Friday, December 12, 2014

Elizabeth Gilbert's Advice on Traveling Alone for Women

Wanderlust has been hitting me hard the last few years. Perhaps it's an awareness of time, and how little I have actually done with my life, how little of the world I have seen. It's an affliction that comes with having aging parents, I suppose. I look at my dad, who was such an independent spirit, strong and self-sufficient - and I see him these days a somewhat diminished man, angry at losing his vigour and power. He, too, is aware that he does not have much time left. I have no children. All I have is now. So, I desire to travel, to wander before the ultimate certainty (because death is more certain than taxes) takes me.

I was on Facebook earlier (okay, I am on Facebook everyday - shoot me). Someone posted a question to Elizabeth Gilbert, asking for travel advice. I liked her reply, although, the question is: can you really just travel with carry-on luggage only? Really? I feel like a pack-horse now.

Dear Ones — 

This question popped up on the wall again this week, and I thought I should reprint this little essay I wrote about it on Facebook last year. And if you all have your own thoughts and advice on the matter, do yo you mind sharing? 


I myself have always had great experiences traveling alone. While there are certainly dangers, I have found that the same factors that make you vulnerable as a woman also make you powerful. What I mean to say is, a woman on her own does not telegraph a threat to anyone—which means that strangers all over the world will welcome you and trust you. They will let you into their houses. They will let you play with their babies. They will tell you their stories. They will give you a place to sleep. They will offer you assistance, food, directions, affection. I feel that, as a female traveler, I have had much more intimate experiences with new people than any man could ever have. They know I'm not going to hurt them, and so they open up to me. I wouldn't trade those experiences for anything. 

That said, do be careful—or at least alert. There are places in the world I would not travel alone. There are places in my own state I would not travel alone, for that matter. If you don't see any local women walking around the streets at night, you probably shouldn't be walking there either. Other tips: 
DRESS MODESTLY. I keep this rule just about everywhere I go in the world that isn't Miami. In developing countries or more conservative countries, I am especially careful to wear long sleeves and loose clothing. It's more comfortable, for one thing. (Less sunburn!) It also tends to attract less male attention. But most of all, in places in the world where modesty still reigns, dressing carefully will win you the favor of local women—whose good graces you will always need. If you're walking around in what looks to a nice Indonesian woman like underwear (tank top and shorts) she will be too embarrassed to interact with you. Try not to make people of either gender feel either aroused or embarrassed. 
PACK LIGHTLY. I never travel with checked luggage...not anywhere, not for any amount of time. Carry-on only. Never bring more than you can comfortably carry. Being over-burdened makes you vulnerable in a thousand different ways. Stay light on your feet and you'll be safer and less conspicuous. Also, you don't really need it. Really, you don't! If you’re traveling from place to place and living among strangers, nobody will notice that you wore the same shirt today as yesterday. You will also be safer from people putting things in your luggage (drugs) or taking things out of your luggage (cameras) when you aren't looking. 
EYE-MASK, EAR PLUGS, PJ's, SLIPPERS. Bring good ones. Sleep is the most important thing. 
DON'T BE AFRAID TO LOOK STUPID. Try to speak some of the local language, even if it makes you sound like an idiot. People (except waiters in Paris) will usually be charmed, not appalled. Eat things you wouldn't normally eat. Ask questions. It's OK if you don't know what's going on — the whole point of being a visitor is not to know what's going on, and to be unafraid to learn. Good manners and friendliness trump sophistication any day. You can always apologize for mistakes later. 
DON'T ACT ENTITLED. I won't give any examples here. Just ask yourself constantly, "Am I acting entitled?" Then stop. Actually, this is kind of good advice for even when you aren't traveling. 

