Time to Settle in…Almost

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neil gaiman

I’ve been back from my Epic Adventure for about six weeks now. I gotta tell you, it’s taken that long to get back into the swing of things. Which is something, considering the trip itself was only three weeks. But we did a hell of alot of living in those three weeks, so it has taken some time to process.

I felt creatively disconnected during my travels this time around. I thought I would feel the opposite, but somehow that didn’t pan out. A friend recently asked me if I enjoyed my trip. I said that yes, I did enjoy it, but I’m actually enjoying it more now that we are back. Isn’t that funny? The memory of the trip is providing more joy and fueling the creative fire more than than the actual experience of it. Weird. But cool. I’m cool with that.

I have that creative itch again. That little voice inside that says, “Write! Draw! Paint! Make stuff! Do it now!” I like that voice. That voice feels good. That voice is so happy at 7am with a cup of coffee, a notebook and a pen, sitting on my front porch in the stillness of the suburban morning. That voice is sometimes a whisper, but it’s gaining momentum. It’ll be a roar soon.

But I’m not quite there yet. I’ve actually got a little more traveling to do. Crazy. It’s been an absolute embarrassment of travel over here since May. First Colorado, then Orlando, then Chicago, then Frankfurt, then Rome, the Istanbul, then Bulgaria, then Greece, then back home, now off to the beach for a couple of days (poor me) and then camping in Sequoia next week. Then home for a good spell.

I’m really looking forward to settling in. It’s getting to be that time of year. Summer will turn to fall, and I’ll be incubating and coaxing ideas into life. I can’t wait.

The One Thing That Makes Travel Worth It

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Travel can be a real pain in the ass.

First, there’s everything you have to do to prepare: get ahead on work, clean the house, pack, take care of the yard, arrange for house/pet sitters, alert your credit card companies, make sure you have all the proper paperwork like visas and copies of things like passports – and that’s just what I can think of off the top of my head.

Then, there’s the process of getting there. If you are traveling to the other side of the world it could take a couple of days. Your legs ache from 14-hour plane rides. You have a headache for three straight days. Your feet swell. You develop an unpleasant body odor, as does the guy sitting next to you. Your mouth starts to feel like a sewer.

Once you get there, you’re jet-lagged, you feel tired pretty much all the time from walking so much, your feet swell even more, your body sweats continuously in places that it has never sweat before. You worry you’re missing out on seeing something because you don’t have enough time, yet all you want to do is slow down so you can take it all in.

It’s stressful, and it makes you stinky. Well, it does that to me anyway. And sometimes shit happens like your luggage doesn’t arrive, you lose your credit card, or somebody gets really sick and you have to see a doctor who doesn’t speak English.

You come home to three weeks of unopened mail, bills piling up, more jet lag, needy pets, a yard that looks like a jungle, a smelly house, and work that needs to be attended to immediately if not before.

It’s stressful. It sounds awful. Why do we do it?

When we returned from our latest trip to western and Eastern Europe, a friend asked me, “What was the most memorable moment of your trip?”

No one ever put it to me that way before. Usually I get asked, “What was your favorite place?” or “What was the best thing you ate?” But the most memorable moment?

I didn’t even have to think about it. I knew exactly what it was.

It was the moment we got off the metro in Rome and headed up the stairs toward the street. It was crowded and I could just see over the heads of the travelers in front of me to the outside. Ancient ruins, blue sky and white, puffy clouds teased me. I actually turned to my husband and warned him, “I’m going to freak out in about ten seconds when we get outside.”

We emerged from the metro station and there it was: the Colosseum. I took four years of Latin in high school. My favorite part, always, was learning about ancient Roman culture. I’ve seen countless photos of the Colosseum, the Forum, and a host of other archaeological wonders. But always on paper. Never in real life. My parents didn’t have the money to send me on the yearly trip to Rome with Latin Club. Visiting was always a dream.

My heart quickened. I could barely contain my enthusiasm. I wanted to turn to the people around me and shout, “Look! You guys! It’s the fucking COLOSSEUM! It’s RIGHT THERE! OhmygodOhmygodOhmygod!!!” and dance a crazy little jig while thrusting my hands in its direction.

Lucky for my husband I kept a lid on such outward signs of ecstasy. (Okay, maybe I danced and shouted a little bit). But we stood there for a good hour so we could stare at it in disbelief. I mean, it was right there in front of me. For real. In real life. Holy cow.

You guys! It's the COLOSSEUM!
You guys! It’s the COLOSSEUM!

So – that’s why I do it. I suffer through the general unpleasantness of foreign travel because of those moments. The ones that make your heart race and your mind explode. That give your enthusiasm and your spirit a big old kick in the pants. The ones that ignite your imagination and fill your well. It’s worth the swollen feet and smelly crotches and stinky armpits and weary legs and lost luggage and misplaced credit cards and all the preparation before and damage control after.

It’s worth it.

To have your heart burst open with the wonder of it all. To taste the magic of life, even for a brief moment. To feel connected to history and to feel a part of the world community. To have profound reverence for what has come before you and what will come after. To look around and realize how small your are, but how lucky you are. To be filled full up with gratitude.

What was your most memorable moment from your last trip?

You guys! It's a rainbow! In ROME!
You guys! It’s a rainbow! In ROME!

 

Flash Fiction – Lost and Found

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Today's flash fiction writing prompt
Today’s flash fiction writing prompt

 

“Yellow. It was yellow.”

The man sat down in a dejected, broken hump, the pieces of his body leaden lumps hastily patched together. Any small shift in balance might send him toppling over. Looking at him like that made the woman behind the counter feel somehow heavier herself.

