follow the wandering muse

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During my longer-than-planned break from this blog, I’ve been insanely busy with my writing as well as the starting of a business I hope to have for the rest of my life.  

My new project is called “Follow the Wandering Muse” and you can see the website HERE.  It’s a blog filled with writing prompts, adventure prompts, writing tips and travel tips, and the promise of much more to come.  It’s for writers who travel, which is different than travel writers (people who write about traveling while doing it).  

I realized recently that I needed to somehow combine my passion for travel with my passion for writing.  And I checked online, I looked everywhere, and I couldn’t find any website designated to writers that happen to travel, or use travel as a way to inspire their writing.  Everything was for travel writing itself, or just writing, or just traveling.  If anyone does find something similar to my new blog, please feel free to let me know, as I always want to be aware of sister sites to be sure I can keep my own content fresh and unique (like my post about writing from the point of view of a monkey🙂  

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So, right now, before you do anything else, go and check out my new site!   And get ready for workshops, writing retreats, a book of writing prompts for writers who travel, an Etsy store where I plan to sell things I sew (like great shoulder bags and belt bags for writers who travel and want to stay minimalist), and someday I’d like to have retreats on a Wharram catamaran as well as a “follow the wandering muse” tiny house on wheels that I can rent out to solo writers looking for a tiny house retreat in various locations.  

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Big dreams here, but I’m used to having big dreams (and usually making them come true)!  Wish me luck.  And before you go, try this simple prompt to get yourself writing:  

Open your door.  

Step outside.  

Walk until you find something you love.  

Sit down.  

Write.

Recent Book and Movie Reviews to Check Out

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I am very late in announcing the book review I was asked to write for Wordgathering.com because I’ve been caught in the Christmas fog which immediately followed my November Novel Writing Haze.  

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My glowing review of John Lee Clark’s latest work, Where I Stand: On the Signing Community and my DeafBlind Experience was published last month on their site—link HERE—along with some other great stuff, like Raymond Luczak’s Interview with one of my favorite poets ever, Ilya Kaminsky, as well as his review of the all deaf cast Ukrainian movie, the tribe:  

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I don’t think I’ve ever been made to equally want to see a movie and not want to see a movie at the same time before reading Raymond’s review of this!  Hearing people especially, please read Raymond’s review of this movie before watching it.  It may ruin some of the plot, but really, there’s not much to ruin.  I’m pretty outraged that this is one of the few movies where people use a local sign language throughout the movie.  Though be warned, there are no subtitles and it is in Ukrainian Sign Language, so if you don’t know that, you won’t really know exactly what the people are saying.  I just really hope people realize that this is not an accurate take on the “Deaf experience” by any means (see Raymond’s review for more details).

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So check out Wordgathering, a journal of disability poetry and literature.  And if you want to read some insanely amazing poems that open their doors and draw you inside their world, go out and find Ilya Kaminsky’s book Dancing in Odessa:

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the importance of craft-related reading

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I’ve been busy this year.  From our trip to Thailand and Bali in the winter/spring, to hopping from one place to another into the summer, to finally settling down again in the fall, I haven’t had the time to post very often.  I am hoping to change that now.  

As far as my writing goes, I’ve been hard at work with subsequent drafts of my YA Science Fiction novel.  I started a new practice in July during a break from my writing that has been extremely helpful in tackling the usual problems of world building, plot continuity, and character development.  I read other books in my genre, which is my usual break activity, but this time I also read Stephen King’s On Writing.

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This book floored me.  

I had no idea that Stephen King, like me, also has trouble with plot and feels that the books of his in which he did plot his way through are actually his worst books.  

“Story is honorable and trustworthy; plot is shifty, and best kept under house arrest.”  

~Stephen King

I felt empowered by my own tendency towards character driven stories, because he writes them, too.  

I enjoyed the first half of the book, which was a memoir of how he started out as a writer, but the second half was where his little bits of advice helped to illuminate many of the things I struggle with in revisions.  

He advises writers to write a draft of their book with the door closed first – so that we aren’t influenced by the opinions of others.  Our second major draft should be after a break of 6 weeks (or however long feels right to us) and written with the door open, so we can let the world outside mesh with our world and enrich it.  Both concepts aren’t foreign to me, but King spells them out with brevity and articulation that begs for rereading when needed.  He’s not just concise with his words, he’s actually funny, which makes this non-fiction book stand out from some of the more boring lecture-type books on craft that are out there:

“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”

I’m on yet another shorter break from the revising and I’m planning to reread the second half of this book to uncover some of his jewels of advice I’ve forgotten.  And I want to stress this practice for the writers out there that are feeling stumped during their revisions.

