I’m Back

I’ve returned to the USA. There’s cheese here; I like that.

It’s been a great joy to see so many people I haven’t seen for so long. My social plate has been full for the last week and a half, and I hope all my friends know how wonderful it is to see their faces and hear their voices.

People keep asking how it is to be back; and it’s good. It’s surreal how ordinary it all feels, almost like the last year never happened and I’m back where I’m supposed to be. I’m different, though. The ten months abroad gave me a lot, in terms of focus, identity, belief.

Currently I’m existing in a state of unknowns. Thankfully I saved enough to invest in some things I need (an American phone, a drawing tablet that works, new interview shoes), but things cost a lot in America—like, so much—and I need an income sooner rather than later. I expected to feel more anxiety about that, but I’m putting a lot of energy toward the search, and it all has to work out one way or another. Housing is also an issue, and unexpectedly so, but I know we’ll find a solution.

My most overwhelming reverse-culture shock moment so far happened while walking into a Hannaford grocery store last Sunday. There are many Hannaford stores all over the greater Portland area, and for the two years I worked as bus driver Hannaford was my home-away-from-home. You can always find bus parking in a Hannaford parking lot, and I used to go in at least once a day to use the bathroom and grab a snack, or even get lunch from the wings/salad bar. While riding back from the airport, just seeing the Hannaford sign gave me a surprisingly intense shot of nostalgia.

So I walked into Hannaford on a Sunday morning, concise grocery-list in hand, and it was SO STRANGE to be alone in a public place and feel like I was meant to belong.

Every time I went into a mall or grocery store or market in Phitsanulok, I knew that I stood out. I was the tall foreigner who didn’t speak the language, and couldn’t be expected to know how to do anything. If I ever needed help, or if the cashier needed to tell me that it was buy-one-get-1-free on one of my items (which I never knew while getting it off the shelf because I couldn’t read the sign), it meant we were in for a half-mimed and half-understood conversation of broken Thai and broken English. I became really accustomed to that feeling of standing out, of being watched, of sales people whispering to each other when they saw me and then sending their best English-speaking representative over to ask if I needed anything.

So it was bizarre to be in a large store and to feel like everyone around me expected me to fit in and know exactly how to behave. It felt like a lot of pressure, suddenly, like if I messed up people would judge me. I didn’t realize that the lack of expectations for my behavior in a foreign country was actually freeing, in some ways, and belonging in a place visually made me feel like an imposter. Especially since I couldn’t remember where the coffee aisle was, and hadn’t steered a shopping cart in months.

I’m also really scared that Hannaford has stopped making lemon poppyseed muffins, which were my favorite. They did them perfect, too, soft on the inside and crispy on top. I need to try a different store, or a different day, to confirm. All I know is that the back bay store didn’t have them on Sunday, and it was a bummer.

That’s all for now! Despite the muffins, it’s great to be back.

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February Update

Hello blog! Just a quick check-in to let you know I survived the holidays. December Sketches, Christmas, New Years, my birthday, Valentine’s, Etc.

I finished the December Sketch-A-Day Challenge  and completed 31 sketches for the first year ever! It wore me out, though, and I wasn’t super thrilled with all of my sketches. Well, okay, here’s one that turned out nice.

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I’ve also have visitors. Four whole people in December, including my brother and some very dear friends. Two of whom stayed for almost a month.

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And then my parents visited, and we went to Cambodia, which was my first time leaving  Thailand in a lot of months. Then my parents went to India, and then came back to Bangkok where I met them a week later, so it was like they visited twice.

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At the end of a long day of touring Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Angkor is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, commonly referred to as Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is actually the most famous of many ruins, and we are standing near the back of Angkor Wat in the photo above.

Oh, and on my birthday I had dinner outside by the river with these lovely people (and the guy taking the photograph, sorry Andrew!). They even got me a CAKE, which was ridiculously sweet. Then, at home, I had a drink out of this glorious unicorn goblet which recently arrive in the mail from Lady Higg.

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I’m also writing, when I can. I’ve been wrestling some plot demons, but I think I’ve found a solution—to at least some of the problems. What with preparing final lessons and student grades, picking up an extra class, making travel plans for my last few weeks, and job hunting, it’s been hard to find the time. Did I mention I’ll be home in less than a month? See you soon!

Rainy Season

Friday night. Throwing a few extras in my purse before trotting down the stairs and heading out. Ako was already on her way to town, picking up a friend, and I would follow after. Others were already in town, all of us converging in a little while on a restaurant in the night bazaar for food and drinks. Some of us just wanted to get out of the house, some of us had transferred Saturday plans to Friday due to an early engagement on Sunday, and some of us had missed a bus to Bangkok due to a series of unfortunate circumstances. My phone was in my hand on its way to my bag when my bedroom AC shut off and the lights went dark. Seconds later, the phone rang.

