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Posts Tagged ‘travel’

I was approached by a few people who read my last blog post and were concerned that bad things had happened to me on my vacation.

On the contrary, friends. On the contrary. I had an amazing trip.

The plan was as follows: to begin in East London at WorldCon, to move to central London to enjoy a week of blissful London time, and then to end with a few days in southeast Wales. This turned out to be an excellent plan.

I had an emotionally challenging summer. Any time your best inspirational words are “things get worse before they get better,” you know things aren’t going so great at that particular moment, however optimistic you may feel about the future. My hope was that my vacation would give me a chance to clear my head, gain perspective, and get some emotional rest. And it certainly succeeded at giving me all these things.

For me, travel, whether it is recreational or to a convention or a combination of both, takes me outside of my familiar, everyday world. I see people I normally wouldn’t see, I have conversations I normally wouldn’t have, I learn about things I wouldn’t normally learn about, I spend my time differently. Not only does this refill the creative wells, but it also serves in a larger sense as a reminder of what is possible.

I think this is always valuable, but when you are having a difficult time, it becomes even more so because it shows you potential ways forward. It encourages movement instead of paralysis. It encourages analysis with an eye toward positive change instead of hopelessness. It gives new context to old problems.

It allows space to imagine a better world. Or at least a healthier life.

Why is this important? Because you can’t move closer to that life unless you can see enough to know what direction to take. It’s difficult to make choices based on your priorities until you are very clear on what those priorities are. And sometimes they need to be reaffirmed several times before they become truly internalized.

The other helpful ingredient for imagining a healthier life is hope. And WorldCon delivered big time on this one. I cried at the Hugo ceremony. Okay, I always cry at the Hugo ceremony, but this time was different. Kameron Hurley and her double win for Fan Writer and for her brilliant essay “We Have Always Fought” meant a lot to me. This recognition from my community for such important work gave me hope. The respect and support of my colleagues gave me hope. The steps forward I had been making in recent months, however difficult, began to give me hope too.

So yes, it was a wonderful vacation indeed. And I’m looking forward to what’s coming next.

At the Hugos.

At the Hugos.

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The theme of the week: the increased access to information that technology has granted us and how that has changed our lives in a real and fascinating way.

On Tuesday night I went to the first of a new salon series. (I will interrupt to say I’m so excited this is a thing right now! I’m all over the idea of regular salons.) One of the talks was about Didier compiling the encyclopedia, and how subversive it was to make all of this knowledge available to anyone who could read.

When I was a kid, my family made the investment of buying the World Book series of encyclopedias. They were royal blue, heavy (especially the popular letters), and took up two shelves in the hutch in the dining area. Every year the World Book people would send us an additional slim volume with all updates designated essential for that year, and then we would go through and put stickers in the main volumes so we’d know about the updates.

Stack of encyclopedias. Photo Credit: Horia Varlan via Compfight cc

The World Books were a big deal. Now I didn’t have to use the encyclopedias in the library anymore! Or at least not exclusively. If I wanted to know something, I could look it up right at home. Whenever a question arose, the only options were to use reference books (either that you were lucky enough to own or obtained from the library) or to ask someone you knew and hope they knew the answer. This was not a system that encouraged constant questioning (at least without a certain level of frustration involved), and yet, it was a great improvement from the time before encyclopedias, the time before more widespread literacy, and the time before the printing press.

Now we have the technological wonder that is the internet: the search engine, perhaps our most successful AI project to date, along with Wikipedia and platforms that make publishing and information curation simpler. I look up several things every day. Today I watched a video to find out what a burning house sounded like, I looked up photos of Mediterranean-style mansions, I watched clips about the upcoming Game of Thrones season and the upcoming Veronica Mars movie, I read some updates on the economy, and I looked at many real estate listings, including user reviews of apartment complexes. So much information at the tip of my fingers. (It’s almost enough to make me salivate.)

I was talking to a friend about travel, and this increased access to data has changed the way we do that, too. When I was in France this summer, every place I stayed offered free Wi-Fi that I could access with my iPad. It took fairly extreme discipline for me to avoid the Internet in the face of this accessibility. (While I succeeded at the spirit of my goal for the most part, eschewing email and Facebook, I did look up rail timetables, attraction information, and local restaurants.) My friend took a trip on which he didn’t bring a smart phone but a camera phone, on which he had stored photos of maps and key guidebook pages, so he didn’t have to struggle with folding and unfolding a map on random street corners. I can now travel with more books than I could possibly read while only having to haul around my Kindle.

