Friday, December 19, 2014

'Tis the Season in Manhattan

I don't go to Manhattan that often, no need to. James goes there every weekday, but he was still a good sport last weekend and accompanied me to check out the Rockefeller tree and other seasonal festivity. 

So, window shopping: The windows at the big department stores here are so tricked out this time of year there are roped-off lines to herd people past them. (We did not stand in these lines, content to just see the displays from afar.)

I've never been a huge rom-com watcher, even still sometimes when I go into the city, or the night we went to look at the skyline from Dumbo, sometimes I feel this giddy sense of nostalgia which I can only attribute to the sense of physically stepping into this world I'd only seen in movies for the first 28 years of my life (yes, the first time I ever came here was September). 

We also went to Ikea last weekend and our apartment is mostly furnished now. We love it.

Happy holidays, everyone!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Holiday Horror

This has already been recounted on other family blogs, but for the record herein I will explain my role in a, hmm how shall we say, a very memorable Thanksgiving. 

Something you need to know up top: I am very, very cavalier about eating raw eggs. I remember making cake with my mom as a little kid and she was like, "don't eat the batter! you'll get sick!" But...I'm a kid. I can't help but eat the batter. Though usually I'd sneak just a little bit, because when you're 6 or so you don't have a sense of how sickness happens and the logic "a little probably wont hurt" suffices. Then, when I was slightly older, I had a babysitter and we made a box cake and she was totally cool with me eating batter. She said when she made cake with her mom they'd eat like HALF the batter before it went into the oven. I recognize this now as exaggeration, but at the time I took it as carte blanche to eat all the raw egg I wanted. 

I guess you could say the babysitter left a lasting impression. Now I eat all the uncooked things - steak, fish, eggs. Life is too short not to eat everything. My friend told me about a restaurant in San Francisco that serves sashimi chicken, I might draw the line there. Maybe.

However, this is a deeply personal gastronomic choice and not a decision one should make on behalf of say a very large holiday dinner party. One that probably includes pretty much every stripe of person listed in the CDC's increased risk group

This Thanksgiving, I rolled those dice.

I made cesar salad, the way I always do, with a raw egg. I didn't even think twice about it. Really, I didn't think about it at all. Nor did I tell anyone. It was delicious, most everyone ate it, it ran out before the last couple folks could get through the buffet line. Lucky them.

About 24 hours later, my cousin Meghan was the first to go down. She mistakenly blamed barbecue oysters she'd had for lunch. We all felt bad for her and played Scrabble without her.

Sometime around 2 am Saturday morning I started to not feel so good myself. I knew I was on the verge of bad bodily things happening so I went to the bathroom. Regrettably, I was too tired to think strategically about what was maybe, probably about to happen. If I'd been thinking strategically, I might have sat down in the usual place and picked up the trash can. I did not sit down in the usual place. Instead, I hugged the toilet bowl. Big, big mistake.

I woke up the next morning and learned six other people were sick. Two more people got sick later Saturday. I took out 10 people, including myself, with a single egg. 

In consideration of the mass pain, inconvenience and holiday-weekend-ruining I wreaked on so many people, this is probably the worst thing I've ever done. Top five, at least.

Later in the weekend, when I was feeling somewhat better, I inspected the bathroom where I did not take appropriate strategic action. If you've ever watched a crime procedural, you've probably seen a detective, combing over the scene of the crime, looking for clues that the perpetrator left after a hasty clean up. In this fall's Gone Girl, there are the two drops of blood spatter over the kitchen range. And I'll end by saying I'm glad I gave the bathroom a second pass.

If you're reading this and I haven't apologized to you yet, I am sorry. Have I learned my lesson? Absolutely, I will never serve raw egg to unwitting dinner guests again. First thing I cooked when James and I made it back to New York? Carbonara. The kind where you put the raw egg into the cooked pasta. Because YOLO.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

On Pot Farming

In October I spent two weeks in Humboldt County and several nights camping on a marijuana farm. The story came out in California Sunday Magazine today. If you happened to be a California newspaper subscriber living in an affluent zip code, you might be able to read me in print today! All other riffraff, here's a link

Important detail not included in story: I had to wash my yoga pants five times to get the skunk out. 

Also, Humboldt is awesome. I got really lucky with a friend I met while hiking in Burma who hooked me up with his mom's empty beach house in Arcata while I was reporting. Most nights in Arcata I'd walk over to his place, 5 minutes from the beach house, and we'd have beers and talk about Humboldt. 

Marijuana really seems like beer there, people are casual about it, and in turn it seems less 'edgy,' it's just whatever if you smoke or not. Such a huge cultural divide from here in New York - where they only just approved medical marijuana, and only for a strict list of conditions. In Humboldt, the question isn't if but how you are connected to the industry. 

My friend in Arcata is into rapping. One night he brought another rapper over to jam, plus a French singer-clarinetist who was in town to trim showed up too. I told the group about harvesting pot at 1 a.m. on this farm (the growers were rushing to beat the rain) and was subsequently treated to a freestyle session about my harvest experience. That was cool. Naturally, there was a pipe going around.