Craft is important.  Craft is essential.  Go out there and find books on craft and read them.  Today.  I guarantee that the more you read, the better your writing will be, and King does, too:

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”

The whole point of writing in the first place, for me anyways, is to visit another place and time, to gain a fresh perspective on life and what it means to be human.  Nothing does this as well as a book.  To give you a final, wise quote from Stephen King:

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.”

Yes, I remember feeling as I read that line.  They are magic.  But there are tricks to harnessing that magic.  It’s not all play.  It’s work, but the results are dazzling when we do it right.  

And we can read books within our genre critically, but sometimes it’s easy to forget some of the things we all learned in High School about writing clearly enough for our readers to not only be drawn into our stories, but to forget they are even reading something.  Sometimes, it’s easier when a writer actually spells things out and reminds us of the tools that can make our jobs easier.  And when we do mange to hone our craft, our writing has the potential to become a spaceship or a magic carpet to this other realm where our characters live and breathe, just like we do.

White Space Poetry Project

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I am thrilled to announce two of my latest poems can be found in the White Space Poetry Anthology, which has a beautiful cover (inspired by my poem “Learning How to Go”). 

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Pick up your copy of the anthology HERE.

Beyond that, the short film they produced is incredible—a gorgeous, tender crossing of the bridge between deaf and hearing people through ASL poetry.  Watch it HERE.

And a big thank you to Maya Washington for making it all happen!

Why I Run Barefoot

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I’ve been barefoot running, or minimalist running, since April of 2010.  I jumped right on the whole Vibram FiveFingers bandwagon, and I’m still on it now.  I’ve been reading about the lawsuit against Vibram because (from Wikipedia): the company ‘claimed that the shoe “reduce[s] foot injuries and strengthen[s] foot muscles.”‘  

That statement is only as true as each person makes it.  I would have added instead that their shoes “have the potential to reduce foot injuries and strengthen foot muscles.”  

A shoe, just like any tool, is not going to work properly if you don’t know how to use it.  

That falls upon the runners and walkers who buy the shoes.  I have flat feet and I used to suffer from shin splints as well as tendonitis in my ankles.  I used to cry myself to sleep every year when I went to disney world and the walking made my feet ache insanely.  Switching to FiveFingers shoes has completely changed all that for me, but I believe it was how I switched over that did it, not just suddenly walking and running barefoot and I feel the need to share my story here.   

(For those who are curious – these are my shoes of choice for running long distance since 2010 – the Sprints, which are sadly not made anymore so I’m not sure what I’ll do when my current ones fall apart!:)

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My running story:

I’ve been in love with running since my father got me into it when I was 13.  I loved it at first because it was something my really cool and funny “Daddy” liked to do every day with our dog.  And when I joined Cross Country in ninth grade, I remember our coach let us run around the track after completing a 4 mile run in the neighborhoods around the High School.  I jogged slowly the whole time, but my coach actually had to stop me because I ran another 4 miles just around the track and he was worried I would overdo it and get an injury.  

He was entirely correct, and I had an amazing first cross country season that year, but when I tried Track in spring, I ruined my legs doing sprinting.  We didn’t have a great track, but also with sprinting, you are pounding on your feet so much more than just running for a few miles in the woods.  Long distance running—slowly—was my destiny, even from way back then, but I didn’t realize it until much later.  

Because my performance with cross country wasn’t that great, I couldn’t have run with a college team, but during college and in my mid-twenties, I started running 10-mile races every summer with my father.  I loved those races more than any 3-mile race I’ve ever done (and not just because I loved running with my Dad).  10 miles felt perfect to me, but I pushed myself a little too far every time, ran in regular running shoes so I pounded my heels too much, and every 10-mile race left me with injuries.    


Everything changed when, soon after it came out, I read the book “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall:

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It really inspired me.  It reminded me of that first cross country practice where I ran 8 miles because I was having too much fun to want to stop running.  I also love running because I’m a very thoughtful, analytical person, and my thoughts can go all over the place when I’m talking to people (or when I’m just sitting around).  But when I run, it’s like I’m in a therapy session with my higher self. I think clearer.  I listen to myself.  

