[iceland] textures.

touch is a vital sense, and i want to touch everything. it's an extension of my desire, too, to feel everything.

i want to touch you.

i want to feel everything there is to feel about you.

THE TEXTURE OF VEGETATION

moss is springy to the touch, rough but pleasant. it reminds me of carpet, but in a nice way, which maybe sounds contradictory because i hate carpet — like, i hate carpet. especially in spaces where people wear shoes on carpet because i just don't understand that, tracking all that dust and street muck willfully and intentionally around on carpet.

i shudder just to think of it.


i learn that the middle cousin hates the feel of grass under his feet, that the eldest used to tease him when he was a baby by lowering him so his bare feet touched the grass.

i think that i kind of like the feeling of cool grass underneath my feet, find it interesting how grass imparts the feeling of wetness before you start really feeling the physical dampness of it. i like the grass in iceland; it grows tall and falls over on itself; and walking through it is like walking on giant cushions. you have to be careful, though, because it's easy to misstep or to step into a pit in the ground, hidden by grass, or to be like me, to step wrong and twist your ankle.

i have weak ankles. it doesn't stop me from traipsing around half the time in converse.

would you yell at me for this? would you laugh-scold me like my cousins do, telling me to wear my proper hiking shoes? would you roll your eyes at me, bundle up towels at night and tell me to elevate my leg, bring me ice to reduce the swelling?

or would i be the one fussing over you, telling you to be more careful, get away from that cliff edge, the ground is unstable, can you please not plummet to your death, please? would you make me worry, even as we go scrambling up rock faces together? would you slip and fall by a waterfall, come back up laughing, dusting the mud off your hands, off your jacket?

would you hate the feeling of grass under your bare feet?

or would you go be the one to take your shoes off and go running off with the grass between your toes, laughing at the way it tickles and shouting, you should do this, too?! as you go rolling down a hill?

THE TEXTURE OF STONES

in iceland, we talk about how the island was formed through volcanic activity, how these incredible formations we see have been created over time, through erosion, through natural occurrence. it makes me think about the past, but it also makes me think about the future, about my future, about this crossroads i find myself at and the directions i should be taking.

i think about applying to grad school, about conquering my irrational fears that i'm not smart enough, not focused enough, not creative enough to get accepted anywhere. i think about my book, about the work that still needs to be done, about querying and submitting and dealing with rejections. i think about what i want to do with my life, where i want to go, who i want to be.

i think about you.

my brother recently got married, and he's younger than i am, so it raises extra questions of when i'll get married. i think my parents are waiting for this, for me to meet the “right” person, for that wedding, for that future, for grandchildren, but that future of seeming domestic bliss has always registered in my brain as the worst possible nightmare. i may have struggled with figuring out what i want from my life and for my life, but i've always known clearly what i don't want, and it's exactly that — the requisite husband, the children, the suburban home and minivan and 9-to-6.

and that, to me, is the beauty of choice. i have friends who are very happily wedded with multiple children, and i thrill for them. i have friends who homeschool, who give up their careers to be stay-at-home parents, who live their lives making sacrifices for their children. i thrill for all of them because that is what they want — it's what they've chosen.

it is not something i choose.


when i think about you, when i think about the kind of life we might have together, i think about this. i think about open roads and different countries and new experiences. i think about the freedom to be, to exist when and where we want. i think about stamps in passports, all kinds of cuisines, languages and cultures and peoples.

i think about venturing into countries where we don't speak the language, about jumping out of planes and off bridges and into bodies of water, about losing our way in strange cities but being okay — we're together, and, together, we'll be okay.

i think about looking over at you and saying, hey, let's go here, hey, i want to go there, and i think about you saying, yeah, let's do it, and making it happen, no ifs, ands, or buts about it.

i think about all that possibility out there in the world, waiting to be known, to be discovered together.

i think about you.

