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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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I’m back from Chicago and Worldcon and what proved to be quite a whirlwind experience. I’m also sick. Alas, using hand sanitizer and taking Vitamin C and eating fruit wasn’t enough to keep this particular miserable virus at bay. And I’m sick enough that my brain is somewhat foggy. So I’m going to table the topic I had planned to write about (which deserves my fully functional brain) and give you some snippets instead.

– I met a lot of people at Worldcon and spent most of my time socializing. And one thing that I find continually fascinating is how everybody has their own story. Some people wear their stories on their sleeves. Other people keep their interactions entirely surface to the point that it’s easy to forget they have  stories at all. And some people gradually reveal their stories to you, one layer at a time. But they’re always there: the goals and dreams, the insecurities, the setbacks and old wounds, the history, the personality quirks, and the bedrock of character.

– Many people seem to have a lot of social anxiety around convention going. There was a lot of talk about various kinds of social nervousness, as well as more than one person talking about trying to let go of worrying about what they might be missing. (“Just enjoy the con you’re at” was the chief advice being bandied about.)

I don’t have any particular insight to share about this because, as it turns out, these are not my particular problems. I tend to get nervous before a con, and sometimes I have a short period of nerves upon first arrival (although even this seems to be lessening more and more), but once I dive in, I’m pretty much fine. And I hardly ever worry about what I might be missing because what’s the point? Besides, I’m usually having a fine time doing whatever it is I’m already doing. This makes me think that perhaps some people have very different goals for their cons than I do.

That’s not to say I don’t have any problems at a con. I worry about when and what I’ll eat (because sometimes food just doesn’t happen, and sometimes I end up subsisting on French fries). I worry about my body holding up through so much standing and walking and lack of sleep. I feel sad that I don’t have as much time as I would like with many of these fabulous people I’m surrounded by. Sometimes I’m too tired to have the conversations I want to have. And sometimes I’ve had enough superficial chit chat and really want a more substantial conversation than what I’m getting. But so far, at least, I’ve found that these are workable problems.

My feet over Chicago.

– I really like Chicago. I love the varied architecture of the buildings downtown, and I love the beauty of the lake. The Art Institute was a real treat, and the pizza was intense.

– My sprained foot got hurt on an overcrowded elevator one evening, which resulted in a fair amount of pain (and possibly some tears, but don’t tell anyone). I was really struck by the generosity of spirit from the people around me. Let me tell you, I was taken care of. Before I knew it (and I certainly didn’t have the presence of mind to make any of this happen myself), I was sitting down with my foot elevated, I had ice in a ziplock bag, I had taken Ibuprofen, I had tissues to dry my eyes, and I was being diverted by kind people talking to me while not expecting me to provide a coherent response. Later, a few friends went to dinner with me in the hotel to save me extra walking, and other friends were visibly concerned, sympathetic, and willing to help. My heartfelt thanks go out to everyone who contributed in turning what could have been a catastrophic event into a demonstration of kindness and thoughtfulness.

– Now I want to sleep for a week. Possibly two.

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I’ve written before about how travel can cause us to get to know people better. What I didn’t say was that travel can help us learn to know ourselves better.

This fact is perhaps why I care about travelling so deeply. Because all those things you can find out about your traveling companion? If you’re paying attention, you can also discover them about yourself.

Travel forces us to exist in liminal spaces, pushes us into in-betweens. We are no longer inhabiting our familiar landscapes, no longer in our comfortable personal worlds. We are past the comfort zone, pushing boundaries, encouraged to see what is around us with new eyes. Grocery shopping becomes glamorous and the tenth art masterwork we’ve seen today becomes mundane.

A fjord in Norway

Travel is taxing. We are often tired from long sits on airplanes, the passage of too many time zones, making our way from point A to point B in stifling heat or numbing cold. Our bodily needs become complicated as we try to manage our hunger, our thirst, our exposure to the sun, or our aching feet. The food may be different. The language may be different. Things go wrong and fall apart, and we are left feeling simultaneously buffeted by a large, impersonal world and lifted up by strangers’ acts of kindness and generosity.

It is because travel can be so uncomfortable that it is so rewarding. We find edges we didn’t know existed inside of us. We run headlong into our assumptions. Many of our outer trappings are stripped away even while we experiment with creating personal narratives for the people we meet. And meanwhile we are surrounded by brain food or soul food or the seeds of creative inspiration, or all three at once.

Sometimes we lose ourselves, and travel is one way to begin searching. Sometimes we crave change, and travel is one way to explore the possibilities. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that we are alive, and travel is one way to find peak experiences.

Exploring in Portugal

Travel is an active doing and a passive waiting. Travel is discomfort and pleasure, sublimity and boredom, a pain in the butt and the best time ever. Travel is flinging ourselves into the world and asking, Will you catch me? Which sometimes turns into, Can I catch myself?

We often think about travel as an exploration of the world. But it can also be an exploration of the self. In removing ourselves from our routines, our comforts, and our surroundings, we gain fresh perspective.

I had a friend ask, “By traveling, aren’t you running away from your problems?”

