Thursday Thought: Why procrastination will kill it

“People don’t procrastinate just to be ornery or because they’re irrational. They procrastinate because it makes sense, given how vulnerable they feel to criticism, failure, and their own perfectionism.” –Niel Fiore, The Now Habit

I GOT DINNER the other night with a new friend here in Phnom Penh, and after a few pleasantries about how we got here and for how long, she asked me about my work.

I write. I’m a writer.

“Have you published books?”


“By yourself?”


Pause. Then, the question so many people who meet artists adore forcing into the circle of conversation, most especially if they’re non-practicing creative types themselves.

“So, how can you say you’re a writer? Do you sell a lot of books?”

I sell very few books. I’m not going to lie about that. I’ve got very few people in my corner, but the ones who are there, I adore. And they get it. This is a process. We are all learning and growing, all the time.

“I don’t sell a lot of books,” I reply, as honest as I’ve been in my three books about true things that have happened. (An elopement, for example. An abortion.)

We talked a little bit then, about the real and hard realities of going public with those things.

I used to be upset about it. I’d get teary and have to go to the bathroom and cry or something if people asked me howcome I broke up with my parents or why I wasn’t sure anymore about wanting children. It is some seriously personal stuff.

By the end of the evening, before we even got to the end of the meal, the place was closing and my new friend was the one in tears. Our first 1:1 conversation and by the end of it, she was really opening. Telling me about her own fears, doubts, and insecurities. About children, or more specifically, the guilt associated with not necessarily wanting them. There are worlds of things to say, and I respect the choice to be child-free, I’d said, and that seemed to have opened the floodgates.

The staff replenished my water about five times. It’s hot here in Cambodia, and you want to stay hydrated. Since I come to the same place about three times a week, they seem to be okay with this kind of thing I like to do. Bring people around for conversations and food. And water. Lots of it. Because quenching our thirst feels good.

As we walked out, I finally answered her other question. No longer worried about what it would sound like not to have an identity as a professional journalist or a fat printed book with my name on the cover, I could be open about it. I could say, with my full heart, what I really think it means to be a writer:

“I think you can say you’re a writer if you write things that other people read. And I mean, all the way to the end, because it moves them.”

Writing with that kinduva goal takes time. We’re all still in the throes of thrashing towards this horizon. Through practice. Trial and error. And learning to fend off the feelings of guilt, inadequacy, and pressure. Procrastination enables the keeping of those feelings. Getting to work eclipses them.

(This post is for CB. Got your email, Ms. Can you dig it?)

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Monday village report #23: Beauty and the unseen


ONE OF THE BIGGEST lessons from being on the road in Asia without agenda, income, or a plan (!) was this: “Nobody cares.”

Someone I have known since I was three, in more or less sporadic exchanges over the next three decades, said that. Point blank. I could be a traveler or a poet or whatever. I could have a kid and feel like no one else was gonna help me take care of him in the way I wanted, because I felt like nourishing the little life that did come into my life (as opposed to the one that didn’t) was THE most important task in the universe.

I’m writing this from the comfort of an air-conditioned cafe with the pop music streaming what I probably would have heard if I was driving down I-95 for a holiday from Raleigh to say, somewhere in Florida, where I never made it in the entire time I was living in the state of North Carolina (about 20 years).

This particular stopping place is clean and cozy, and almost like the best of the Seattle cafes I got to know when I was there, far from North Carolina, still licking my wounds from the breakup with my family there. Ten years after eloping to Ireland I got back to my parents’ home, only to be pushed away, yet again, with the harsh words and business-as-usual treatment that Indian-born people give their daughters. As if girls are property. Why did my parents try for another child? My father: “We wanted a boy.”

Here, far again from this world of not quite ever being enough for your parents, I am noticing things I never had a chance to look at closely before. Like the orchids. Yet there are the sad things, too, like the small child in a wheelchair pushed by his grandfather (?), looking malnourished and like any moment he might keel over and die. All this. All this holding onto your stomach and heart, soaking in the reality that doesn’t have anything to do with whom you chose to marry, or the fact that your child might have “Chinesey” eyes (yes, my mother said that). People are here, poor and hungry. Dying every day. Awkward, then, when you see the thing that is the real. In real life, in the flesh.