THE TEXTURE OF WATER

water shape-shifts, becomes a different thing in different forms. as water, it can be still and calm, reflective of the world around it, or it can be a living, furious, raging thing. as steam, it can be hot, scalding upon contact, smoothing out wrinkles and opening up pores. as ice, it can be freezing and slippery, a hazard upon which to venture.

i think about people and moods because i can be moody, can be temperamental. it’s one of the character flaws i know most about myself, something i struggle against constantly, a battle i lose sometimes and do better with at other times.

before i fly out to iceland, i’m afraid that my moodiness will assert itself and put a damper on the trip. i worry that i’ll fatigue of being attached to people at all times a day, non-stop for two weeks. i worry that i’ll retreat into myself, become silent and sullen, and i worry that i’ll lose my temper.

the two weeks go by smoothly without incident, though, and i credit a great part of that to my cousins, to their personalities and their brightness. i think about myself, too, wonder if i’ve changed, if i’ve gone back to who i am at core, though what that means, i’m still not sure. i wonder about who i “actually” am under all the “issues,” under the depression and the anxiety and the panic attacks. i’ve been in such difficult headspace for so long that it’s become habit to question who i am underneath all that, what the purpose of medication and therapy is, if there’s even a fix for all the darkness. it’s become habit to question if this depression is who i am, this despair and hopelessness, if it isn’t a futile thing to try to get better because this is all there is. this is all i am.

because the thing is that i’ve always been someone who laughs a lot, who laughs at everything, and i’ve been told all my life that i’m a bright person, a kind person, and, yet, that feels so contradictory to the damage i feel has broken me.

and one consequence of that is that i doubt constantly if i’m someone who can be loved. i get scared that my moodiness will scare you away, if my temperament will turn you off, and i get scared that i’m too broken to be loved by you. i get scared that i’m too broken to love you.

i’m learning to quell such fears, though, because they’re as unfounded as the fears that keep me from applying to grad school, from pursuing the things i want. we work at love, and we put ourselves out there, and we risk being hurt, being disappointed, just like we risk inflicting that same hurt and disappointment. it’s the only way we can thrive, though, running that risk, and it’s why i have no patience for people who are risk-averse. the best things in life require risk, and, if risking the best parts of me is necessary to find you, to have you, to love you and be loved by you, then it’s something i’ll learn to do.

[iceland] we're just living in it.

so much of iceland feels like we've left earth behind.

maybe that's partly to do with the fact that we're on holiday and we're in a new country and we're all feeling pretty suspended from reality — like, there's work back in the states and future summer plans and to-do lists, but we're here, driving around this country of unworldly beauty in a camper van.

when i think about it later, i think, did that really happen, did we really do that, or was it just a dream?

and i think, can i go back to that dream?

i can't believe that, a week ago, i was in iceland.

mars-02.jpg

my little cousin carries a thermos of hot cocoa around with her at all times. at first, we fill it with ghirardelli's my aunt brought from the states, but we run out of that, so we buy hot cocoa when we're buying eggs and milk and apples. (we eat a lot of apples and bananas in iceland. and tomatoes. tomatoes are freaking good in iceland.) we buy giant tins of swiss miss because that's what we can find and we decide that the giant tin is more economical than a box of 10 envelopes, and that turns out to be accurate because it's a sizable thermos, and we also drink hot cocoa out of cups for breakfast and dinner sometimes.

we finish 2 giant tins of swiss miss in roughly a week.

my aunt also buys cartons and cartons of almond milk, and, when she and my uncle and cousin return to the states a week before we do, she leaves behind five cartons, tasking my cousins with drinking it all. we cook oatmeal with it in the mornings, but the rest is left to my little cousin, who chugs it with toast, with lunch, with rice mixed with beef and eggs.

the middle cousin and i prefer cow milk instead.

but, anyway, the point was that my little cousin carries a thermos of hot cocoa around with her at all times, even when we're hiking up and down mountains or walking through alien landscapes smoking sulfuric smells. she'll carry the hot cocoa, though she'll hand her jacket over to me when she gets hot, and i get used to tying discarded jackets around my waist.

luckily, she shares the hot cocoa. the little one doesn't need sugar to make herself giddy. she comes naturally charged that way.


sometimes, i think it must be weird to know a writer who'll turn you into a character in the stories she tells. it must be strange to come across something and find yourself so casually mentioned, to find yourself a character in someone else's life, in someone else's story, which, i suppose, we all are, really — we're all characters in other people's lives.

we can't control what people think of us, how they perceive us, what they believe about us. we can't control how they interpret our actions or the insecurities they project onto us. we can't control how they try to place us within the narratives of their own lives.

and i think that's something i've learned to let go of over the last few years. instead, i've been turning it around to the realization that, while i can't control how someone considers me, i can control how she/he/they make me feel. that kind of power is not something i have to hand over to someone, and it is not something anyone deserves or is entitled to.

similarly, i can't control how people feel about me. i can try and make the effort to put my best foot forward and to be the best person i can be, but, ultimately, i can't control how someone decides to react personally to me and my actions.

