Cambodia Trip

To get there:
First, a very typical, stressful "last day before vacation" 8 hours at work.
30 minutes of high stress trying to flag down a cab in midtown (right at 5 pm, of course).
1 hour cab ride to JFK.
3 hour wait at the airport.
6.5 hour flight to Frankfurt, Germany.
1.5 hour layover in Frankfurt (where I paid $6 for a bottle of water!).
11.5 hour flight from Frankfurt to Singapore (had a row of three seats all to myself on this flight, so I cannot complain at all about this long stretch of the journey. Slept like a baby).
2 hour layover in Singapore.
1.5 hour flight from Singapore to Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
15 minutes to get through immigration (very fast!)
30 minute taxi ride from airport to the hotel where my wife was staying at in Phnom Penh.
10 minute tuk-tuk ride from hotel to bus station.
6 hour bus from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap.
15 minute taxi ride from bus station to our hotel in Siem Reap.

Upon arrival at the hotel, I had my first Cambodian beer, an Angkor.

Followed by an incredible meal — a sweet and sour fish dish, and fish amok.

And after a night of rest in which my body tried to reconcile its many hours of travel with the whole time change thing (Read: bad sleep), we got up early and took in the sunrise at Angkor Wat, the first of many temples we were able to visit.

Much more on the Cambodia trip to come. It was amazing.

See also pictures at Flickr. We took almost 1,000 pictures… many more to post.

9/11

Have you written down the story of your 9/11 experience, your memory of that day, your thoughts and feelings?

I was in New York that day (though not near the World Trade Center), and I’ve read so much about it, seen so many images, watched so many news reports and documentaries and movies, and talked about it a great deal, with friends, co-workers, family — and yet, I don’t think I’ve ever written anything down on paper about that day. I need to do that.

It’s the events and experiences that are sad or frightening or horrific that are usually the hardest to process with the written word, mostly because you just don’t get started — you avoid it. But once you do get going, the words just flow, and they are often the most revealing and profound words that you write, they dig to the core and lead to a deeper understanding.

Put the date at the top of the page, and start writing…

Tree

I came around the turn like I always do, having just descended the shaded steps from the tallest point in the park, and I was feeling so good, I was covered in sweat and smiling and glad to be at my little secret spot in the park, a wooded path that’s tucked away and rarely frequented by most park goers, just other runners and bird watchers, old men walking their dogs, couples holding hands, but usually no one, just me, and the path, and all that beautiful nature in this cement city, and this one tree, this one glorious tree with a split trunk, one length of it running straight up to the sky, the other on a slant, leaning over the path, as if to provide this place with a monumental arch, a purposeful sharing of its shade, and for me, a friendly hello, a welcome to its solitude and strength and its beauty. Except on this day, August 26, 2006, this one special tree was no longer there.

No, no, no NO!

I stopped cold and started making calculations — yes, I am where I think I am, this is the path, and I just turned the corner and from where I am standing right now the tree should be there, right there, right in front of me. It should be there, and it is not.

Saw dust splotches on the path. One half of the tree’s trunk lying there, as if it had been run down and just left on the side of a desolate road. All those years in the wind, all those stars and the nights, all those leaves come and gone and falling all around, sun beating, beating, beating down, rain drops slipping on the green, the swaying of the branches, and now, just gone, cut down.

Gray day, on the verge of a rain, an unseasonably cool breeze for this August day rustling the branches all around and striking a bitter chill along my sweat drenched backside. I stood there and held on to the disbelief — better to not believe then to let it sink in. But it does sink in and I started running again, to shake it off, to wrap my head around it, to get away from the tree that was looming so large but was no longer there.

There are the fixtures in our life, and they help connect the dots of who we are, help us remember, show us how to forget, get us to bend over and pick up the pieces, help us close our eyes at night and finally, finally, at last, fall asleep.

Running is a way to keep the pounds off my mid-riff, to keep me from screaming because the TV volume is up too loud or some other stupid thing that I shouldn’t be losing my temper over, to keep my blood pressure down, to do some thinking or to do no thinking at all, to help clear my mind, to be alone, to move forward, faster and faster and faster. And throughout and within all of the running, that tree was my fixture: to reach the tree, to see the tree, to think back on it as I walked into my apartment, winded, soar and soaked in sweat, but smiling down to my core.

