Video Skype, Adventures and Our Friend Maya

Monday, we had a long video Skype chat with our super hip friend, Maya Stein. For those of you unfamiliar with Maya, she is a feral writer, poet, chef, diorama artist and lip sync maven. She has traveled across the country doing feral writing workshops…and she is constantly dreaming up new crazy things to do.

Conversations with her always make me want to go out and spray paint our truck…make our front yard a giant diorama…pack Tina and the kids up and travel around the country in an RV. There is an undercurrent of “What’s next?” with her that is contagious.

The conversation came around to the paradox of how to live the wild life while also recording it. There is something about being in the middle of a grand adventure that makes it hard to record. It is often hard to get enough distance from the middle to actually write anything that communicates what is going on.  You know how it feels to be the one on the vacation with the camera and having to decide all the time if you actually want to participate in the activity, be in the moment, enjoy the scenery…or take pictures of it? It always feels that way for me, except that, on the bigger adventures, I’m also not completely understanding what I’m looking at anyway. So, I wait for the story to unfold a little. Wanting to capture the whole of it, rather than the snapshots.

But then, when do you stop the adventure and take time to record it…in whatever way you choose to record such things. It is a little disorienting to come off of something life-changing and stay still long enough to let it soak in and become something to tell. But being slow and solitary, there is not much to tell about.

It’s an addiction, being the adventurer…being the one in the peer group who is unpredictable. As much as I am loath to admit it, I like that I am introduced now as “the one who just returned from Haiti.” I like how that defines me instantly. And I would be lying if I did not admit that I’m not crazy about the fact that it is wearing off, and now I am just me again…writing.

It is a quieter life…but the truth is, I really love it when I manage to pour out a single sentence or paragraph that truly tells where I am or describes what I experienced. I love watching the story emerge in words. I dig how my life now is reflecting some of what I learned back to me, and that, the more I write, the more I understand of my experience there. When I am actually writing, it is like the whole experience is happening all over again, but with context this time. And that is kind of cool.

Maya is in the planning stages of her next big thing. I can’t wait to see how it organizes and becomes something bold and epic. And we will follow her along in her adventure…or hear about it afterwards…and delight in the unexpected bits that always accompany an out-of-the-ordinary experience.

And, in the recesses of my brain, I will be putting the pieces together of my own next adventure. I’m thinking it might include passports.

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Swimming in Haiti

I wrote this as I sat in the restaurant in the Kinam Hotel…downtown Petionville.  The heat, lord the heat…my primary occupation was to find a way to escape it.

Submersion

The woman meeting me for lunch today was late.

But the larger faux pas was mine.

I leaned my chair further back from the table

Until it pushed against the railing

At the edge

Of a balcony,

Overlooking a crystal clear

Sparkling

Pool.

And the day smothered me

In heavy blankets of heat,

Just like every day in Haiti.

 

I removed the linen napkin,

Placed deftly onto my lap

By someone who apparently had not noticed

That I had lost interest in lunch.

I just wanted a closer look,

Just a little closer

To the vacant

Glistening

Pool.

How cool it must be in there.

And clean.

And familiar.

It was the familiarity that moved me,

Of course.

So suddenly common

Amidst so much uncommon.

 

Without missing a beat of the siren’s song

Of water lapping on tile,

I slipped out of my sandals

Onto the railing

And leapt into the water below.

So that, when my lunch companion finally joined me,

Late,

My carefully chosen ensemble

Was drenched

And single beads of water slipped over my brow

And into my hairline

Following the line down my neck

And tracing my spine.

 

I shook her hand as she apologized and sat down.

Wishing I had acted on the impulse

Instead of imagining it

As I had

So vividly

That I could taste the chlorine in the sweat

That ran a river

Down my face.

I Quit My Job

That looks funny even written on the page like that. It’s all big up there in the headline and all. But there it is in black and white. And its true.

Thing is, I had a great job. I made pretty good money, good benefits. I had a lot of flexibility in my schedule. We officed in a sweet, funky house in a cool area of town. I worked in jeans unless I had a client meeting (and I even wore my pajamas to one of those…different story). My peers and clients respected me and appreciated what I did. I was valued as a crucial part of the work we did. AND I write this knowing that my two past bosses will be reading this (Hi, Shelly and Monica! Um, just kidding about the pajamas). So, unless my check to them has not quite made it in the mail, you will not even hear any rebuttal from them in the comments.

But I quit anyway. And it was a LOT harder than I thought. And it still is.

I am a writer and have always wanted to write more than the copy I was producing for our clients. But at the end of the day, and on the weekends, my writing muscles were totally burnt. I had no more juice for my own writing. I could not for the life of me figure out how to solve this problem. A series of events last year made quitting the only logical solution. Since then, I have seen and written about things that blow my mind. Traveling has given me perspective on my own culture that I feel I understand more about it and can write to that. I was offered an incredible contract opportunity, working for an NGO in Haiti that I would not have been available to only months before. And I am in the middle of writing a book that is burning through me faster than I can write it down.