this, too, is something i've been learning about communication — that it requires us to go in these roundabout loops sometimes, where our intentions and meanings get lost and twisted and lock us in frustrating back-and-forths in the hopes of reaching a point of understanding. when i was a child, i hated this, thought it was wasted breath and effort, trying to get people (namely my parents) to understand. now, though, i think it's a struggle worth engaging in, especially when the relationship means something to you and has value and is worth preserving.

i mean, no one says interpersonal relationships are easy.


as it turns out, i like talking. i like engaging. as it turns out, i'm not as much an introvert (or misanthrope) at my core as i thought i was. as it turns out, i like people. i kinda like people a whole lot.
 

one of my favorite things about iceland is the midnight sun. i love that there is light at all times, that it looks like blue hour from 11:30 pm to 5 am.

we fall into a routine of sleeping late and waking late, and we usually leave campgrounds around 11:30 am, maybe noon. we don't worry about this, though, don't follow a schedule obsessively, because the point is to enjoy the country, not stress out over things we might be missing because we're in such a hurry.

there's the midnight sun, too, the fact that there is always light, so we don't need to worry about making it from one campground to the next before dark. we don't need to worry about getting stuck in the mountains or along a fjord or in the middle of nowhere, not even a tiny town nearby, before dark. we don't need to worry about a whole lot — or, at least, i don't worry about a whole lot.

the thing i do worry about, though, is the state of our tires, and, one morning, i go to the bathroom to wash up and am walking back to our van when i notice that our left rear tire has deflated overnight. i think, oh shit, it happened, and i think, oh shit, even more because i know that, while we have a spare tire, we have neither the tools nor the knowledge to change our tire.

i wake the eldest up, and we go to the hotel down the hill to ask if there's a tire place nearby. the receptionist is professional but unhelpful, telling us the nearest person is about a 10-minute drive away — and our tire is too low to drive on gravel roads without risking damage to the rim.

we're standing at the counter, frustrated and concerned because we have a ferry to catch and it'll take hours for roadside assistance to get to us. as we consider cancelling the ferry and just hiking around the area and finding a hot spring while we wait, a man comes up to us and says he thinks he has tools in his car — if he does, he'd be happy to help us out.


i think one of the things traveling teaches you is about the kindness of strangers.

sometimes, it's a big kindness, like taking time out of your morning, out of your trip, to help strangers change the tire on their car because you overheard them talking to the receptionist, and you overheard her saying it'd probably be four hours before help could reach them.

sometimes, it's a small kindness, like stepping in when you see a stupid foreigner (aka me) at a market, mumbling about wanting milk but not being able to read the labels, intervening when you see her reaching for something that is not milk and pointing her to the right cartons, explaining that the blue carton is thicker milk and the yellow carton is thinner milk. sometimes, it's stopping to offer help with directions or to offer to take a group photo.

and you learn not only to receive such kindnesses with grace and thanks but also to offer it. i think that's always something nice to be reminded of, this notion of paying it forward, that we should strive to give back at least as much as we have received.

and i'm constantly encouraged to see this in the literary community, in the support we try to show each other, whether by reading each other's work, sharing each other's work, or simply offering comfort and support and encouragement when it's needed. i'm not saying this is something exclusive or unique to the literary community, simply that this is the community i know and and participate in and love, that i am lucky enough to find myself in a community, particularly of asian-american women writers, that is warm and invested and supportive. it's a wonderful thing and not something i take for granted.

the eldest explains that the black sand is from lava that's cooled, become rock, and has been broken down into sand. the eldest has a lot of explanations for things, so we start asking her everything, like, how long do sheep live? and how many babies do sheep have? and do only male sheep have horns?

we have a lot of questions about sheep because we really like the sheep.

at one point on the eastern coast, there is a beach where chunks of glaciers sometimes maroon themselves while on their way out to sea. it's called a diamond beach because some of the glaciers break down into smaller bits and scatter themselves on the black sand beach, so they look like (surprise, surprise) diamonds.

the little one picks up a chunk of ice and cradles it in her arms, licking it to taste it. the middle one is like, ew, why would you do that, that was on the ground — but, then, i lick it, too, because i want to taste it. it tastes like clean water, and i could keep licking away at it like a popsicle if it weren't weird to be standing in the middle of a beach, holding a chunk of glacier in my arms.

black sand feels softer and finer than regular sand. it feels denser, too, and it's easier to walk on because i sink less, don't feel the ground slipping away from under my feet and filtering unpleasantly into my shoes. i prefer how dramatic black sand looks, too, like the blackness, the  origins, the relative rareness of it.

