christmas in korea

A Verb Vacation

The last time I was away was Thanksgiving, but the last time I felt really away, when I was using foreign currency and didn’t have a cellphone, was in 2011.

That was the year between my New York life and my Denver one. That summer, I spent a week in the Adirondacks, another one in Bulgaria, hopped through Istanbul and Berlin, and then spent three weeks driving across the country. My time in Germany was brief, maybe four days. But I’ve probably thought about that trip for more hours than I was actually on it. Berlin is a great city for a lot of reasons, but what I loved about being there was feeling very aware of the verbs—reading, writing, and running—that made me happy, and making time to do them all.

For the past four years, I’ve integrated all those verbs into my life. Even without the subway, I still manage to read a lot. I’ve woken up at 6:03 every day to write. After this blog post, I’ll go on a four-mile run in the park near my house. But after four years of such good habits, I’m starting to worry that I’ve duped myself. It’s not that being so verb-responsible hasn’t made me content. But always worrying about when I’m going to write or run, or choosing to read over spending time with people—it’s closed me off from some experiences. I have a feeling there’s more to life than doing the things I’m supposed to be doing.

A friend is meeting me in Seoul, and while I’m packing the addresses of three dozen friends to write postcards to, many books, and running shoes, I’m hoping not to get anything productive done. I’m hoping I’ll be present in Korea, instead of worrying about getting my reading, writing or running in.

No one needs a vacation, least of all me, who just went to New York last month. But I’m looking forward to taking a break from my verbs, if not myself, for a week.

About Those 1000 Words

Before the Autumnal Equinox, I decided I would write 1000 words every day until the Winter Solstice.

I’ve done ok on the challenge. But pretty soon into the fall, I rewrote the rules: dealing with 1000 words a day counted. Some days, I just erased 1000 words. But almost every day since September 22, I’ve done 1000 words worth of work, which is something.

Since before the fall, I’ve been thinking about Cory Gilstrap, a puppet maker I met for Making the Mountain. When I visited his studio, he demonstrated some basic puppet motions, and I asked him how he learned to make puppets come to life. Through his bare hand, he said, “I did this every night before I fell asleep when I was a kid. Didn’t you do that too?”

I didn’t. But Cory’s question got to me. I think most people who end up doing something they love have that relationship with their medium. That is, it doesn’t just feel vital. It feels natural. Almost any artist can claim that their medium is the fastest path to truth: a writer could argue that organized words are the most logical way to express an idea, but so could a photographer about images. For the first time in a while, I started to think about why I’m creating people and scenarios to express a truth.

The other thing about this challenge is that it’s happening during fourth quarter, which is the time of year my job gets stressful. I also took a workshop during this period. On my tissue box on my desk I’ve written “Busy and stressed or bored and depressed.”

Because I knew I was creating a hectic fall, I made a conscious choice to read less for the past few months. On mornings where I had to be at work early, I came home to write instead of read. 

Of course, I made time for the Jhumpa Lahiri essay that came out last month about learning Italian. There’s nothing I can say about the essay beyond recommending it. Jhumpa Lahiri translates words into feelings better than anyone I know. She’s the author who made me want to be a writer. And reading the essay, I just felt delight. That delight feels so separate from the work I’m doing right now. Figuring out if there needs to be two sisters in a story isn’t really fun at all. 

What I realized this fall is that I like reading a lot. That’s the thing I did every night before bed when I was a kid. It’s the thing that feels most natural to me. I’ve really missed it.

In less than two weeks, I’ll be in Korea for Christmas. I’m not bringing a computer. I just want to read books and be present. Let’s be real, I’ll write postcards too, but only because postcards are the best.