Somehow sitting around in the blue part of North Carolina, the part that votes Democrat and likes to talk about politics and idealism but won’t do the things that are the basic things like take care of the health (mental, physical, emotional) of its own people, especially families, if you ask me, well, that made me get quite upset. But then, again, the person who said it might have been totally right, after all.

Nobody cares.

20140420-192504.jpgBut… there are some insights. There is the beauty within. These orchids. They are right next to the uglier stuff. Maybe people are apathetic. Maybe the universe isn’t going to give that kid an ice cream and a swim at a fancy resort hotel. Maybe he’ll be lucky if he just gets enough for today, and the next day, and the next. The parents of the kids who aren’t so bad off just want their young to get educated, learn English, go off to America, get the big job, and the house, and the locks and the kids, and then, everything will be OK.

Except, of course, it won’t…. the story of a broken idealism that one immigrant family had for its daughter, and more, in my upcoming book, It Takes a Village.

A new book, It Takes a Village, is available for free when you join the Kismuth VIP list. Don’t miss an episode. Get it right in your in-box when it publishes this summer.


Thursday Thought: On connectivity and meaning

ABOUT A YEAR now. In two days, it will have been a year. The year of travel. On the road. With my son. Without an agenda, source of predictable income, or any other tangible fixed points. This was the foray into “uncertainty, the year of the unknown,” and the practice of a thing I’d been talking about for eight years to people who’d hired me to help them discover a brand identity.

Trust the process.

You have to get lost a little to find center.

A year on the road with my family in Asia

There are a million things that I discovered about my own hypothesis that were wrong, wrong, wrong, but there were also moments of complete and utter bafflement that some stuff had felt completely right. Like when you turn the corner on a page that you can’t yet see, and know, after about a dozen tries at doing that already, that there will, indeed, be something beautiful. You won’t know what it is, or see it right away. But around the corner, if you trust, it’s there. Waiting for you to find it out. And looking at it reminds you that there are jewels, everywhere, in this giant, often overwhelmingly dark and hard, upsetting world.

The jewels are the things that make it worth everything. And my new story is about how I learned to see what was there, behind the scenes, every time.

Get ‘It Takes a Village,’ our new forthcoming eBook, for free. Here’s how

New eBook! ’12 insights from 12 months on the road (with a kid!) #parenting #travel #expat


MY SON is now five, and has spent a full year of his life in transit with Akira and me. We didn’t know when we met 19 years ago that one day we’d be parents to a small child who’d go globetrotting with us.

Get ‘It Takes a Village,’ the newest eBook from Kismuth, for free when you join Kismuth’s e-community.

It takes a village to raise a child.

That was the mantra. That was the thing that got me going. To Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, India, Nepal, and now, Cambodia. I’m done now, looking. I’ve found what I was in search of. What the real village looks and feels like. And it isn’t a place.

A year ago this month, I was a whole different kind of person. I believed you could change everything if you just uprooted. “People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are,” said G.B. Shaw. “I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the ones who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can’t find them, make them.”


But, what if he was wrong? What if, even in 11 months of looking around for those circumstances to discover someone started to get the gnawing feeling that it didn’t even matter, anymore? What if we lost hope, got sick, fell apart, and discovered the moonrise at Nagarkot, nothing really changed when it came to the external stuff? On, then, to “make them.” And if that didn’t work, then?

Welcome to the story.

Before the internet, this wouldn’t have been possible. Finding the people who became the important characters in my village. Looking around and networking and then discovering, hey, maybe we weren’t so different from people who looked nothing like us, spoke different languages, and carried themselves in whole other ways. Maybe, the Global Village that back in the 1990s we’d heard about and talked about together in our dorm rooms because this thing called “the internet” was about and changing how we communicate, maybe it was actually a real thing.

Maybe the trigger to get moving and get started happened not out of boredom or the reality that we weren’t making any money staying still in Durham, NC, but because something else was calling. The feeling of opportunity, elsewhere. It was the pining for “home” that got me back to North Carolina after a decade away, but the ugly thing I discovered upon returning hit me like a clap of plywood and stunned me into the truth.

Nobody cares.

