One Thing: Be like Isaac.

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We're on a vacation down south in Thailand for a break from the smoke in Pai. A short break. We drove for two days to get to Koh Chang, and will drive for two days to get back, and it's so worth it. We have five days of restful bliss in an Airbnb on this lovely island. There are mangroves in front of our house, and a rocky quiet beach. Birds everywhere. Lanky teenagers and big kids. And one little four-year-old guy. 

Now that I have all these big kids (which I love) I find I have all this nostalgia for the little ones. And I still have one little one, so he gets a bucketful of nostalgia mixed in with his parenting. I think four might be the perfect age. He's whimsical, perpetually delighted, bubbling over with energy, and overwhelmingly cute. On the way home yesterday, Chinua and I agreed that we should be more like Isaac.  

For example. He ate pad see ew for dinner yesterday (fried wide noodles with vegetables and soy sauce) and he looked up after his dinner came and said, "Oh! I got corn in my pad see ew! I'm getting so much corn in all my pad see ews!" (Delight, awe, a feeling of being bountifully blessed with corn.) 

Or, halfway through the meal, he discovered his plastic wrapped chopsticks. "Oh! It's so good that I have these sticks! I'm going to open them!" (Delight, discovery, a feeling of being entrusted with big kid things like chopsticks.) 

Or, also during the same dinner, when a beach dog made its way over to him as a potential dropper of food (smart dog). "I'm so lucky. I'm always so lucky because this dog came and sat by me again!" (Joy, and a feeling of being chosen.)  

Or earlier in the day, eating an apple. "Mama! Mama! Apples have apple juice in them!" (Delight, discovery, culinary bliss.) 

But my favorite moment yesterday was when we went to a waterfall, and he was mulling it over as we left to hike out. "That wasn't very fun for me," he said. "I didn't swim much, there weren't very many animals, and it wasn't very fun."  (He was afraid of the fish, so didn't get in the water.)

"Well," I said. "Some things we do because they're beautiful, not because they're fun." 

But his fun meter needed some help, so on the way back through the forest, he jumped off a big rock. "I have half a fun point," he said. Then he jumped off another rock. "Now I have a full fun point." And all the way back to the car, he jumped off rocks to fill up his fun. 

That's why we want to be more like Isaac. 

One thing: The Introduction.

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I have been writing a lot of fiction for years now. It means I'm always writing a first draft, or editing, polishing, or plotting another story. And oh, how I love writing stories. But these stories, so important to me, crowd out my other writing. I feel that I have only so much creativity for each day (and certainly only so much time), and so I have grown rusty at remembering, processing, and telling my days in writing. When I don't write, I can't think. So my thoughts are muddy and cluttered. I react, I misjudge. I see a direct link between my life-telling here and my inner state. 

What can I do? I can't stop writing fiction. I can start writing here again. But I need to lower the stakes, to allow for the one sentence posts, for photos and ideas and unprofessional ramblings. In the past, writing about One Thing has helped. Here I am again, picking up a practice I have laid down. Blogging one thing at a time as close to daily as I can. 

This is one thing today: starts and pauses, picking things up, dropping them again. It would be a good diagram for my life, a jagged line that is never completely smooth. But somehow, in the midst of it all, a life time of writing (or exercising, drawing, praying, or knitting) emerges. We can also let the worries grow, or get tugged around without noticing beauty, without learning contentment. So don't despise small beautiful things. They collect and heap up on each other, and if we notice them and honor them, they form our lives. 

The clearest things.

We’re well into fire season in Northern Thailand. The smoke is thick, now, like a filter over the whole world. My throat hurts in the morning. Everything is muted into grays, browns, and washed out greens and yellows. I feel filtered too, missing my husband and waiting for someone to come and invite me into a world of plenty. But there are so many beautiful things, even in this smoky season. The doves in the mornings and all the birds that call while we meditate at the garden. My jasmine tree is blooming. When I sit on the stairs in the evening I can breathe jasmine, think jasmine. I go to bed dreaming of it. It makes me think of my friend Leaf, the way she bought us jasmine on our retreat. It reminds me of my first, difficult moments in Goa, when I was pregnant with Solo, the longing I had for home, and the jasmine my husband bought me, wrapped in a banana leaf. It made me feel like perhaps I could stay.

