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Posts Tagged ‘travel’

I’ve had some people giving me a hard time for taking my recent vacation in LOS ANGELES, of all places. This is kind of like kicking a puppy dog when she’s really excited to see you, but besides that, they are also wrong.

Los Angeles is a really fun place to take a vacation, you all. Even if you DON’T go to Disneyland with its happiest place on earth tagline, which is closer to the truth than makes me comfortable given that it’s a cheesy corporate slogan. I know that Northern Californians in particular love to hate on Los Angeles, and I certainly haven’t been exempt from this over the years.

But, surprise, surprise, Los Angeles is a big diverse city, and there is a lot of fun stuff to do there. Sure, if you don’t like urban vacations, it won’t be your thing, but since I’m assuming you all already know how I feel about going to London whenever remotely possible, obviously this isn’t an issue for me personally. And yes, the air quality isn’t good, although it didn’t send me into a full-on, I-need-to-stay-in-the-hotel-as-much-as-possible asthma attack like Tel Aviv did, so it’s all about degree. The traffic is also not good, but the traffic in the Bay Area is abysmal as well, so it didn’t feel very different.

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The Getty Museum

Meanwhile, Los Angeles has world-class museums, constant theater and music, lots of amusement parks, and the beach and good weather and all activities those things entail. I thought, maybe I’d like to go to a garden, and so I looked on the internet and there are a whole bunch of amazing gardens (I didn’t end up going to any of them, alas). There is hiking. My friend told me it’s pretty easy to go and see a show being taped (I didn’t do this either). You can see pretty much any movie you want. There is the best French toast I have ever had, and I DO NOT TAKE THIS LIGHTLY.

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I tragically have no photos of the French toast, but I do have a photo of these amazing bazookies.

Of course, I spent a lot of my time with local friends, which made my vacation even better.

The friends I saw in LA can be loosely categorized into two groups. There were my writer friends, and there were my college friends who have known me for a really, really long time. (I also didn’t get to see everyone I would have liked to have seen. Not enough time, but a good reason to go back.)

First the writer friends. There is something so invigorating about being around, I was going to call them creatives, but people get so finicky about the word creative, have you noticed? So instead perhaps I will say storytellers. By storyteller, I mean not only writers of novels and short stories, but also people involved with movies and TV, with dance and theater, with music and the visual arts. I suppose we could also just call them artists and be done with it.

Anyway, I love artists. Most of the artists I have known are so passionate about what they are doing. And writers in particular (although perhaps not as an exception) tend to be introspective, and as introspective individuals they’ve learned how to listen. (Also some of them have learned how to ask really interesting questions, which is so very enjoyable.) And because they listen, one gets the feeling they might actually understand something about you, and there is something so relaxing about being in the presence of someone who sees you. Even if it’s just a part of you. Also they don’t expect you to perform miracles like find a new agent in two weeks or have no feelings whatsoever about your current work-in-progress or make ten million dollars on self-published ebooks. And if you sound like an idiot talking about your work-in-progress, they tend to not hold it against you since they’ve had the same thing happen to them. 

I was a little more nervous about seeing my college friends. Because, well, it had been a while, and I’ve changed. Which led me to suspect they might also have changed. And what if we changed in different directions?

But my nerves were completely unnecessary because seeing my college friends was great too. As it turned out, there’s a reason we’ve kept in touch all these years, and that reason is that we like each other. Yup, not rocket science, I know. And sure, we’ve all changed, and our lives are different than they once were, but what hadn’t changed is how much I care about these people. Honestly, I felt like perhaps I appreciate them now even more than I did in the past.

They reminded me of where I’ve come from, and they showed me how I’ve stayed the same. Yes, I know I’m talking about change all the time and how important it is, in spite of how difficult it is. But not everything has to change, and there is something very sweet about stopping to notice what hasn’t.

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In conclusion, LA is a great place to take a vacation. Hate on it all you like, but I had a wonderful time.

PS: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is also in LA. Just saying.

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I am tired. Am I allowed to write a blog post about how I’m tired?

Haha, it’s my blog, so of course I am!