i like how it contrasts against the vivid blue of icelandic waters.

bluelagoon-01.jpg

we do the tourist thing and go to the blue lagoon, and we have a repeat at the baths at myvatn in north iceland.

the water is that otherworldly blue, which the eldest explains is a result of the silica content in the water, and we go gasping from the changing room, in 6-degrees celsius weather, into the hot water. we sink into it with relief, feel our bodies melting and relaxing, and we go wading around (the water isn't deep; when i stand, it maybe comes up to my waist), only our heads floating above that blue.

we're told not to put our hair in the water because the sulfur is bad for hair, so we tie our hair in buns on top of our heads. the middle plunges his head into the water anyway, and the little one follows suit, and she marvels over the smoothness of her skin but the roughness of her hair the next day.

we get really close on this trip. we shower in the communal, public shower, and i think, wow, i haven't seen so many naked bodies since i was in korea in 2012.

i think, hey, it's nothing to be so weird about. a body is just a body. my body is just a body.


after the baths at myvatn, we drive to the campground nearby. it's past midnight when we get there, and the campground is packed because it's in a beautiful location, right by water. my aunt and uncle and cousin will be leaving us early in the morning to drive back to reykjavik to catch their afternoon flight back to the states, and we're all washed and clean and happy from the baths, so we decided to make ramyeon outside.

we're the only ones awake, and there are tents pitched near our table, so we talk in whispers while we wait for the water to boil. we cook two packets first and eat them, cook a third when my aunt and uncle walk over. they don't want any, though, so we eat the third ourselves.

it's one am, and we're sitting at this table on a campground by water in north iceland, and it's bright out, no need for flashlights or headlights or lamps. the sky is pink and blue, and the clouds look like cotton candy, and i think, god, this is such a dream world, and, god, how is this real. i think, god damn, how lucky i am to be alive.

[iceland] eat the world to learn the world.

okay, this title is a little disingenuous. we cook more than we eat out in iceland.

i take a v60 filter, a hand grinder, and a baby cast iron and fish spatula (and apron) with me to iceland. the v60 is one that doesn’t require paper filters, and we use it pretty much every day because we’re coffee drinkers and we need coffee all day. i use the baby cast iron to fry eggs, make grilled cheeses, cook bacon, and i scrub it with salt and a wet paper towel and don’t really give a shit because it’s cast iron — it’s meant to be worn, to be beat up, because it’s built ti withstand shit.

that makes me think about bodies, about fear and a love for speed because i love to drive fast, and i love the exhilaration and adrenaline rush that comes from it. on our last night in iceland, we go for a midnight ATV ride and we drive up and down rocky mountain paths, up and down zig-zag, potholed roads, and i feel my body tensing each time, afraid of being flung off the ATV or whatever.

i tell myself to relax, to trust the machine, to trust my body. i tell myself to let go.


in iceland, i watch my cousins go scampering up and down rocks and mountain paths made slippery by water and/or gravel without fear, and i envy them that. it’s not the fearlessness that i envy, but the ease they have with their bodies, the faith they have in the strength and ability of their bodies. i grew up hating my body, wanting to disappear it, despising it for its size and weight and heft, and i never felt that lightness my cousins seem to have, flying down these paths like their bodies are made of air, like they’re unbreakable and light and free.

it’s only recently that my body has started to feel less cumbersome. part of it is that i've physically lost weight, not intentionally but more consequentially, but most of it is that i've ceased to see it exclusively as a burden, as something to be rendered invisible.

that's not to say that i'm suddenly free of the body dysmorphia and body hatred that i've carried for most of my life. i still struggle with my body, and i still struggle with eating, with food, with limitations. it's been a learning curve, learning to trust my body, to listen to its needs, to know that my body will tell me when it's hungry, what it's craving, what those cravings mean. my body will tell me when my sugar is about to drop or spike, when it's dehydrated, when it's exhausted and needs to stop and rest. similarly, my body will lean the way it needs when i take a turn on my ATV; it will support me as i scramble up rocks after my cousins; and it is capable of so much more than i think it is. maybe i should trust it more and let go.

my aunt packs two giant duffel bags of food and brings them with her. she's made a ton of 장조림 (jang-jo-reem, braised beef cubes, served cold) and 고추장보끔 (go-chu-jang-bo-kkeum, sautéed red pepper paste with beef and mushrooms), and she brings kimchi — yes, kimchi — and rice and so many packages of ramyeon.