But sometimes traveling is running directly into our problems. We take ourselves wherever we go. The question is how serious we are about creating change. And traveling is one way to do just that.

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It’s the end of April, April 26th, to be exact, and as always on this day, my thoughts are with my mom.

Her death at age fifty really brought home to me the reality of mortality. All things must end. We have a finite amount of time. It made me realize how important it is to prioritize, to make things happen now because there might not be a later, to fight against becoming stuck in a daily routine if it makes me unhappy.

Her death taught me the importance of shaking things up.

You want to know the truth? I don’t like shaking things up. It’s scary and uncomfortable. There tends to be a fair amount of risk involved, as well as failure and disappointment. It can be hard to decide when to shake and when to let things settle.

But when in doubt, I’d usually rather shake. I remember the finite life span of human beings. I remember my mom’s unhappiness, and how she couldn’t shake things up to make her life better. And then it was too late.


Could I be a writer if I didn’t believe in shaking things up? Could I be a blogger? I don’t know. I’m guessing I couldn’t be a blogger because blogs tend to shake things up. Any blogger worth her salt will have to occasionally offer up an opinion, and people will disagree. Shake, shake, shake. And without that extra push to make life happen for myself, would I have found the courage to spend so much time writing? To attempt a novel? To send stories out to be rejected? All these choices shake things up.

I worry when people my age (thirties) tell me how much they want to travel, but they haven’t been anywhere. I want to say, I hope you’re not serious. I hope travel isn’t actually that important to you. I hope it’s a nice dream that provides a pleasant thought diversion. Or else I hope you’re just being polite, like me when I say how amazing it would be to learn to knit (I don’t actually care if I learn to knit or not). Because otherwise, what if it never happens? What if you never shake things up enough to make it happen?

This is why priorities matter so much. So we can decide when it’s important to shake and when we can take a break, be laid back, and let things sort themselves out. It’s like my experience with Las Vegas. I live a short flight away from Vegas. People I know are going to Vegas all the time. It’s never been a real priority of mine to go to Vegas, so I sat back and figured it would happen when it happened. I chose not to shake things up.

And guess what? I’ve still never been to Vegas.

So in a way, today is about remembering my mom AND remembering the power of shaking things up. I don’t want to be a people pleaser anymore? Then bam, I’ll learn more about it, I’ll push myself to change, I’ll ruffle some feathers. I want to be a writer? Then bam, I’ll take risks with my writing, I’ll go out there and meet people in my industry, I’ll leave myself vulnerable, and I’ll commit myself fully even knowing failure waits right around the corner.

Hi, Mom. This earthquake is for you.

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At this time of year, I always feel like I’m straddling the flow of time. Half of myself is looking backwards and evaluating what has gone on before, while the other half is looking forward to what the next year may hold for me. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions per say because I prefer a continuous evaluation process, but thinking in terms of units of time can be helpful when trying to look at the bigger picture of my life.

So, without further ado, here are a few reflections on 2011 and few wishes for the year to come.

Cute little Nala and me

Writing:

2011 was an exciting year because it was the first year I had something published, thus realizing a dream I have cherished since I was seven years old. Hooray! In fact, I had three short stories published this year, one of them to a pro market. I was also able to join SFWA as an associate member.

My wish for 2012 is that I am able to use the lessons I learned this year to increase both my productivity and my enjoyment in writing. (Being greedy, I also wish for more sales.)

Health:

The first half of 2011 was dominated by crazy dental problems. While that silly crown still often aches, the level of pain has subsided to the realms of the tolerable. I also had more ankle problems. But on the plus side, my knees continued to improve in a most pleasing fashion. I also began to eat more healthily, trying to limit my consumption of saturated fats in particular, and have done fairly well with it (although not when traveling. Eating healthily when traveling is ridiculously hard).

My wish for 2012 is to keep growing stronger so I have less overall aches and pains, and to continue following my moderate diet.

Travel:

2011 was the first year in a long time that I didn’t leave the country. Various health concerns dampened my travel ambition somewhat, and I mostly stayed close to home. My favorite trip of the year was my first time in Washington D.C. in March. I would definitely return there for a follow-up visit someday. We also attended the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon, visited Disneyland with friends, and relaxed over Thanksgiving at our favorite Maui vacation spot.

I was able to attend five writing conferences and conventions, two local and three an easy traveling distance: Potlatch, FogCon, SCBWI LA, WorldCon, and World Fantasy. I particularly enjoyed attending the inaugural FogCon and moderating my first two panels, and catching up with my wonderful writer friends (and making new ones) at the larger conventions was fabulous as usual.

My wish for 2012 is to leave the United States. We’re thinking either Japan or certain favorite Western European locations…

Personal Growth:

I wrote about the two most important lessons I’ve learned this year last week. I feel like I’ve made a fair amount of progress on the people pleaser front and have developed a stronger backbone. I’m more likely to stand up for myself and less likely to take responsibility for everyone else. So, yay!

My wish for 2012 is to continue tackling my vicious perfectionist streak and to do further work towards trusting myself and my abilities. I’d also like to be able to reach out more to other people.

Happy upcoming New Year, dear readers! What are your wishes for 2012?


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