The person who said that and what it felt like to hear it in the streetsides of New Delhi will be part of this story. You’ll also meet Poonam Singh, the head editor at the Punjabi-only language Preetlarhi Magazine, and Sonam Tashi Gyaltsen, who took up a degree at the National Institute of Technology in Design in Ahmadabad instead of turning to the monastery, the more traditional path for a family’s eldest son. You’ll also hear about Sahrah Boeck, and how a five-minute Skype call introduced me to a subculture in Chiang Mai you might see in a noir film.

Maybe you would want to come on this journey with me, because you’re curious. Or just wonder how anyone can travel with children. I’ll tell you that, too. Secret: It’s not as hard as they’d have you think. And it’s not nearly as expensive, either.

But I am skipping ahead.

The story starts in North Carolina. Which, for all intensive purposes, is where I think of when people ask, “Where are you from?”

Durham, to be more specific. At 16, I’d gone to a residential high school there, just off Broad and Club, and it was to those tall trees around Duke’s East Campus that I’d run away to in my mind when I played James Taylor’s Carolina on my Mind in the far corners of Seattle, southwest Ireland, and Kyoto, in the ten years away before I came back, child on my hip and still breastfeeding, in search of that thing I told you was so important to me. The village.

The story I’ve written is what I found, in the eleven months of seeking and searching since, instead.

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Monday village report #22: Remembrances of a place that was, and may yet still be


A poem.


Colored pencil
Bits of dry
Edges chipped
Flakes, pried

Before the melt
Maybe fuller
Spared of sun
Cherished deeper

Edge to edge
Line to line
Point to point
Coded, brine

Cloudy feathers
Blighted sky
Pink saturations
Cut bright dye

Thursday Thought: Unraveling from the picture of what you think it’s supposed to be


ONE YEAR CAN teach you a lot of things, if you let it.

As a 19 year-old in Japan, I don’t think I did that very well, looking back. Let four seasons truly teach, I mean.

No, back then it was the 90s and plaid shirts and J-Pops and crushing on boys and having my feelings hurt and taking it personally. Korokke, tomato-and-tuna sandwiches, and bottles of pop, renting CDs from Tsutaya to practice the lyrics for karaoke, bike riding and getting lost, meeting people at Shinjuku-eki’s West Entrance Gate or the dog statue Hachiko, temple-hopping, and writing long letters diligently that came with cut-and-paste collage every other week to two people whom I’ve totally lost touch with since. It was the shiny shirts trending that year, and carrying home souvenirs—furoshiki, canned coffee—for that era’s friends.

Not real life. Just… consumed life.

In my time in Kyoto, I went through the motions of school semesters and later, a Tokyo summer internship, looking at nothing deeply, and noticing even less. I did take a lot of pictures, though. Maybe that recording of things onto the retina did something to plant an impression that I’d revisit, later, what it was that I saw there, or what I think, more accurately, saw me. Loneliness. Desperation. A quiet, raw dissonance that the person on the inside didn’t match the out.

‘Repatriation’ to America and why that never seemed like the right word

Besides discovering Saigo Takamori and not making straight As for the first time, changes in Japan for me were mostly superficial. I’d lost weight, gone to nice salons, and dressed in tighter cuts. “You look so trendy!” said one high school acquaintance. I was staying with a cousin in Mountainview, on my way to the city or back for the day, taking pictures. We’d run into one another by sheer chance on a platform for the Caltrain at the Palo Alto stop. Some smalltalk then, “I’ve just been in Japan for a year…” what more was there to that?… and a dwindling into the kind of awkward pause that I’d have to get used to over the next weeks, months, and years.

It’s a pause that says, “Oh.”

You know you’re different, they’re different because you’ve changed, and you’ll never both be the way you were, before.

This must be what it’s like to run into an ex.

A feeling of something old, something lost, something never-to-be-felt again, and then the weighty suddenness of that awareness because there you are in plain real life, looking at one another eye to eye, but realizing that words won’t be enough to make up the lost ground between your world and theirs.

NOW THAT I’VE BEEN away from that experience of not knowing what to say to people like that for quite a long time, 20 years now, I am more used to how to fill in the silences. Play with them, even. Like on Monday night, when someone accosted me with a quick, “Hi, how are you, I’m ___.”

I thought this person wanted to know a thing or two. So I said hi back.

Then, “Where are you from?”