Love, Liz

Sunday, December 07, 2014

BOOKS | 100 Books to Read 2014

A new year is beginning, and it is time to get back to some tradition. I intend to read more in 2014. A long time ago, I started an annual list of 100 books that I would like to read in a year. While I have never actually completed all 100 books, I like how it directed my reading. I really do read more when I have an aspirational list.
So here is the 100 Books to Read List 2014 - it is still a work in progress - but past experience has taught me that the 100 titles will fill itself up in due course. As you start reading again, you will want to read more.
So here it is:
  1. A History of the World in Twelve Maps • Jerry Brotton
  2. Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence • Rick Hanson
  3. Running and Being • Dr George Sheehan
  4. Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom • Rick Hanson
  5. The Wisdom of Yoga: A Seeker's Guide to Extraordinary Living • Stephen Cope
  6. The Sanity We Are Born With: A Buddhist Approach to Psychology • Chogyam Trungpa
  7. Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism • Chogyam Trungpa
  8. Smile at Fear: Awakening the True Heart of Bravery • Chogyam Trungpa
  9. The Emotional Life of Your Brain: How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel, and Live--and How You Can Change Them • Richard J. Davidson & Sharon Begley
  10. Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar--Your Brain's Silent Killers • David Perlmutter & Kristin Loberg
  11. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West • Dee Brown
  12. Blue Plate Special: An Autobiography of My Appetites • Kate Christensen
  13. The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals • Michael Pollan
  14. In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto • Michael Pollan
  15. Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation • Michael Pollan
  16. Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History • S. C. Gwynne
  17. Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child • Bob Spitz
  18. Love Your Enemies: How to Break the Anger Habit & Be a Whole Lot Happier • Sharon Salzberg
  19. Provence, 1970: M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste • Luke Barr
  20. Running with the Buffaloes: A Season Inside with Mark Wetmore, Adam Goucher, and the University of Colorado Men's Cross Country Team • Chris Lear
  21. The Round House: A Novel Paperback • Louise Erdrich
  22. The Road of Lost Innocence • Somaly Mam
  23. The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present • Eric Kandel
  24. The Source of All Things: A Memoir • Tracy Ross
  25. No Time to Lose: A Timely Guide to the Way of the Bodhisattva •  Pema Chodron
  26. Give and Take • Adam Grant
  27. Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them • Joshua Greene
  28. The Social Neuroscience of Education: Optimizing Attachment and Learning in the Classroom • Louis Cozolino
  29. Quiet: The Power of Introverts • Susan Cain
  30. The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot • Robert MacFarlane
  31. A Tale for the Time Being • Ruth Ozeki
  32. David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants • Malcolm Gladwell
  33. S. Rajaratnam on Singapore: From Ideas to Reality • edited by Kwa Chong Guan
  34. When Women Were Birds: Fifty-Four Variations on Voice • Terry Tempest Williams
  35. Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation • Sharon Salzberg
  36. Hild • Nicola Griffith
  37. Lady Audley's Secret • Mary Elizabeth Braddon
  38. The Names of the Rose • Umberto Eco
  39. Dune • Frank Herbert
  40. The Stars My Destination • Alfred Bester
  41. Jane Eyre • Charlotte Bronte
  42. The Windup Girl • Paolo Bacigalupi
  43. Regenesis • C.J. Cherryh
  44. Among Others • Jo Walton
  45. Ready Player One • Ernest Cline
  46. The City & The City • China Miéville
  47. Their Eyes Were Watching God • Zora Neale Hurston
  48. A Fine Balance • Rohinton Mistry
  49. The 1963 Operation Coldstore in Singapore • Edited by Poh Soo Kai, Tan Kok Fang & Hong Lysa
    [ 01/01/2014 ~
  50. Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith • Anne Lamott
    [ 15/10/2013 ~
  51. How to Meditate: A Practical Guide to Making Friends with Your Mind • Pema Chodron
    [ 27/01/2014 ~
  52. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success • Carol Dweck
    [ 30/01/2014 ~
  53. An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace • Tamar Adler
    [ 10/02/2014 ~
  54. The Goldfinch • Donna Tartt
    [ 14/03/2014 ~
  55. Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace • Anne Lamott
    [ 04/12/2014 ~
  56. Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness• Rebecca Solnit
    [ 26/11/2014 ~
  57. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption • Laura Hillenbrand
    [ 23/11/2014 ~ 
  58. Station Eleven • Emily St. John Mandel
    [ 23/11/2014 ~
  59. What Days Are For: A Memoir • Robert Dessaix
    [ 20/11/2014 ~
  60. The Outsider • Albert Camus
    Translated from the French by Sandra Smith
    [ 01/10/2014 ~
  61. The Trauma of Everyday Life • Mark Epstein
    [ 15/09/2014 ~
  62. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage • Haruki Murakami
    Translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel
    [ 12/08/2014 ~
  63. The Devil's Star • Jo Nesbø
    Translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett
    [ 28/07/2014 ~
  64. Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence • Daniel Goleman
    [ 04/11/2013 ~ 01/01/2014 ]
  65. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running • Haruki Murakami
    [ 02/01/2014 ~ 27/01/2014 ]
  66. The Hunger Games • Suzanne Collins
    [ 31/01/2014 ~ 08/02/2014 ]
  67. Catching Fire • Suzanne Collins
    [ 08/02/2014 ~ 09/02/2014 ]
  68. Mockingjay • Suzanne Collins
    [ 09/02/2014 ~ 10/02/2014 ]
  69. Nemesis • Jo Nesbø
    Translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett
    [ 19/07/2014 ~ 28/07/2014 ]
  70. Cave in the Snow • Vicki Mackenzie
    [ 18/10/2014 ~ 08/11/2014 ]
  71. The Land Where Lemons Grow: The Story of Italy and its Citrus Fruit • Helena Attlee
    [ 13/09/2014 ~ 15/11/2014 ]
  72. Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar • Cheryl Strayed
    [ 28/09/2014 ~ 2/11/2014 ]

Monday, November 03, 2014

Marathon Heroes: "These are the things that define you ..."

