I wrote over 10,000 words (not including journaling) while traveling last week,
and I officially can no longer shake the shocking thought: I want to be a writer.
More shocking, the next thought slides up in line: I am a writer.
And, so, here are some of those words that I wrote last week, an anthology of memories:
Ever since my first overseas experience, I have loved traveling. The long flights (excluding the inevitable sleepless tossing and turning and oh-my-goodness-the-pain- backaches), stuffy layovers that usually consist in me walking around the terminal over and over and over again, and the feeling of wanderlust that will not be quenched no matter how many frequent flyer miles I rack up… I love it.
But my favorite part, which doesn’t surprise me, is the food. First of all, let the record show—I love plane meals. Yes, I just admitted that. I love the square, never-know-what-you’re-gonna-get, microwaved meals. That doesn’t mean I always love the food itself, of course. But I do have a weird respect, which is just the flip side of love, for the the food that I’ve been served on many a dimly-lit aircraft.
Shoo, I’m glad that’s off my chest. I’m sure you’re cringing. Well, You have fun starving yourself and only eating peanuts on your next overnight flight. I’ll enjoy my meal over a nice French film about a horse farm (yes, it’s real and it’s gold).
But, by far, my favorite part of traveling is discovering the best places to eat while at the stopovers in between home and destination. I love finding the fanciest places, the hippest places, the ones that look high-end but are, relative to their counterparts outside the airport, not all that expensive. Or, maybe I just overlook the fact for the sheer adventure of it.
If I’m in a hurry, I’ll grab a sandwich. But it will be a weird sandwich. Brie and asparagus on baguette, anyone? It was a remarkable find in the Denver airport.
If I’m not, aesthetics and a menu with many good options is a go. Industrial lighting, steel, pipe-esque chairs, and breakfast all day alongside salads? Done, Kuala Lumpur. (I went for the salad and maybe I just haven’t had a decent salad in a year, or maybe it really was the best salad I’ve ever eaten. Also, the local drink recommended was a Teh Tarhik on ice. Sweet, sweet, southern-esque tea with milk for the win.)
Loving and living these days semi-permanently residing in another country makes me far easier to please in this realm of traveling food: I had McDonald’s for breakfast today.
But I cannot tell you how good that sausage mcmuffin tasted alongside a nice, crisp hash brown. When you haven’t had something in years (literally), you go for it & you go big. (It was called “the big breakfast combo”).
Going home at this point isn’t exactly an option when you sign a contract. But when the contract includes time to travel, you take it, and you visit new places and read a ton and don’t think about work for awhile and deal with the layovers. And, if you choose wisely, at least the food will be good.
On visiting the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum & Memorial:
I stop at the end and sit, the humidity heavy. I am soaked in sweat and yet there is a hollow coldness in my stomach, churning, alive with grief for hurt never felt, pain never imagined before. It pulses with the rhythm of the requiem I begin to hear in my headset—a haunting melody with notes of hope as its gracious harmony. It’s beginning was dark, piercing as I glanced around again at all the buildings of death and remembered the pictures I had seen, the faces I cried over. Some with wide-eyed stares, daring me to forget them; others with slight smiles, not knowing what awaited them in this place. Lined up in room after room that barely two generations ago—my brothers’ generation—held the stench of death, the smell of stifling heat and the stripping away of all human dignity like the skin, taunt and tearing over iron shackles, hundreds of them lining again the wall.
The music stops and I must take a moment to breath again, to take these feelings—strangely numb like a slow frostbite of cruel hope that strengthens my heart, unknown to most who walked and walk these long halls, once high school classrooms. The only classroom built in the country when it was toppled by a communist faction, preying on fear and making the fearful its prey.
Every step I took, lightly, barely touching the ground, felt wrong. Every glance, an imposition, an intrusion, indecent exposure to horrors that we can only hope will never be repeated. Yes, every step felt heavy, like I shouldn’t be here. Trying to tiptoe, my presence only felt denser. How can I stare back at these faces and not know them, not know their existence beyond the horrid circumstances they faced here? These stories were penned by a God they didn’t know. Their tears were caught just as mine are. Their names known, their death—grieved.
But not by me.
There are a few survivors here, sitting at small white tables lined up near the high, barbed walls, filled with books to sell. Smiling, they sit near the concession stand, selling memories. My steps slow, but I can’t bring myself to stop at their smiles, their touching of the business cards, straightening their goods for me to see. But what would I say? I’m sorry would never be low enough to reach the hells they survived. Do they even speak English? Why should we sell their stories like wares hawked at the nearby market or the tourist trap in the corner of this carnage-courtyard?
I want to sit with them, weep with them, but I’m in concrete, my feet still heavy with the feeling that I shouldn’t be here at all. I shouldn’t be here.
So I sit.
I’m caught in the act and I’m white, privilege skin convicts me, condemns me into the ranks of the US-backers who backed away and turned a blind eye to this place. We only opened our eyes to a radar screen, blips of enemies blown away. At Liberation, we sulked back into our cold-war craze, while millions died, died, died. But we had already killed million. It was the promise that we might stop that brought the powerful Rouge into play. But they only wanted blood, too.
