Tuesday, December 20, 2011

With or Without Wings

It's been coming down all day. Fat, fluffy snow. Tiny flakes of snow. Sometimes sideways snow. Today I feel like Christmas, and it's all the better because I get to be home all cozied up, until later this evening, anyway.

I've been missing get-togethers lately with friends because time has been so short when it's come to getting things done. Christmas shopping for friends and 19 seven-year olds aside, I've been working on a short story that will be one of three sent off to artist Kamil Vojnar as a little Christmas treat. My friends and fellow writers, Kirsten Carlson and Nancy Carroll, and I decided to each write a piece inspired by one of Kamil's amazing works of art, then bind them up into books. At the moment, these books are for us and for him, more of a personal keepsake than anything else, but we'll see where the world takes it, and us.

I met Kamil in St. Remy, France a couple of springs ago while Chris and I were traveling through Provence.
(Need a recap? http://thehouseofcole.blogspot.com/2010/04/provence-day-five.html) While talking about my own writing and desire to work in mixed media, I told him that many of his pieces made me itch to write. He told me that if I ever did write something inspired by something of his, he'd like to read it. This is how this project was born.

Our stories have been written, revised, picked apart then loved back together, and ready or not, on their way to becoming something else. A little collection of our own to love, and hope Kamil will enjoy, too. It's exciting because we're actually doing something, rather than just talking about doing something, but it's slightly terrifying because by doing something, we're sending a little piece of ourselves out into the world to share, having no control over how it is received. That's tough.

Although it sounds completely ridiculous after years of workshops and giving and receiving writing critiques this had never happened before, I nearly came undone when I had to sit and listen to someone else read my writing. What? I know. Ridiculous. But it's true, I'd never heard anyone else read something I wrote. I know that if I put it out there, somebody reads it, just like I know that when I share something I've written at my writers groups, people are reading or listening to my words, but it's something entirely different when someone else's voice is speaking your words. Out loud. Within your earshot. It's terrifying, and I even got a little nauseous listening. But I calmed down, comforted by the fact that this story that I've put so much into was being read by someone I not only respect as a writer, but trust as a friend. She read with love, whether or not she meant to, and that helped ease the muscles that tensed entirely on their own when she uttered the first words. As writers, we know there is a little bit of ourselves in everything we write, fiction or not, and therefor nothing is entirely one or the other, fiction or not. It's a difficult thing to let something you have created, nurtured and loved, go out into the unforgiving world, but it's a necessary thing if that little piece of you is to ever sprout wings of her own and live. Knowing that I cannot control how the world perceives her, or how she is treated beyond my grasp pulls tight in my chest, but I know this is the way. I've given her life, now it's time to let her live it, with or without wings.

And then I think, if it's this hard to let go of a little story I wrote, how the hell am I going to do it with a human grown-up child one day?!

Tomorrow I will get together with Kirsten and Nancy, and we will bind up our little darlings and create something together. They are both amazing writers, and I am honored to be grouped together with them in any form. As for tonight, I'll actually be making it to a get-together with the people I keep missing lately to do a little talking, a little eating, and enjoy the people I'm lucky to know here while they're still around. It'll likely be the last chance I have to say hello and goodbye to my friend Sara, at least in this stretch of life in Germany.

There seems to be a lot of letting go going on around here, but such is life, right? All we can do is open our hands and let her fly. And if we're lucky, we'll see each other again. All the best, Sara, to you and your whole family.

If you're interested in looking at Kamil Vojnar's work, visit his website:

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Ramble

There are so many posts I want to write. Trips we've taken, things we've seen. This Thanksgiving in Lisbon. (Last Thanksgiving in Istanbul.) But today I just feel like letting my fingers go for an unguided walk around the keyboard. I've been letting everything else step between me and writing, writing this blog, writing a short story that will be a part of a slightly larger project that will end up as a gift to a fellow artist. (I hope he likes surprises.) As much as I try not to feel obliged to follow some kind of schedule, it's my nature to make lists and work in a methodical way. This, however, works completely against the need to be creatively untethered, allowed to leap out and land wherever I happen to land. It's been a while since I had a proper ramble out in this very public little spot of mine, so let's wander through my thoughts, shall we?