“Can you tell me where you may have lost it, Henry?” the woman asked, trying to offer up a small bit of encouragement. But really she was just trying to keep herself from drowning in the enormous weight of the moment. It was a secretly selfish motivation, brought on by endless days of burdensome encounters just like this one.

“No, I…,” the man squished up his face, trying to squeeze the memory out of his brain, “I don’t know where it could have gone.” He let out a huge sigh that smelled of sulfur and practically colored the surrounding air an unappetizing green.

The woman winced. I don’t remember the cafeteria serving eggs for breakfast, she thought to herself.

“Well, Henry, perhaps you should go back to your project.” The woman pointed to a table off to the left. A half-finished puzzle lay on top, the pieces taking shape into an idyllic, if worn, winter landscape. She wished she could will herself to that place.

The man shifted, looking quizzically to his left, as if having forgotten all about the project. A tiny squeak emanated from his bottom.

The woman held her breath, waiting for another malodorous attack, but it didn’t come. She sighed with relief. “I’m sure it will show up somewhere.”

The man hefted his gelatinous shape up off the bench and over towards the table. Each step brought forth a tiny cheep or squeal.

“Uh, Henry,” the woman called out to him as he reached the half-completed distraction. As he turned to look back at her, she held out a finger while the other hand covered the smile spreading on her lips. “Look,” she said, pointing towards him and choking back a laugh.

The man turned this way and that, but could not find the source of her sudden amusement.

“Behind you,” she clarified.

The man swung around, clawing at his flimsy gown with his great meaty arms. His torso chased his backside until he stood with his back towards the woman. There, stuffed into the crack of his bulging buttocks, was the bottom of a plastic duck, the head presumably wedged into his great crevasse.

“There it is!” cried the man as he unceremoniously plucked the ducky from his fleshy folds with a pop. “Thank you, nurse!”

“No problem, Henry,” the woman replied as she rolled her eyes and resumed counting tiny pills into small paper cups.

 

 

 

An Afternoon with the Dalai Lama

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Today marks the 80th birthday of His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama. Months ago I learned that he would be coming to Southern California to celebrate his birthday, and I jumped at the chance to score a couple of tickets to what they were touting as a “Global Compassion Summit.” I’ve long been a fan of the Dalai Lama’s, and the summit’s opening event promised to be a lively afternoon exploring how creativity and compassion walk hand in hand. Sign me up!

Pulling up to the Honda Center, I was surprised to see groups of protestors outside. Who protests a peace party? There was a group of Shugden Buddhists chanting “fake Dalai Lama” (apparently they follow him wherever he goes) and a smattering of Christians with large signs proclaiming that Jesus died for our sins.

One of the Christian protestors from the event.
One of the Christian protestors from the event.

Given that the Dalai Lama’s mission in life is to practice and teach compassion, I thought the best way to approach these protestors was with – you guessed it – compassion. Although I was a bit miffed by their presence, I tried to take a compassionate point of view to understand what might motivate them to stand outside with signs and speak out against the man who is arguably the most pro-peace person on the planet. I didn’t reach any conclusions – I’m mystified, really – but it’s food for thought.

Once inside the atmosphere was far more convivial, with all kinds of people in attendance – monks in wheelchairs, Sikhs, Tibetans in traditional dress and lots of middle-aged Southern California women in tunics and yoga pants (myself included). There were vendors selling Tibetan wares, and I availed myself of some prayer beads and a Tibetan travel amulet. I’m trying to shed my western, consumerist attitude of “I’m outside of my house, I need to buy something,” but I’m not always successful. At least the prayers beads can help me meditate on that.

What unfolded over the next couple of hours can only be described as an amusing and bizarre mish mash of celebrities and Nobel laureates coming to the stage one by one to wish His Holiness a happy birthday. There are celebrities I associate with Buddhism – Richard Gere comes to mind – and then there were the celebrities that actually came to the event – M.C. Hammer, Randy Jackson, Josh Radnor, Julia Ormond, Cody Simpson and George Lopez, who told jokes about Donald Trump. What? So weird. Everybody was a little bit awkward, but the Dalai Lama seemed amused by it all so what the hell, right? Wilmer Valderrama encouraged us to introduce ourselves to the people sitting beside us (I met a nice man named Corey) and at one point a woman in the balcony screamed “turn down the air conditioning, we’re freezing in here!”

Ann Curry hosted the event, and all I could think about was why did she get fired from the Today show? She’s classy and awesome, and she was rocking a casual menswear outfit that rivaled anything you might see Ellen Degeneres wear. In fact, everyone on stage was dressed rather casually (except for the politicians), which I think is a testament to the fact that the Dalai Lama puts everyone at ease and encourages people to drop the pretense. The whole event had a casual air, like we were all really just invited to a gigantic birthday, complete with gigantic cake.

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His Holiness talked a bit about compassion while enjoying a slice of cake, and reminded us all that the purpose of life is to be happy. That worry without action is irrelevant, and he invited us to look at life from a wider perspective.

I can’t say I learned anything I didn’t already know yesterday, but I smiled a whole lot. Being in a room with 18,000 people all focused on the idea of compassion and spreading loving kindness is pretty awesome and powerful. I needed a nap afterwards; I was all full up with the milk of human kindness.

Whether you are a Buddhist, a Christian, a Muslim, an atheist – really, no matter what your religious beliefs are – I encourage you to listen to the words of this kind and wise man. He really believes we can change the world with compassion, and that the journey begins inside the self. Yes, he is a “simple Buddhist monk” as he calls himself, but really he is just teaching a religion of kindness. I can’t imagine a more worthy cause, and I’m grateful to have spent an afternoon in his grace.

Happy Birthday, Your Holiness, may we all give you a birthday gift of practicing compassion with each other, and may we celebrate with you for many years to come!