But every time someone offers me a job…every time someone asks me what I am going to be doing now that I am back from Haiti…and even when people offer me contract copywriting gigs, I stumble over myself trying to decide, all over again, if I have made the right decision. I usually end up asking my partner Tina to answer the question for me. Seriously…I ask someone else to answer the question for me. I can’t believe I’m telling you that.

So, this baffled me until I read an article yesterday in the Harvard Business Review (cause I am smart like that…and also someone linked to it on Twitter). You can click on the picture to get to it your own self…

 

I read the Harvard Business Review...

Oh yes, Daniel Gulati. Strumming my pain with your finger, singing my life with your words…

It is a quick and enjoyable read, so I encourage you to pop on over for a few minutes. But if that just feels exhausting…all that clicking around, here are the high points, with notes about exactly how perfectly they fit me…just for fun.

  1. We have been conditioned, like rats in the famous Skinner experiment, with variable scheduled “recognition and reward” pellets. Check – I not only lived for these, I helped my managers tell me what I needed to hear “Aw, don’t say ‘hey, you did great!’ say something like ‘Your writing really made that cheese sandwich sound more delectable than humanly possible! How ever did you do that?'” Then I would return, happy, to my corner of the cage to gnaw on my paws.
  2. Social media has made your successes and failures more visible than ever. Which is apparently scary. Oh yeah, baby. So easy to say you are a writer…if only you were not so busy with work and kids and housework and Facebook. Telling people I am taking time off to write means I have to produce something. And if I don’t produce something worth reading, everyone will know. Oh god, I’m freaking myself out.
  3. We suffer from premature optimization (come on…who named that?). This means that, instead of looking for the biggest mountain possible, we just climb the closest one to us…usually at work. “I will totally get to writing that Great American Novel after I finish this wicked client project on how to make employees work harder with fewer resources. I am going to make those instructional videos sing!” Yeah, enough said on that.

The thing is that I LOVED that job while I loved it. When it stretched me and kept me learning and growing. I have friends there now that love it and I can’t blame them. It was and is a great place to grow. But I stayed a lot longer than I should have. Long past I was done.

I have had a lot of support in making the decisions I have made over the past year. And, sometimes that support has looked like “Don’t be an idiot. Go for it.” But the whole path toward doing the unthinkable started because a part of me started to want to do something really big and a little scary, and I allowed myself to consider it.

I’d love to hear what the big and scary thing is that you want to do and if any of this resonates for you. Don’t worry. No one is sending this to your boss.

Xo,

Kim

Fort

Some days, I wish my kids were very small

Like today.

Because today I want to do things that grownups just don’t do.

Like build a fort.

With blankets and chairs.

I would put it against the wall so that I could have pillows to lean on.

Only they would be beasts I had tamed.

And have little pin lights hanging from the chair backs.

But then again

The kids would want to play their games

And make it too much like a movie they saw

Or a campout

Or the jungle.

My tent would be in the middle of a crazy network of caves and tunnels.

And there would be no maps

Because the openings keeps shifting

And the tunnels move.

And, only I can find the way in

Because I am magic.

But I would bring a friend.

One friend.

Because she gets me

Even when I don’t.

She will say

“Oh, perhaps we shall have some tea then!”

When the roof starts to sag and I can’t figure it out.

Or

“Look! A new door! I wonder where that goes?!”

Because she knows that adventure

will get me all excited again.

And maybe I would have to get new chairs

And blankets

Because maybe that corner of the living room would always be a tent

In a cave

At the end of a wild trek through mysterious tunnels.

This Post is Empty

Today, the day that I have publicly proclaimed as the first official day of my life as a writer, I do not want to write.

I don’t mean that I cannot think of anything to write about. I don’t mean that I have writer’s block. I don’t even mean that I can’t get exactly what I feel onto the page and that it is frustrating. I have felt all of those things before at one time or another. Today, all I feel is resistance. My jaw is set against it. Yeah, I can feel my jaw tight and determined.

The logical part of my brain is pleading. I can feel that as well.

“It doesn’t have to be good!”

“It doesn’t have to change anyone’s life!”

“It doesn’t even have to be anything about Haiti, Nepal or the fact that you are blowing your life wide open!”

“Just get something down.”

“Just write.”

“Anything.”

But it is almost noon and I have cleaned the kitchen, finished some financial stuff that has been hanging over my head, I have made appointments and filled in more of my to do list. And all this was done with an undeniable air of defiance.

I am not your monkey.

And I don’t even know with whom I am fighting. Whose monkey am I not being exactly? There is no outside pressure on me to perform. I have no deadline pressures. I have no authority figure over me.

