Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Vietnam

I don't think I've mentioned on here that I'm going to Vietnam, have I?

Well, I am. I'm going to Vietnam. April 10th through June 7th, to be precise.

It's sort of funny (and sad, and probably a little racist)--when I spent the summer of 2015 in France, people didn't seem to be bothered by the fact that I had no concrete itinerary. I knew I was flying into Paris, I knew that Toulouse was my home base, and that was enough for everyone. When I flew over there, I had no idea that I'd be traveling to Nice or Bayonne, and I certainly didn't know I'd be spending a few days in Morocco.

My plan for Vietnam is essentially the same. I'm flying into Ho Chi Minh City, and that will serve as home base. I would love to visit other as-yet-to-be-determined Vietnamese cities. I have a multiple-entry visa, so there's a good chance I'll pop over to some nearby countries like Thailand and Cambodia as well, assuming I can meet their visa requirements. But people are freaking out that my itinerary for Vietnam isn't set in stone. My mother thinks I'm nuts. My doctor thinks I'm nuts.

But according to my research, Vietnam is a safe place for women to travel alone. Sure, there are bad people everywhere, but if I lived by that logic I'd never step outside my door. What's more, I'm an experienced and capable traveler. I'm good with directions, unafraid to try new foods, and comfortable with embarrassing myself in foreign languages.

This ain't my first rodeo.

My main goal in Vietnam is to ready my novel for publication. I was hoping to make big strides on it while I was in Amsterdam, but as it turns out, nannying three small children doesn't leave a lot of time for writing. (I said I was an experienced and capable traveler, not an experienced and capable au pair.) I did manage to leave editing notes throughout the entire manuscript, though, and I'm almost finished implementing those changes.

While I'm in Vietnam, far away from anyone I know, far away from the distractions of daily life (except all the work I'll still have to do so that I can afford to feed myself), I want to complete a draft that I'm comfortable giving to agents. Then, when I return, I can start sending it out and figure out what to do next. With my life, I mean. I was initially thinking of becoming a full-time freelancer, but now that the ACA is in jeopardy, another full-time job may, unfortunately, be necessary.

Lofty goals, I know. We'll see what happens.

Hey, have you been to Vietnam? Great! Please tell me what I should do. I'm all ears.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Ode to the Spicy Bhakti Chai

My friends: I am in love. I am in love with a beverage known as the Spicy Bhakti Chai. I first tried it ages ago, but my love has only grown stronger throughout the years. Though the drink is now often available at Whole Foods stores in Chicago and other areas, there is only one place I know of with an overabundance of Bhakti Chai, where it flows from the mountains* into the cafes and restaurants and shops, the place where our hearts were originally brought together: Denver, Colorado.

I just spent six days in Denver visiting Leta, where I drank not one, not two, but SEVEN Bhakti Chais. What follows is an account of my liquid trysts:

The first day I drank two Bhakti Chais at the Tattered Cover on Colfax--easily one of the best bookstores I have ever visited. I had freelance work to do, and Leta had plenty of pre-work for her next unit at coding school, so we spent a lot of time in various coffee shops on our laptops. In fact, we returned to the Tattered Cover on day 3 of my visit, where I had--you guessed it--a Bhakti Chai. Though I managed to resist buying books the entire time--quite a feat on my part--I did pick up some delightful unicorn notebooks, since I had forgotten mine.

Yeah, I'm basically a five-year-old. What of it?

I had two more Bhakti Chais at Under the Umbrella Cafe. We'd never tried it before, but I'm glad we did--it was very comfortable, with great wifi and delicious food. Though they do not carry Bhakti Chai, St. Mark's Coffeehouse and the Denver Cat Company are also great cafes. Well, to be honest, I don't think the Denver Cat Company would be all that great, were it not for the fact that it has lots of cats. Meow.

We made another cat friend while were walking to all these cafes. His name was Toulouse, and he was orange and white with a stubby tail. He came bounding at us from someone's yard, then promptly rolled over and asked for belly rubs. His tag said, "Please do not steal me! I come and go as I please." And it's a good thing, too, because we both wanted to steal him. He came and found us again on our walk back. It was basically the cutest.