It's cold out, but for the time of year that it is and the place where I am, not very. Today the sky has had a particular pink hue to it all day, even when it was mostly covered in clouds this morning. I'm wearing my favorite red, wool coat, but I'd rather be wearing my snow jacket. I can't say that out loud here because I'll be cursed for wishing for cold. When the cold arrives here, it hangs around longer than even the most seasoned snow-lover would like, and the grey days outnumber those with any glimpse of the sun so much, you start to wonder if your memories of that warm, bright light were all in your mind. But it's December and Christmastime, and I'm ready for some cold, anyhow. And now I've said it, so I can move on.

Right before we left for our Thanksgiving holiday I made a sad discovery. As I said goodbye to Heidi, or rather, her photo on my night stand, I picked up her favorite toy and buried my nose in its disgusting, dirty belly. My eyes popped open and immediately teared up. It was gone. My last little bit of her, the residual stink of her famous Death Breath that covered this little toy mouse had dissipated. Look, I know how gross it is, but it was something I could sense of her, something that was, while revolting in life, precious to me in death. I held that nasty toy and let the tears come for a minute, then placed it back by her smiling face and left. So it's started. Since I was 14 years old, this will be my first Christmas without her. I'm missing family a lot right now, and why not - it's the holidays. It's easy to ignore how much I miss every single one of them when there's work to go to and trips to plan and life to live so far away, but when it's that time of year when everyone pulls together to pay a little extra attention to those they love, how can I not envision them every single day? I can feel that old familiar tug in my chest, and this is usually when I'd scoop Heidi up and force some cuddles, despite her attempts to wiggle free. But not this year. And her stupid mouse doesn't even smell like her anymore and I could cry every time I see it now. It's not like I can throw it away, either. Jerk.

I found out something really exciting recently - there is another liberal in my family! (Like that shift?) Debby is my mother's cousin and found her way to my blog. I suppose my views are apparent in my ramblings, because I received a message from her a few weeks ago that included this little tidbit. It's always so nice to know that someone is enjoying what I write, and even though I'm sure I'm offending at least one person by not always feeling this validation automatically because I know they enjoy reading, feelings of validation about my writing are fleeting. I want to always feel like I'm awesome, but that's not me, so notes from happy readers really make my day :) And add to that that we're related AND both liberals, and I was giddy! You see, my family is conservative, at least in comparison to me, and even if they were to object to this descriptor, I'd still say they're more conservative than liberal. By saying this, I'm making no judgment, just merely pointing out the difference I generally have in opinion with everyone I'm related to. There are some things we know not to talk about and that's fine. We love each other. I have the best family in the world because we support one another regardless of our differences, even if that support looks more like criticism sometimes. At any rate, it was just kind of cool to find out I'm not the only one in the lot who thinks like I do about the things conservatives and liberals tend to clash over. So thanks for reaching out, Debby. It totally made my day.

Speaking of family, we'll be going home for a visit in the spring and I can't wait. By the time we go, it will have been nearly three years since our last visit, and that pains me. The time will go fast, as we'll try to spend as much time with as many people as we can. Chris' older brother is getting married, so this trip we'll be getting more family members added to the mix. We're excited to meet our new sister-in-law, as well as the family she comes with since we've heard such great things, but this trip is already exhausting to think about. What a thing to complain about - we have too many loved ones to spend time with - woe is us! But I do wish we could spend more time, like every time we visit home. We're taking a couple short trips before then, but still,  spring time can't come quickly enough in my mind.

