Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

The Journal

Posted: October 12, 2013 in Journals, Travel, Winter Olympics
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Image  About six weeks ago, I was dragged, kicking and screaming, into the realm of blogging by the wonderful women in my coaching group.  They told me I had a lot to say that needed to be shared with the world.  Someone even said it would be selfish of me to keep my stories and scraps of memoir writing to myself.  I argued that I didn’t like this new way of “publishing” and that anyone could have a blog.  I wanted to be recognized as a writer, yes, but I wanted to try to do it the old fashioned way.  I wanted some smart New York editor to tell me I was worthy.  I wanted to appear in print.  My friends didn’t care what I wanted.  What they wanted was for me to blog.  I gave in.

I am not normally that much of a pushover and when you consider just how long they had to work on me to get me to agree, I guess I can’t really be considered a pushover at all.  I think I simply got tired of hearing them insist.  When I was in college, a favorite professor told me I could be one of the writers of the 20th century if I would just write every day.  But I was lazy, so I didn’t.  And now it’s too late for that to come true, considering that here we are, well into the second decade of the 21st century.  Another professor, after reading my initial essay assignment out loud to the class and giving me my first A+ as a freshman, tossed me out of English 101 after only three lessons, saying, “You don’t need this class, Kim.  And don’t bother taking English 102, either.  I’ll fix it with the department.”

All of this came just months after being voted Most Literary in my high school yearbook, along with a nice young man named Peter.  So I’m willing to accept that I’m an okay writer.  I’m not the writer that I would like to be, though.  I think I could be someday if I could stop being so lazy and really put some work into it.  If I make posting something on my blog every day look relatively easy it’s only because I have been cheating.  This, what I am writing right now, is being written hours before it will become a blog post tomorrow morning.  But about 75% of what I have posted so far has come directly from the journals I have been keeping for years.  I have been rifling through them for interesting ideas, thoughts, television memories and pieces of the memoir I am trying to conjure.  Whatever I have borrowed from the past I have re-written, of course, but having all that stuff socked away has made it less complicated for me to post something every day.  Eventually, I suppose I will run out.  When that happens, my posts will appear less frequently.

One thing that would help me to continue posting something every day is finding the missing journal.  I don’t keep a journal all the time.  It’s a sporadic activity for me, quite often brought about by travel.  My oldest one is from when I was 14 and in the 9th grade.  I still have it and it’s hilarious to look through but if I told you its title I’d have to kill you.  Okay, okay, I named it Hey, I’m A Teenager.  Now you know.  I promise not to kill you.  Just don’t tease me about it, please.  I was a teenager for crying out loud!

I kept writing after that.  Mostly, through high school and college and beyond, I wrote bad poetry and science fiction short stories.  There are 5 poems of which I am truly proud.  Three have appeared here.  Number four will appear next month.  I’m looking for the fifth, another sonnet.  I don’t care that they’re not good enough for the New Yorker.  I like them.  Five.  Out of more than 300.

There’s also a sci-fi novel I wrote as a sophomore in college, because I was bored in a geology class and needed something interesting to do.  It’s 60,000 words long and obviously written by a 19-year-old young woman who had fun ideas about the future and space travel but not one millimeter of physics knowledge to make the story plausible.  It’s in a box somewhere and I have not peeked at it in decades.

My next foray into journal-keeping came when I was the stage manager of the Morton Downey, Jr. Show and we did weeks, here and there, on the road.    Detroit, Houston, Kansas City.  I wound all of those journals together to form a bad book called A Dyke Does Downey.  The subtitle was going to be Blow Jobs Don’t Count, after how Mort would explain to anyone who would listen just how he managed to remain “faithful” to his wife.  Quite a character, that Mort.

After that I stopped writing for a while.  Then CBS asked me, in 1998, to go to Nagano to cover the Olympic Winter Games.  I was thrilled, both to be covering the Olympics and to be going to Japan.  I knocked two wishes off my bucket list in one glorious month.  Before I left, my friend DML gave me a beautiful journal and encouraged me to write in it every day, reminding me that that’s what writers do.  Oh, yeah, I thought, and happily added it to my carry-on messenger bag.

We lived in Park Slope then.  I filled that Nagano journal to the brim with stories, drawings, pictures and stickers.  The only drawing that pops up in my memory now is one of me, in stick figure form with my winking DJ logo face, seated at a restaurant table with the hugest bottle of beer I had ever seen.  I think it was an Asahi, but I can’t be certain.  The only actual story I can recall is the one about the day KB, Bob and I went to the Bobsleigh venue, up in the mountains, and almost got shot by the police.  I’ll write that one again someday, with whatever details I can remember.  There was another thread in that journal about how Martha Stewart kept staring at me, smiling my way and bringing me small presents of fresh, native-to-Nagano apples and grapes, but those details are gone.