The Information Age doesn’t always feel very flashy. For one thing, we’re already used to it, and for another, it doesn’t have the movie shine of flying cars or transporters or living in space. But when I think of the evolution of the dissemination of human thought–from the development of language and then writing, to the invention of paper and later the printing press, to the projects of assembling human knowledge in museums and libraries and encyclopedias, to the rise of computing, digital data storage, the internet, portable devices, and the Cloud, with so many other steps in between–the Information Age seems truly amazing. I’m very excited to be alive to see (and benefit from) this most recent chapter of technological change.

And I’m thrilled that I’m encouraged to ask even more questions.

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Hello again! Long time no see.

I spent most of my month’s absence in France, eating delectable cuisine, soaking up sun, exposing myself to different experiences, and reading many, many books. And not once during my three and a half week trip did I check my email or log onto Facebook or read any blogs. (I did look up some travel information and Wikipedia pages on the internet, and that was about it.)

I hadn’t unplugged myself so thoroughly for quite some time, and I found quite a lot of value in it. Space to just be. Time to think about whatever I wanted to think about. Permission to be in my own present moment, whatever that happened to look like. And perhaps most refreshing, a break from most external stress.

Sometimes that’s what we want from vacations: a break from our regular lives and some of our ongoing problems, giving us a chance to recharge. Sometimes this leads to personal epiphanies, and sometimes it leads to a chance to rest. Both are valuable.

A relaxed Amy in Carcassonne.

A relaxed Amy in Carcassonne.

Taking a break from social media also reminded me afresh how much I appreciate my friends and colleagues. While I didn’t find myself overly tempted to log in, I thought about my friends a fair amount. I wondered how they were doing, and I wished I could send them little texts telling them how fabulous they are. I’m so grateful for the technology that allows me to stay connected with the people who mean so much to me.

That’s probably my greatest takeaway from my time without internet: technology is wondrous, but I’m allowed to use it on my own terms. Writers hear so often about they have to be on this social media site, or that new shiny one, or write blog posts every day, or whatever the latest trend is. But the truth is that in order to continue to do any of those things, we have to find the value in what we’re doing. We have to recognize the amazing feeling of being able to stay close to people who we can’t see face-to-face all the time. We need to appreciate the ability to connect in different ways with our readers and find the way(s) that work best for us.

I know I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. When we hate a thing or secretly resent it, we aren’t going to be doing our best work. A grudging connection has a different quality to it than one that is celebrated.

When I look behind all the best writer social media strategies, I see people who care. They care about their audiences. They care about providing something meaningful, whether that be information or entertainment or connection. Genuine caring is hard to fake. So our job, then, is to find a way to use social media that allows us to project our caring outwards, while still being able to take care of ourselves.

So how do I feel after my social media time off? Well, right now I’m jet lagged, and I have a head cold, so I’m not exactly feeling refreshed. But I’m so proud of myself for taking the break I needed.

And guess what? Nothing terrible happened. The blog continues. My friends and colleagues are still here. No crises occurred that needed my personal attention. The world doesn’t actually require my constant attention to keep turning.

Sometimes a reminder of that can be a very good thing.

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Today I have a story to tell you that takes place in India. Now, I’ve never been to India, partially because I tend to avoid places where catching malaria is an option and partially because of the stories my friends have told me. But happily, I have friends through whom I can live vicariously. And their stories, besides being amusing, serve to provide me with a healthy dose of perspective.

Now imagine, if you will, a thriving Indian town up in the Himalayas. It’s so hot and dusty that the shopkeepers throw cups of water on the dirt in front of their stores so there will be less dust. My friend was wandering in the middle of town when she suddenly felt violently ill (something that happens frequently to Westerners in India, from all accounts).

My friend had a dilemma. Her lodgings were on the outskirts of town, and there was no way she was going to get there in time. But there weren’t any public bathrooms for her to use either. So she began to scout out a likely location on the public streets to take care of business. She found a likely alcove guarded by a cow, so she squatted down there and was very sick. She told me the cow stared at her the entire time, and what was particularly amusing to her was that she was creating a cow patty of her own.

And then she realized she didn’t have any toilet paper.