Blind eyes until we could not ignore the blood pooling up to our doors, the floodgates of hell had to be stopped.
Why do we only look away from our own heavens to see hell marching through the streets of gold we paved?
Only when blood strains smear the dross?
Oh God, forgive us our blindness, and make us see again, the floodgates we make and the bars of steel we erect.
Oh God, vengeance is yours; you will repay. We wait for that day, but we promise also to keep this hell at bay by keeping hope in our hands to give away, to give away.
To give away.
I listen now, as I prepare to leave, to a mother singing a lullaby to her baby, cradled safely in a stroller, being rocked back and forth in the shade. Her voice is sweet and hope-filed, a song not of sorrow but sweet dreams for her child.
We, too, need a new song to sing, like Israel was given in Joel I read this morning—Fear not, fear not, be glad, rejoice…
But first, let everyone in this place who calls on the name of the Lord be saved.
Tell them your name, O God. Tell them your name.
I love scratching these words out of a longing soul. With tears in my eyes I admit this desire, again, as if it needs repentance or remorse. When, really, it only needs a pen.
Around me in this coffee shop sits a businessman talking with his hands. And a silent man stretched our across the chair and table, hand on head castdown, dark eyes shadowed in thoughts to deep for me to read.
The coffee’s gone and the music crescendoes in my ears to make me dance, a love song we’re all desperate for.
I find the challenge to keep writing, to keep pressing into this gift no matter what. Oh how needy we are for words that take us past ourselves but deeper in still. And so I let this blue ink spill into the spaces. I don’t know where it will end or even where it began, but it’s here and I’m here and first dates are always awkward.
And everyday with this pen is a first date. An awkward, breathless, heart-fixed-occasionally-beating in my throat. A constant game of standard questions—where are you from? what do you do? what do you believe? The conversation lags and more questions come—how many times have you tried this before? should we get dessert? go on a walk? have a drink?
Sometimes, it’s worth it. The questions gain a still-nervous nod.
Sometimes, you say with false confidence, “Split the checks, please.”
Nursing some heavy-hitting insecurity tonight, I tell myself that I need to write. I need to get these feelings out until I can feel again.
Because insecurity isn’t a feeling. It’s a numbness that isn’t a gradual frostbite but an iced-over lake cracking suddenly out from under, swallowing you. The creaks become cracks until, without warning, you’re caught underwater, and its icy cold, black numbing force is all around you and you can’t breathe.
And, for me, as soon as it happens, it seems as if the lake has frozen over again already, just in time for your swimming legs to kick you back up towards the surface. There seems to be no way out.
And then it seems that the insecurity has won; you weren’t skating with anyone on that lonely lake, you were enjoying the solitude. But now, you need rescue. People need to come. You can’t breathe.
But, outside the icy lake in your mind, you bite your lip in automated defense. You smile and tell others they’re doing okay. You breathe in through that bited lip. You tell yourself to sit down, write, and—above all else—to just get over yourself.
Pride rears its ugly head again, you sigh.
But what it that’s just your own defense mechanism? Keeping yourself in the insecurity-is-pride, pride-is-insecurity loop-de-loop. Maybe that’s why the lake freezes over so soon. Because those two words, my two favorite faults, keep me alone. Isolate under those icy waters—this is escape.
If I’d just let someone else in, really in, maybe, just maybe “we would have spring again,” as when the 2 sons of Adam and the 2 daughters of Eve stumbled into the snows of Narnia.
Insecurity is this paralyzing numbness of being unable to do (or say or be) what it is that secures you in identity and purpose. It is the result of fear, of shock, of a thousand moments adding up to say, “You cannot do this.”
Insecurity is liquid nitrogen, and your heart is the red rubber ball.
It sat on my desk in third grade, froze by the cool gaseous substance brought in by someone’s dad for show and tell. 3rd grade, the year a friend lost her dad, who was also supposed to come in to class, just like the Father with the liquid nitrogen.
I don’t think I listened much. But I remember the red pieces. They showed us that the ball couldn’t bounce anymore. It just landed, a dull thud and broke, hard, big pieces making little noise. Big shards of a once-rubber red ball, as if cut by scissors from the inside out.
Our hearts are not a science show-and-tell. But we are frail.
And insecurity reminds me just how frail I feel—so frail that anything could break me. Any word spoken by my friend under the influence of Benadryl or circumstances or stress, can cut my heart into big, ugly, red pieces.
So I bite my lip. I compensate. Pain for pain. Smile for smile. Breathe, just breathe. The water won’t kill you. Write, just write. The words will help you.
I’ll crawl into bed tonight, and I’ll cry. I’ll toss and I’ll turn. Eventually, I’ll pray and I’ll tell God how I feel and He may ask me to write some more (see above). But for now, the words are barely cutting at this ice—encompassing me. Will someone rescue me?
He will. He will. He, who knows my insecurities better that I do, He always will.
Well, if you made it to the end of this, I commend you. And I love you. Buy my book one day, okay? 😉
Well, if you made it to the end of this, I commend you. And I love you. Buy my book one day, okay? 😉