Monthly Archives: March 2013

Thai moment.

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Of course, every moment here is a “Thai” moment by default, as authentic as it gets. But there were the promises I unwittingly turned into expectations: the serene Buddha-moments, marigolds strung into the stories of earnest young Canadian travelers, awarded prizes by Canadian journals for their gritty but delicate portrayal of Thai life.
Well, there’s no shortage of grit. But where the hell are the marigolds?
Then it’s four in the morning and I’m banging away at the laptop and slapping at the noseeums and I hear the monks. Chanting? That’s what it sounds like.

Pad over teak floors to the window. There’s the call of cicadas and rooster zealots, and yes, definitely chanting but no- this is wrong, I need a gauzy dress and a “steaming mug” of ginger tea in my hands, I need to be on a breezy porch, or on the beach. But the air is thick and tepid-I can’t hear the chanting from the porch, and there’s no beach, so I’m catching my Buddha
-moment through grimy glass slats, cement and overgrowth in my view, noseeums watching from the other side of the net, and still it’s okay, it’s only me here. And it’s right now.

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Hungry Man Blues.

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A Hua Hin night out, music in the center of town. Ex-pat Jazz band is shoved off the stage early to make room for a long ceremony with a 50 000 baht novelty cheque. Before he leaves the mic, the singer says they’ve never played to an audience who wasn’t dancing. Silence. 200 white people sitting in chairs with white seat covers. Behind them, a statue of Pone Kingpetch, flyweight champion of the world in 1960.

The cheque is presented to a Farang so tall he could be standing on the shoulders of a Thai. The leader of Biggles Big Band, all the way from Amsterdam. Last year they were rained out after playing only one song. He speaks Thai to polite applause. Asks if anyone is from the Netherlands, and most hands are raised. So he switches to Dutch.

Then it’s time to play: Henry Mancini and Glenn Miller, and compositions by the King himself, ภูมิพลอดุลยเดช. Two pieces: Blue day and Hungry Man Blues. Christmas lights over the heads of the Biggles Big Band, 200 Farangs, and the flyweight champion of the world. Kingpetch has one gloved hand raised in victory. Thais selling Heineken. Children and crippled Thai women selling roses, we shake our heads “no.” Thai lanterns in the canal that carries waste to the sea.

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On remaining optimistic without losing your creative edge.

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“You can’t have a light without a dark to stick it in.” -Arlo Guthrie

Do you remember when you discovered critical thought? When your world ceased to be perfect? Do you remember the first time after that that you felt genuinely hopeful? Doesn’t count if you were drunk. Or high. Neither does that blissed-out natural high you get after running or yoga (seriously, you people are obnoxious, stop!) I’m talking about a sentient, “fully aware of how shitty the world seems right now, and yet still hopeful” state of mind. I can, mostly because it didn’t happen until pretty recently.

I was at a meditation retreat, a grueling  painful, miserable meditation retreat, and needless to say, I wasn’t having much “success” with the practice. I was pissed off with everyone: the nuns, my fellow participants, the Buddha himself. My husband for agreeing that this was a good idea. His mother for driving me there. Whatever. Around day five or six, for whatever reason, my consciousness stopped fighting me, and I had a moment. A true, pinhole of light at the end of the tunnel moment, which I suppose was actual meditation and not the noob flailing I’d been doing up to that point. I felt happy. Not only that, i felt like I deserved to be happy. Then I got excited and screwed it up, and the moment was gone. But I had that little glimpse.

I’m not trying to push meditation on you (yes I am!) because it was only part (a big part!) of the fairly intensive regime that pulled me out of my hole. This regime also included therapy, supplements, and a diet and exercise plan that bordered on obsessive, Then I left my spouse, learned to live below the poverty line, and started my career as a writer. So I’m not saying there’s an easy fix. There isn’t. But, you do deserve to be happy. So go get it.

Okay, there’s my motivational speech on optimism. If it sounded like a bunch of crap to you, you’re just not ready yet, and that’s fine. A lot of artists believe their creative edge actually comes from their cynicism. That’s certainly the stereotype-angry artist at a cafe with a ciggie in one hand and a gun pointed at their head in the other- and I bought into it. I was totally one of the multitudes who confused extreme cynicism with a particularly intelligent or astute view of society. I don’t regret those years, but I sure as hell didn’t get much quality writing done until I allowed a tiny bit of hope into that world view. Suddenly there was a reason to write, a reason to improve my skills, and a desire to actually connect with people through my writing, rather than just shove my apocalyptic opinions down their throats. The latter approach had won me a like-minded audience, for sure, but few of us were making a career of it.We were just sitting around at cafés with guns pointed at our heads.

Here’s a quote a friend shared with me this morning about optimism and creativity:

“Blockage can occur if you decide, at a conscious or unconscious level, that the world is too sick, difficult, unresponsive, alienating, stupid, or bourgeois a place in which to do art. In a manner of speaking, you judge the world a fraud or a failure. This judgement is often tied to your feeling unrecognized, unrewarded, rejected, and embattled. But the judgement may arise independent of your personal frustrations, independent of the cattle-call auditions you endure or the embarrassing smallness of the roles you win. It may come upon you simply because you chanced to watch the news. It is easy to grow cynical or misanthropic, but it is harder to realise that such cynicism can become a source of blockage. The artist, angered or saddened by the world, may not understand that his blockage is more accurately his refusal to bring art products into a world that he does not love.”
– Eric Maisel

I don’t love the world. I don’t even like it most of the time. I don’t watch mainstream news, follow politics, or subscribe to a religion. Pretty sure that as a society we are totally going to hell in a handbasket. I love my cynicism, it built my creative voice and it keeps me real. My characters are usually flawed and dispossessed, and they don’t live in a perfect world. Won’t be joining the “life is pure bliss” crowd any time soon. But after I began my little crusade to always be just a teeny bit hopeful, my writing transitioned from angsty journal entries to actual stories, with plot and narrative, and most importantly, perspective. That also took training, and a shitload of practice. Again, no easy fix. But I had to see some purpose for all of this, some reason to create. Still not really sure I know what I’m hopeful about. But I’m thankful it’s there.