Legalization is necessary for the environment, to reduce violent crime related to the black market, to relieve sick people, and because people should be free to get high. But the most pressing reason to legalize is to do away with the criminalization that disproportionately affects people of color. Black people are four times as likely as whites to be arrested for possession despite similar usage rates. That disparity exists even in states with small minority populations. Here in New York, black people are nine times more likely to be arrested for possession, according to the NYCLU

Thankfully, NYPD stopped arresting in favor of ticketing last month. Nevertheless, we have a racist justice system. Fact. Not opinion. This is one small, easy and obvious way to make it better.

End rant.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Horror Story

So last night James and I were laying in bed on our air mattress watching a horror movie. It's called Resolution and is about a guy who goes to a spooky cabin to try and get his buddy off drugs but  all these creepy things start happening.

Guess what else is creepy?

At a quiet part of the movie I hear a rustling noise ... coming from our room!

I tell James and he pauses the movie so we can both listen. He hears it too and gets up, because this is the part of our lives that follows the constructions of genre film: If there's a noise in the night, I'll be damned if I'm the one who's going to get up and check on it.

James peers over a stack of shopping bags holding my clothes and says something like, "you're right" and then tells me he has to take one of the bags outside. I hand him his sweatshirt and he departs.

If I were a better person, I would've followed him outside, but instead I stayed put on our slowly-deflating air mattress, clutched the comforter around my shoulders and listened for more intruders. Feeling a little bit like crying...

He went out on our stoop and started pulling my clutches and scarves out of this bag a piece at a time until the mouse realized, "oh shit, I gotta get out of here." and spun in a circle and jumped out.

"You're going to want to wash this stuff," he said when he returned.

Reader, I'm glad I didn't actually see this. It would have been too much for my tender constitution.

It doesn't look as if there's poo poo threaded through my accessories, but who knows, mice shit everywhere they go, so I'll wash it all anyways.

I was operating under the comforting delusion that our sublet only had one mouse and it resided primarily behind the stove. From now on we're going to keep the bedroom door closed. The scariest thing though is I only heard it because there was a plastic bag on top of the canvas bag he was in, and he was pushing up against it to make the noise. What if he'd been somewhere else, somewhere quieter?!

The movie was pretty good, if you're looking for a Halloween-time flick, at least as much of it as I saw, I fell asleep before the end, which would've never happened if I didn't have James around to take care of the mice. I guess now I can never leave him.
And now for a status update, because I can feel the curious family emails pouring in already: Yes, we're still subletting, but probably only for a few more weeks - we'll be in our own place by the beginning of December, latest. James will go from full-time freelancer to full-time employee Nov. 1 at his work (yay!). I'm still doing four things at once, I don't know if I can sustain this freelance thing in New York, but I do have a magazine article coming out soonish that I'm excited about. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

We Live in New York and I am 28

Either of those points would be newsworthy enough to have warranted its own post (at least in the world of Under Sundog!), but between the hubbub of moving, a full freelance load and other assorted life-business - making time is tough.

So 28. The twilight of my twenties! I've outlived a whole bunch of rock stars! I think I'm officially to old to ever be a Bond girl. Boo-hoo.

This year went by so fast it's almost scary, probably because so many things changed and I was never in one place too long.

Some things I did when I was 27:
Published a giant article on North Korean kidnappings
Took the Trans-Siberian
Visited Marfa and New Orleans
Moved to Austin
Wrote an essay on censorship, and a bunch of tech articles
Ate a lot of barbecue
Saw a lot of comedy
Took three improv classes
Finished a (very rough) draft of a novel
Spent two weeks on a sailboat in Southeast Alaska
Moved to New York (three days before turning 28!)

It wasn't easy transition into freelancing, but it's getting better and I'm leaps ahead of where I was 10 months ago. All told, it was sort of a strange year. Repatriating was kind of like being fresh out of school again. I felt young, or really I felt too old for the scrappy things I was/am doing. But I feel older too. I think I'm a more educated and empathetic person than when I graduated six (and a half!) years ago.

So New York. I really like it here. Not oh-my-gawd-I'm-gonna-live-here-forever like, but more this-will-be-really-fun-for-a-few-years like. I'd never though I'd live here, but I enjoy how life continues to surprise me. 

Why do I like it here? The diversity is incredible. We live in a Caribbean and Jewish neighborhood, we're not terribly far from Chinatown, we've had Asian food almost every other day since moving here. We finagled our way into a Lexus party during fashion week. I used to think LA was like a microcosm of the world, but New York is more so. And, and - I've had better Chinese food than anything I've had since leaving China. Thank you, God.

Book stuff: In our first week here, I dragged James to three literary events. I went to an online poetry class meet-up and I joined a fiction workshop. I've been in love with books since I learned how to read, and this is the first time I've been in a city that feels like it cares about writing as much as I do.

On my actual birthday (three weeks ago already, ack!): the Penske truck we split with another couple arrived. Amazingly, most of what James and I own fits in 1/6th of a Penske truck...and most of it is his! We helped the other couple put their stuff in storage, and then the four of us went to iHop (we were pretty, pretty far out in Brooklyn - the place even had a big parking lot) and we all ordered the eggs and hash combo. The waiters sang for me and I got a lollipop.

That was also the night of the Lexus party. So to celebrate 28, I also had 3 classy and free cocktails and felt incredibly provincial surrounded by models and fashion people. I could literally see the event photographers circling, taking a look at James and I, then moving on, like "Nah, not worth it." Ha ha!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Austin to Brooklyn

Our car went through 11 states in four days. We live in Crown Heights, which is in Brooklyn, now. I'm at the Brooklyn Public Library now because nobody has air conditioning in the city and it's too hot right now. I've been a New Yorker (lols) for almost 24 hours.