It was Ako, already partway to town. “It’s raining,” she said. She was under the roof of a store somewhere between the school and Phitsanulok, trying to decide what do. As we talked I made my way to the window, narrowly avoided tripping over my harp in the dark room, and opened the shutters to let in the remaining light.

“Huh,” I said. “It’s not raining here yet. No, wait, here it comes.”

Ako carried on into town because she was already wet and halfway there. I decided to wait a while; usually these storms pass in twenty minutes or so. Soon the initial downpour eased slightly, and I ran downstairs and put my purse inside double layers of plastic bags and got ready to move out—but the slackening turned out to be an illusion. A few more minutes brought another downpour. The word “torrential” came to mind. I stood with the door open for a few seconds and thought about it, but it just seemed stupid to take a motorbike out into a storm like this if you didn’t have to. Even if the power was out, and the light was leaving the sky.

I stood by the large kitchen window as the light faded, feeling the cool air through the screen and staring at the rain, willing the sky to keep its glow for a few minutes longer. I turned on my cell phone every few seconds to illumine a dark corner behind me, and to check for lizards on the wall nearby.

Maybe 25 minutes into the storm, I heard a loud noise. It was a cross between a wail, a rusty door, and a foghorn. It was followed by others, a chorus of creaking, mechanical noises. I grew up with a river in the backyard and I’m used to frogs singing in the swamp at night, but this was a breed of frog I had never heard before. The rain continued well past the half hour mark, and soon I was only imagining that the sky was any brighter than the rest of the dark around me. I couldn’t stay here without light or food, but going out into the storm still seemed like a foolhardy proposition.

When David called, he solved my dilemma (he was the “missed his bus”  portion of the dinner crew). “Don’t go out if you don’t have to,” he said. “I just watched a motorcycle accident happen in front of me. The roads are a mess.” He had already given up on going to the restaurant, and offered to bring me pad thai when he came back to the school. Yes. Minutes later, I remembered the frog-shaped rechargeable lamp on the table, surely purchased by my Thai roommate for instances such as this. Soon after I was happily writing by lamp-light at the table, and not much later the power returned. David made it back as the storm was finally fading to droplets and sprinkles, and by this time the strange frog noises had grown as soothing as a foghorn in the night.

Oh, and the Pad Thai was delicious.

Me and Ako on a nature walk

Me and Ako on a nature walk

Me and David at a chinese temple not far out of town

Me and David at a chinese temple not far out of town. In this photo, we look RELATED.

The view from the chinese temple

The view from the chinese temple

A Weekend, A Sketch

Long weekends don’t mean too much to me, generally; I always have Mondays off. Brother came up from Massachusetts on Friday evening, though, and stayed with me and Brackett through yesterday. We checked out the newly renovated Dogfish Bar and Grill for lunch yesterday (I can recommend the 128 Free Street Sandwich) and then Brother and Brackett picked up some vinyl and a few Super Nintendo games at the Electrcic Buddhas nostalgia shop around the corner. They proceeded to beat Goof Troop in under two hours—a game that had seemed impossibly difficult when I was a child. Brother headed up to our parents house yesterday evening, and I’m following in a few hours. Sadly, I have to return my mother’s car. It was easier for her to leave the vehicle with me last weekend than for us to figure out the logistics of her and my father dropping me and another friend off in Portland on their way home from the retreat in separate cars in time for a scheduled event back home. It’s been really nice having wheels for a few days.

I can’t share the painting I was telling you about last weekend yet. I’m really happy with how that’s turning out, but it’s not quite done. My week was subsumed by another worthy project (yes I did make art during the week this week, though it was for a different purpose [an exciting one!] than my usual stuff) so I haven’t made too much more headway on that painting or my other digital art. I did make a sketch yesterday that I finished today, though, so I’m sharing that instead. I’m working on an illustration for the picnic scene in Chapter 4 (Wanderlust Chapter 4: City of Shadows) and right now I’m planning where everyone’s sitting and what they’re doing. I’m hoping to round up some friends to shoot reference photos this week (friends in Portland: I need about two more models for a picnic scene—let me know if you want to help!), so it will be good to know what poses I’m looking for ahead of time. I’m thinking Vanya will be in the background of the scene taking a swig of his drink. I realized I’d never drawn that before, so I did the following sketch as a study, using some stock photos as reference.

