In a pathetic attempt to post something at least once this month, I bring you a short list of some of the different animals I've seen so far in Asia (in addition to a big turtle, goats, cows in the street and various lizard-like creatures crossing the road).

Elephants: 1, finally! Yesterday I saw one being bathed when I looked out the window of the van I was riding in. Hopefully there will be many more.

Monkeys: Lots. The first one I saw was on the roof of our guest house in Sri Lanka. A couple of us went up there to see it in the trees where others reported seeing it. While we were on the roof, a monkey quickly jumped onto the corner of the roof maybe 30 feet from us and then hopped off onto another tree. It looked a lot bigger than we expected, and I was glad we were not right by it. Since then, I've seen many more in different places throughout Sri Lanka.

Dogs: I have seen zillions. These are everywhere we've been in Sri Lanka except for a swanky hotel we stayed in a couple of days ago. (But that had bats and monkeys.) Mostly the dogs look pretty mangy, invoking the fear of rabies in me, but they haven't really bothered us (knock, knock) so far. I was surprised to see them roaming around the open air cafeteria at the local university. When you're eating your lunch at the table, some of them will hover around, hoping for scraps. I am just now getting used to seeing so many sad looking dogs.

Water Buffalo: Also common in the village I've been studying for a couple of weeks. I like seeing them take over a road for a while.

Geckos: If I saw a gecko in my bedroom at home, I would probably scream, but they eat bugs, so I like them here. Go figure. Some of the cockroaches might be as big as some smaller geckos though...

Hopefully I'll post soon about driving, food, and more. Flickr is the best place to check for updates right now.


Diagram of an example Indian visa

In less than 24 hours now, I should be on the first of five flights that will take me to Asia for 11 weeks for my spring semester of school. Most of that time will be in Sri Lanka, but we will also go to India, Indonesia and Thailand.

Hopefully my internet access will be frequent enough to post here throughout. Flickr will probably be the first place to check for updates. (Or not, depending on the speed of the internet connections we get? I have no idea what to expect.)

So why am I doing this? Lots of reasons, but I suppose the main one is: Why not? I want to go everywhere, so I'd better get started. I don't quite know what I'm doing, but it'll be an adventure. Let's go. Be back home in early April.


About two years ago, I had to write a page describing what happiness is for me. Among other things, I was agonizing over some decisions about which direction to take and stalling out, and the assignment was supposed to help with that.


At first all I could flippantly think of was Snoopy and the old Peanuts book Happiness is a Warm Puppy. A puppy is probably a good start. I’d like mine to be a pug. Even just the blog about Shelby the pug makes me smile.

No, somehow I think long-term happiness must be a little more than just puppies or love or sensory delights and immediate joy.

I kept whittling it down to the core, playing devil’s advocate against all my predictable lists about friends and family and appreciating the small daily joys. Is happiness being with other people? Then what about that Buddhist nun who lived in a cave alone for years?


What about old couples when one spouse dies? If it’s other people, then when they die are we automatically sentenced to unhappiness for the rest of our time? I don’t believe that.

I started to go into research mode. What do the Buddhists say about happiness? They’ve had some useful stuff to say to me about falling apart, which I seem to have done a lot over the last couple of years.

But doing research didn’t feel like the way to answer that question, and it was starting to drive me nuts — which didn’t seem a likely ingredient for a happy life, whatever the hell that may be.

See my problem here? I overthink everything.

Then one afternoon I stepped off the bus and started to walk home through a sunny grade school playground that was strewn with colored fall leaves. And in that brief moment of stepping down from the bus, it hit me:

Happiness is a hidden staircase.


If you could lift the top off my skull and look down at my brain, I would bet that some of my cranial folds bend in the form of a girl at the bottom of a stone staircase, peering up through a flashlight beam as her other hand braces against the wall and she leans forward into the next step up through the mystery.

For me today, happiness is illustrated by the cover for the second Nancy Drew book, The Hidden Staircase. I’ve loved that illustration for as long as I can remember, and the promise in that image has permanently skewed my perception of what life should be like.

There must always be a mystery! Preferably around the corner. It might just be what gets delivered in the mailbox today, or it might just be what happens tomorrow, but there is always a mystery to savor and solve.

It’s interesting that in all these years, I don’t remember ever once imagining what was at the top of that staircase in the illustration, and I no longer remember what happened in the book. Does it matter? The point is the mystery of it all, the tantalizing unknown at the top of the stairs. It could be whatever the most magical, twinkling, electric embodiment of desire you’ve ever fantasized about, whether that is a person or a place or mixtures of everything. Maybe it’s just another staircase. It could be anything.