I have a plate full of freelance work at the moment, but I need to blog now before I start forgetting the trip. I'm probably already forgetting parts of it.

Moving out of our apartment was horrible for all the usual reasons. Heat. Packing. Stress. Then we spent a strange few days in limbo, sleeping in a friend's living room, before we left Austin Friday morning.

On the way out of Austin, James took an enthusiastic selfie, showing me in the driver's seat giving him dead eyes. It got a lot of Facebook likes. I told him he's always casting me as 'the shrew' in his social media, and he said it's cuz I always make those kind of faces. That's about right.

We drove in and out of accents: Austin, standard American English. Gas stations and fast foods between there and Memphis, southern accent. Memphis and Nashville, neutral. Arkansas was the boring-est state we drove through. That's not necessarily a reflection on the state of Arkansas, just the Interstate.

Outside Nashville, we stayed with one of my best friends from junior high. It was fun to meet her two children since I haven't even seen her since before she was married. I appreciate how Facebook and Instagram lets us stay loosely in touch with old friends. I've been following photos of her kids for years now, and when we started plotting our journey it was easy to remind myself that she lives outside Nashville. Her 2-year-old cried when we came up to breakfast Saturday morning. Debbie brushed it off and told me she'd give me some bacon to chum her with. It's cool when your friend's sense of humor and temperament hasn't changed in 13 years.

We stopped in a record shop in Nashville and ate lunch near Vanderbilt at a place with fried artichoke hearts. Our Saturday drive had the worst weather. The rain got so bad at one point we pulled off the highway.

Saturday night we stayed in Gainesville, near my brother's boarding school, which looks like a castle-fortress. He took us on a grand tour and we took him to a movie (ninja turtles). I slept for some of it. Had to be rested for all that driving.

James' dad sent us a very nice Austin-sendoff email (thanks, Mike!). He encouraged us to think about our 10-year plan on the drive. At first all we could come up with was "be back on the West Coast before we are 38." Then James declared he would grow a great big bushy beard. I decided to be a Nobel Laureate. And we are thinking about investing in a fleet of jet skis. In fact, if we make it to Seattle we will probably just commute on jet skis through the Ballard locks.

The rest of the south was a blur, so many billboards for steak and Chinese buffet and giant porn warehouses with big parking spaces (for truckers). We spent our third night in Roanoke. Virginia doesn't appear to allow all the big, horrible billboards. The drive was more scenic. Tennessee was the state we'd most like to explore more.

How else did we entertain ourselves? We listened to music loosely tied to region - bluegrass and folk rock in the south, there is a plentitude of songs about Tennessee so we listened to those. We listened to Rip Torn read some Kurt Vonnegut essays. I read James the entire company history of Cracker Barrel in a southern accent (we were trying to figure out how it got its name. Unrelated - but maybe related?? -- Cracker Barrel has a looong history of discrimination lawsuits).

In Pennsylvania, I'm pretty sure I saw one Amish girl in a long pink dress walking through a yard with laundry on a line. New Jersey was greener than I expected (probably everyone says that). When we made it to the Holland Tunnel, I played that Sinatra song (you know, that one), but I didn't get too much further into New York songs. It was still about an hour to our place, but the driving was stressful enough to curtail music.

It was exciting to get that first glimpse of the Empire State Building and the Manhattan skyline, I'm  excited to start exploring. There is a lot of the trash on the ground, like, everywhere. And the first thing we smelled when we found a parking spot was hot garbage.

We're subletting a room in a second-floor walkup. It's newly remodeled with high ceilings, but we're looking forward to getting our own place again soon. The heat is awful. When the wind changed last night, I could smell different strains of garbage-smell.

Today I did work and then we wandered around trying to find something to eat. It's exhausting being new to a place, not having your go-to spots or any food in the pantry. After lunch I cut off all my hair. Like, pretty much all of it. New city, new 'do.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

I'm moving?

Our lease ends next week. James doesn't have a full-time offer yet, but there are way more jobs in New York and that's where all his contacts are, so the logical next steps appear to be: pack stuff, head east. 

I was all sad to leave Austin and then I went to make coffee and watched a cockroach scuttle into the water reservoir, and now I'm like, "Okay Texas, that's a wrap."

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

New Story Out

Another one for The Daily Dot. Check it out here

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Back from Alaska

​Most of you already know, I just spent two weeks in Alaska on a boat (albeit a much, much smaller boat than the one photographed in my previous entry).

It was an incredible trip. I think over the next few weeks I'll try to post a few entries about what I did and what it was like, plus include some photos. I posted an album to Facebook, but I know some people didn't see it. 

My ego isn't such that I require all my 600+ Facebook friends to see my stuff, but it would be nice if it showed up in the feeds of the people I'm close to, who might actually be interested. Last night I was on the phone with a girlfriend (not just any girlfriend, I stood in this one's wedding) and she asked about my trip - see, she knew about it because I'd told her on the phone about a month ago. She asked about photos, and I said they were already up. "I feel like all I ever see now is a bunch of updates from people I don't care about," she said. Me too. I had almost the same conversation (different girlfriend, different photos) several weeks ago.

In its efforts to sell us stuff, it seems like Facebook has abandoned its initial mission, which was to foster connection between the people we already know and care about. I guess I'll just have to start picking up the phone again, at least until Mark Zuckerberg 2.0 comes along and gives us something better.

