Thailand! Motorbike! Yeah!

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Yesterday marked six weeks since my departure from the US, if anyone’s keeping track.

There are a lot of things in life I just never really pictured myself doing. Operating a wheelchair-lift bus for two years was one of them. I’m a words-and-pictures person, you know, a books-and-paper kind of girl. Being on the road 8 hours a day and barking, “Ten-four,” and “What’s your twenty?” into a two-way radio wasn’t really on the bucket list. I learned a lot, though, it paid the bills, and it got me to the next thing. Which is here.

Then there’s teaching. I never thought of myself as qualified for the responsibility, and I only really decided to give it a try when I saw my twenties slipping un-adventurously away and realized that less qualified people than me apply for this gig all the time. Now I’m here, and some days I struggle with the work, but if there’s going to be a foreign teacher struggling at this school it might as well be me. I’m doing my best, and I’m learning.

Another thing I never saw myself doing is owning a motorbike.

It’s a 1998 Honda Dream Exces. Semi-automatic; four gears and no clutch. I’m still not entirely clear on the distinctions between scooter, motorbike, and motorcycle according to US standards, but I’ve gathered that this sort of thing depends on the number of CCs in the engine. I’m also having trouble finding the exact specifications for my vehicle on the internet, but my current understanding is that is below the 150 cc threshold for full-on motorcycle status. It gets up to 55 mph easily, though, topping out around 60, and I would definitely need a motorcycle license to operate it back in the states.

In Thailand, giant touring motorcycles a lá Harley Davidson are just not a thing. My motorbike is the same size as every other motorbike and scooter, and motorbikes and scooters are everywhere. They’re like bicycles! I got mine from a guy around the corner with some help from a fellow teacher who’s been at the school longer than me. “This is the one,” he said. “10,000 Baht.”

(That’s 300 US dollars.)

“Oh,” I said. “What about the blue one, is that for sale?”

It wasn’t, and that is just fine. I have grown to really like my motorbike, with its black paint and dented tailpipe. Somewhere along its life someone christened it with a BMW sticker, and it has a basket for groceries. I had originally wanted an automatic scooter, having had 24 hours experience driving one four years ago in Koh Samet, but Brian (the same teacher) told me that was silly. This would be cheaper, and it would be easy. No problem.

Brian is a hero, by the way. He got the seller (chicken guy, we call him, because the shop also sells roasted chicken) to drive my bike to the school. He then drove the guy back to his shop, and spent the next hour teaching me how to work my gears and start my bike while I drove endless laps around around a parking lot at the school. By the end of the night, I felt nearly confident. Easy! I am still not always the smoothest gear shifter, especially when I get to thinking of other things, but I can cruise along on the left side of the road with the best of them now. And having wheels makes life possible. Having wheels means freedom.

Incidentally, I’ve never owned a car before. This is my first motor vehicle, so I’m a little proud. But I would be completely stuck at the school, miles from anything, without it. It means I can drive into town to go shopping, to get dinner, to find a coffee shop, to sit by the river. And maybe it’s not really built for long distance, but taking an hour and a half highway drive to Sukothai and biking around the ruins of famous temples was so much more satisfying than an hour bus ride. Life is good. And life is still confusing and full of ups and downs, but hey. Motorbike. Ancient ruins. Can’t complain.

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I’m drinking coffee after 4 pm

Just thought you should know what kind of day it is. I worked full-out, busy, stressful days for the last three days, and I love having a day off, but I’ve basically wasted it so far (except for a few important things) and I’m having a cup of coffee in a desperate attempt to wake up. I’m also meeting a new friend at a bar in a couple hours, so don’t worry; I’ll be getting my social interaction for the day.

Last weekend was, of course, awesome. I got to go back to Michigan and see some of my favorite people, and we all hung out and had good times just like nothing had changed. Oh, and I watched two beautiful and amazing people promise to be together for the rest of their lives. It was a beautiful ceremony, and the wedding was a lot of fun. It was also a pretty tiring weekend, and you know how traveling takes it out of you, so I’ve spent this week sort of trying to catch up. Which is why this might be the shortest blog post ever.

I saw the new Star Trek movie with Brackett on the night I got back from Michigan, and it was really really good—so good that I’m planning on going again tomorrow (this time with someone who hasn’t seen it yet, so I have an excuse!). I’ve also been watching all the old Star Trek movies on Netflix; Star Trek IV (the one with the whales!) was my introduction to Star Trek, so I feel way more nostalgic about the movies when the actors are all middle-aged than I do about the original series. Also, last night/this morning (I started it last night before going to bed, and finished it this morning) I watched the Original Series episode Devil in the Dark, which I hadn’t seen before. I thought it was a really good one! …Now, if I worked at it, I could probably end this post with a lesson about how Star Trek is somehow life affirming and good for me (and all of us!), but since my energy tank is running pretty empty, I’m gonna go with, “Yay Star Trek!” and call it a day.