I can't wait to sit on a plane for 9 hours, because that will mean I'm going to see my God-daughter for only the second time in her life and spend a couple days with my very best friend and pretend we're roommates again. I can't wait to not get enough sleep because I'm up half the night talking about anything and everything on this earth with another person who can talk like I can because we share the same blood. I can't wait to sit in a car for 12 hours because that will mean time to talk, nearly uninterrupted, with my sister while we make our way up to the mountains where the whole family will be spending a week for all the kids' Spring Break at my parents' house. I can't wait to wake up to crisp air on the top of a mountain in a house full of my family, hearing the early morning sounds around me, like kids talking and spoons clanging as coffee is stirred. Although I'll only be able to spend a couple days there, I'm glad I can get there at all. I can't wait to meet my new sister-in-law and help celebrate a very happy time in my brother-in-law's life, as he truly deserves it. I can't wait to sit around in the evenings talking about whatever with my brother and his wife, or running errands with him during the day. I can't wait to take each of my nieces and nephews out to do something special, just the two of us. This is really big to me, especially because I live so far away. I want to know them better, and I want them to know I love them and miss them, that spending time with them is important to me. I want them to have something to remember when they get older and busier in their lives. I can't wait to have a regular old barbecue with my family, where people are scattered about the house, inside and out, and it's busy and noisy and smells like home. And we'll see Chris' parents, too, and I'm excited to spend time with my little brother-in-law to see how he's doing as he gets ready to finish school and really start his adult life. As I think about being able to casually sip coffee in the morning with my mom and dad, hang out with my best friend, brother and sister and their families, actually hug my gorgeous God-daughter, Addison, and share meals and conversations face-to-face with everyone else we will see, it's difficult not to think about the people we won't be able to see this trip. But plans are still formulating and I'm trying to find a way to squeeze some more hours out of the day - and days out of the week - so we'll see. I'm just lucky that the people I love the most all understand how hard it is to pack it all in, given the limitations of time, distance and resources.

USA, here we come - in another few months.

Cold - Christmas - Family - huh, I guess there was some kind of logic to the progression here. Cool.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Last Day in Hong Kong: Closing the Circle

Wednesday, May 25

On our final morning in Hong Kong, we got up early and headed to Kowloon Park in search of Tai Chi-ers and others demonstrating the combination of self-discipline and art.


As we walked the pathways past ponds and between lush areas of green, we were privy to moments of meditation and careful instruction. Beneath a tree, a cluster of people sat cross-legged on towels, their hands hovering and their eyes closed in meditation. One woman looked to her instructor for guidance, mimicking his posture and deep breathing. Further along our stroll we came across a simple gazebo placed out over a pond, inside of which another woman took Tai Chi lessons, the movements carefully controlled, yet elegant.

Everywhere we looked there were groups of women doing dance moves in unison and laughing, and people of all ages engaged in meditative poses. The air was calm and pleasant as we wandered among people enjoying the beautiful day and outside air.

Following the sound of music, we wound around to find a group of people laughing and talking while they played instruments and sang together. It didn't look to be anything official, just a casual coming together of friends in a park. We watched from the other side of a turtle pond for a while, and then I decided to approach for pictures.

I approached the group and waited to catch the eye of one of the women who'd been singing along to the music. Not wanting to assume anyone spoke English, I lifted my camera, then my eyebrows, and gestured to the group before me. The woman kind of laughed, then presumably told the rest I wanted to take their picture, and commenced leading the group in a boisterous song, clapping and smiling brightly at me. (In the picture above, she's the woman wearing the black shirt and blue pants, smiling at the camera.) Their instruments were varied and unfamiliar to me, which made it even better to watch. The sounds melded together in a flowing and flipping kind of song, and I was happy they let allowed me and my camera to be a part of their gathering for a few minutes.

Also, you gotta love the Phat Farm T-shirt :)

From there, we went in search of the famed Kung Fu Corner of the Sculpture Walk section of the Park. During certain times of the week there are wild demonstrations of traditional Chinese dances in this part of the Park, but we were just hoping for some more opportunities to watch people engaged in group Tai Chi classes. What we found when we got there was more than we'd expected, as different groups of people moved in unison around a courtyard lined with artistic sculptures. 