Anyways - more about my trip soon. 

Until then, here is my impression of every single Alaskan I told that, although I grew up there, I now live in Texas:

wait for it...

Okay, more posts soon!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


Docked on Cozumel


Submarine Coral Reef

Me and Nainai

Taken after James got an internship offer! More on that in a later post

After James graduated the entire Meiser family descended on Austin and we all piled into a mini van bound for Galveston to board a five-day Carnival cruise to Cozumel and Progreso (to see Chichén Itzá).

Nainai came all the way from Taiwan, first to Hawaii to see James' sister's graduation, then to Texas for the cruise. She's 85 and what a champ to do all that travel and eat almost all Western food for a couple weeks. When we all got caught up talking in English, she'd just take a nap. She was fine with all the Western food, James' mom said, because growing up in China (back when it was nationalist China!) she'd go eat at the hotels that served Western food, so she likes tiramisu especially. It was good to see her again, and this was most likely her last trip to the US.

The boat was fun. I've never taken a cruise before, but every day there are a ton of activities and gambling specials and shopping deals ... We did some of that stuff, like we went to see the shows every night, but the nicest thing was just finding a table on the top deck in the morning and hanging out and watching the ocean.

Cruise ships are also great for people watching (lots of people + leisure time). I witnessed several interactions over the week that were interesting:

1. As we were boarding the ship in Galveston a Carnival employee was trying to hustle people down the hall, away from the customs area. A woman told him forcefully she was not leaving because "she was waiting for a minor." The man barked into his walkie talkie "she refuses to leave." Eventually the kid showed up and the woman continued away, miffed.

2. On the pool deck I was in line to use the restroom. It was a tight space, a young woman in front of me asked in a loud voice before she opened a stall door, "is anyone still in there?" to a middle-aged woman exiting. The woman responded, "No one is going to help you if you are rude."

3. James and I got on an elevator. One floor up we were joined by a big group mostly comprised of giggling teenagers. They got off one floor later and next thing I hear James shouting at them. None of them will look at us. The adult in the group turns around to ask what's wrong and James tells him they've pushed all of the elevator buttons (we were on the 2nd floor, headed to the 9th). The man apologized. We continued upward.

The first instance in Galveston was funny because when the woman's daughter appeared, she basically looked like a full-grown woman. I suppose she was 15, but if someone had told me she was 25, I would have believed them. Even still, both parties, parent and worker, felt they were in the right. I think the bathroom issue was mostly miscommunication. The younger woman wanted to be sure she wasn't going to walk in on a kid, the older woman thought her tone was too demanding. Then what happened to us was just annoying, and the kids deserved to be yelled at.

The reason these three things were interesting to me is they all seemed like distinctly American interactions. They aren't scenes I can imagine playing out in the same way in China. I saw plenty of pushing and shouting and run-of-the-mill angry people when I lived in Shanghai and Beijing, but I think Americans feel more inclined to "teach" one another (i.e. complete strangers) what is right. I think this is probably wrapped up with our low power-distance culture and high value placement on individualism.

It reminded me of a New York Times article I read recently about spite. Usually that word is used in a negative context, but a group of researchers used game theory models to show the utility of spite. Basically, societies need people who will go out of their way, perhaps cause themselves inconvenience, in order to punish misbehavers. This provides a net benefit to the society as a whole.

Anyways, enough arm-chair sociology. The vacation was great.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Graduation and Some Updates

Squeaky wheel gets the grease, y'all. After complaining pretty much everywhere about my stupid fly ribbons PIC Corporation (who licenses the Raid brand for all this fly-killing business) sent me a free fly stick and a window trap. But after about a week of stalking flies in the kitchen and bathroom, they seem to be all gone. We even put bananas back out on the counter - heavens! - and we still haven't seen any. So I wont be able to evaluate these two anytime soon (or ever, hopefully!), but I appreciate the gesture. 

Elsewhere in business transactions: It is really lame that Red Box charges for a second day after 9pm. Everyone knows you're supposed to have until midnight. So that's lame. What's not lame is I went to West Marine to buy sailing gear for my upcoming adventure (June is just around the corner!) and had excellent customer service both in-store and then later on the phone in the process of ordering my boots and gloves online.

Okay, I think I've sufficiently buried the lead:

James graduated! Yay! Where does the time go, now he's a master - all of that good stuff. His job hunt is ongoing, so for the moment (and by that I mean exactly right now at this moment) we are two people at a kitchen table staring at our laptops trying to figure out what's next and where's next and how to get that cash monay! Millenials in tha house, woooo!

What's next immediately is a cruise down to Mexico starting this Friday with James' immediate family plus Nai Nai, coming all the way from Taiwan! There's basically no Internet on the boat, so in a couple weeks I should be able to tell you exactly how much Mandarin I've forgotten. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

About Flies

Houston, we have a (fly) problem.

I don't know why I'm telling Houston, because the problem is HERE in my apartment, in Austin. 

The worst of it was last week. Anytime I entered the bathroom or kitchen there were 2-3 flies. I poured boiling water-vinegar down all the drains, I cleaned everything, and now all of the fruit is the fridge, nothing that isn't sealed remains on the counter. 

Bugs stress me out. Initially I went into ogress mode and told James he could never put a plate in the sink without rinsing it again (ever!), but then he pointed out that our upstairs neighbors just moved out.