I am too new at this to know what to do with myself when I am actively and aggressively resisting something I want to do. How does one talk themselves down? And, seriously, what am I to do with the insolent child of myself, pouting with her ball in her arms, threatening to take it home?

Anyone?

Xo,

Kim

Haiti, A Wide Road and Two Boys

At the top of the hill above the camp is the MASH unit style tent hospital. A wide dirt road runs in front of it, scored by the hundreds of vehicles that have passed this way over the two years since the earthquake bringing medical supplies, workers, volunteers and the sick and injured. There is not any other traffic on this road as it dead ends shortly after the hospital at what used to be the helicopter landing pad.

I met Elius and Thierry on this road (I have changed their names). We all do eventually, the volunteers. These boys are as familiar on that road as the doctors and nurses. They live in the tent city below the hospital and spend much of their free time hanging around that makeshift clinic above the camp.

Neither speaks fluent English, or much english at all really, yet both are extraordinarily comfortable around strangers and strike up conversations with more ease than seems possible given their life. It is clear that NGO workers have been a fixture in their life.

Elius appears to be the ring leader…maybe of everything. He pursues language with a thirst that I have never seen in a child his age. He speaks bits of five languages…the languages of the UN soldiers permanently stationed in the camp where he lives. When I first met him a woman in our group told him she was from Pakistan. His first question to her, in English – “What is the language in Pakistan?” and then “Do you have an Urdu dictionary you can give me?” He is as proud of his collection of foreign language books and dictionaries as he is of his new soccer ball, which he protects to the point of obsession. He is chatty and curious. I love the fact that every single interaction with him leaves me exhausted from the work I do answering questions.

“What are you writing now?

“Does your son eat plantains?”

“Do you have a car where you live?”

He always grabs my arm, conspiratorially, and leans in close as he asks me things. He is unlocking the secrets of the world. Every question brings him closer in a way I do not understand.

Thierry is quieter. His angelic face adds to the impression that he is some kind of spiritual puzzle to figure out. And, perhaps he is. But he is also mischievous and fearless…he boldly asks me for money to purchase books for school and academic contests. And I always give it to him. Always. I know I am not supposed to, but when he asks, I am a mom and he is a kid who clearly needs a new pair of shoes. Badly. I smile broadly the next day when he shows me his beautiful new Croc knock offs.

Thierry is completely captivated by my camera. He and I fell into a routine…he lets me take pictures of him and then I hand him my camera for him to take pictures himself. I always sit, far longer than I had intended, on benches made of solid sandbags stacked under a tarp, and I watch him and the boys that follow him around to see what he is doing with this giant monster of a camera. While he wanders around with it snapping mostly useless shots of motion blurred dogs and cars, I rest. And this is really the deal we have struck, even if it is only me who is aware of it. There is nothing I can do here at the camp without my camera and there are times when I need to just feel the body of the group here without a camera between us.

Learning that moving the camera creates a blur...

Over time, he improves and toward the end of my three months, I can usually count on three or four decent photos from the hundreds he shoots. He gets some interesting angles as he sits with friends and when I give him a task, like moving up through the crowds at church and get pictures of the little girls in the choir, he boldly moves in and gets those shots and more. I am able to sit with him, look through the shots and tell him the story I see in what he has taken. He beams.

Theirry's photo of the church

It’s funny how little I anticipated their impact on me at the time. While living your life, you do not stop to think “These moments will define so much of my experience here.” But they do. And, as I remember them guiding me through the camp to the church or the market, I wonder what kind of options there are for them there. I worry about the fact that Elius is smart as a whip and a natural born leader. Most of the easy options for a child like that involve doing things that are not legal or safe. Thierry’s angelic looks are becoming a handicap as he slips easily into the hearts of the international aid worker community and the recipient of their easy money…because the problems in Haiti are too damn big for one person to solve, but $10 for textbooks is doable. And I am not the only one who starts to feel protective around these boys.

They were on my mind as I boarded the plane for home. I imagined bringing them here with me and wonder even today if coming to America would be better. The opportunity we have here comes at a cost, which I did not really understand until I lived somewhere else. But the point is moot, I cannot bring them home with me, even if I could discern if that would be better for them. But knowing that doesn’t stop the wondering.

xo,

Kimberley

And it begins…

When do you stop doing what you should do and start doing what scares the hell out of you? For me, it’s Monday.

I have always felt called to be a writer. But there was always too much work…too much family activity…too many excused why I can’t do it yet. But, as we all know, there is always time enough to do the things you make time for. It was always just easier to explain why I couldn’t instead of figure out when and how.

Tina and I have decided that I will not go back to work for now. For now, my work will be writing. We shall see in a few months what it comes to.

I appreciate every word I get from you on this journey. You can follow me here:

www.kimcambron.com

or on Twitter at kimcambron.

I am ignoring the panicky feeling in my stomach as I post this for everyone to see, and posting it anyway.

Xo,

Kim