“Born to Run” also touched upon my desire to be closer to the Earth, to be more natural and closer to animals, too.  I read articles about how walking and running barefoot teaches you to step correctly (on the balls of your foot, never the heel), and when I started running after a long winter living on a sailboat in southern Rhode Island and freezing, I did it slowly.  If you sincerely listen to the advice from doctors and barefoot runners, all of them will tell you to start with half a mile of jogging barefoot or less.  Increase that over time—weeks of time, not days.  I started barefoot running in a field down the street from my marina in April, and just kept going.  I only ran every other day.  I went from running one mile barefoot and two or three with shoes, to eventually running entirely barefoot.  And I didn’t even run on pavement until months had passed.  

Running barefoot isn’t just about being closer to the Earth and feeling the dirt between your toes—it’s about being closer to yourself and listening to your body.  

I love myself more because I run barefoot.  I’ve learned that if running a certain way hurts me, I shift my weight, I run differently, and it works.  It took me only three months or so of running continuously and with discipline I never had before to eventually do 8 miles runs, and then 13 mile runs from Block Island’s Great Salt Pond down to the southernmost point of the island—all of it on beautiful trails or dirt roads.  

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When I made it to half-marathon-length runs by mid-summer, I realized that I really could run an ultra marathon.  And I wanted to.  I decided on the Vermont 50, which was in late September, and I did the 31.7 mile run (50K) in 9 hours.  I was one of the last people to finish (I think), but I felt amazing.  I walked a lot of the hills, and a lot of the end of it, and for the last 3 miles I actually couldn’t stand the Fivefingers shoes anymore and ran literally barefoot to the finish.  I am probably almost as proud of that race as I am of my first novel being published.  And I told myself I never have to do another one…but lately I’m not so sure.  I’m feeling that ache again to run for 2-3 hours through the woods without stopping.  Maybe this summer, I’ll do it again.    

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In closing:

Thank you, Daddy, for inspiring me to run in the first place.

Thank you, Vibram FiveFingers, for the shoes my feet needed to run the way they were intended to run—without injury.  

And thank you, Christopher McDougall, for writing the book I needed to read in order to start me on this journey.

 

Minimalist Backpacking with a Toddler in SE Asia: the Extras

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Blogging from Thailand proved to be outside of my range of abilities (this time!).  Honestly, I was too busy walking around Krabi town, spending time with new friends, meeting Deaf Thais, getting sick in Bali, getting tattoos, and amusing my 2-year-old with subsequent treks to an intersection of stone elephants, a park filled with animal sculptures, and long tail boat rides to some of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen.

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In the coming weeks, I plan to write more posts about the experiences we have had, but first I’d like to write a much belated continuation of my previous post about budgeting a trip to SE Asia with a toddler.  And the good thing about me writing this after our trip is that I can speak from everything we experienced throughout the entire 10-week-long journey.  


With any trip to the other side of the world, there are always extra expenses you do not foresee ahead of time when planning.  The easiest way to deal with this is to either have a lot of extra cash or credit cards with a few thousand dollars on them for emergencies.  I cannot stress this enough.  

When I traveled to India in my twenties, twice I changed my return flights and instead of being able to just change the flights, I had to buy new tickets and throw away my old ones.  That taught me to be prepared for something similar happening during any trip I take.  Traveling as a trio when you have a toddler old enough for his own plane ticket definitely adds to the necessity of enough funds at your disposal to fly straight home if something horrible happens.  Thankfully, we only had to throw away a couple hundred dollars worth of Air Asia flights, and purchase about $500 worth of new Air Asia flights during our trip.  

That wasn’t the only “extra” we faced though.  


So many extra expenses pop up while traveling, from boat rides you don’t plan but don’t wish to miss out on, to a lucky week at a gorgeous resort because you made a new friend, to a safer ride in a car with a child seat verses a public bus with no seat belts, to a suitcase you decide to buy at the end to hold the beautiful brass wok you found in Krabi town and all the wonderful fabrics and clothes you couldn’t resist buying from the markets.  

We completely went over budget with this trip, but I don’t regret anything.  And I know better now to plan for the “extras” as carefully as I planned for the essentials.  


One thing I learned from our fiasco with the Air Asia flights is: don’t buy them too far ahead of time (I mean before you arrive in SE Asia), especially if you have a toddler.  Anything can happen to change your plans, from volcanoes erupting to just feeling too tired and sick to venture to a new and unfamiliar country.  You might miss out on a random $10 USD ticket from Malaysia to Cambodia, but if you wait and buy the flights exactly when you are sure you want to take them, you’ll get to do exactly what you want and you’ll get that extra spontaneity that is so essential to traveling like this.  