Fixtures can be monuments in the here and now, but they can also be fleeting memories, things from our past that are gone forever. It’s hard to see them transition from one to the other. There is sadness and there is shock, and anger. In the long run, though, I think what makes these fixtures important to us, what makes them truly meaningful, is knowing deep down that this transition will happen. Once it does happen, and the immediate emotions run their course, the fixture’s roots have been laid into the core of who you were, who you were, and who you will become.

So I will keep running, to the tree. To the tree. I’ll keep running to the tree.

Making Time For Project-Making

Probably the single biggest obstacle to making projects is the simple excuse of not having enough time. "How do you expect me to make projects? I don’t even have time to do all the stuff that I HAVE to get done."

It’s true. That’s one way to look at it. Life gets in the way. Work. Family. Errands. Emergencies. Chores. Someone has to change the litter, make dinner, go to the store to pick up milk. You’ve got to bring home the bacon, and you’ve got to fry it up in the pan. Then you have to wash the dishes, and make sandwiches for the next day at lunch, and deal with the complaints about BLT sandwiches, again.

But just like you get all that stuff done — the way you’re able to hold down your job and run the household and remember birthdays and plan vacations and call about the newspaper that keeps not getting delivered and bring in your computer to get fixed and get the car an oil change on schedule — you can make time to start and complete projects.

If you really want to.

So that’s some simple advice to say that it can happen. Easier said than done, you say? It always is. Here then, are some basic, practical ways to make time for projects-making.

Turn off the television. This is the biggest time magnet of all. You flip it on in the morning to check out the weather, or the traffic, or just to have a little background noise. You turn it on while you cook, or maybe while you eat dinner. You want to catch the news. There’s a new show you’ve been wanting to check out, or you have to see the show you’ve been a fan of for years. Then there’s the news at 11, and then Nightline or Leno or Letterman. Is turning off the television the last thing you do before turning out the light and hitting the sack? Hour upon hour, every darn day, your television is burning up your spare moments. Turn it off and keep it off. You just bought yourself some serious project time.

Get rid of cable. That way, even if you do turn on the television — admittedly, we all need a little down time in front of the boob tube — there aren’t so many options to suck us in and keep us clicking on the remote. It just makes it easier to shut if off if there are only a few channels to choose from, instead of all those endless choices that cable offers.

Limit the time you surf the web. I’m all for checking out cool websites. But one click leads to another, and another, and so on and so forth, and when you finally look up from the computer screen, several hours have passed you right on by.

Stop wasting time reading those silly celebrity and fashion magazines. PR spin, paparazzi shots and gossip collide in an attempt, I think, to instill the idea that our own normal lives are simply inadequate. Total BS. Do we really need to know the sordid and/or PR-cleansed details about Britney and Ben and Christina and whoever happens to be the reigning throwaway king and queen of the reality television this particular week? No, we don’t. It’s that simple.

Schedule in time for projects. Sometimes it’s as easy as taking a look at the schedule book and marking off time for your project. Just like at the office, when you schedule meetings or training sessions or block off time to complete a major report, if you fill in open slots with your project in mind, you will instill a regimented sensibility into your project-making routine.

Incorporate projects into other things that have to get done. Instead of just sitting there reading a magazine while you do the laundry at the laundry mat, use that time to make a project. Or, instead of just making dinner and serving it up, start documenting the process with your camera, or collecting the recipes you use in a booklet, with stories about what happens during the meals at your kitchen table, a sort of culinary diary.

Prioritize project-making just like you prioritize the fact that you have to eat. Don’t simply relegate project making to the status of a recreational activity you partake in when all of your other tasks have been completed — after the dishes are done, the car is washed, the lawn mowed, all the phone calls returned, and the burned out bulb in the garage is changed… As you can see, the list of things that need to get done never, ever ends. So fit project-making in there, somewhere. There is time for projects, if you make a point of making the time.

Wake up an hour earlier than you normally do, and work on your projects then. Being productive from the moment you roll out of bed is a great way to start out the day.

Use your lunch break at work for project-making. This is either a good solid hour or half-hour to do as you please. Instead of surfing the web or reading the paper or your book, or going and spending money that you don’t have on $10 lunches with co-workers that you don’t particularly like that much anyway, use this time to work on your project.

Do your project on company-time. Why the heck not? Sneak in some time while you’re on the clock. Do you know how many novels, screenplays, plays and more have been written on the job? This is an old tradition. The main issue here is not to get caught. Don’t miss deadlines. Get your "work" work done, of course. But factor in some time here and there to work on your project. You’d be surprised how much time there really is in an 8-hour work day to find time for yourself if you plan things out and work efficiently.