 From traditional Tai Chi, to Chinese fan dancing

One of my favorite spots was populated by one man practicing graceful sword movements, while a small group of women practiced Tai Chi moves nearby.

Just as it was at the Chi Lin Nunnery, the grounds of the Park were a calm and peaceful oasis surrounded by city buildings reaching into the hazy sky.

The coexistence of modern art and ancient practices in Kowloon Park was an inspiring thing to witness. We watched for a long while, moving about the open courtyard to spend some time in audience of each group.

At one point, an elderly man approached us and began talking to Chris, asking if this was our first visit to Hong Kong. Since it was, the man declared that this was to be our Hong Kong Honeymoon :) The man was so friendly and welcoming to us, and seemed genuinely glad to see visitors in his beloved city. It was nice. Since he'd mostly directed his attention toward Chris, I felt weird to ask to take his photo - so I wanted until he left to sneak one.

After the Park, we hopped a train back over to Hong Kong Island to walk the promenade along Victoria Harbour and see the Hong Kong version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Avenue of Stars. The part of the afternoon I most looked forward to was having High Tea at the Peninsula Hotel, a very posh hotel many people recommended we not miss.

Tea was served in the front lobby of the hotel, but its lobby looked like that of a palace, complete with a string quartet playing in one of the upper balconies. The staff was friendly, despite our casual dress, and an afternoon tea ended up being our last meal in Hong Kong - an excellent note on which to end.

The tea was fabulous, and surprisingly reasonably priced. We ate fresh scones, cucumber sandwiches, and bits of cake, among other tasty treats on a three-tier platter. 

Back down on the Avenue of Stars, there was an art exhibit of interesting photos. As it was the end of the trip, I was running out of memory on the camera, so opted to take a picture of my favorite. The artist's photographs were unaltered, but taken in ways that challenged the viewer's eye. I wish I would have taken more pictures of his!

Every night at 8pm in Hong Kong there is a collaborative light show where different buildings participate to create a beautiful laser show across the harbor. It began with this gorgeous, traditional boat passing across the water.

A statue of Bruce Lee on the Avenue of Stars

I'm not sure why we waited until our last night to see the light show, but it was a nice end to an amazing trip. We stayed until the lasers went out, until the promenade cleared and the night felt like ours.

Goodnight, Hong Kong. It's been swell.

In the morning, we would be catching a pre-dawn taxi to the airport to fly the final twelve hours back home to Germany, thus completing the circle that took us around the world.

From the adventurous and wild landscapes of New Zealand to the peaceful gardens nestled into this bustling and crowded city, experiences from this trip will remain fresh in our minds for a long time to come. I never imagined I'd actually circle the globe in one trip, but that just goes to show how amazing life can be. It's things like this that only make me look forward to what else life has in store.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Peace and Darkness

Tuesday, May 24

Good morning again, Kowloon.

view from our hotel - Victoria Harbour is hiding in the fog
Tuesday was blind museum day. Dialogue in the Dark is a museum exhibition where visitors are guided through every-day scenarios and settings as the visually impaired do - totally in the dark. (http://www.dialogue-in-the-dark.hk/) Our guide was a blind man who gave us walking canes and led our small group (all Americans) through a house, a park, across a crowded city street, and into a cafe for a drink at the end. The museum is set up to simulate these experiences in order to show the seeing all the other ways they can interpret their surroundings without the use of sight. It was cool. Chris and I have done a blind dining experience in Berlin before, but this was a different animal.

Our guide demonstrated how you can tell the size of a room by the echo and quality of your voice bouncing off the walls. We listened to rain outside the window and could hear the difference as we walked from room to room in the small house. In the park, we could feel the grass turn to stones beneath our feet, and took turns crossing a small, wooden bridge that rose over a small stream. While in the park we were asked to identify the plant life around us. I kept finding myself getting pushed into the wall (fake park remember) by the shuffling people from South Carolina. They were very nice, but between one guy's glowing watch and their constant need to call out to find each other's exact location was a little irritating. There were 8 of us - no one was going to get lost. They were careful not to lose me or Chris, as well, which was nice of them. I'm not sure I was actually near Chris all that often, but we could keep tabs on each other well enough.