The pause. There it was. The awkward thing. I remembered it from the platform in Palo Alto, I still know what that beige linen jacket felt like against my forearms and how the new brown Haruta shoes were just a little tight. I remember the sun, the sparkling of nothing, the feeling that the world had just shifted a degree from its axis, and the balance was in major question, all magnetic fields tipping, but no one was talking about it.

Then, the favorite question.

“Where are you from, ethnically, I mean. Originally?”


“Your parents? Your grandparents?”

This is when I tried something new. “I’m adopted.”


Then, me: “Awkward, right?”

“Well,” the white-haired man volleyed. “That’s the beauty of America.”

It was a puny response to a question that for a long time has been screaming. Whose America is it, anyway?

But. Is anyone listening?

Monday village report #21: The empty can on Street 93A, or a place that might sound like that

THE CAN ROLLED, empty as it were, though I didn’t see it that way from my ten-foot distance, into the street. It stopped there, face down, while I looked at it and the motorcyclist who’d just knocked it into motion, somehow, also looked at it. The lady who’d been with him had unmounted and gone inside the little house or shop or other building while he kept watch. Helmeted and waiting, watching me watch the can.

Should I pick it up, get it out of the way of traffic? Surely it belongs to him, though, maybe it’s full of some sort of important food. I’ll just… oh!

“It’s empty.”

He doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t shrug, or acknowledge me, or let me know that he sees I’m confused. This is a different country: your rules don’t apply here. No one is going to act like it’s an American thing in an American way, like shrugging or tossing the can to the side without much regard for where it winds up. I look at the thing in my hand and put it gently on the curb, but not too far in, just in case there’s someone who’ll be along shortly to collect the empty bottles and cans and other dribs and drabs because it is her living, her way of earning her day’s pay, to find the recyclables.

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Thursday Thought: On intimacy and the water

I WENT SWIMMING. Something that any Pisces will understand is much more than flailing about in the water; it is a separate peace. But there is something about this that is very quieting, especially when you’re doing a one-handed handstand and nothing is cluttering the quiet space. Nothing at all. The movie, The Big Blue (that’s a translation from French), was the first one I’d seen to showcase the deep and still below. I know they got into that later with Abyss and even AI, but it just wasn’t the same as Blue. What happens when we’re in our early twenties and experiencing the thing for the first time is that it knocks our socks off: there is the quiet, which you will know later in life in various places, but then, there is the first quiet, and the first quiet, is intimate.

Blankets of water layers fold over you when you look up through the surface to see the above. The light. The layers of the atmosphere, then, above that, thickening and brightening towards the upper stratosphere, and out, through the liquid of the cosmos, into the great black empty that is the opposite vector on the spectrum that compels near from far.

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Art by Dipika Kohli, TODAYILOVEYOU.COM

HERE, IT STARTED to feel like the wet of Ireland. The shifting in the windstorm. The beating of the slanting color that doesn’t relent, because it is letting something go. The weeping is hoarse now. A frightened, practiced quieted hush is unfurling. Becoming what it was always meant to: the full-on bellow that comes from the deepest crevice of the hidden gut, a place where all things unspoken are shoved and covered, hidden from light.

Vietnam has been a trudge in these summer days. An old line from one of last summer’s journals. Time now to look back, try to make sense of it. Sitting not even six hours from the border, here in Phnom Penh. A new rainy season will shape the pools of oil in the rainbow puddles differently.


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Monday village report #21: When the sky puddles in rainbow on a mountainside in Vietnam

#WorldPoetryDay: ‘The rain and the river, an ode to #PhnomPenh’

IF THE SKY of orange-pink knew this was the day
I wonder if she would have looked so puffy
The way the moon had been acting out
Like all the bloating sensation of all eternity was his
Wrong to avail

If the pantomime of the eastern border
Collected fissures along its hopscotch alleys
Would the police still ask for bribes and favors
Or would the torrent of the river overwhelm
Their fickle pleas

Would the mirror count the stories
Of Khmer and edifying wavelets
That spelled out sad and vacant
Might Cambodia, the dream beginning, unleash
Her wildest beauty?

Maybe the rain that flew into the misty new
A pinking of the concept, you might say
The wet white shade of washing and allowance
That scattered the dust of the streets could avail her
Could set this place, just yesterday, finally, earnestly,