when my aunt and uncle leave, it's on me to feed everyone. it's not like i've been assigned this task; it's simply one i like to assume because i like food and i like to cook and i like to feed people.

i cook a giant pot of spaghetti, using spaghetti sauce from a jar, something i haven't done in years, something i won't do again unless i have to. (i love terrible pre-packaged food, but spaghetti sauce is not on that list.) i make it with onions and mushrooms and steak meat, left over from when my aunt makes 김치찌개 (kimchi jjigae, kimchi stew), and i cook two boxes of spaghetti noodles at one time, rinse them off, and stuff them into sandwich ziploc bags. we eat cold spaghetti for meals the next few days; we eat it hot when we have a kitchen in a hostel.

when i cook rice, i place eggs on top of the rice, and we peel them in the car, leave the shells in the emptying cartons. on windy, rainy days, we set up our burner stove on our table in our camper van and cook ramyeon, and we eat it directly out of the pot, adding cold rice when the noodles run out. in the mornings, we boil water in a pot, pour it into mugs for coffee and hot chocolate, and my little cousin becomes an expert at balancing the v60 over the narrow mouth of our thermoses. i make grilled cheeses on my cast iron; we hand around a container of skyr; and we end up eating the entire pound of smjör butter over our two weeks, smearing it on slices of sourdough rounds we buy in bakeries in reykjavik and akureyri.

for lunch, we make sandwiches in the van, and i smear mayo on a slice of sandwich bread, top it with a slice of gouda and some sandwich meat. we eat our sandwiches with these norwegian chips i immediately get obsessed with, buying another bag in another flavor every time i run out (ultimately, we eat 4 bags of these chips). when we do eat out, we look for fish because the fish in iceland is so good; we eat fish and chips three times. i eat lamb kebabs twice.

and, then, i eat a lot — and i mean, a lot — of hot dogs.

i eat a lot of hot dogs in iceland. here's a small sampling.

icelandic hot dogs have a snap to them that american hot dogs don't, and they're made with more lamb than they are beef, which isn't a surprise given that sheep outnumber humans 2:1. they're served in soft buns with ketchup, mayo, icelandic mustard, fried onions, and raw onions, and they are delicious indeed, not too salty and delightfully balanced.

when we arrive in stykkisholmur, off the ferry from brjanslaekur, we stop by a hot dog truck that crumbles up doritos and creates variations on the hot dog using them.

maybe it sounds disgusting and horrifying, but they're great — crumbled up doritos add a nice crunch and a subtle flavoring — and i think maybe it works because doritos in iceland are also less saltier, less intensely flavored than they are stateside. (of course, i tried doritos in iceland.)

and it’s funny because my cousins don’t know what to make of my fascination with shitty processed food. hot dogs are one thing, and spam is another (one of my cousins tries spam for the first time ever in iceland) (my aunt brings spam), but my little cousin in particular can’t seem to wrap her head around my love for really, really shitty instant mac n cheese, especially given how much i love to cook and love good food.

my father finds this weird, too, wonders at my love for cheap, greasy street tacos, but i don’t know — some foods are meant to be cheap and disgusting, and, as much as i love gourmet mac and cheese, i do love the instant shit that coagulates and turns a questionable shade of almost green as it cools. 

that sounds more disgusting and horrifying than doritos crumbled onto a hot dog, doesn’t it? i love it, anyway. i don’t like gourmet tacos, though. tacos should be greasy and cheap and simple.

when i travel, i allow myself one fancy dinner, and, in iceland, i make a reservation at resto. here are notes.

the seafood soup is delectable, creamy but not heavy; i could eat a giant bowl of this. i eat goose for the first time, and the server tells me to be careful of any remains of shotgun pellets, which is something that alarms me after i've cleared my plate, thoughtfully chewing the goose and wondering what i think of it, if i like it. (i'm not sure that i like goose.) when i'm thinking about goose while waiting for the next course, i think there's something nice about that note of caution, that, as consumers, as eaters, we should remember that food comes from somewhere, that it doesn't simply come prepared on our plates. animals are slaughtered for our meat; people labor for our produce; and it's too easy to forget the cost involved.

next is a hand pie, hot and crispy on the outside, warm and rich on the inside. i don't eat the olives because i'm still not an olive-eater (i'm not the keenest on briny flavors), but i love the bitter crunch of what i want to call radish but am fairly sure isn't radish. i don't know as much about food as i wish i did, and i'm clearly a terrible note-taker.