Crossing the street was interesting because we learned how such cities as this are equipped to help its blind citizens. At every crosswalk outside the museum, just as it was within it, there was a bumpy slab of concrete to let you know you're about to cross a street. The beeping coming from the crosswalk sign speeds up when it's safe to walk, and when your feet hit the bumps again, you know you're back on the sidewalk. I think one of my favorite parts of the experience was the movie theater. Everyone found a seat, bumping into one another and sometimes climbing over one another, and we sat in the darkness and listened to a series of instrumental pieces and songs, each one invoking a different kind of feeling. It's amazing how easily sound can conjure images in your head when you have nothing else to occupy your sight. After the show, we made our way to the cafe where we had to figure out how much cash we had (in Hong Kong dollars) if we wanted to buy a drink. Like Euros, the currency in Hong Kong utilizes coins for the smaller whole dollar amounts, so that was interesting. Hoping to challenge myself with fixing my coffee with cream and sugar, I was a little disappointed when I was handed a small can. I popped the top and had my coffee at a table with others from my group and we chatted with our guide about where we were from and what else we planned to do in Hong Kong.

In the end, Chris and I hung back to let the others from our group make their way out, so we never actually saw what they looked like. We did, however, know them immediately from their voices in the small grocery store across the way from the exhibition. We chose not to speak as we passed :)

After the exhibition we wandered around a different part of Kowloon through yet another serene city park where people did Tai Chi, fed the ducks, and relaxed on the benches.

We knew we weren't far from the Chi Lin Nunnery so we headed that way. A train ride later we were walking along a rather ugly stretch of city street, but then we climbed the steps to a bridge that'd been built across said roadway to bring visitors to the main entrance of the nunnery. Lined with Bonsai trees, it was a nice path.

From the moment we walked through the great wooden gate we were transported to another place. It was quiet in this courtyard despite the city groaning all around us. The noise from traffic honestly melted back and we were surrounded by ponds full of lily pads and Bonsai trees of all kinds arranged about this gated in oasis. It turned out we'd just missed visiting the inside of the nunnery, but that was fine because this was more than we'd expected to find.

We walked together and we walked separately around the garden, paying attention to the detail in the way the trees were trimmed and appreciating the stillness we both felt there. Buildings rose on either side of the beautiful structure that was the Chi Lin Nunnery, but we were wrapped in a cocoon of quiet. I could have stayed there for hours, but eventually the rain came and we moved on, happy to have found such a sweet moment in the middle of a very busy end of a huge trip.

By this time our stomachs were telling us it was time for food, and this night we decided to go for sushi. Being this close to Japan, it had to be good, right?
After a delicious meal of raw fish and lobster paired with things like caviar and mango, we headed to Hong Kong Island again to visit The Peak. Having seen what the view of the city looked like from high above as well as at sea level during the day, we wanted to see it at night, in hopes that the smog would be overtaken by the lights of the city.

The Peak Tram made for a fun ride to the top of the world over Hong Kong at such a crazy angle, it was a little scary. Apparently one of the world's oldest funicular railways, the Tram rises about 1300 feet and if you're not being pressed into your seat back, you'll be falling forward into it. 
The view of the city at night blew away the one we got during daylight hours. The smog that was unsightly by day created an eerie glow over the city by night. 
The Peak boasted floors and floors of shops and several restaurants with views of the city below, but we were just there to look. 

Playing camera wars with Chris - he's got a video of me.

I Love The Peak photo backdrop!

Finally, the end of day four and we'd made it to the highest point in Hong Kong. That night after we got back to the hotel we reorganized our tightly-packed luggage and packed a few boxes to ship home. It was a little sad knowing there was only one day left of our great adventure on the other side of the globe, but we were both feeling the effects of the go-go-go of travel and were looking forward to sleeping in our own bed.

But soon enough. One more day to go.