Two years later, with a toddler in tow, we moved from Park Slope to Sunset Park, to a tiny frame house on 33rd and 5th.  I know I packed that Nagano journal so it would make the journey with us.  And ten years ago, when we moved here, I’m pretty sure I packed up everything meaningful and brought it all to this leafy suburb.  For the whole ten years I pictured that journal somewhere in the attic or the basement, tucked away in a box or a crate with other books and papers and when I had to sell my house earlier this year the one thing I looked forward to while going through everything to decide what to keep and what to jettison was coming across that beautiful journal again.  I was filled with anticipation every time I opened a likely box of printed materials, notebooks and papery objects.  I kept thinking, this one, it has to be in this one.  But it wasn’t.  There was no Nagano journal in any of those boxes upon boxes upon boxes that sat idle for 10 years with stuff inside that we didn’t really need but also didn’t want to throw out.  I found all my poetry, all my short stories, all my pictures.  No journal.  And I miss it so.  Sometimes I wake up in a sweat thinking that I’ve misplaced something seriously important, like one of my children.  Or the dog or all my tax returns.  And then I remember that it’s the journal.  And I’m really glad that it’s not a kid, not even the dog, but I’d go through 100 tax audits after losing all my important papers if I could just have that journal back.  I think you would have liked it, too.

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Marble Mountain

Posted: September 25, 2013 in Travel
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                        Image        Two days before my twins were handed to me at the orphanage in HCMC in Viet Nam, I spent an adventurous day on my own just south of Da Nang.  After a relaxing morning at the beach and walking through the hotel’s beautiful, stunning orchid garden, I showered and headed out by taxi to Marble Mountain.  It’s an incredible place with caves and pagodas and quiet reflection pools.  When you get there you have to climb a multitude of differently-sized steps ranging between 4- and 18-or-so- inches high.  It takes great concentration to navigate this climb because you may have to hoist yourself up a really big step one second and then barely lift your leg at all the next.  There are small landings with stone benches along the way so winded people can rest if they need to.  The steps are all built right into the mountain and curve their way to the top.

The winding stairs mostly face south and west so even though it was the middle of February it was dry and hot.  I was happy to find gnarly shade trees at the end of my climb.  There were small pagodas, too, where people were leaving incense burning for the Buddhas inside, and walkways through the marble, where the mountain reaches even higher on both sides, lined with flowers and trees and smiling local people selling drinks and renting out flashlights.  Along the walls of the mountain were holes to walk through into cathedral-like caves and through the large caves, more holes to climb up even further.

The first one I entered was like a chimney, a vertical climb through a passageway just big enough for one person.    As soon as I approached it I understood why the bent and leathery old woman outside had insisted that I give her an American dollar and take a beat up silver flashlight with me, while gently grinning and speaking a language so fluid yet so indecipherable to me.  I had to find hand- and foot-holds to make my way up.  When I emerged there were more crumbling steps and rocks to climb, right up to the very top of the peak.

From one direction I could see the countryside, more mountain peaks thrusting up, here and there, through the sea-level rice fields, and downtown Da Nang.  From the other direction, towards the South China Sea, I found China Beach.  And Cham Island poking through the haze.  It was breathtaking.

After more climbing on steps, down and up and around the passageways, I found another cave that was bigger than a house.  The ceiling went up about 75 feet and there were two holes at the top through which sunlight filtered in.  The walls were moist from the fresh water that trickled down and dripped from the ceiling.  If there hadn’t been a tour group gathered inside there with me, I might have tried some noises to hear their echoes.  I’m betting the acoustics were intense.

That evening I went to dinner with some ex-pats.  We drove to Hoi An, the lantern center of Viet Nam.  There were shops on every block, selling incense, chopsticks, Buddha statues and hundreds upon hundreds of folding paper lanterns and silk lanterns of every size imaginable.  The restaurant we chose was right on the river, actually floating on the river, and we walked across a gangplank to reach it.  I ordered vegetable pho and a Tiger Beer.

Most of the ex-pats I met were originally there as soldiers during, as the Vietnamese call it, the American War.  Some had gone back to heal old wounds and do development work, building schools, designing hospitals.  Some were there chasing old ghosts, it seemed.  A few, perhaps, had survivors guilt.  Some had beautiful Vietnamese families.  Whatever their reasons, they were all very nice to me and incredibly interesting.  They could have been my older brothers or cousins.  I hope, by now, they have found what they were looking for.  Someday, I will take Lan and Dao, Georgia and Esther, to see their lovely country of origin.     Image