Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Where My Mind Wandered (The Last Two Weeks)

Well that was a little bit of a break, wasn't it? Though I've actually been more busy than these industrious shoe shiners in an alley in Hong Kong during lunch hour. It's exam season for my sons, and there is so much we know now that we wish we'd known at the beginning of the school year. We're doing our best to get through it. Our oldest just completed his AS Level exams, and our youngest is studying like crazy for his GCSE's. More on this later (including what I wish we'd known and how you can be successful should you find yourself enrolling your kids in a British school) when I have a minute to untangle everything in my own mind! 

For now I just wanted to pop in with a few things that have been on my mind, in between drilling key terms from Psychology on flashcards for my firstborn...

1. Honestly, I just read this article today, thanks to my Shanghai friend Matt. I have several readers who live in Japan, and a few more getting ready to move there. Tokyo is my favorite place we've lived, and I think part of it is the chaos of a bustling city is managed in both obvious and hidden ways. Check this out, and then tell me if you've got any plans to visit Tokyo soon (we do!).

2. It's Mental Health Awareness month, and I've been looking up prolific artists who were or are known to have mental illness. One of my favorite versions of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is illustrated by Yayoi Kusama, one of Japan's leading contemporary artists. You may know her from her work with lots of dots. The dots were one way she has dealt with sometimes crippling mental illness. She has lived voluntarily in a mental hospital for nearly five decades, within walking distance of her art studio where she still makes art today at the age of 89. Read more about her art as therapy here

3. Did you watch the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle? Sigh. I definitely did, helped by the fact that it was held at 6:00 p.m. Hong Kong time. As Mama to two boys, I openly wept big tears when William and Harry got out of the car, two motherless brothers, there to see the younger one get married. I love that the newly minted Duchess of Sussex got her own coat of arms, and that so much of it ties into her life in my home state of California. 

4. And one more thought about the Royal Wedding... the flowers! I'm named for three flowers (Heather, Queen Anne's Lace, and Roses) and am happy to say that flowers are definitely something I love. The fact that Harry picked some flowers from his mother's private garden to go into Meghan's wedding bouquet was so meaningful! Did you know that every flower has a meaning? Personally I only want to send ranunculus from now on, which mean, "I am dazzled by your charms." More on the language of flowers here. 

I'm going to stop there because I can't hear myself think. The flat beneath us has been under construction for nearly two months, and has a permit to continue to do so until July 15th. If you've never been treated to months of jackhammering, drilling, metal banging against metal, and other anxiety-producing sounds so loud that you cannot have a conversation for 6-10 hours a day, it probably means you don't live in Asia. I'm getting up earlier and earlier each morning to try and be productive before the cacophony starts at 9:00 a.m., but this is all such a drag. Looking forward to July 16th as if it were my birthday!

Monday, May 14, 2018

Book Club

Book Club spread!
Last year I read slightly more than 52 books in 52 weeks. We knew we'd be transitioning from one country to another, with little time to dedicate to writing. Reading is a great way to become a better writer, so I was happy to aim my focus on that. This year I'm still reading a lot, but with no direction or timeline or goals. Except for one...

When we first moved here nearly a year ago, I signed up for every event or group I could find in an effort to make friends and build community. I found a book club in our little beach town thanks to Facebook, and before I could talk myself out of it, I signed up. I'd never been part of a book club before, so I had no idea what to expect. The book club gave me my favorite book of the year, A Gentleman in Moscow, but it was a dead end as far as making friends. The group disbanded after my first attendance, before I'd even exchanged any contact info with potential buddies.

A few months later a local friend mentioned I should join his wife's book club, which has been going for a decade and also meets in the same little beach community where I live. It seemed unlikely that it would also break up after going strong for over ten years, so I downloaded the book to read on my Kindle and showed up, not knowing what to expect.

The first book club was a scholarly experience, where the facilitator had a list of questions and expertly moved the conversation along so that we ended exactly on time. For an introvert like myself, this can be somewhat ideal. Not a lot of time to quickly come up with small-talk, just dive right in to the book discussion.

The second book club is called Books and Bubbles and while there is always at least a small discussion about whatever the book of the month is, the focus is on the amazing food and drink the members bring to share (see photo above, actual pic from book club), and the conversations that spring up from a group which includes nearly a dozen nationalities and even more backgrounds. As an introvert, it's a little bit terrifying. As a collector of stories, it's exhilarating. It's the absolute best evening of each month, and I'm so grateful to somehow have become a part of it!