To me, that kind of happiness feels like a rush of curiosity that pushes you up over each stone step instead of allowing you to cave in to the fear that screams at you to retreat to safety. It propels you even as fear floods your veins, threatens to freeze your limbs and makes your heart jump in your ears. Just keep going. The promise of happiness is there even when you stop on a landing, reluctant and scared to test your footing on the new elevation. If you wheel around and flee back down to the known territory of a lower stair, then it’s in the courage and curiosity that turns you around to take a tentative step up again.

My answer to a seemingly-simple question has unexpectedly anchored me over this past year of change, when I often wanted to stay on familiar turf even as I craved something else. Over and over, I've returned to the image of climbing up that staircase toward the answer to a clue. It has been the best homework assignment anyone has yet given me.

Months ago, I was idly browsing in a shop when a pocket notebook caught my eye. The notebook's cover was the original illustration for The Hidden Staircase; my childhood favorite was a later version. In mine, Nancy Drew looks apprehensive, cautious, perhaps even a bit frightened as she looks up the gray cobwebbed stone staircase.

As I looked closely at the original for the first time, I noticed that the earlier Nancy looks up the brighter staircase in anticipation, maybe even with a hint of eagerness in her eyes and open, slightly upturned mouth. In the 1930 version, Nancy Drew looks different as she contemplates the secrets of the hidden staircase before her.

Hidden Staircase cover

She looks happy.


I made the mistake of trying to walk through Herald Square this afternoon on my way over to the library. (Too many tourists!) One intersection where I had to wait was crowded with people looking at something on the street and staring up at a building. What was going on? Lines of NYPD cars two deep waited on the street.

"It's a 9/11 rehearsal."

"President Bush is in there."

"Someone fell off that building onto the street."

mawls mawls mawls!!!

At work today I was talking to an undergrad who is a native here. After we briefly discussed the subject of Where I'm From (which is not Texas), she said something about hearing that there are places in Texas "where you have to drive four hours to the nearest..."

And my mind was already filling in the blank with, "...bigger city." As in, how long you'd have to drive from Kansas City to get to another major city, like St. Louis, or even a smaller one like Des Moines.

"....mall," she finished. "I bet I could get to 10 malls in, like, 40 minutes from where I am!" she said, referring to her South Jersey home.

I tried not to laugh and, miraculously, succeeded. She is so young and so sincere and seems nice, and I felt so mean laughing in my head at the stereotype of Jersey and malls. It's not like my Midwestern suburban youth was devoid of malls; I worked in one in high school.

But ten! All within reach!

Texas ain't shit.


This is disturbing: Tonight I discovered you can be on a commuter train that hits and kills a person and not notice the impact.

I was on the 8:07 train out of New York, an express that was skipping the stops between Newark and New Brunswick. But tonight it didn't end up an express. I was listening to music and staring out the window.

"Why are we stopping at Elizabeth?" I wondered. That's about 10 minutes past Newark and a good twenty minutes or so before New Brunswick, what was supposed to be the next stop. I didn't notice anything different about the ride on the shiny new double decker NJ Transit train.

We sat stopped at the Elizabeth platform in silence. No announcements. I kept watching police walk past on the platform to a point I couldn't see behind me. "Was there a fight on the train?" the guy in front of me wondered aloud at the sight of all the police. Then a firefighter walked by with a ladder. We saw more police cars pull up to the station, and more cops kept heading down the platform.

Eventually another passenger read the new service alert from the NJ Transit web site:

"Due to trespasser fatality near Elizabeth, Northeast Corridor and North Jersey Coast Line trains subject to 20-30 minute delays between Newark and Trenton/Long Branch."

"Trespasser fatality" isn't what passengers called it.

"You're griping at me when someone just committed suicide?" a guy later said indignantly to someone on the other end of his cell phone call reporting his delay.

We eventually were told to go over to the opposite side of the station to get on another train. People filed off the train quietly from my car. The new double decker train sat across from us on the tracks, treated "like a crime scene," one of the train conductors said.

I can't believe it wasn't immediately obvious throughout the train that something horrible had happened.

It wasn't.

I wonder who she was.

News report after the link.

Continue reading "stopped" »


If you're in KC and not doing anything Saturday afternoon, check out this film and "community circus." I wish I could be there to go see it. The fundraiser is to drum up enough cash to cover additional film expenses like licensing for photos and music.

Support the documentary Our Mall and visit Indian Springs Mall before it goes away!!

Our Mall looks at malls locally, nationally and internationally to ask, "What killed our mall?" Our Mall is directed and produced by local filmmaker and UMKC professor Daven Gee. Gee's past films have screened around the world at festivals including Sundance and on public television. He has also worked on the Academy-Award nominated documentaries Regret to Inform and Promises.