A word about our former upstairs neighbors: Based on what we could hear, they were essentially nocturnal and did not have jobs. Around the time we'd be going to bed, they would start making scraping noises as if they were moving all their furniture, and they did this on a regular basis. Sometimes when I woke up at 7 or 8, I could hear them still playing music or fighting. 

They must've moved out in a hurry, because last week I saw the maintenance workers hauling bags and bags of trash out of their unit. No joke, one thing that was removed was half of a Taco Bell sign, and no I was not surprised by that AT ALL. One of the workers was nice and offered me their dining room chairs, which are sturdier and more comfortable than our IKEA ones. 

So my new and improved hypothesis is once our dirty nocturnal neighbors moved out, the flies had to travel down the pipes for more fertile turf. 

Besides the boiling vinegar-water drain thing, the Internet told me to fill a cup with apple cider vinegar and dish soap. The flies are attracted to the smell and then they land on the soapy liquid and can't fly away. We caught four this way.

Looking to speed things up, we went to HEB and bought RAID fly ribbon. Do not buy this product. 

I'm so annoyed, I wanted to tweet this at the RAID company, but apparently they're not into social media. The only reason to buy RAID fly ribbon is if your space is so filled with flies they can't help but run into the tape. It's essentially glorified packaging tape in a fancy RAID container. Ugh.

The tape has been up in the bathroom and kitchen for almost a full day now and hasn't caught anything. So I refilled a cup with vinegar and soap plus half a banana and I've already caught at least one more fly that way. 

Also - that thing about catching more flies with honey than vinegar? Total bullshit. I caught zero flies with honey. Honey is about as useful as RAID fly ribbon. 

I have a friend who has lived in this complex for 5 years and at one point had a neighbor who was so dirty they bug-bombed her building 4-5 times and still couldn't get rid of the cockroaches until management kicked the people out, so I suppose I should count my blessing that all I have is a few flies. 

Friends and family, I welcome your pest tips. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

One day, two bylines

When it rains, it pours.

I had two piece published today. One is about censorship and one is about cryptocurrency mining

So there ya go.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Fortnightly Blog

The speed at which I blog these days, I may as well be sending out a newsletter - by post. Ah, well.

I'm just shy of the six-month mark here in Austin and rather magically everything has become easier. I knew from Taiwan and Shanghai that six months is generally what it takes to get adjusted, and sure enough that proved true again.

I loved Austin from the first time I visited, but figuring out a work situation was stressful. Things aren't perfect, I'm still a freelancer, which means there's always a looming existential worry that the money train will dry up, but I've had a couple good months, and can at least kick that worry somewhat further down the line.

Transitioning back to the U.S. has greatly expanded my empathy for people suffering long-term un- or under-employment. I really didn't have to deal with this that long, but it is depressing and unmooring and is a surefire method of bottoming out your sense of self worth. What am I? and What am I good for? are terrible questions to face when you have no work. When I first moved here, it made me uncomfortable when people asked what I did. Now I say "I'm a freelance writer" with ease, though I usually feel I have to add something about how the pay is crap and some of what I do is bo-ring. 

James and I spend at least a couple nights a week at a local improv theater, The New Movement where we take classes, so we're always hanging out with funny, creative people and that helps Austin feel even more like home. This month we're going to three music shows, we saw a comedian last night, I went to a series of author talks yesterday and next weekend we're taking a sketch writing class from one of the Key and Peele writers. After three years in China, the amount of cultural wealth available here in Austin makes me giddy. 

But just as Austin really starts to become home, we may be giving it up soon. James is applying for jobs and internships. He's made it past the first round at a couple big national firms, one in Boulder, one in Chicago, and he still has quite a few more applications to turn in. We both wish there were more firms here in town, we really wouldn't mind staying.

Also, I finished a draft of my novel. It's terrible, but it's nice to have a whole draft done. At the author talk series I went to, Anthony Marra talked about spending a couple years on a novel he ultimately trashed, and Daniel Alarcón said that he had a whole draft of the novel he was reading from that he threw out and started from scratch, which was a nice reminder that nobody builds Rome in a day, or whatever. 

Happy Easter, y'all!

Monday, March 31, 2014


James and I got back to Austin this morning after three awesome days in New Orleans. Our primary endeavor was eating and on that front we covered:

Turtle Soup at Commander's Palace
Red beans & Rice
char-grilled oysters
fresh oysters
fried oyster po boy
baked ham/roast beef/debris po boy at Mother's
fried okra
Crawfish etouffée 
Bread pudding at Commander's Palace
lacquered quail at Commander's Palace
Giant bag of boiled crawfish
Gin fizz
plenty of local beer

Of course we already want to go back and eat more. And do more. I've done a lot of traveling and New Orleans is truly like nowhere else I've ever been. I don't think I've ever been anywhere else in the United States that has a stronger sense of place, which makes sense since the city is older than the country.

My curiosity is piqued and I've added several Louisiana books to my reading list (because I don't know all that much about the state). I picked up All the King's Men in high school, but I think I was too young for it (16-year-old Leslie: "Why would I ever care about southern politics???"). I'd like to revisit that. And while I'm sure it will be grim, I added Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink, about the triage that went on at the hospital after Hurricane Katrina, to my library hold list. Even though it was almost 9 years ago, it was clear even in our short visit how much the storm still defines the city. On that note, I also plan to read Salvage the Bones (2011 National Book Award Winners) by Jesmyn Ward.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Bye Bye, South By

Maybe the trick to reversing one's fortunes is to write a complain-y blog.