Here is a photo of me at 4am on Wednesday morning. I couldn’t sleep because I was too tired and my head was too full. It’s strange how after you’ve spent the last two and a half hours waiting to fall asleep, taking a selfie with your dog seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to be doing.

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Anyway, luckily for me I’m about to go on vacation. I want to be on vacation SO BADLY, and it is about to happen, and this all seems extremely fortuitous.

Now, there are a lot of different kinds of vacation. There is, for example, the relaxing chill out vacation, which is basically me lounging on a chair somewhere beautiful and reading a lot of books. On this type of vacation I also tend to eat a lot and take slow, meandering walks and maybe go swimming.

This is not the type of vacation I’m about to go on. I did think about it, but then everywhere I wanted to go had a Zika warning, and I haven’t had enough time to read enough about Zika to know how worried about it I actually am, so I scratched those destinations off the list. Plus I’ve been working so hard the last two months that I’m not entirely certain what would happen to me if I suddenly came to an abrupt halt and did nothing much. It might be a real shock to the system. It might be like my insomnia, where in the sudden stillness I’d be unable to make my brain shut up. So that’s not what I’m doing.

Instead I’m going to see a bunch of people and I’m going to do a bunch of things, and hopefully I can see and do in a relatively leisurely manner. And I will refuse to go through stuff, lift boxes, or make any decisions about what to keep versus what to throw away. I won’t have to look at my ever-growing array of lists, and I won’t have to write unless I feel like it, and I won’t have to juggle complicated logistics, and if I don’t feel like dealing with feeding myself, there is an IHOP right across from my motel so I can basically live on breakfast food for the next week.

It is going to be the best vacation ever.

I haven’t always taken this type of social vacation, but they tend to be very satisfying. It’s like going to a con except you’re not working the entire time, and you get to see people one-on-one and maybe even in a place that doesn’t require you to shout to be heard, and splitting the check is a lot easier. Basically I get to spend time with people I like a lot and rarely get to see. Nowadays the internet is very helpful for keeping in touch, but nothing beats the occasional face-to-face interaction for maintaining connections, if you can manage it.

I sound so practical about this, but really I am very excited. I’ve been looking forward to this so much! Anyway, next week there will be no blog posts, just me being excited and enjoying my vacation.

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What I Did in Bali

I’m back!

And I’m even somewhat over the jet lag (although wow, the jet lag going to and from Bali is possibly the worst I’ve ever experienced) and mostly over the cold I caught my last morning in Bali. Note to self: don’t expect to come back from a vacation halfway around the world, however relaxing it might be, feeling well rested.

But I had a truly amazing time. And I’m going to share a few highlights with you.

Most relaxing moment: The couples’ wrap and massage at our beach-side resort.

Best dinner: The five-course meal at our resort in Seminyak.

Runner-up: The Lotus Cafe in Ubud, for obvious reasons.

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Most exciting moment: Riding on the back of Daisy the Elephant

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Most challenging moment: The entire journey home, when I was really sick and our flights were disrupted by a typhoon.

Most surprising moment: Actually liking the coffee I tasted at the coffee plantation

Yum yum!

Yum yum!

Scariest moment: When this little monkey couldn’t get my water bottle out of my pocket and therefore refused to let go of my leg.

My new friend!

My new friend!

Most touching moment: Releasing baby sea turtles into the wild.

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Go, Egbert, go!

Go, Egbert, go!

Most romantic moment: Dancing with the boyfriend in the surf to one of our songs while the sun set.

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Favorite cultural experience: Pura Luhur Uluwatu and the Kecak Fire Dance we saw there

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Best hello: From Nala when I got home in the middle of the night

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Well, okay, this was the next afternoon, but close enough!

I am also happy to report I did not get sunburned, I only got a few bug bites, and I didn’t succumb to dengue fever. I did eat a lot of great food, go swimming in the Indian Ocean for the first time, and make out like a bandit in the souvenir shopping department.

I also got to see several gamelan instruments (which are made of metal) being transported via scooter, which is a sight I don’t expect to forget any time soon.

And now to get back into the swing of things at home!

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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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