the strangest reasons. The other day I was riding my motorbike to the afternoon market and at a red light, the woman on the back of the bike in front of me caught my attention. She was small and looked very young from behind, but after I saw what she was wearing and noticed the loose skin on her arms, I realized she was older. She was wearing a gauzy shirt, and through it I could see that only one of the clasps of her bra was done up, and she clung tightly to the bike, not quite comfortable on it, and I was overwhelmed with softness in my heart toward her. This is why the world is overwhelming to me at times. All of these people, they all have their own stories, and hands and feet and sometimes they can’t quite get their bras done up and they go around all day without knowing it, and it kills me. 

* People trip, or make mistakes, or choke on their water, or slip on the stairs. They say stupid things, and they are unsure of themselves, and they lose their keys or use the wrong words. Or maybe they don’t know what avocados are, and no matter how many times I try to explain, they look at me blankly. (This happened in the market today.)

* Sometimes Solo can’t sleep because he starts thinking about what he was before he was here and what he will be eventually and the concept is so huge that he cries and can’t stop his mind from spiraling outward, farther and farther, into things he can’t understand. I do it too, I think, but more often when I see someone stop to tie their shoelace, or walk into a post. 

* The anxiety beast has been dogging my steps for a while, and I’m pulling out every trick in the book to try to make it back off. The morning pages I’ve been writing! Julia Cameron would be so proud. But today started out a bit rough, and by the middle I was in tears. So I came home and cried for a while longer, then I had a nap, then got up and drank a couple of tiny cups of green tea and made myself carrot juice and began listening to the Best of Ludovico Einaudi on Spotify while I sorted out the Homeschool charts. And that is not the behavior of someone who hates herself, so I feel proud of myself today, despite the fact that my emotions are not within my control. (If I had to list off the number of times someone has stared at me because I am crying in public, the list would go on forever.)

* I am in love with boiled peanuts. I eat them as often as seems decent.

* I love light, wind, colors. I love clean things. I love fruit. I love people. I love my community.

* I started to go for a drive today but it was so hot that the heat came rushing at me from the pavement and I knew it was time to go home and get out of the sun.

* In our house when we start off talking about the coming school year, we inevitably end up in discussions about whether optimism and enthusiasm is dangerous and self-deceptive, or whether optimism helps with getting things done. I have kids on the pro and against sides of this debate. I have to laugh because it is our fault (mine and Chinua’s) that every conversation goes so, so deep, because they are our kids and came out like us, but with their frontal lobes still undeveloped until they reach the age of 22. (As my brother reminds me.) Parenting teens is lovely and I am exhausted by it. Both things can be true. In January I will have three teenagers, which boggles the mind a little.

* Isaac does math problems for fun and they grow increasingly complex. Yesterday he told me he loves plain numbers the best. 30, 10,000, 100, 1 million. Numbers like that. Plain numbers. Before he knew the words for even and odd, he called them numbers without middles and numbers with middles. You know, if you separate four fingers there is no finger in the middle, but if you separate five fingers, there is a number in the middle. I don’t think any of our kids has loved numbers as much as he does.

* He also beatboxes nearly constantly, especially when he is happy, and when he is mad he says, “I hate this day!” The other day I heard him say, “I love this day!” and I was so, so happy to hear it. I told him that he didn’t need to be shy about beatboxing in front of friends, and he told me, “Shy is part of life.”

* I noticed a friend talking to a man in our town who is mentally ill. He is outside all the time, and he collects food and trash and carries it around with him, all day long. My friend gave him something for his collection and then told him, “Drink water, drink lots and lots of water.” It was a tender moment and it made me love her more. 

* I was weeding out the old zinnias the other day. They are the easiest flowers to grow because they self seed, so you just pull out the old ones when they are brown and dying, and babies are already there to grow up afterward. Anyway, when I am working with the zinnias I always think of this poem that is in one of our school poetry books. (All the small poems and fourteen more, by Valerie Worth.) Such a simple poem, but it resonates with me:

Zinnias

Zinnias, stout and stiff,
Stand no nonsense: their colors
Stare, their leaves
Grow straight out, their petals
Jut like clipped cardboard,
Round, in neat flat rings.

Even cut and bunched,
Arranged to please us
In the house, in water, they
Will hardly wilt—I know
Someone like zinnias; I wish
I were like zinnias.

         ***

I think that is the problem with anxiety. I know what I should be. I know what I should be able to handle, and sometimes I can, but then there are times when the fear response comes and the drums of doom start up and I can’t stop crying, even in the airport, even in the noodle shop, even on the train. I messed it up, I think. They’re coming for me. 

It’s what I live with, even though God always loves me, and I won’t hate myself anymore. But how, oh how I wish I was like zinnias. 

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.