Involve your kids. Surely between work and managing the household, keeping the kids fed, safe, clean, and occupied is where all your time is spent. So create projects in which they are either the subject, helping you out, or collaborating with you.

Incorporate your schoolwork into the projects. Create projects that are simply extensions of the various homework assignments you have to complete — term papers or research, books that you have to read, words or history lessons that you have to memorize. Building personal projects around school work doesn’t just allow you to make projects, but might make doing the homework seem a bit less painful.

Change one habit that eats up a consistent amount of your time on a regular basis. Stop watching a soap, waking up late, surfing the web for nothing in particular, renting a movie every single night of the week, staying up just to watch the sport recaps of games for which you already know the final score. By taking this one habit out of the equation, you can open up your schedule for more inspiring, productive project-making time.

Instead of talking and talking and talking about your project idea, just get to work. Procrastination is a huge time magnet, and it sucks up a lot of energy. It also breeds negativity, and lets your mind wander into the mine field of dangerous rationales for avoiding the project, such as finding all kinds of excuses as to why you can’t get started, or all the materials that you’re lacking and don’t have access to, or the fear that you won’t do a good job. Just shut up and get to work. The momentum you create just by getting started will move you up and over the challenges that you might be confronted with as you make your project.

Here’s a project: make a list of all the stuff you always have to get done, and how long it takes you to do it all. Document your time. Not just your work schedule, or your monthly calendar, but how you spend your minutes during the day. How long does all this stuff really take? How much time do you spend spinning your own wheels, either sorting out what to do next, worrying about what’s not getting done, or fretting that you don’t have enough time to make anything happen? Write it all down. Next, write down all the things you want to do: All the things you feel you never have enough time to actually get started on and fully sink yourself into. Once it’s all written out, spend some time thinking about how you can strike a better balance between the items on the two lists. Be sure to make the things you want to do a part of what has to get done.

See also the Not-To-Do List.

"Making Time For Project-Making" is an excerpt from the 52 Projects book.

What’s Your Drink?

Before work: small coffee with two sugars and milk; After work: Budweiser; After a long day at work: whiskey on ice; On special occasions that include my brother, father and grandfather: Johnny Walker Blue Label; At weddings: Gin and Tonic; After a long run: Gatorade (either the blue or orange), then water, then ice water, then Budweiser; On Sunday mornings: coffee, with milk; At a BBQ: beer from the cooler; At the bar: draft beer, trying something new, vodka, sometimes called, sometimes not, and whiskey, pretty much always called. Dinner with friends: red wine, then beer; In Marche: Peroni; In St. Maarten: Carib: Paris: wine; Costa Rica: Imperial; South Africa: Castle Lager and Amarula; LA: Bud Light; Houston: Shiner Boch; San Francisco: Bass; Miami: Corona; London: beer; Occasional, and should have it more often: sake; After midnight: whiskey. When I’m alone: whiskey or Budweiser. Celebratory moments with my wife: Prosecco.

Just Back From South Africa

Sorry for the lack of recent posts — was traveling in South Africa. What an amazing trip it was. I’ll be writing all about it soon.

In the post below (the last one before I left for South Africa), I mentioned that I was searching for my summer projects. Well, writing down my experience in South Africa is definitely now on the list. More than ever, this trip really got me thinking about vacations and travel. I’ll be exploring that in the post about South Africa.

For now, though, I’ll just offer this up as a possible project: Write down the experience of your most recent vacation.

Or this: Write down the memory of a long ago vacation.

Or maybe this: Find a favorite picture from every vacation you’ve ever taken and collect in a single photo album.

Writing Tip Project

Collect up all the stories you’ve written, the ones from long ago, the stories that have been rejected, the ones that have been published, the one from that writing class four years ago. If you take on this
project, you’ll be surprised what stories are lurking in folders within folders on your hard drive. Put these stories in one document and print them out. Then read your work. Oh, the pain. The horror. You will
think, as you read various pieces, that you truly are the worst writer that there ever was, and you will throw those papers across the room and stare at them and wonder what the hell, just what the hell were you thinking, sitting there for all those hours and struggling over those terrible, terrible words. And yet, wait, pick those papers up, keep reading, and you will find a passage here and a passage there, and
think, whoa, did I write that? That’s not too bad. It’s not great or anything, but hmmm, that’s not too bad, if you don’t say so yourself. That’s just writing, you know, that’s just what it is, and as long as
you keep doing it, you’re going to nail that sentence, that passage, that story, that book. Just keep on writing. Collecting up and reading all your stories is just a part of the overall writing process. I
suppose this project is all about making sure that the process is underway and full steam ahead.