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What I did on a Sunshiny Day

Yesterday was Sunday, and Mother’s Day, and perhaps the most beautiful day we’ve had in Maine yet this year. Temperatures in the 70s, sunshine, everything you could ask for. My apartment, which tends to be a little cold during the winter, has actually been overheating. I forgot it did that. This winter was especially brutal. I’ve always lived in places with cold and snow in the colder months, but this year it seemed to just keep coming. I’m still a little paranoid about this Spring thing. I don’t quite trust it. Warm weather? Us? Must be some kind of set-up. Where’s the catch?

Yesterday was too beautiful to stay inside, so Mr. Huntington and I took the ferry to Peaks Island, the most popular of the islands in Casco Bay right off the coast of Portland. My roommate Brackett met us at the ferry and gave us a quick tour; his family has a cottage on the island and he happened to be out there the afternoon we decided to take our impromptu trip. After walking around some rocks by the sea and getting a tour of Brackett’s cottage, we walked down Island Ave to the ferry landing and sat in the sunshine and ate ice cream while waited for the next boat back into town.

The rest of the day was taken up with dinner, and laundry, and not much else.

What do you do when it’s a beautiful day, and you’d rather be outside than at your computer desk writing?

Is there value in disciplining yourself to the desk, to the work? What sacrifices do you make to further your craft, and where do you draw your lines? How do you navigate the boundary between distraction and things you need, things that feed you?

Ballroom Dancing (Our First Class)

Last Sunday night, Mr. Huntington and I attended our first class of a six week Beginners Ballroom Dance Course. And this is why we keep going to our jobs that leave us too tired and worn out at night to do our writing and keep up with our blog (a royal “we”. Mr Huntington doesn’t have a blog). We go because, when you hear some swing music playing and ask your boyfriend if he knows how to dance, and when he responds that he would like to learn but never has, it feels great to say, “Do you want to take a class together?” and to know that you can afford it, that it won’t break the bank, and that you won’t even have to eat rice and beans for the next week.

So we signed up for a class. We’ve paid ahead for six weeks of lessons at Maine Ballroom Dance, a large studio right on Congress Street in Portland, ME. In the past, we’ve seen the African Dance class through the studio windows while stuffing our faces at the Congress St. Bar and Grille. I remember feeling vaguely envious and dissatisfied when I compared my own inactivity to the people moving and jumping and making use of their bodies for something other than mindless intake. Last Sunday, the studio was bright and empty when we drove by in search of parking. By the time we parked and came back to the studio, another couple had arrived, and we all introduced ourselves and wrote out our checks to the instructor. It turned out that only the four of us had registered for the class, which is nice because we get a lot of personal instruction. The other couple is friendly and cool. They’re also younger than us, which is a new feeling for me, at nearly 25, to look at another adult couple and think, “they’re a younger couple.” We were all excited and a little nervous as we waited for the class to begin.

We learned two steps each of the foxtrot and swing at the first class. We’re going to be learning four dances total, including the waltz. I’m excited that swing is included on the docket, because swing dance is my favorite and I was disappointed that the Beginner Swing lessons didn’t fit into our schedule. I was the only one who raised my hand, sheepishly, when the instructor asked if we had any previous dance experience, but I don’t remember too much from the ballroom dance club I attended briefly in college, and in some cases I remember just enough to get in the way. I may learn the steps without too much repetition because I have been foxtrotted around a room before, but, because I remembered a previous partner telling me I was too limp in the stance, I overcompensated and my teacher told me I needed to relax into the position. And in swing, though I know the swing beat and I can rock-step with the best of them, I had forgotten (or never realized) that there’s a difference between open and closed position (in open you step straight back, and in closed you step behind your other foot), and I was doing the closed position step in open position and had to be corrected.

It felt really good to be dancing again. Mr Huntington enjoyed it too. You know how you feel responsible for the other person’s enjoyment when a group activity is your idea, like when you feel guilty for bringing someone to see a movie that turns out to be not very good, even if they said they wanted to go? I felt really gratified when my boyfriend got involved in the class, stopping us in the foxtrot for an earnest discussion of our stance and watching the instructor attentively as she introduced each new concept. We spent the first twenty minutes of dinner at the noodle bar down the street discussing how the class went, and where we need to improve as a team. We both had a lot of fun, and as Mr Huntington pointed out (“Not to be all mushy and cliché,” he said) it’s really good for us as a couple, for learning how to work together and for building our communication skills. We still need to do some practicing before six o’clock tomorrow, but I’m really looking forward to our next class.

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!