Under the mango trees.

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It’s been a while. A few days ago I came out of the wild. Well, not exactly the wild, I guess. But a wildish sort of place. 

I volunteered at a Japanese music festival up here in Northern Thailand and it was such an interesting, rich experience. Sleeping in a mango orchard for nearly three weeks, looking at the stars at night, watching the sun rise.

I was with Kenya and our friends Tayna and Aya and spent a lot of time with them, especially for the first nine days, before the festival started. I was on a deco team with lovely Chinese and Japanese artists. We made a lot of signs, all translated into Thai, Japanese, and English. “We need a sign, three languages,” is a phrase I used a lot. I painted live and organized other live painters. 

I watched my husband play music. I sat behind our bhajan band on the main stage and sang in the response to our Jesus bhajans. 

Our car got dustier and dustier.

I learned how to say “good morning,” in Japanese.

I guided a meditation in a campsite, attended one, and kept the kids quiet for a couple.

I studied and wrote papers in a teak forest.

I went to the hot springs almost every day.

It was a busy time, full of wildness, adjustment, and lots of activity. But I came out feeling ready for the next season, and somewhat like I hit a reset button. 

Chinua leaves tomorrow for India. The kids and I will stay back, do school, and make art and writing. Tumble around, deal with smoky season, cook, water the garden, and swim. I’ll write my final research paper of the quarter. We’ll try to be creative and loving and patient, even as the days grow hotter and drier.

I like what you have made.

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I love to cook for big groups of people. It’s something I just love, what can I say?

Maybe it’s because cooking is one of the most sensory of the tasks of our lives: cut tomatoes. Cut six kilos of them. Keep your fingers out of the way. Cut onions. Cry at the doorway. Come back and cut some more.

Cooking on Sundays is smell, taste, organized work. I line the vegetables up in the order they need to be cut. I set a timer and go as quickly as I can. Later I slow down and go carefully. Seeds in hot oil: Fennel, coriander, cumin, mustard. I add turmeric and a spice with the magical name of Kitchen King. Suddenly, the kitchen is alive with fragrance, with memories of jungle days.

Abundance. We have enough and plenty to share.

Holy work. I couldn’t do it if it wasn’t art. But every color, every texture, truly is beautiful. It’s holy work to cook for others. Before anything, God is Creator. Whenever I respond to what God has made, I feel as though we are in an act of making something together. I appreciate this, I whisper. I like what you have made. Especially purple cabbage. Especially the glorious tomato.

Holy work is always messy. True holy work, that is.

So there are stacks of dishes. There’s a chunk of dhal that has spilled on the stove and is blackening at an alarming rate. And there are friends; here they are helping, here they are chopping, creating, we are making things together. We are saving the sambar from burning in the pot by ever more ridiculous and ingenious methods. I am asking Sonal to make the chutney because hers is the best. Keren is cutting a mound of cabbage that nearly engulfs her.

And then somehow, it all disappears. The two rice cookers are empty, the giant pot is being scraped, the salad is long gone. People are walking around with the food we made in their bellies. Fed. I love it. What can I say?

***

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A little extra care.

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On Sunday I made community lunch, but first I had to shop. I bought 10 kgs of mountain rice, eight cabbages, a whole bunch of vegetables, and toor dal (to make sambar.) I need coconut, so after I bought everything else, I drove over to the coconut shop to pick up some fresh grated coconut.

Leaf told me about this shop when I thought there was no more fresh grated coconut in town, and I had despaired over it. The man who used to do it in the market shut his operation down. What to do? But then she told me about this place.

It’s a sort of warehouse-y home, with a collection of family members of all ages. I never know who belongs to whom. There are some babies, some women around my age who know everything about me (where I live, how many children I have, but they exaggerate how long I’ve been here—”10 years!” they say) and a few snoozing older men and women in cane reclining chairs.

On Sunday, however, only one person was there; one of the old men. I sat down to wait after I told him that I needed a kilo and a half of ground coconut. After a moment at the machine, he brought me a pot of coconut water and told me to drink it.

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“How should I drink it?” I asked, looking around for a cup or a straw.

“Just like that,” he said. “Out of the pot.”

So I did. I drank and drank and drank. It was from mature coconut, nearly like water, not as flavorful as young coconut. But I was thirsty, and it was good, and I drank about half the pot. When he was ready with my grated coconut, I stood to go, and he told me about the benefits of coconut water. “It’s good for your liver, your stomach, and all of your insides. It prevents cancer. It keeps you strong. (He popped his muscles for me.) It keeps you young. I am eighty-one years old!”

I told him that he looked remarkably young and strong. I went to pay and leave.

“What are you doing?” he asked. “Drink all of it.”

So I stood there and drank the rest while he watched, and when I was done, he nodded in approval.

It had been a more difficult kind of morning, one filled with self doubt and recrimination.

But God knew that I needed someone to extol the benefits of coconut water to me, and then make me drink a liter and a half of it, for my health. I needed some extra care, and that day, it came in the shape of a old man and a very large pot of coconut water. 

Links to here.

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Morning is light and cool air, cup of coffee, more edits. When I walk into the studio I light some incense and pray for God’s words and thoughts in me and through me all day long. The studio is messier than it should be. I am a messy artist, not a neat one, my mind is not tidy and neither is my workspace. I wish it was, but even if the space is not beautiful, beautiful things happen here.

We had an amazing conference last week. Introvert and sensory person that I am, I have needed some recuperation time, even though the conversations were lovely and the thoughts were deep. We were at a resort in Chiang Mai, which is a sort of floating space, not real life. Taking food from trays, not washing dishes. 