For those of you who love numbers, I’d recommend an extra $1,000 USD for every 4 weeks you spend in SE Asia – just for those precious extras that you might never find nor get the chance to experience again.  Of course, you can decide to be content with the shells and corals you find on the beaches, but sometimes, taking that one extra long tail boat ride to a beach with caves and burning your bare feet on the docks because you forgot you might need shoes is worth every extra baht. 

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Minimalist Backpacking with a Toddler in SE Asia: the Budget

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I’m currently in Thailand with my 2-year-old and partner, Rob.  We came here half for me to do more extensive research for the YA science fiction trilogy I am currently writing that is set in this area, and half for Rob to research Thai cooking and woodworking.  I also want to expose my child to as many other cultures as possible throughout his life, so that his understanding of the world is built upon his experiences rather than from words on paper that he reads from the inside of a classroom.  Books are amazing, but seeing things firsthand is something you just can’t replicate on the page.

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This first post from Thailand is more of a logistical one than one of reflection because I’ve decided to keep track of our expenses for other people out there who are like me.  Before going somewhere, I always wonder things like – how much does it really cost if you only eat street food or if you try and find the cheapest guesthouses?  How much is a good budget for extra stuff, like fisherman pants or a brass wok?

 

Today is day 8 for us in Thailand, and from spending a few days each in Bangkok, and Chiang Mai, I’m ready to give a small breakdown of costs:

 

THE ESSENTIALS

 

Food and water – if you stick to street food (which, honestly, is the most authentic experience, the food is fresher, and it tastes amazing), two people and a toddler can eat three meals a day and spend only about $10 USD.  Water depends on where/if you buy it.  We planned to buy it from stores until we came here and found a bunch of water booths on the side of the roads (see below) that boast fresh water through reverse osmosis and you can fill up a 1 gallon bottle at one of these for only 3-5 Bhats (10-15 US cents)!  

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Otherwise water runs at a cost of about 50 US cents per litre when bought by the litre (or $1 USD for a gallon).

 

Guesthouses – again, this is all a matter of preference, but we are fine with shared bathrooms and the possibility of only cold showers, which you can find for around $10 USD per night here (in Bangkok, however, a room with just a double bed that you share with your toddler can set you back between $12-15 USD per night).

 

So, without moving between cities much or doing tours or filling your hiker backpack with scarves and jewelry and small elephant statues, this comes down to about $20-25 a day.  (I’ll write more about the stuff you can buy here in another post.)

 

We commuted between the cities of Bangkok and Chiang Mai by train.  The second class sleeper trains (non A/C means you have open windows and can take photos or just enjoy the breeze) cost roughtly 500 Bhat ($15-16 USD) from Bangkok to Chiang Mai per person (toddlers are free), and you sleep in what resembles a bunk bed with one person on the upper narrower berth and the other on the lower berth with your toddler.  Bringing a lot of snacks, even on the overnight trains, is recommended because sitting for so long made us just want to eat stuff!

 

I recommend spending 1-2 weeks (or more if you can!) at a time in one place in Thailand, especially if you have a toddler.  It gives you time to get to know a place and time to get your child used to a new country.  And, most importantly, time to make a few friends, both local and foreign, that you can visit on your next trip!

 

In comparison to other countries I have spent time in during my solo travels, Thailand is easier and feels safer in a lot of ways than India, Kenya, and Morocco.  I’m glad we didn’t try one of those countries on our first trip abroad with our son, but I still want to go back to them within the next few years.  

 

I’ll post more soon, but I just want to get this out there in cyberpsace, because I think a lot of Americans are afraid to backpack in SE Asia alone, and likely more afraid to do it with a toddler.  

But honestly?  You shouldn’t be.  

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It’s amazing and children under age 7 will be able to take in so much more than anyone else from these kinds of experiences – especially when it comes to language skills.  I may not be able to hear my son try and speak Thai words, but I love that he’s doing it as well as picking up on the gestures and body language of the local people more so than a hearing child who isn’t already bilingual with ASL and English.  And despite my own deafness, I love trying to speak Thai.  It’s a challenging language, but when you speak even a few words of Thai to a local person, their faces light up and they open themselves to you.  It’s beautiful.