the main course is langoustine, which is something i've never heard of. the tiny lobster tails make me wonder, "did the dish come with lobster?" because the body of the langoustine has a soft, fish-like texture. the tails, too, are more fish-like than lobster-like in texture, but, as it goes, a langoustine is a norway lobster, and it's smaller than typical lobsters.

and then for dessert, there’s ice cream — or, at least, ice cream is the dessert i pick. by then, it’s late, almost eleven pm, and i’m exhausted because i have my fancy meal my first night in iceland, and i’ve barely slept, so i’m thinking dessert will be kind of whatever. it’s fig ice cream, though, and it. is. so. good. i don’t know why i had doubts about dessert after the fabulous tasting menu that preceded it.

resto gets a thumbs-up from me. thanks to my friend for recommending it!

[iceland] colors.

when i travel, i write love stories, and this story is about you.

it's when i travel that i want a partner most, and it's when i travel that i miss you most. to say "i miss you" is an odd idea in and of itself because you're still an idea — i'm afraid you'll always be an idea — but "i miss you" is the only accurate way to describe these feelings, this ache. i miss you, i miss you, i miss you — i miss you though we never were.

i come to iceland blind, and by that i mean that i come to iceland without a story in mind. when i backpacked through japan in 2012, i had a story i was working on, one i'd started writing as i was planning the trip, doing more research than i would ever do for any other trip, imagining the country and wondering how i would experience it in real life.

japan aligned surprisingly well with the japan i saw in my brain, and that story grew, expanded, as i made my way around that country. i kept a regular travel journal that time, filling the silent spaces with words i'd jot down in a notebook, notes on characters i'd see and situate in the country around me. as i spent time in hostels, i wondered about the interactions between strangers, something i've discovered is an obsession of mine — i'm still curious about how we meet people, how we interact with each other, how strangers become acquaintances become friends and lovers and family and more.

and, so, i think about you, a stranger i've brought to life in my head, and i compose stories about you, about us. for some reason, traveling brings out the sentimental in me.

THE COLOR OF VEGETATION

a few years ago, i wrote a story with the same title as this blog, a story about two people who meet when one is traveling and arrives in the other's city. they're not total strangers; they share a mutual friend who's spoken of them to each other; but they meet by coincidence and kiss and start getting to know each other.

it's a story in epistolary form, one writing to the other as they continue their friendship with an ocean between them, a friendship that becomes something more, though they're both afraid to confront what that means, what it might look like when they're long-distance and one of them travels a lot for work — and i don't quite know why i'm launching into a summary of that story here, except maybe that it's a story that i love (and am currently unsure what to do with; it's in that weird limbo of being complete but still maybe needing some work before being submitted again).

that story wasn't about you, which maybe makes mention of it even stranger. let's try this again.


in iceland, i'm constantly taken away by the colors, and i stop to take as detailed photos of flora as my iphone allows. i don't know anything about photography, really; i don't even own a "proper" camera or understand light or exposure or know any technical terms; but none of that clearly stops me from taking photos of everything and sharing them on the internet.

(maybe i believe that it's like something one of my few favorite bloggers/designers tweeted once: no one asks a chef what kind of oven she uses.)

given my penchant for oversharing, i wonder how much of us i might share with the internet. how public would i get? how much would i want to say? i’m not so good at hiding, so how much of how i’m feeling at any given time would leak out?

what are the benefits to being so public, anyway? about whatever it is — what i’m reading, what i’m thinking, how i’m dealing with depression and/or anxiety and/or type 2? why do i do this, and would i continue this with you?

how might you react to it?

how might you react to me stopping to take photos of everything, losing my breath over the sheer beauty of the world around me? would it amuse you, or would it irritate you? would you find it foolish, or would you find it charming? would you laugh and wait patiently as i pause for half-a-minute to get my photo, as i reach for you and proclaim my wonder at some stupidly beautiful nature that opens itself before us? would you share in that wonder?

how much of fiction originates in what we imagine for our own lives?