Back at home I drove to the market yesterday and on the way I saw an old friend who has moved to Australia. She used to work with her sister and mother at the noodle shop that is my second home. She waved me down and I hopped off the motorbike and hugged her. Her sister, whom I see several times a week, came and slipped her hand into mine and said “Rachel is my little sister now.” We clucked over one another, me over how big her little boy is, what Australia is like, and her over how tall my children are. (None of us can believe it, I hardly go out without someone remarking that they saw my son or daughter and couldn’t believe their eyes.) 

At the market, there were more friends. We talked and squeezed hands and touched each others arms. I bought things for salad (these greens are so beautiful, my friend said) and many bananas. I went to the laundry place later (I came home to find that my washer is broken) and told the lady that I had been away for a week and that was why I had enormous bags of laundry. “I know,” she told me. “Brendan has already been here to pick up his laundry and Christy has not come yet.” We talked about the best repair person in town. 

All of these things are links to here. Each neighbor, each smile. In this place there are one hundred kinds of smiles. Kind ones, cheeky ones from the motorbike, apologetic ones, ones that relieve tension. 

My landlords brought Wookie back after watching her for the week and she tore around in circles, yipping. My househelper brings her daughter over every day because it is term break for school. Yupa is four years old and a delight. Whenever Isaac comes to tell me something, she is right behind him, telling me a story in Thai, so that I have two kids talking to me at once in two different languages. 

Sometimes being a mother feels like being a nucleus, with different people whirling around with positive and negative charges of different intensity. Joe came over as well yesterday, a twelve-year-old friend. Later another friend, Siam came. And then our Japanese friends. And my landlord. So there they all were, each coming to talk for a few moments at a time. The teenagers. The dog. The little kids who spoke with words tumbling over one another. All linking me to the world, keeping me from floating off. God hemming me in behind and before.

Later I bought a canvas at an art store, ready to paint during my friend Leaf’s beautiful Devotion Circle. I found some white orchids and bought them too. Small conversations in each place. I went to get petrol and found the basket men sitting at the petrol station. One of them saw me and his eyes lit up. He walked toward me with his basket while I was taking the lid off the chariot’s petrol tank. He held a beautiful type of basket, hard to find around here, so when people come selling them, I usually buy one. (They’re nice and large and I use them for hampers—they slowly fall apart over time.) We chatted about price and I talked him down a bit. We joked back and forth. He went to get change for me, and I talked with the gas station attendants. “How much would you pay?” I asked. “You got a good price,” they told me. “Those are rattan, and handmade.” 

When he came back I gave him his original price. He ginned, the gas station attendants smiled, and he gave a little skip as he walked off. The light was very beautiful, then, making the trees glow as I drove over the bridge and up the hill in the chariot, my side-car holding one canvas, one basket, and dozens of small, shining moments. 

***

Now you can support my writing on Patreon. Patrons can give as little as $1 a month, and get extra vlogs and posts. I really really appreciate your support, it helps me to keep going with writing and publishing my work. Thank you to this month’s new patrons, Jemma Allen and Julie Wells. The patron extras from last month are up. Here are last month’s extra blog post, Thoughts after 17 years of marriage, and the September Creative Update Video.

Fermented turtle feet.

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I am finally home after my unexpected trip. 

I walked home from the bus station with my lugguge and could hear Chinua playing trumpet as I got close. Wookie whined at the gate when she realized it was me. Then there were all the hugs, sweaty ones from kids at the end of a long hot day. I sat beside Chinua at the piano and we talked about music. I lay beside Isaac as he went to sleep. “Just one time this week, okay?” I said. He threw his arm over me and drifted off.

This morning I stepped over Solo, Leafy and Kenya, all asleep on the front porch. This is a new thing, the sleeping on the porch. I like it. I wouldn’t do it, when my bed is only a few feet away, but I like it. I like them creating adventure wherever and whenever.

Yesterday I finished my most recent edit of Demon’s Arrow. Today I sent it off to my new editor, a friend who lives here in Thailand. The book is nearly finished, although we have to hurry if we’re going to have it out on release date: October 25th! 

I have been floating, not always in the safest of spaces. Old wounds have reopened, my anxiety cat has woken me at night, sitting on my chest. And when I am away from home and family, it seems as though I am untethered. I’m not, of course. But that is easier to remember at home. 

I have wondered, at times, how it is that someone like me came to be surrounded by so many people. Such an introvert, such a strange mind. But I see it more and more clearly; I couldn’t do without them.

Here is Isaac with another sweaty hug. Here is Solomon, rushing into the room dancing while Chinua is showing me songs on the speakers, telling me his theories on the connections between jazz and rap. Solo pulling out everything he has drawn while I have been away. Leafy reminding me that he is going to be thirteen in January, as though perhaps I have forgotten. (I know, it’s impossible.) Kenya and the menu she created for dinner (I was too late for it.) Megalodon stew (sold out.) Fermented turtle feet soup. (Sold out.) Pasta with white sauce. Available for about $300. 

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Here is morning. The neighbors pull their carts out onto the street to sell rice porridge or coffee. Children on the porch. My plants need watering. A pup who needs a haircut. We’re out of eggs. I need to buy bananas for smoothies. The ladies at the market will ask me where I’ve been. They’ll pat me on the arms and tease me and the gentleness of these greetings will nearly make me cry. 

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Now you can support my writing on Patreon. Patrons can give as little as $1 a month, and get extra vlogs and posts. I really really appreciate your support, it helps me to keep going with writing and publishing my work. Last month’s patron-only post: At Home.