I was pretty bummed the last time I posted. Like, there might have been some crying and white wine that weekend. 

The following Monday this is what happened:

My one client was all, "Okay just kidding, we don't need to renegotiate the price."

An online lit mag that consistently publishes thoughtful, well written pieces accepted my pitch. I'm excited to have my byline go up somewhere that values quality as opposed to quantity, that's rare as far as online outlets go.

Somebody offered me a full-time job. What?

All of these things made me feel better, but not exhilarated. Maybe because I'm getting used to the fact that with freelancing things are either going really well or going horribly, and that's the new normal. But it did make me feel better about me

When things aren't going well, I feel unmoored. I start thinking maybe I'm not a writer, maybe I'm a barista or a checker at HEB or an admin assistant. (I must not be any of those things because whenever I get panicky and apply to those kinds of jobs, nobody ever calls me back.) When things are going well, I feel comfortable with "I'm a writer." 

I went and interviewed at the place that wanted to give me a job, it was a research position at a tech startup. We got around to the salary discussion part and I said something totally lacking finesse like, "Uh well, such-and-such is what I made in my last full-time position it would be nice to, you know, move forward from that." The interviewer smiled in a way I knew I'd shown way too many of my cards and said something like, "that wont be a all."

I decided not to take the job. But it made me grateful that I have a college education and a particular set of skills. 

Imagine me saying "particular set of skills" in the same timbre as Liam Neeson in Taken, because the occasional reminder that what I do isn't totally monetarily worthless makes me feel like kind of a badass.

And then there was South by Southwest!

Austin during SXSW is incredible. I ate so much free food and drank so many free dranks, saw three comedy shows and a talk with a bunch of magazine writers I really admire, and it was all FO FREE!

SXSW isn't all free, most of it isn't, and the badges to get into events are terribly, terribly expensive, but James and I had good luck with standby lines, so we had a good time on the cheap. 

Plus, one of my friends manages an indie band and she stayed at my apartment this week, which I think makes me a patron of the arts. She got us into an industry party and we made off with leftover wine when the place cleared out.

The other good thing that's happening 

My original plan was to spend some of my lit mag paycheck on new clothes, but instead I think it's going to be my summer sailing fund: I got an offer through a family friend to spend a couple weeks sailing in southeast Alaska in June. That's an adventure that's been on my bucket list for about a decade, so I am very excited. 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Another Wild Week of Working From Home

Impromptu don't-put-underwear-on Tuesday

Kitchen table office is prime for eavesdropping when upstairs neighbors have screamy fight and somebody declares he's moving out. "Good luck paying rent you stupid bitch." (Imagine this said in a deliciously-elongated Texas drawl - and yes I did get up and lurk behind the blinds to make sure I didn't miss anything).

When the kitchen chairs are no longer comfortable, it's possible to transfer to the auxiliary office - i.e. to pick up the MacBook and work in bed.


"This story" [which we've sat on in radio silence for two months] "feels like less than a full feature."

"We love what your writing! .. Budget issues .. We need to renegotiate the price."

Working in bed is kind of terrifying. I already spend so much time at home, spending too much time in one room feels like the whole world is getting smaller. I'm afraid if I do it too often I'll morph into an anti-social shut-in a la Emily Dickinson (lolz, except way, way less talented).

This week, the days had a weird bad news/good news/bad news pattern and by Thursday afternoon my lower back was one massive stress knot - somewhat alleviated by going to yoga Friday night.

Sometimes after I eat really greasy, salty fast food, I feel uncomfortable for a couple hours. But the tightness in my back is more annoying and has lasted for about two days now, even though I don't feel particularly stressed at this moment. The discrepancy in the bodily repercussions of a late-night Whataburger run versus a couple shitty work-related emails is interesting to me. Takeaway lesson: It's better to have gainful employment and eat as many cheeseburgers as you like.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Quick Post

It's been almost two weeks since my last blog! Sorry!

The main problem is my novel requires a lot of computer time and my freelance work requires a lot of computer time and it's hard to commit to even more computer time to keep up this space. But I'm still going to try not to let two weeks go by between posts.

Plus, this is a bit of a slack week for freelancing, which means more time for writing, which also means looking for excuses to delay writing ... liking blogging! Also, tomorrow I'm taking part in a jury focus group at a law office. I hope I get to be the faux juror who is like the guy in 12 Angry Men who convinces everyone else to vote not guilty.

Other news:

My freelance workload hasn't evaporated. Things are still popping up, I'm querying a new story, still have one under consideration. And I have a decent load of un-bylined writing/editing work.

I'm within an inch of a first draft of my novel. I think it's going slower here at the end because it's hard to wind things up, and after that the monumental task of rewriting begins.

This was my first Chinese New Year not in Asia since 2010. Some Beijing friends posted to Instagram photos where the pollution was too thick to see the fireworks. Happy year of the horse, y'all!

James and I are taking an improv class. I haven't done anything theatrical since high school, it's very fun.

At the end of next month we're going to New Orleans for a weekend - yay!

Monday, January 27, 2014


Over the holiday weekend, James and I made our way to West Texas.