And that’s the kind of blog post you get when I write it in twenty minutes while drinking a cup of coffee.

Aw, man.

Coffee’s gone.

BROS

BROS!

David Triumphant

I found a boy with a harp, so I drew him.

It’s a David, of course, from the David and Goliath story. I didn’t have as much time to draw as I should have liked, but what can you do? Here’s a photo of the sculpture:

Thomas Crawford (artist)
American, 1814 – 1857
David Triumphant, model 1845/1846, carved 1848
marble and bronze
height: 114.3 cm (45 in.)

Source: http://www.nga.gov/

I arrived back in Maine at 8 am this morning after traveling through the night via Greyhound Bus. I have so much enjoyed my trip to North Carolina and DC, and I’ve had so many diverse experiences in the last two weeks. With any luck I’ll get to writing about them in the next few days, on the off chance you’re getting tired of all these pictures. 🙂

-G

Bookstore Treasures

Store: The Bookshop of Chapel Hill, North Carolina

http://www.bookshopofchapelhill.com/shop/chapelhill/index.html

Purchases:


Treason
by Orson Scott Card

Used, paperback, $2.99

A stand-alone Card book that I haven’t read yet. One of his earlier works. This is a version he went through and revised, post-Ender’s Game. I’m at about page 30, and so far it is a compelling read with some fascinating concepts, which is exactly what I look for in a Card novel.

Digression: I am aware that Orson Scott Card has been politically vocal in ways that myself and many of my colleagues find incompatible with our perception of the world. I still read his books, however, because I admired his writing long before I knew anything about his politics, and I have been both lifted and broken by his words too many times to cast them out of my life. Even when we disagree with people, isn’t it okay to still love them for the beautiful things that they are? Shouldn’t we try?

High Wizardry: The Young Wizards Series, Book 3 by Diane Duane

Used, Paperback, $3.25

I’m reading through this series very, very slowly—I began them in middle school, and read book 4 last spring. Book 2 (Deep Wizardry) is my favorite; the themes run powerful and deep. Book 4 (A Wizard Abroad) really lagged near the end. I’ve actually already read book 3, but I am collecting specifically this edition of the series, and it’s a little hard to find because they’ve recently been re-released with new cover illustrations. This purchase completes my collection through book 4.

Cover Talk: I feel like I really should prefer the new covers, as they are much more painterly and illustration-y, which is supposed to be my thing. With covers, though, it really comes down to what you read first. Also, something about the photographic quality of my favorite edition of covers really works to enhance the seriousness and real-world aspects of the series, whereas the new covers are just too cutesy and stylized to take themselves seriously (http://bowjamesbow.ca/images/young-wizards-1-3.jpg). Also, I just want all the books on my shelf to match.

The FinderFinder by Emma Bull

Used, Paperback, $2:50

Emma Bull does urban fantasy. I really enjoyed War for the Oaks. I couldn’t get into Territory, but maybe I didn’t give it enough of a chance. I’ve been meaning to read more of her stuff, and I’m hoping this will be a good one. Already, the first few pages were exciting.

Irish Myth and Legend: The Names Upon The Harp written by Marie Heaney and illustrated by P.J. Lynch

Large size paperback (8.5×11), used, $3.50

It’s about Ireland and it has the word “harp” in the title. Need I say more? Also, the illustrations are incredible, and Heaney re-tells several of the Irish tales that I am struggling to re-tell in Wanderlust. I didn’t bring any of the scholarly source materiel for these stories with me on my trip, and I’m hoping that reading someone else’s retelling will help me figure out how I want to do it, or at least give me some inspiration to get started again (I don’t have my marked-up manuscript with me either, but I recall that most of the story sections just had a big note next to them saying something along the lines of TELL THIS BETTER).

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North Carolina is lovely, and in a few days I hope to tell you about the trip south and driving through mountains and getting to know family members I haven’t met in years and how much fun it is to say “y’all” un-ironically. Some other time, soon. Sometimes I get caught up in what this blog thing should be and forget that all it can be is what I have to give, at any given moment. Today, this is it.

-Grace out

P.S. Have you bought anything exciting at a bookstore lately? Feel free to share in the comments.

Open Mic and Hard Times for Writing

Hello Blog readers.

I am sitting at a desk.

And you are watching me crawl out of a writing slump.