I was watching this press interview with Kara Goucher after the NYC Marathon, and it was heartbreaking for me. [ Source ]

Kara Goucher finished 14th at the NYC Marathon with a time of 2:37:03. It was her big return since the 2013 Boston Marathon, and fans like myself were all looking forward to her doing well. Things did not go as planned though. For the first time in her running career, she "hit a wall" - that painful, unspeakable moment when the brain and body shut down and you truly struggle to carry on. She admitted in this video this is the first time she "hit a wall" running. I watched her break down, emotions overwhelming her. I imagine the kind of doubts and anguish going through her head when so many people had their hopes on her making a triumphant return after injuries and changing coaches.
“I’m really sensitive so it hurts,” Goucher said, wiping away more tears. “I know I am in great shape and can do great things. It’s like, ‘Well that sucked.’ I’ve worked really hard and have a lot of people behind me and I’m like, ‘That’s what it was?’ But that’s what it was. It just wasn’t great. It was really sucky, actually.
“This is the most pain I have ever been in my entire life” she continued. “Both physically and emotionally. It’s taken so much for me to get back here and so many people have invested in me so I feel a responsibility for that and then physically I have never felt like that before where I literally couldn’t move. It was not a good experience."
It was a most human moment. She was an Olympian, an elite runner, but even heroes struggle. I think we often forget that. After finishing the race, Kara Goucher broke down and wept. Meb Keflezighi, approached her and comforted her. Meb finished 23rd last year, but came back strong this year to finish 4th in the NYC men's race, and he won the Boston Marathon earlier this year. This is a guy who fell and tasted the ashes, but found it inside him to pick him up. Kara said:
“I talked to Meb about it and he said, ‘These are the things that define you and the experiences that make you appreciate the good times and make you work even harder,’” Goucher said. “He came up to me and I started crying and he started crying. Then he said, ‘Look at where I was last year and look at where I am now. I believe and don’t let this sway you from what you know you’re capable of.’
Heroes struggle too. We forget that. What makes them heroes is precisely because they struggle, and continue to get back up and fight harder. What makes them heroes is because they understand the struggle, and they work to lift others up.

 Stay strong, Kara. We believe in you. Stay strong, Meb. Both of you are heroes.

[ Source: @Adam_Goucher ]

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Murakami on sniffing books

“When I open them, most of the books have the smell of an earlier time leaking out between the pages - a special odor of the knowledge and emotions that for ages have been calmly resting between the covers. Breathing it in, I glance through a few pages before returning each book to its shelf.”
― Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

Curator - care of the souls or aqueducts?

Brief history of the word, "curator":

A very short history of the word 'curator' might run as follows. In Ancient Rome, curatores were senior civil servants in charge of various departments of public works, overseeing the Empire's aqueducts, bathhouses and sewers. Fast forward to the medieval period, and we encounter the curatus, a priest devoted to the care (or 'cura') of souls.

By the end of the 20th century, 'curator' came to describe a broad category of exhibition makers, from museum employees who spend years working on modest, scrupulously researched displays of Sumerian pottery, to freelancers who approach large scale Biennales of contemporary art as an opportunity to clear their auteurial throat.

Here in the third millennium, the word curator has undergone a further shift in usage. Appropriated by the marketing departments of businesses keen to imbue their products with an air of hard-won distinction and borrowed avant-garde cool, it is now used to describe anybody from the celebrity programmer of a pop festival to a fashion stylist who puts together a 'capsule collection' from a department store's fall/winter stock. A curator, here, is essentially a paid selector of stuff for sale, whether it be concert tickets or cuff links.

Friday, October 31, 2014

NaNoWriMo 2014

Signed up for NaNoWriMo. No one ever said it has to be deathless prose, right?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Hiatus No More! Sleater-Kinney's Coming Back!

They are coming back! Sleater-Kinney's coming back! Here's their new single, "Bury Our Friends". Their new album is scheduled to drop January next year! I'm stoked!

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Nico and Patti Smith

I did not know that Patti Smith and Nico knew each other. Patti Smith did not speak much of her acquaintance with the tall blonde, hipster femme fatale.

Came across this excerpt from a book on Nico recently though, where she spoke about her impression of Patti Smith, and Smith's generosity to her. It's a small human piece, but so touching.

“I had met Patti in New York, when she was a young poet on the scene. She was a female Leonard Cohen, when she moved from writing to singing, and I liked her because she was thin but strong. John Cale produced her first album, which was about heroin (Horses, 1975). Then I met her in Paris, and got to know her better. I felt like she could be a sister, because anyway she was the double of Philippe Garrel, and I liked to be together with her...

“Patti was very kind to me. Early in 1978 my harmonium was stolen from me. I was without any money and now I couldn’t even earn a living playing without my organ. A friend of mine saw one with green bellows in an obscure shop, the only one in Paris. Patti bought it for me. I was so happy and ashamed. I said, “I’ll give you back the money when I get it”, but she insisted the organ was a present and I should forget about the money. I cried. I was ashamed she saw me without money.”

- Nico: The Life and Lies of an Icon, Richard Witts