Our first stop was in Fredericksburg, where James got talked into a free tasting of the world's hottest hot sauce ("The Source"). They gave it to him on such a tiny little toothpick though, I didn't get to see any panting or tears. 

I think the sauce is made through some kind of intense distillation process that makes it hotter than peppers found in nature, which kind of sounds like cheating. I love spicy food, but I'd rather taste things than just look for pure spicy.

After Fredericksburg, it was onward to Marfa:

A display outside The Wrong Store (art store) in Marfa

In the early seventies, Donald Judd left New York to get away from the constrains of the urban art world. There's something very cool about driving way across Texas and getting to see a bunch of concrete cubes sitting in the middle of the Chihuahuan Desert. We also saw a Warhol display and half a dozen other small exhibits in town.

On our first night, we went to a bar in neighboring Alpine (cheaper hotels) and when James gave the bartender his ID, the guy pulled his own out from under the bar - a fellow Alaskan!

Not only that, he'd gone to Dimond High School too! He was about four years younger than us, and had moved to Texas to play soccer. He was finishing up his degree at the university in Alpine and then hoped to move back to Anchorage to coach club soccer.

It's always so exciting meeting fellow Alaskans. We didn't get to talk to the guy much since the bar was busy (forgot to even ask his name!) but we bonded over the ho-hum Texan tap water, and we learned that the house he grew up in Anchorage was essentially walking distance from James'. Too funny how you can live in a country with 300 million people, drive out to the middle of nowhere and meet a neighbor you never met before. I think that says something about the age we live in, but I'll withhold the philosophizing.

Donal Judd installation at the Chinati Foundation
On our first touring day, we stopped at the visitor center and chatted for about half an hour with the lady there, she'd lived in Marfa her whole life. When we got to asking her about the whole art scene and the tourism that's come with it, she rattled off half a dozen celebrities she'd met. She once picked Jake Gyllenhaal up at the airport. She met the Twilight kids. She didn't recognize Elijah Wood when he came into the visitor center.

There are so many sad, declining small towns in the U.S. The lady at the tourist center admitted there were old people in town who didn't like all the artists crashing the place, but it's a huge economic boon and a such a unique transformation of a really remote place: the movie theater in Alpine was only showing two films, which we weren't interested in, and the next nearest theater that we could pull up on our phones was 2.5 hours away in New Mexico.

This is Prada Marfa. It was not commissioned by Prada, but they did provide their shoes for display to the artist free of charge. It's controversial because of the commercial aspect. But I like it. I'm not much of an art critic though, I like just about anything that has a touch of humor and doesn't alienate me.

It's located about half an hour outside Marfa, so you actually have to drive through Valentine - which is a teeny place on the razor edge of becoming a ghost town - to go see it. When we got there, there was one other car stopped, another tourist. That man left, and another car pulled up carrying another pair of tourists, a young couple like us.

I can't speak to the artist's intention, but I think there's something incredibly funny about driving way the hell out in the desert to photograph a Prada store and then when you get there you see people who look just like you doing the same thing - young, probably educated, fancy camera - taking a picture of  a store you've probably seen in a dozen cities anywhere in the world.

On the way to Prada we spotted this blimp thing. We stopped on the way back to take some pictures, then saw at the gate where it was a military science-y weather-monitoring something or other, which makes my brain immediately go: "Oh Science? BO-RING. Whatever." and forget about it. Shameful, I know. As Popeye would say, I yam what I yam.

But then James stumbled on this article via a Facebook link. The blimpy thing we saw looks an awful lot like this blimp thing:

Now, the thing we saw may very well be what it purports to be on its signage out in the desert. This thing though is a military surveillance blimp that's going to go over Baltimore and it will be able to surveil the crap out of all kinds of stuff as far as dozens of miles away. Techno-surveillance dystopia is upon us. Time to start working on my tin-foil hat. 

After Marfa we drove south and then drove along the Rio Grande - so everything south of the river here is Mexico. 

Texas - Rio  Grande - Mexico
I guess they don't need a fence because the territory is so inhospitable. But we did pass two border check points where border agents check people heading north into Texas.

This was taken at the Contrabando Movie Site, where several nineties westerns were filmed.

In other news, I am working and writing. I am no longer worried about not having enough work, I have repurposed that worrying for stressing over whether the work will evaporate (ah, freelancing). I'm writing about tech startups for a local website and I've scratched out a little more work related to my beloved (subject - not actually beloved) North Korea. Plus I'm doing a bit of commercial blogging and I have a riveting business dictionary-updating gig.

I'm a couple weeks off from a full draft of my novel. I always feel better about it when I'm not actually looking at the screen. Maybe not a good sign? 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Special Gift from RadioShack!

Last semester, James had a class project where he was tasked with rebranding a product or company in need of an update.

He picked RadioShack. You can see his idea here. Today, he received a package in the mail with a gift card, a t-shirt, a neat bluetooth speaker and a thank you card.

It was written by a RadioShack senior manager of social media. He thanked James for putting his work out there and said that while it wasn't "quite" the direction they were moving in, it was a "spot-on" idea.