I likely brought it down on myself by being too gosh-darn optimistic the last time I posted about writing. You can read that one here. It’s a good one, and it’s still true. That’s still where I’m at. It’s still time to get to it, and there’s no time for writing lazy.

Still, I haven’t even responded to comments on that post, or really followed any of your blogs in the past few weeks. I haven’t updated the Wanderlust facebook page, or even responded to some facebook messages on my own wall from good friends of mine. What’s that all about? I don’t know, but I’ve always operated in cycles. Sometimes I can be the extraverted person, who not only wants to interact with the world but is capable of doing so. Other times, I fall into to an introverted place where any form of communication or putting myself out there is… not impossible, but really hard. Also, writing slump. I’ve been lazy, and I haven’t had anything to tell you.

I could have told you about singing at an open mic last Friday. Brother was visiting for the weekend and played keyboard with us. It’s been years since I’ve worked with a voice teacher or anything and I could probably use some help polishing those high notes, but overall we didn’t sound too bad. Check it out on the facebook page (because apparently I can’t post videos here without giving wordpress.com more money):

http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=374371732642080&notif_t=video_processed

Some big news: on Tuesday, I’m hitting the road. My Aunt and Uncle are packing up their house in Maine and moving all their stuff to North Carolina, and they need an extra driver on the way South (two people + 2 loaded vehicles = no one to trade off with/ keep drivers awake. 3 people + 2 vehicles gives you some more leeway). They’re sending me back on the Greyhound, and of course I’m planning a few more stops on the way North. Of most interest to you folks, you potential Wanderlust fans you, is that I’m hoping to spend a few nights in Washington D.C. Maybe you don’t know, but Wanderlust Chapters 3, 4, 5, and some of 6 all take place in Washington DC—Washington DC in October. I’m excited to get some more reference photos for the illustrations in this section of the book. Also, how much easier will it be to write about a place I’ve just visited, instead of a place I’m remembering from, what, Spring 2010? I’m hoping the trip will help inspire a few scenes in the city that are falling a little flat right now.

Anyway, I’ll keep you posted, and I will keep working, and get back to maintaining that regular internet presence as soon as I can.

-Grace out

The Harper Boy, and How He Began

A few nights ago, during a family game of Citadels, I said, “Now I’m going to spend all my gold and build a library.”

My mother said, “That’s just like you!”

My own harper boy, Vanya.

One of the September projects I am undertaking is to sort, weed, and organize my personal library, so I can finally get all my favorite books out of boxes onto my shelves. In the process, I’ve been finding a lot of old treasures. Most interestingly, I found some forgotten evidence of how my conception of the wandering Harper Boy began. These books (and song) clearly had a direct influence on my creation of Vanya, the harper boy of Wanderlust, and on the formation of my own life-dreams as well.

First, Adam of The Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray, and illustrated by Robert Lawson (pictured cover by Neil Truscott).

It’s all there in that lushly illustrated cover: the traveling Boy with his Harp (and dog!). Please note that the harp is strung incorrectly; it’s the only thing wrong with an otherwise lovely cover. Adam of the Road is a medieval adventure story about a boy who loses his minstrel father and his dog and must find his way through the dangers of medieval England alone. I’ve penciled the year 2001 inside the cover, alongside my name, so I read this book over ten years ago, in about sixth grade. Given that, the clarity with which I remember parts of it is surprising. Late in the book Adam reunites with a close friend. They find each other during a church service, however, and must contain their joy, keeping it close and secret and spoken only by their jostled elbows and shared smiles, until the service is over. I just re-read that scene, and it is so brief, barely half a page! It left such a large impression on me regardless; it’s cool how memory works that way. I also remember strongly the deep pain of loss when Adam’s harp is stolen. I remember the loss of the harp, and not the loss of the dog, though Adam himself cared more about the latter. At any rate, the dog is recovered, and the harp is not. At the end of the book Adam is offered a place to stay and become a scholar, but he says, “No, thank you. I am a minstrel. I want to be on the road (Gray, 320).

Next, a picture book: The Minstrel and The Dragon Pup by Rosemary Sutcliff and illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark.

Again, I barely need to say it. It’s all there in the cover: The slight-figured blonde young man walking through a green world with a harp. (And a dragon; how cool!) This is a charming little book, well-illustrated and containing more words than the average picture book. I first encountered it as an excerpt in a Cricket magazine, and happily found the entire book in hardcover at a discount store not long after (I think this was Middle School). The book is all about the Minstrel and his Dragon, of course, but it’s set within the archetype of the wandering minstrel, the harper who never stays in the same place for more than a few days. As a further parallel to Vanya, this minstrel even makes a sort of magic with his harp to gain the king’s trust at the end. Reunited with his dragon, he says, “Now we’re going home. Home to the open road, you and I” (Sutcliffe, 42).