The books we've read have varied wildly, though when asked what my favorite book from my year of 52 Weeks, 52 Books was, this group also read A Gentleman in Moscow. I didn't even mind reading it a second time. It will likely go on to be a book I'll return to again in the future.

One thing about my year of reading was the conversations which sprung up over Instagram when I posted an image of a book I'd just finished. If you count the number of likes, they were my least popular posts, but the people who did like them, really liked them. I still get requests to continue. So I decided to add a little link here to the blog to show what I'm currently reading in case you want to read along as well.

Right now I'm halfway through The Book Thief by Alfred A. Knopf, which is definitely a great book to curl up with when you want to be cozy or if you're not feeling well and want to escape (though considering it's written from the perspective of Death, maybe you don't want to read it when you're not feeling well?). I'll update the link whenever I start a new book. Please let me know if you have any recommendations!

*Some links on this website may be affiliates, meaning at no cost to you, I might get a small bonus to be spent on more books. Thank you!

Monday, May 7, 2018


Guacamole by the beach with my beloved. Heavenly!
This year I’ve been pretty much laser-focused on my writing, to the point where I just unfollowed a bunch of sewing/crafty blogs so I’m not distracted from my goals with other fun stuff for this season of discipline. (Don't worry, I archived them in a place where I can re-follow them next year or when I want to make that my focus once again.)

On Saturday, my husband and I went to lunch by the beach for Cinco de Mayo, and over guacamole and fresh lime soda, I confessed that while I’m having no difficultly getting my daily word count goals met (it took awhile but I found a rhythm and strategy keeping me productive), where I am struggling, and struggling deeply, is with the raw vulnerability of spilling out part of myself and committing it to the page. 

I’m not even writing about anything all that intimate or raw or exposing. I'm not writing anything that I wouldn't share with someone (if they asked) over a first or second coffee date in real life. But it's still part of me, something that I nurtured and labored over and created.

It’s May, and this strange feeling hasn’t diminished over the last four months of dedicated writing, it’s only increased. Writing is such a solitary thing, with no collaboration to spread the success or failure among many people... it’s all on me. I'm the only one with skin in the game here, and to my great surprise, my skin isn't getting any thicker over time.

I saw this quote that in a slightly different form has been attributed to Aristotle: We become what we practice. What if, by opening myself up to being vulnerable, it's simply making me more of the same? And can vulnerability be a superpower, instead of something to wish away?

Brene Brown certainly thinks so. In her book, Rising Strong, she makes the point that vulnerability--the willingness to show up and be seen with no guarantee of outcome--is the only path to more love, belonging, creativity, and joy. I love that. It resonates deeply with me. Because I certainly want more love, belonging, creativity, and joy. Don't you? And if putting pieces of myself out there is the way to get there, then allow me to spill myself all over the page (or screen). 

At that Cinco de Mayo lunch, my husband was beyond supportive. I know what a huge help it is to have someone cheering loudly over even the minor successes. And sometimes that is hard to find. If you take a moment to google "why your friends don't want you to succeed" there are over 12 million hits. I definitely have had my share of friends who have loved me when I was miserable, but pulled away when things were going really well. They were only interested in watching me scratch at the wounds that had finally scabbed over instead letting them turn into fading scars. Or who questioned (and discouraged!) even a tiny step I made to improve my health through daily walking. With friends like these, who needs enemies, right? 

Yet to bring you back around to the point of this post... I'm grateful for the unexpected lessons I'm learning through my disciplined focus on writing this year. I am absolutely certain that without this focus, 2018 would have been like 2017, or 2016, or every single year before that when I said, "This is hard. It's hurts. It's easier to walk away now by choice than to continue not knowing if I'll even succeed. I'm tired of justifying myself to everyone, I'll just do something else creative instead." Just continuing to write at all (in my own private journal, for this blog, for my book, or for other websites I work with) is perhaps the most vulnerable position I've ever willingly placed myself in. 

It's exhilarating and terrifying in equal measure. And it's also made me the biggest cheerleader of other people on a similar journey of putting themselves out there in big or small ways. I will not be the person who tries to convince someone that their goals are too hard or too lofty. Life does enough of that without my help!

Let me know what you're up to right now... we can have a virtual dance party to celebrate! And then maybe some guacamole? That photo up there from lunch with my husband is making me hungry... 