THE COLOR OF STONES

when i’m driving around iceland, i imagine us together, you in the passenger seat, blasting a playlist of cheesy pop and snacking on everything sweet and salty. when i’m hiking or scrambling up rocks, i imagine you reaching for my hand, lacing your fingers through mine. when i’m sleeping, lined up like a sardine in a tin can in our camper van, i imagine you beside me, your body pressed against mine for extra warmth.

sometimes, i think this is a peculiar loneliness of mine, or maybe just a peculiar antidote to loneliness, to imagine a person into being. sometimes, i think it’s kind of crazy, crazy in that i’ve-lost-my-mind sort of way, but, other times, i think the need for a fellow human being is a need so fundamental to all humans that i’m inclined just to shrug it off and run with it. i get good stories out of it, anyway, stories rooted in place, influenced by place, stories that examine this human want and need and desire.

that’s one of the fun parts of writing, i think, discovering our obsessions, and human relations will always be one of mine. Othering, binaries, fear of differences are others. depression and suicide — or, maybe, put more broadly, that complex human compulsion for self-annihilation runs under everything.

we’re talking about place here, though, how i’m writing this story about you in iceland, so here’s this: i’ve never written a story set in los angeles; i’ve never felt that kind of pull, that need to remember this place. my father comments on my sieve of a memory, my subconscious impulse to forget, and it’s true — it’s not intentional, this forgetting, but i have gaps in my memory of my childhood and youth, many things i don’t remember or maybe have chosen to forget.

sometimes, that scares me because i don’t want to be the forgetting kind. i mean, i’d want to remember everything about you.

THE COLOR OF WATER

i think about the unknowability of you, how much we can ever know about another. i think about the things i will never know about you, no matter how close we were to become. i think about the depths we contain, the shadows that pull at us unknown to others, and i think about what it means to know someone, anyway — how do we know we know enough to make that claim?

i think a lot about this in the context of parents because i think one of the weird things about growing up is realizing that our parents are fully-formed people with pasts and histories and wants of their own. they’re not just our parents, there to love us and provide for us and guide us; they have personalities of their own, flaws, desires. they have ambitions they gave up for us, and they have sacrifices they made and continue to make, and they exist as human beings outside the context of our parent-child relationships.

in similar ways, i think how parenting must sometimes be a constant process of letting go. when a child is born, i imagine her/his/their parents might have so many expectations and wants for her/him/them. the child grows, though, demonstrates an individual, unique personality and will all her/his/their own, maybe deviates from the life they might have wanted for the child, and i think about that struggle of coming to terms with a child’s individuality, with her/his/their exertion of her/his/their own self, maybe seemingly sometimes at the expense of a parent’s happiness and peace of mind.

and, so, i think about you and everything about you i will never know. you’re essentially a character in my mind, but i will still never know everything about you. that’s the way of fiction, though, because fiction is, at heart, about life, and life is complicated and nuanced and unknowable.

we try, though. we make the effort to know, and we make the effort to be known. i suppose it’s what makes me be so stupidly public about everything, even this you i’ve made up in my head.

[iceland] stupid beautiful.

i spend two weeks driving around iceland with my cousins, and we spend the two weeks in intensely close quarters, in a camper van, in which we eat and sleep and travel. we start in reykjavik and end in reykjavik — or, i suppose, if we’re being technical, we start at keflavik airport and end at keflavik airport, making our way around the entire country, stopping for hikes and waterfalls and breathtakingly beautiful landscapes.

iceland is a country that takes your breath away by being stupid beautiful and stupid expensive. it's a country of colors and textures, of water in all kinds of hues, of food that makes you cry every time you purchase it because, yes, it's good — the fish is amazing, the hot dogs addictive — but it's all so, so expensive.

gas stations end up being the bane of my existence, and i think how it's always the random things, the things you don't think about that catch you off-guard when traveling. in japan, it was small talk, the value of it; in korea, it was the weirdness of sharing a language and a culture but being so outside both; and, in iceland, it's gas stations. for some reason, i never have a smooth transaction at any gas station.

ocean-01.jpg

my cousins are on my father's side of my family, and, for the longest time, for so many years, my greatest "what if?" was "what if my father had gotten a job on the east coast and i'd grown up where i was born in close proximity to my cousins? how different would i be now?"

it's a “what if” that took me years, over a decade, to shake, and it's a “what if” i still sometimes think about, especially during family gatherings, when all the extended family (or as much of it) gets together during a holiday, exchanging our usual "hi"s and "how are you doing"s, collecting again in that strange space of familiarity and strangeness. i've always hated that distance, of "it's been so long"s, because i've always hated that sense of knowing but not knowing them, of my cousins existing in this space of myth where their accomplishments loomed larger to me than their actual selves.

my cousins are brilliant, and, because my father is the fifth child of six, i'm one of the youngest ones, a child who watched from a distance with something akin to hero worship as news of my cousins on the east coast filtered down to me through my parents. i grew up hoping i'd be like them, that my future would be ivy leagued and bright, that i would discover an excellence and genius within me that would vault me onto their level. i always felt a disappointment when i remained firmly on the ground and never learned to fly.