There are a few other books that honed my image of the wandering harper, notably The Riddlemaster Trilogy by Patricia McKillip (which I somehow never quite finished, even though I loved it) and even Tokien’s The Hobbit, where Thorin Oakenshield is brought a harp that first night in Bag End when the dwarves weave a magic Far o’er the misty mountains cold…  Yet I think the third largest formative influence in my conception of the Harper Boy, the conception that led to my own Vanya, is the song The Minstrel Boy, written by Thomas Moore (full lyrics and some history here). The version I knew was by the celtic rock band Enter The Haggis.

The Minstrel boy to the war has gone

In the ranks of Death you will find him

His father’s sword he hath girded on

and his wild harp slung behind him.

The Minstrel boy has a ‘wild harp’ slung on his back, a harp he has taken to war, which further cements the image of a boy and his harp as fearless travelers. This song, which I discovered in early high school, is where the boy and his harp became distinctly Irish, and also where they became noble and tragic. The minstrel falls, and before he dies he “tears asunder” the chords of his harp, so that it will “never sound in slavery.” This, perhaps, is where Vanya acquired the haunting sadness that runs deep in his bones.

Adam of the Road, The Minstrel and the Dragon Pup, and The Minstrel Boy. All of these contributed to my conception of the Harper Boy archetype, and subconsciously led to the creation of Vanya, my own darling Harper Boy. The harp itself is a very feminine object (I can share my essay that touches on the erotic connection between a man and his harp at a later date), and a woman playing a classical harp is an archetype of grace and sophistication. The woman at her harp is an aristocratic image (like this still from Disney’s The Artistocats), and it is a stationary image. The woman and her harp sit in the parlor, to please and be worshiped by the society and menfolk around her. But a boy with a harp? He slings his wild harp on his back, and he travels the world. If (when? When) I learn to play the Celtic harp, I will, of course, be a foxy harper lady—yet I want to embody the archetype of the traveling harper, of the Harper Boy. The dream breaks down somewhat when I consider the logistics of carrying a harp on my back in addition to a pack containing my laptop and other life necessities, but I’m not convinced it’s impossible. Vanya is my darling boy, and I say that like a mother; a title I claim because I crave, so badly, through my work and words, to give him life. He is the culmination of all the influences that created my myth of the Harper Boy, but he is also that lost and wanting part of me that needs to strike out, brave and wild, and fill my beating heart with faraway skies and the music of distant roads. It’s a romantic notion, but long-term traveling, or any traveling, is a thing people do, a real thing I can aspire to and plan towards. And if my inspiration is partially fueled by the idea of the wandering minstrel, by that boy and his harp, who will blame me? We all come from somewhere and, as much as he comes from the influences I’ve listed, Vanya also comes from me, and wherever I go, whether I learn to harp or not, I’ll carry him too.

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Leave a comment, if you like. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this post. Have you had any similar experiences, where you didn’t realize what books or songs influenced you until you found them again later on? What characters and archetypes have informed your life? Does my archetype of the Harper Boy agree with your own mythology?

New Jersey, A Beer Review, and that Back-to-School Feeling

I just got back from a summer road-trip to New Jersey. One of my brother’s best friends, Ranger B, has been working at Sandy Hook Gateway National Park all summer. I drove down with Brother and Brackett to camp at Sandy Hook and visit Ranger B for a few days. Brother, Brackett, and Ranger B have all been best friends since elementary school, and Brother and Brackett were college roommates. The three of them still get together often, and even exchange gifts at the holidays (it’s sort of adorable). I’m three years younger than the guys; for a sense of scale, they were the cool high school seniors when I was a freshman.  In the early years, as the tag-along baby sister, my goal in life was to bother them as much as possible. Later, I idolized them, and hung out with them at every opportunity (despite being all pre-teenishly self-conscious about whether they even wanted me around). Now that we’re all grown up, we’re all good friends. I’m fairly sure I’m legitimately part of the gang, and besides, we couldn’t have gone camping if I hadn’t brought the tents. 🙂

View from the Lighthouse on Sandy Hook. You can see one of the beaches, and the New York skyline across the water.

We had a real good time. Sandy Hook is beautiful place. The beaches were wide and sandy, the water was warm, and NYC looked perfect (and perfectly distant) across the water. The moon was so round and bright after dark that we didn’t need flashlights. We toured lighthouses, we swam, we drank beer on the beach, we played card games in the campsite, we chased phosphorescent jellyfish, and we had some local beer at the Chubby Pickle and didn’t even lose at trivia night.