This is from the June 2006 52 Projects Newsletter. The newsletter sign up field is in the left column of the site.

What Change Do You Witness…

I recently wrote about the Mixed Media Memoirs site, a very cool participatory site which posts a topic each week and encourages you to create a work of art based on one your journal entries with that topic in mind. Entries submitted are posted on the site. Melba McMullin was kind enough to ask me to provide this week’s topic, and I chose “What Change Do You Witness…” My idea here is that while change sometimes seems sudden, or the realization of a change might just hit you one day, it is often the result of a very long process made up of subtleties and nuance, decisive action as well as adaptation to things that you simply have no control over whatsoever. What is clear to me is that a deeper understanding of how a change occurred — whether it’s positive or negative — will help you either lock it in and grow it (if it’s positive) or figure out a way to turn things around (negative). Change is always happening whether you want it to or not. So that is why I ask, “What Change Do You Witness…” I hope you’ll participate in this week’s Mixed Media Memoirs topic. I look forward to seeing what you come up with.

Summer Days Are Here Again

Excuses to Get You Poolside

Summer is upon us, and that means beautiful, warm weather. We are at the very beginning of what will surely be several months full of wonderful blue sky, swim trunks and bikini kind of days, the number of which will surely be far greater than Saturdays, Sundays and two weeks worth of vacation.

Indeed to sit at a desk in an office filled with cold, conditioned air — not unlike the kind we’re forced to breath in airplanes — day after day throughout the summer is just plain wrong.

That’s why we’ve come up with a few excuses to help get you out of work during these glorious summer months. We’ve used the very elements of summer to help you get some more time hanging out poolside, getting a tan, swimming at the beach, or whatever floats your boat in the heat of these sizzling summer days. All we know is that you don’t want to be at the office. In pants. Or shoes. Or maybe clothes altogether, for that matter.

Long live the summer. Make it last, and make the most of it. Find that bar with the patio and order some nice cold ones every damn sun setting, royal blue sky night. Yes!

Here are the excuses:

“It was so hot yesterday that the wool suit I was wearing gave me this horrible rash. I don’t think I can make it into the office. My face and neck are just covered with this rash, and my legs as well. I think I’d really scare people, and it’s just itchy as all hell…”

“I fell asleep in the sun yesterday, and I’ve got a really bad sunburn. I can barely move, and I think I might have to go to the doctor.” (Of course, this means you have to go spend some time in the sun on your day off. Poor you.)

“My air conditioner must have blown out a fuse, and so my alarm clock didn’t go off this morning. And it got so stuffy in my apartment that it must have made me really oversleep. I can’t believe it’s almost noon… and I’m just totally dehydrated and not feeling too well. I don’t think I’ll be able to come in at all today.”

“I was doing volunteer community clean up work in the sun all day yesterday, and I worked myself so hard that I think I’m suffering from heatstroke. I’m not feeling well, so I better stay home today, just to make sure I’m okay.”

“I was swimming in the ocean yesterday, and I accidentally swallowed a whole bunch of salt water, and I’m not feeling too well today. Real queasy. I’m sure it’s nothing but I better stay home, drink lots of water, and rest up. I’m sure I’ll be fine by tomorrow.”

“My cat usually goes outside during the day while I’m at work, but right after I let him out, I realized how hot is was outside, and I just knew he should not be out in heat like this. I’ll come in as soon as I can, but I’ve got to find my cat. He just took off. I can’t find him. He’s a really furry cat and I just know he won’t do well in this heat. I’m so worried. I better get off the phone so I can keep looking for him.”

“I was rushing to get to work and I jumped into the car and the car seat was so hot that I burned the back of my legs. They’re all red and swollen and sore, so I think I’m going to have to let them heal today. It’s no big deal – I just wouldn’t be able to sit at my desk all day. But I’ll be in tomorrow.”

“I was walking around barefoot yesterday and I stepped on a nail. I could barely walk yesterday, and today it’s just a little bit better. I should be fine by tomorrow, but today, well, it still kind of hurts, and I also have to go to the doctor to get a tetanus shot.”

Be sure to consult the 2006 Sick Day Calendar.