Photo Credit: Mikelo via Compfight cc

My friend went back to her lodgings and told her partner what had happened. He said, “You think that’s bad? Listen what happened to me.” He proceeded to tell her a story of how he was sick during a ten-hour bus ride in India. The bus wouldn’t stop, so he was sick in his pants every two hours for the entire trip.

I don’t believe in problem comparing, but I do think these stories help us calibrate our perceptions of the world and gain a different perspective on our lives. They illustrate the twin truths that there is always someone who has it worse and that, even so, sometimes that doesn’t matter very much. Was being sick for ten hours on a bus worse than being sick out on the public street? Perhaps, and yet at a certain level, suffering is suffering.

These stories also make me feel extremely grateful for the comforts I enjoy. It’s so easy to take the things to which we are accustomed for granted, whether that be available restrooms, toilet paper, or food and water that doesn’t make us constantly ill. I’m glad I live somewhere clean with so much modern infrastructure. I’m glad I have hot water more than a few hours a day.

Finally, they highlight our lack of control over life. Sometimes things go wrong and we have to cope with it the best we can. And sometimes that means hiding in an alcove with a curious cow.

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One of the things I love best about being a writer is the wonderful necessity of feeding my muse.

Don’t get me wrong; I do my very best not to follow my Muse’s fickle whims. I try to write a prescribed amount of words regularly. I try not to start new projects if it will mean leaving an already started project unfinished. I force myself to write when I don’t feel like it.

But that doesn’t mean my brain doesn’t need feeding while I’m engaging regularly in the creative process. In fact, it can be positively voracious. And the more I feed it, the happier my writing process tends to be.

Favorite Ways to Feed the Muse:

1. Travel. Yes, I know, I am constantly singing the praises of travel, but I am hard pressed to think of anything that delivers a bigger punch of Muse deliciousness. New places and cultures, new experiences, new people, the beauty of nature, art treasures, learning about history, eating amazing and sometimes strange foods–travel has it all.

2. Doing something I haven’t done before. Because we don’t need to travel far from home to have new experiences, whether that be going to a new place in the area or trying a different restaurant or taking a different route for your daily walk/jog. In a couple of weeks, I have tickets to go see my first magic show, and even if it’s on the cheesy side, I am fascinated to be having this experience. (Plus, I get to wear a cocktail dress. Double win!)

3. Going to museums. Because at most museums, I learn something new or see something beautiful or experience something different (see #1). Next on my list? The Disney museum in San Francisco.

4. Experiencing story outside of my own writing. This can be anything from novels to movies, TV series to theater, role-playing games to video games. Sometimes I need to read a certain kind of novel, and other times I really need a different vehicle to experience story. Lately I’ve been reading a lot of plays. Good, bad, or wildly uneven, it’s all grist for the mill.

5. Finding another creative outlet. Even though my current focus is on writing, I feel so lucky to have spent so much of my life practicing and studying to be a musician. Sometimes there is nothing my brain needs as much as becoming entirely focused on something creative but DIFFERENT. Very very different. A quick thirty minute voice practice session and I can come at a writing problem in an entirely different way. Which is similar to

6. Moving the body. Exercising, dancing, taking a walk around the block, or jumping up and down for twenty seconds, all of these activities pull us back into our physical bodies and give our brains a chance to work on a subconscious level.

7. Talking to people. The more interesting people we surround ourselves with, the more likely our social time will prove to be inspirational. You never know when an off-hand comment from a friend will trigger a thought that turns into a blog post, the perfect telling detail, or a solution to a tricksy plot problem.

What our your favorite ways to feed your muse?

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While I don’t often make New Year resolutions (except when I do), I like to stop and take stock of my life at the end of the year and set some goals for the year to come. After all, it’s hard to live your life according to your priorities if you don’t know what your priorities are!

amy and nala christmas 2012

Writing:

In 2012, I had several more stories come out, and I qualified to become a full member of SFWA. I also sold my first (and second) science fiction stories. I spent the bulk of the year working on my YA novel The Academy of Forgetting.

My plan for 2013 is to query a large number of agents and complete another YA novel. I’d also like to participate in at least a couple weeks of Codex’s Weekend Warrior (writing flash fiction). And of course, I want to continue to increase my focus, improve my writing skills, and read a lot.

Health:

Well, given that I spent six months waiting for my foot to heal, this year was on the frustrating side. But I was able to stay focused on my writing through it all, which I am very pleased about. My tooth from the drama of 2011 rarely bothers me anymore. And since the fall I’ve definitely been in less overall pain than I have for the last few years.