Hang tight: I’m going to review some beer real quick. Check out Ales to Lagers for more beer reviews by my best friend (Lady Higg: call me sometime this week? I miss you!). While at the Chubby Pickle, we had the New Jersey Beer Co. Hudson Pale Ale. I found this beer pretty interesting, because at the first taste I didn’t much care for it. It was hoppy and bitter, and also markedly thin and sharp tasting. I feel comfortable using the word shearing. Some folks prefer bitter beers, but I’d much rather have something smooth. I thought this was going to be one of those beers that sticks in my mouth, getting more intolerable with every sip (and between Ranger B, Brackett, and I, we were faced with an entire pitcher!). Here’s the interesting thing: this is the most drinkable bitter beer I have ever had. Maybe it was that shearing quality that sent it straight to the back of the mouth, or maybe it was that light and airy aftertaste, but this beer went down nice, was very refreshing, and actually grew tastier with every sip. Good job, New Jersey.

It’s Labor Day weekend. Soon, everyone will be back at school. For the first time since kindergarten, I don’t have any school to go back to. What a weird feeling! Still, all that back-to-work energy is in the air, and there for the taking. I’m soaking it up, and using it to tackle my own projects. I actually came back from New Jersey feeling really energized, and the best thing about my back-to-school substitue projects is that no one is going to grade them. I’ll tell you more about what I’m up to later this week.

Readers: how about you? Are you going back to school? Do you still feel weird about not going back to school? Have you had all the adventures you wanted to have this summer? Is there anything you still have to do before the summer months are completely gone?

Hello from Massachusetts

So I’ve been having trouble getting my words together. I haven’t posted in over a week, going on two, and that’s exactly the precedent I don’t want to set for this blog. My only excuse is I was on vacation in Marquette, Michigan, (read about that here) and when I’m on vacation it’s so hard to work.

On Sunday, I actually wrote up a whole post. It sort of had a point, and sort of maybe came together by the end, but I never went through and edited it because there were trees to sit under (I have become a sitting-under-trees enthusiast) and beer to drink (Honey Lavender Wheat, mmmm) and friends to be with. That post never got finished, and a lot of it isn’t really topical anymore today. The lesson: always finish posts day-of.

Marquette was lovely, by the way. I swam in the lake and walked all around my town and went to my bar and spent time with my people. It was a really wonderful week, filled with about equal parts relaxing and shenanigans. I’m really glad I went back one last time, and I think maybe this time, I got it out of my system. I’m sure this wasn’t the last time I’ll see Marquette; I left my mug at Blackrocks, and it’s there for me, waiting. I’d like to think I’ll stop in every few years, grab my mug, and say, Hey, old town. I’m back. Let’s jive. But for now? I’m ready to start planning some bigger adventures, and traveling to some farther shores.

Right now I’m curled up in my brother’s apartment in Northampton, Massachusetts. I arrived here at 1 pm today (Thursday) after a Greyhound bus adventure that began at 2 am Wednesday morning. That’s about 36 hours on buses, people, with no layovers longer than 45 minutes. We’re driving up to Maine tomorrow, after Brother gets out of work. I’m glad to be done with the buses for today, but overall I will probably give you a more positive review of Greyhound travel than you’ll hear from most people. If you’ve got time, it’s not a bad way to get around. It certainly qualifies as an adventure (some other time, I will have to tell you about getting through customs at Saulte Ste Marie) and it means you really feel the distance rolling through the ground beneath you as you nod off to sleep and jerk awake when the lights come on at the next stop and slowly nod off again. It’s more intrepid than flying, a little grittier, and definitely more of an ordeal, but for me it was a positive experience overall. If the opportunity arises, I won’t shy away from taking another lengthy bus trip in the future.

One more thing: I have a confession to make. I am terrified to write the last two chapters of my book. I’m not calling it Writers’ Block because I don’t believe in Writers’ Block, per say. Writer’s Block is just another name for lazy. These last few chapters are gonna make or break the book, however, and I’m terrified that I won’t do them justice, that they won’t be good enough, that they’ll render all of my hard work up to this point irrelevant. This is a foolish fear, because the first draft is going to suck anyway. The first draft always sucks. What I need to do now is plow through the fear and get something, anything, written down, so that I’ll have something to work from when I figure out what I need to do to actually make it awesome. But I’ve been on vacation, and there have been so many excuses not to write. Now that I’m coming home, there won’t be any more excuses, and I will wrestle with this demon, and I will write those chapters. Next week, I’ll let you know how it goes.

-Grace out