but, anyway, i don't believe in hero worship anymore, and i try not to linger on "what if"s or on regrets or hypotheticals. of course, it's all easier said than done most times, but there is still this, this refusal to be tied down to this kind of negative bullshit anymore.

and, anyway, so, my cousins are on my father's side of my family, and they're my youngest aunt's kids, and they're younger than i am, which means i remember them from when they were babies. the eldest is almost in her mid-twenties now, which is bloody weird, and the youngest is fifteen, which is even weirder. i remember her when she was a baby, when my aunt would make my middle-school-aged brother carry her on his back when we were hiking in canada, and i remember her as a child, laughing and laughing and laughing like all she could do was laugh, like she'd cease to exist if she stopped laughing.

she still laughs non-stop, from the second she wakes up to the second she falls asleep, and i love this about her, this mirth that bubbles from her core, that draws you into her world of joy and makes you see the world as a brighter place. i think we could all use someone like that in our lives.

at night, we sleep like sardines in the van, and we fall into a routine of prepping for sleep at night and packing up in the morning. it's not as bad as i'm afraid it will be, this sleeping in a camper van for two weeks, though i feel terrible for the eldest because the other three of us snore.

(snoring is one of those things i feel terrible about, even though it's nothing i can control.)

the eldest is a study of patience, and she sees the positive to everything and everyone. i, on the other hand, often feel uncharitable for being unable to maintain such a view to life, and, sometimes, i wish i were a gentler, more forgiving soul. i'm irritable, though, and impatient and transparent about both, and i can be argumentative and moody and occasionally combative, despite being pretty non-confrontational by nature. 

i worry about these parts of my personality before leaving for iceland because i know my tendency to max out quickly on close human contact. i'm not someone who does well attached to a human (or a set of humans) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and i know i wear my emotions on my face, that my annoyance comes through easily, that i'm not the greatest at hiding my displeasure when it arrives.

it feels like a miracle that the two weeks pass without incident, with only one occasion when my temper comes roiling to the surface. it has nothing to do with my cousins, though, and everything to do with the sheer physical exhaustion that comes from a lot of hiking, constant movement, and anxiety-dream-riddled sleep. i don't sleep well in strange places as it is, and add my anxiety to it, and sleep — or restful sleep — is still that unicorn i chase.

it helps, though, that the eldest is so patient, the middle silent and stoic, the youngest so mirthful. it’s impossible to fester in foul moods or testiness around that combination, just like it’s impossible to lose time to anything ugly in a country that takes your breath away constantly. iceland is unreal, painted in colors that stun even the imagination, and our two weeks feel like a dream, like we’re suspended from reality, and it’s a place from which i’m loathe to return.

our second-to-last evening, we check into a hostel to sleep in proper beds in proper heating because two of us are getting sick and we all need showers.  i reheat cold spaghetti on the stove and cook the rest of our rice, and we sit around the table, eating, drinking the last of our rosé, and talking. i think, this is kind of what i envisioned from this trip, being able to sit and chat — which isn’t to say that the rest of the trip is a disappointment because it’s not. you don’t have to sit around a table to get to know people; you learn a lot just from being around them.

it’s a particularly nice evening, nicer because my cousins are older and i feel comfortable talking to them, being open with them. they’re all smart kids, smart and curious and ambitious and wounded and human, and i want to keep them with me all the time, am saddened by the fact that we’ll be in four different cities again, that an opportunity like this will be difficult to come by again.

we say, let's do this again. let's road trip around korea; let's go to spain — and i want these to be words we don't just say but things that can actually happen at some point in the near future, things that can be possibilities. let's go here, let's go there — i want this to be the framework of my life because i want to travel and see the world and eat everything, and i want to live on the road, to return to my home city for a few days, a few weeks at a time, before venturing on to the next city, the next country, again.

and maybe that's the hard part about traveling, that it cracks open that part of me that i keep locked so tightly because i don't have the financial means to travel as i'd like. when i'm back at the office, back at work, i spend too long looking up flights to barcelona, wondering if it's wiser to save when i can or just to travel when i can, and i try to quell that familiar ache blooming again in my gut — i want to go; i want to go; i want to go.

i have never wanted to be just here, wherever here is, and driving around iceland in a camper van for two weeks reminds me of that, brings all that rushing back and slithering again under my skin. i want to go; i want to go; i want to go.