My wish for 2013 is that I can continue this whole less pain trend. I’d like to begin gradually increasing my strength. What I wish for the most is that I can begin to reintroduce some activities that I love but haven’t been able to do the past few years. Like dancing! And hiking!

Travel:

I wanted to get out of the country in 2012, and that didn’t end up happening. I mean, I went to World Fantasy in Toronto, but given that I pretty much only saw the hotel, I don’t think that really counts. However, I fell in love with Seattle, got to see Chicago for the first time, and faced down a hurricane in New York, so the year wasn’t without its adventures. I attended seven writing events, including three I’d never done before, and had a truly fabulous time.

So my wish for 2013 will be the same as last year’s: that I leave the country. And actually SEE and EXPERIENCE stuff while abroad. I’m considering trying to travel somewhere in Europe pre-World Fantasy in Brighton, which seems the most likely way to make this happen this year. I’ve already mostly planned out which writing events I’ll be attending for the year, although a few remain up in the air.

Personal Growth:

Oh, 2012. I cannot sum it up in one paragraph. I learned a lot, I changed a lot, I made progress towards becoming the person I want to be. My understanding of myself and the world around me is clearer than it’s ever been.

My wish for 2013? To take a loooong vacation. Ha! But seriously, 2013 is going to be a year of external change, when I get to put my clearer understanding into practice. I anticipate a fair amount of trial and error, so that should be … exciting. I’ll build on what I’ve been working on for the past two years, continue to practice my own definition of assertiveness, and look to create good habits so I can conserve energy.

Have any goals for 2013 you’d like to share?

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I’m back in novel immersion at this point, as I push to finish revisions, and my head is full of my characters and their plot arcs and a plot hole that’s going to be annoying to fix. It is hard to pull myself out of that world and back into this one.

So I’m going to talk about liminal spaces because when I’m having trouble leaving my fictional universe, that’s what I think is going on. I’m existing in a liminal space, partly in the world of the novel that my imagination has forced into being, and partly in the world in which I have blog post deadlines and dinner to make and errands to run.

Let’s talk about the word liminal. It wasn’t strongly in my radar until I read Farah Mendlesohn’s interesting Rhetorics of Fantasy a few years ago. She divides the fantastic into four categories, and one of those is the liminal. In liminal fantasy, she posits, “the magic hovers in the corner of our eye.” An example of this category is Joan Aiken’s Armitage family stories, which I enjoyed reading quite a lot.

But liminal means a lot more than a category in fantastic literature. Liminal is about being in between, about being in transition, about being both and neither at the same time. In anthropology, Wikipedia helpfully tells us, liminality refers to “the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of rituals, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete. During a ritual’s liminal stage, participants “stand at the threshold” between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and a new way, which the ritual establishes.”

Being in a liminal space is uneasy, uncomfortable, possibly awkward. Standing at the threshold is not without its dangers.

Audience or specter?

I went to see Sleep No More while I was in New York, and one of the things this performance art piece does quite well is create a sense of liminality for its participants. Are we an audience, or are we spectres? Are we invisible, or are we obstructions? There is nowhere I am supposed to go, and yet am I where I am supposed to be? There is a narrative being created, and yet there is no narrative visible.

Traveling can also create a liminal experience. I can be both in a place and not of a place. If I travel to several countries in quick succession, I can wake up in the morning uncertain about where I am, what language is used here, what currency. There is a clash between what I know from my world and what I experience in this new place.

Schrodinger’s cat is both alive and dead, and literature about dying talks about it as a liminal state between life and death. In fact, liminal states exist in most major transitions in life. Coming of age stories often rely heavily on the uncertainty and turmoil of the liminal state between childhood and adulthood. Waiting can be involved in liminal states, too: waiting for the results of the pregnancy test, waiting to hear what colleges have accepted you, waiting for the answer to your question, waiting for the hurricane to hit. And what about that strange state between waking and sleeping?

Liminal spaces are challenging, and yet they can also offer freedom. The spaces in between offer us opportunities to recreate ourselves, to see the world with fresh eyes, and to drill deeper into the experience of being human. When we’re no longer sure who we are or what labels we’re claiming, we have room to explore who we want to be.

And critically, when we are standing in the shifting sands of liminal space, we are sometimes able to see more clearly what is important to us and what we want our priorities to be.

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