Saturday September 15, 2-5pm.

A benefit and tribute with popcorn, snowcones, live music, mall tours, art, clowns, film preview, video crews, treasure hunt, bling and more!!!

Indian Springs Mall - West Entrance, Upper Level

4601 State Avenue (at I-635) KC, KS 66102

Suggested donations: $10 and up for adults, $5 kids and seniors

Purchase tickets at the event or online.

All donations are tax-deductible.

Non-profit sponsor, Greater Kansas City Community Foundation.

One of my favorite classes at UMKC was taught by Daven and Dana Collins (a sociology prof who is no longer there), and we looked at issues like race and gender through creative projects such as collages, films, and performance. (KC Sponge, were you in that class too, no?) So I am sad to miss this.

I would, of course, dearly love to see photos from it or hear about it from any of you who go. Hint, hint!

out with it

After about a week, I was able to get through an entire day without sobbing. I thought it might stay that way, but it hasn't. When I started crying again tonight, it wasn't because of the 9/11 anniversary and it wasn't because of a local blogger who died who everyone else in town is posting about. There it was again, welling up in me. Where is this coming from? Shouldn't I be less emotional about this by now? These other old and fresh losses just remind me of my--our--recent loss less than a month ago.

I feel like an imposter, like I don't have the right to claim this much grief. Maybe I'm not just crying about his too-early death but also the lives closest to his that still go on without him.

I didn't really know him well as an adult. We'd nod and say hi when I ran into him when I came into town, but that was about it. We both knew the basics about the other but didn't have much to say about it. No special reason for the disconnect, just the typical distance that comes from going too far in different directions for too long. Or something like that. That's what I tell myself, anyway.

But in some of my favorite childhood memories, he's there. We were the closest in age, barely over two years apart, so I remember when it was just the two of us when I was in town. We hid in closets and waived to trains in the backyard and tried, in vain, to pry the stuck skeleton key from a bedroom door. We fished for paper fish on the carpet. We shared cheese pizzas, picky eaters both.

Others' grief today unleashes my own again, and I don't know what to do with it. I don't know how to grieve this, so at the very end of my summer, I clamped shut even tighter. I avoided seeing people before I left town to return to school because I couldn't fake a cheery answer to questions about my summer. I couldn't be certain I wouldn't suddenly start sobbing. I couldn't pretend to care about much else. I didn't want to talk about it, but it didn't feel right talking about much else.

Back at school now, I feel guilty. While others are still dealing with the closeness of his absence, I get to skip away, distract myself endlessly. Too busy to dwell anymore, I need to Get Things Done. When I don't feel guilty for being far away--even though I'm not sure I'd be much good or even needed close by--I feel slightly manic. He's dead; I'm not. So live as much as I can, I think, I justify, I supress. How much can I cram in my days?

I feel melodramatic when I mourn yet, like I don't have the claim to feeling this strongly. But it's still there, and I need to honor it. I don't understand it; I can't comprehend the why of any of what happened. It's just that crying still feels like the most suitable response.


A bride jumped in to dance among the Central Park Dance Skaters Bicycle with ape hanger handlebars, furry seat, lots of other decoration

I have been, with good reason I won't relay here, fairly sullen and mournful of late. But on Saturday afternoon, pure bright joy scattered my moodiness.

After leaving the New York Historical Society's library, I rambled through Central Park and stumbled on a circle of skaters with their own DJ. I joined the watching crowd and had to smile at the fun; it was impossible not to. Even a nearby bride jumped in the middle and briefly danced, skateless, with the group. When I finally walked away after an hour, I noticed two girls next to the circle practicing, the taller one patiently teaching the other some skate moves, perhaps in anticipation of the afternoon when they'd burst into the open circle.

While watching the dancing, I thought, "I want to live in a city where this happens." Later I found out it's been happening regularly in Central Park since the late 1970s, when I was just a kid. Now it's organized as the Central Park Dance Skaters Association to ensure the group can still skate to amplified music spun by DJs. The association's founder described the skate circle as "a microcosm of what the world should be like," and judging from that afternoon, I'd have to agree. I haven't been so purely delighted in a long time. It's almost enough to make me go take lessons to join in myself.

dog days

I ended up idly scrolling through Gawker late on Thursday after googling Coney Island's Dreamland. I didn't know that New York is so deserted in August that Gawker hosted--not one, not two, but three posts all that afternoon bitching about former Pitch editor Tony Ortega in his latest role as the head of the Village Voice. (Harsh rejection emails! A "pissy, irritable" editor!) Maybe that's what you get with a pay structure based on the number of posts a day (that is, if Gawker still works that way).

I guess at least they post, which is more than I can say here lately.