Two more Bhakti Chais came from the grocery stores that we visited throughout the week--but that doesn't make for an exciting story. You know what does make for an exciting story? The last-ever Motown Night at Pearl's. I was honored to be in attendance for the last iteration of this weekly tradition. Shook my ass on the dance floor until a little after midnight. Happy to learn I can still keep up with "Proud Mary," but my cardio definitely needs some work.

I think that covers all the Bhakti Chais. What else? A trip to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, where we looked at a replica Viking boat and watched a chameleon's suspenseful cricket hunt, ending with a satisfying snag with its long, quick tongue. A board game night with Leta's friends in which my character successfully stopped Leta's traitorous character from destroying us all in Betrayal at House on the Hill (one of my favorites). A stroll through Cheesman Park to observe the many cute dogs. I watched the movie Clue for the first time (finally), and we watched a lot of Key & Peele as well.

Overall it was a relaxing visit, and it was wonderful to spend time with Leta, who is my true love--truer even than Bhakti Chai, believe it or not. I'd move to Denver someday, but I'm worried I'll overdose on sugar.

One more important thing that happened while I was in Denver: I'm officially an Editorial Assistant for Split Lip Press/Split Lip Magazine. I am overjoyed to be helping out with such a cutting-edge literary venture. Right now I'm mostly just handling Twitter stuff, but I'll be taking on more soon. Check them out, buy some books, submit to the magazine, and/or follow on Twitter: @splitlippress/@splitlipthemag

*By "mountains" I mean a factory or a series of factories, presumably.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Uncanny Vegas Valley

Last night I returned from a trip to Las Vegas, that bright-light city, my home-away-from-home. Perhaps it was the interval itself--it hasn't quite been a year since I moved away, not including my 20-hour layover on my way back from Amsterdam--but there was something rather uncanny about the whole experience. Everything was the same, except slightly off.

Might have been the weather. It was overcast and cool the whole time. Contrary to popular belief, the temperature in Vegas is often cool in the winters--but it's usually sunny regardless. I wore a jacket to Shaun's wedding on Friday night, but I had to bundle in one of the fleece blankets they so thoughtfully provided nonetheless. To top it all off, on my flight back to Chicago, we flew through dark clouds that sparked and glowed. "Just sit back and enjoy the lightning show, folks," is not a comforting thing to hear from your pilot, for the record.

The wedding itself was uncanny. Shaun Leonard is married! How did that happen? Not that I didn't think he was the marrying type, or that he and his lovely bride Rachel aren't wonderful together--they absolutely are. But it was all so sudden. He only texted me about it in early February. I'm glad I was able to make it. The ceremony was surprisingly traditional, considering Shaun's natural boisterousness and both parties' theater backgrounds, but it was very sweet. During the reception, people read letters from Shaun and Rachel's relatives who couldn't make it, and then the rest of us told stories about how we knew they'd end up together. I guess that's what happens when you throw a bunch of writers into a wedding together. Aside from the cold, it was great--although I'm sure even that will become a charming memory as time goes by and nostalgia kicks in.

Other strange moments: applying for a Vietnam tourist visa from a Las Vegas post office while using my Chicago address; stopping into Supercuts for a quick haircut (I know), only to find the same stylist who used to cut my hair there, and realizing that she doesn't realize I moved out of state; visiting Lulu and puppy at my old apartment, but knowing it's not my apartment anymore; having my usual artist add to my passport stamp tattoo sleeve, but at a completely different shop; partying in a suite at the Stratosphere with a bunch of people who are very into improv comedy (I still think I made the better banana); drinking pink champagne with LeeAnn in a jacuzzi tub at the Palms, into which we've dropped a glitter bath bomb; running into Doug and having him ask me if I've sent out my book yet; catching up with Maile and having to leave the room every time a student arrives because I'm not her student anymore and don't have any real claim on her time.

It was a fantastic trip, of course--I got to see pretty much everyone I care about there, at least briefly. But I was feeling a little melancholy by the end of it, probably because I'm still in a weird transitional period and it's hard seeing that a place which was once my place isn't my place anymore, not in the same way. I feel so much better now--yoga helps. And I'm excited to rest and be introverted for a while before I head off on my next adventure: to Denver, to visit the one and only Leta.

Well, she's the one and only Leta to me. <3