Yesterday I drove to the pool with the kids. We still fit in the chariot, but just barely, and sometimes I can’t believe we are still driving everywhere in it. We passed dried, burned forests, the earth black at the feet of teak trees that have lost all their leaves. The hills were hidden behind the smoke. Tiny lizards sat in the road with heads and tails up and I prayed they would scurry away every time. They did. Our little motorbike with its sidecar bravely navigated the hills in first gear, rattling all the way. 

The morning had gone well, with school and books and tea all around. I have successfully stopped adding sugar to my coffee and I don’t know if you can ever know just how huge an accomplishment it is for me, but I feel amazing. The heat grew and grew until it was nearly 40 degrees and time to drive to the pool.

We met for homeschool co-op and talked about the eclipse, which we missed by seven minutes, because the moon was still hiding behind the hills. Isaac taught himself to swim, wriggling back and forth between Kenya and I. When he swims he holds his hands to his sides and bobs up and down like a dolphin. He is slippery and cool in the water, a delight on a hot day. In the hotspring pool, I talked with an older French woman. “Your husband?” she asked, after we talked about all my children. “He’s away right now, in Hungary?” Her face changed. “He’s hangry with you?” She asked, horrified. “No, no!” I said. “The opposite. He’s very, very pleased with us. He’s in Hun-gah-ry.” 

Sometimes people here ask me if I’m not afraid to have my husband far from me, that he will have another girlfriend. (Yes, people ask this and yes people talk about absolutely everything in Thailand. No subject is too difficult, except, perhaps, the royals.) And then I think of our trust, and the fact that marriage and the promises we have made make us more free than anything could. We can fly around the world, apart for a short while, knowing that we will always come back together, a true home to one another. Trust is the water, the life, the clearing away of smoke until everything shines like diamonds; the love Chinua holds for me, no matter where he is, the truth of it, the stark, effervescent joy. He is not angry. He is very pleased to think of us, his wife and children. We are his home. He comes back to us singing. 

We drove home in the dark, rattling along in the thick air. The full moon shone red through the smoke and everyone watched it except for me, because I was watching the road, slowing down for the broken places, making sure the lizards got out of the way, admiring the way that life conquers even the driest places.

 

Running

I'm running again. I stopped for the fire season, and after some weeks of rain I realized it was time to start, the air was clear and bright and I had no excuse anymore. It feels better this time, as though, despite my long break, I've been getting more used to the gait of running. 

When I run I pass many people on motorbikes. Sometimes the market is already set up and I run past people buying mangoes and underwear. I grow incredibly flushed when I exercise, and it takes hours for my face to return to normal. I listen to music. I reach a point when I feel invincible, like I'm taming this beast that I call my body, it's working for me and I own it. Then I reach a point when I feel like my heart is going to pound out of my chest. I push myself a little longer and then I walk. As I cool down, I collect photos of flowers or interesting things. 

I don't run far. Yesterday I made 3 km. I figure that running shorter and more often will be better for me in the end. And I do feel a difference. I feel like my legs can carry me anywhere. 

Grandma

Leafy and his Great-Grandma, just before he turned two. 

Leafy and his Great-Grandma, just before he turned two. 

It was nearly a month ago that my grandmother died at the age of ninety. I wrote this poem for her. 

Grandmother

I remember water.
A lake, to be precise, 
a clear one, large, but not so large that we couldn’t see the other shore.
I was twelve years old.
My grandmother was thigh deep,
wearing her bathing suit, a one piece,
the kind of old woman who swam
in the cold, clear water of a Canadian lake. 
The cousins and my sister and brother and I rowed a canoe out.
We found a small rocky island, 
and it was like we were the first who had ever been there,
we clambered onto it, lay on the sunny rocks
fell asleep and woke up burned by the sun
red as flames

I remember the canoe making its way through the rushes
thigh deep, my grandmother laughing with my mother
and later, consoling us
when a water snake decided to swim alongside
without our permission.
It came onto the land
“Don’t worry, it’s harmless,”
my grandmother said, and I wouldn't be surprised if
she whispered the same to the snake:
“Don’t worry, they’re harmless."
 

There were leeches in the pools, mosquitoes in the dusk.

I remember water.

I remember the screened-in porch of the cottage,
sitting together, books and old magazines
afghans and the smell of warm wood,
My grandmother playing checkers with me.
Rain came one night and dashed itself against the wood boards 
of the little cottage
but we were dry inside, towels strung everywhere
from the day’s swimming. 

“King me,” she said. 
And I did.