Woohoo, getting noticed!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2013 Reviewed

Okay, here goes:

Florence, Oregon: 5 months
Thailand: 3 weeks
Burma: 1 month
Malaysia: 1 week
Vietnam: 1 month
Laos: 3 weeks
China/Yunnan: 2 weeks
Sacramento: 2 days
Eureka/Santa Rosa/Redwoods campground: 1 night each (to and from aforementioned Sacramento wedding)
Klamath Falls, Oregon: 2 days
Napa: 1 week
China/Beijing: 3 days
Mongolia: 3 days
Russia: 2.5 weeks
Germany: 2 weeks
Austin: 2 months
McMinville, Oregon: 2 days

New Countries:

Things that happened:
Swam with elephants in Thailand
Threw up out of a bus window, had nice Burmese lady hand me a tissue
Scootered to a deserted beach every day, drank beer, ate fresh rolls, read books on Phu Quoc
Saw Ho Chi Minh and Lenin
Saw a dead guy in Laos
Saw millions of bats fly out of Mulu Caves on Borneo
Saw my friends get married
Rolled my eyes when a bald French lady said a Buddhist chant for a chicken meeting its death at the hands of a Tibetan villager
Talked to Tibetans about why they don't like the Chinese government
Had a boozy lunch with random Chinese businessmen in Yunnan
Watched my 5'3" brother jump 22'9" to become Oregon's state long jump champion
Started writing a novel like it was my job
Stopped writing a novel to work slavishly on article about North Korea
Went to a writing conference, people seemed to like what I wrote
Took my mom from Beijing to St Petersburg
Played 50+ games of Scrabble (Mom keeps track)
Ate pickled herring in Tomsk, got nauseous
Got bitten in the shoulder by icky Russian guy in overcrowded van outside Irkutsk
Visited two old friends in Germany, one from Alaska, one from USC
Loved Berlin
Kayaked Siltcoos outlet, twice
Moved to Austin
Had my first Thanksgiving at home in five years
Started shopping at Costco again
Assembled an adult-looking pantry of canned goods for maybe the first time in my life (thanks, Costco)
Happily started living with James again, after 17 months apart

A lot of other things happened too, but I think the above is a fairly accurate snapshot of my 2013.

While there are still places I'd like to go, I feel satisfied with where I've gone since 2008. A few years ago, I felt disappointed if I didn't add a new country to the list during a calendar year (which I did not do in 2012), and I had a sense of urgency about seeing a lot as soon as possible. That feeling has dissipated. I'm happy with what I've done. Now I am in the not-entirely-pleasant position of readjusting to life in the US. Trying to figure out a work situation is stressful, especially since I don't have the network here that I would had I not spent so much time overseas, but then I have to remind myself that a lot of people wait their whole lives to travel. I wouldn't change the way I've done things.

Of my giant travels, the best parts were the outdoorsy ones: hiking in northern Burmese hill country, two nights in a national park in Borneo, my Vietnamese island beach week (my snorkeling butt-burn tan line only really went away about a month ago), kayaking in Laos, hiking in the Himalayan foothills in China and then Tiger Leaping Gorge after that. On my way to two dear college friends' wedding in Sacramento, I saw an amazing sunset coming south down Highway 101 in the Redwoods. My favorite part of doing the Transsiberian with my mom was our stay on Olkhon island. Plus, spending summer here on the Oregon Coast allowed me to do a lot of beach walking. This was a great year for spending time in nature, something I didn't do nearly enough of in China. I have to remember to prioritize outdoor time since I enjoy it so much, but that isn't always easy as a city dweller.

In 2012 I earned the most money of my life thus far. This year I made less than I have since college, which wasn't a surprise -- I did what I planned to do this year, travel and write. The payoff was publication of my most widely-read story to date. Now I just need to figure out how to marry the two, make enough money and get published. If you've figured out how to do this, let me know!

I'm excited about 2014. I'm less sure about what will happen in the next 365 days than I was at this time last year. Figuring out work will be the hardest part, but I have to remind myself to be patient. Typing this blog, I feel kind of wistful, like I haven't spent enough time appreciating what an incredible year I've had, mostly because I've been concentrating on trying to get work since November. At present, I have just about enough freelance things going on to make things work, which is good considering I've only been back a couple months, but the formula needs tweaking, a couple things I need to finish are decidedly not worth the time I've put in.

So resolutions:

2013 Revisited - I just typed 2012 here on accident. Hard to believe a whole year goes by when you spend it doing whatever you want.

1. Lose 10 pounds. (What? I probably weighed more then, coming off a crazy six months of work + holiday eating. But 10 pounds? Lolz - maybe I was filling insecure, looking at too many glossy magazines.)

2. Read a lot of good modern things and a lot of classics. (I had the best reading year of my life, I read 30+ books. Highlights were Anna Karenina, which is the best book I've ever read, Atonement and Handmaid's Tale. I read a lot of other good books, but those are all new lifetime favorites.)

3. Write a novel (I'm over halfway through a first draft. I would've made more progress had I not been interrupted by the Buzzfeed assignment, which was a worthwhile detour. Writing a novel is hard and thankless, yo.)

4. Write 3-4 non-fiction essays (I wrote three. One was my North Korea piece, one is currently under consideration and one didn't find a home - not bad.)

5. Pay my respects to Lenin and Ho Chi Minh, cuz I love me some embalmed Communists (Yes! Finished!)

2014 Resolutions
1. Eat right and exercise (always worth renewing that one)
2. Curate what I read better: More great books, less magazine articles, less blog posts, less Twitter/Facebook/Internet. I'm not going to quit reading any of those things, but I could stand to be more selective and waste less time.
3. Finish the novel
4. Write diligently