Friday, May 4, 2018

May The Fourth (Be With You)

I'm not going to lie, when the whole May the Fourth/Star Wars Day sprung up a few years back, I thought it was cute the first year and then annoying all the subsequent years. Until two years ago, when my friends gave our dog Lucy Rocket a Chewbacca Tsum Tsum from Hong Kong Disneyland. Then all I could think about was how she perfectly resembles Chewy. So last year I took her photo with the Tsum Tsum and posted it. And then this year I decided to do it again, with some of my husband's Star Wars toys and propaganda-style Star Wars artwork we picked up in Shanghai a few years ago. I guess this is who I am now, someone who looks forward to dressing up her dog for a made up holiday. Good thing she completely loves having her photo taken! 

Happy Star Wars Day and may the Force be with you!

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Where My Mind Wandered (this week)

Welcome to a new edition of stuff I couldn't stop thinking about this week!

1. Every time I scroll Facebook and come across a photo of someone wearing their shoes on their bed or curled up on the couch, I have an actual negative physical reaction. We got in the habit of not wearing shoes in the house nearly 20 years ago, which made the transition of living in Asia (where no one wears shoes in the house) quite comfortable. In Shanghai, we regularly saw humans using the sidewalks as toilets, so there was no chance I'd wear my shoes (or let anyone else wear theirs) in my home. I got into a lively conversation about this while in America last month, so I wanted to share two links with you. The first brings you some science about why wearing shoes in the house actually isn't healthy. And the second is a wonderfully written piece about the non-shoe-wearing customs in several Asian countries. We have quite a collection of slippers for guests to wear when they enter our home, but unlike in China, most guests here in Hong Kong tend to just go barefoot. Maybe because we have amazing floors that feel good on your feet (see above photo)? What about you? Are you a shoes off or on family?

2. Have you seen the CBC comedy Schitt's Creek, starring Catherine O'Hara and Eugene Levy (along with Eugene's son Daniel)? It's about the wealthy Rose family, whose accountant neglected to pay their taxes, who end up living in the only asset they still have, the unfortunately named town of Schitt's Creek (which was purchased as a joke for their son's 16th birthday and then promptly forgotten about). I love this show so much, mostly because I love anything with Catherine O'Hara in it. A few years ago when we screened Beetlejuice for the boys, I shockingly realized I'd patterned a lifetime of sartorial and beauty choices after her character, Delia Deetz (mostly black clothes, bold red lip, bright ginger hair, heaps of confidence, check). The costumes in Schitt's Creek do not disappoint either. I went down the rabbit hole of sourcing one piece I saw on the show, and found this article about how they find the amazing high-end wardrobe pieces with a minuscule costume budget for the down on their luck Rose family. 

3. And here's something else you can watch... my brilliant niece-of-the-heart Maddy Caddell recently started a new YouTube Channel (she and her sisters make up the smartly funny and beautiful Three Ginger Sisters). While visiting her in Los Angeles, we spoke a bit about a new vlog she did on Generation Z. I hear so many complaints about how "young people these days always have their phones in their faces." Maddy makes some great points about why that is, and why it isn't necessarily a bad thing. Take 8 minutes and watch her talk about Generation Z and why they matter! And then definitely subscribe to her channel for more smart info on all sorts of great topics!

4. And for more conversation about experiencing life with a phone in your face, I couldn't stop thinking about this piece... Are museums purposely making themselves Instagram ready? A quote from the article, “In the pre-digital photography era, the message was: This is what I’m seeing. I have seen. Today, the message was: I was there. I came, I saw, and I selfied.” Another quote, “These manufactured entertainments aren't significant art exhibitions any more than a Chuck E. Cheese arcade or the Block of Fame at Legoland,” says Christopher Knight, an art critic for the Los Angeles Times. “They're just snobbier.” Read it and tell me what you think! 

5. And because fashion is a top Instagram topic (two of my friends just started new accounts just to post their outfits of the day), I've also been thinking about the upcoming Met Gala, where celebrities wear over the top garments relating to the year's theme. This year's theme? Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination. With Cultural Appropriation a hot topic on my Facebook feed, it made me wonder what you should wear if you aren't Catholic? And then my favorite Jewish blog echoed my thoughts with their slightly cheeky post on What are Jewish Celebs supposed to wear to the Catholicism-themed Met Gala

That's it for the links. I had a blissful overnight getaway with my husband because of Hong Kong's Labour Day public holiday on Tuesday, but somehow am still having to cram in a full week's worth of work in the remaining days of the week. Here's a thought: Do we ever really get a break? Is taking a break worth it if it means we have to redouble our efforts to get the same amount of stuff done in less time? I guess that's what I'll be mulling over as I'm sorting the never-ending pile of laundry that grew while I had my back turned just for a moment... 

Have a great remainder of your week, Friends! 

Popular Posts