Specifically, experts’ advice on how parents can help their kids cope with the big changes, especially all the emotions they’re likely feeling, like increased anxiety. Check it out at the Toddle About website. I wrote this in conjunction with Free Association Books (whose authors I consulted for the expert advice).
In my writing classes in college, one of the poets I often tried to imitate was Lucille Clifton. She had the wonderful ability to use as few words as possible to convey an idea beautifully and completely — by many definitions, that is exactly what poetry is, but so often length, rhyme, form, and complex wordplay clutter it up. Not in Clifton’s poetry. She wrote short lines, often adding up to just a few stanzas, using all lowercase letters and only necessary punctuation. Adjectives were used sparingly, and somehow metaphor was rarely necessary; these two loom so large in poetry in general, but after reading the few, perfect words Clifton chooses in each poem, you begin to wonder why we need them at all.
Clifton’s poems are funny, quietly poignant, intimate, inclusive. Reading poems like “blessing the boats,” you do actually feel a holy hand upon your forehead, the warmth of a sincere wish for safe passage across the unknown ocean of the future: “may you kiss/the wind then turn from it/certain that it will/love your back.” (And of course, this is the poem that is all metaphor, so okay.) Reading “here rests,” you delight in the picture of Clifton’s sister, who brought her pimp with her to read to her ailing father, getting her just reward after death: “may heaven be filled/with literate men/may they bed you/with respect.”
There’s no mistaking that Clifton grew up black in the Jim Crow era, that being a black woman informed much of what she wrote. Her eulogy for James Byrd Jr., lynched by white supremacists in 1998, echoes with the thousands of lynchings that came before and the fear of more to come: “why and why and why/should i call a white man brother?/who is the human in this place,/the thing that is dragged or the dragger?” Even “homage to my hips,” a joyous celebration of the particular curves of her body, doesn’t forget the wrongs done to bodies like hers for centuries in the United States: “these hips/are free hips./they don’t like to be held back./these hips have never been enslaved,/they go where they want to go/they do what they want to do.”
Clifton wrote about family, biblical characters, sensual encounters, the cancer she survived, the baby she had who didn’t. She often wrote about death and life and the shimmering, barely-there line between the two. She never wrote anything trite or superficial, but even her poems that grieve most openly about personal or historic tragedy are imbued with hope, a sense that there is always something in this world to celebrate — and to share with one another.
Today, I took in:
James Fallows’ “Have They No Sense of Decency?” in The Atlantic
Mark Oppenheimer’s “How to Turn a Red State Purple (Democrats Not Required)” in Politico
an embarrassing number of Castle episodes while I worked on some admin tasks
a short blog post for tomorrow
a little more work on Spanish with Duolingo
Today, I took in:
Edna Ferber’s “The Gay Old Dog” and Sherwood Anderson’s “Brothers” in 100 Years of the Best American Short Stories
Ruth Theodore’s album Cactacus
Three episodes of Season 1 of Killjoys
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Last year, I synthesized four books on the health care systems of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales into one book on the health care system of the United Kingdom, for a series put out by the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies, part of the World Health Organization. I’m by no means an expert on the health care system of any country–real experts did a lot of work on the manuscript I put together, to ensure it was accurate and comprehensive. But I put together the basic body of the work, and it took a lot of time and effort, and I’m very proud of the result. This series is put together mainly to help policy-makers in different countries see how health care policies work in other countries, so they can decide what policies to incorporate into their own countries. So you’re not going to find this in Barnes & Noble, but you can check it out on the website if you want to see my name on there as a contributor. I also got a hard copy in the post last week–look!
I’ve seen a lot of “Days of Gratitude” posts on Facebook this month. People post about something they’re grateful for every day up to Thanksgiving, usually with an accompanying photo. I think it’s a great idea, but I haven’t taken part, mostly because I feel like every blog post I’ve written this year has been a gratitude post.
Every day I get to write, which I’m grateful for in the way that most writers are grateful for the chance to write—it’s an aggravation, sometimes nearly impossible, but occasionally totally satisfying. Every day I write about this amazing trip I’ve been on, so every day I’m grateful anew for the places I’ve been and the people I’ve met.
I’ve spent seven months of this year on a trip around the world, gone to the weddings of some of my most beloved people, celebrated my grandmother’s 80th birthday with the whole clan, and published a piece on a major website. It really has been a terrific year, and I’m grateful for every day of it. Can’t wait to see what 2014 brings.
I’ve been back in the States for 8 weeks now, which sounds like a long time, but I’ve spent a lot of that time at weddings and catching up with friends, so it’s felt shorter. I’m settled in to my parents’ house, and I’ll be here ’til the end of the year. So what am I up to these days?
Today I took a look at my short-term goals from July, and I’m doing pretty well! 1) I bought catastrophic health insurance through Priority Health. It costs $72 a month, and that includes emergency room visits and not much else. Pre-existing conditions aren’t allowed (I cannot wait for the Affordable Care Act to be fully implemented so that kind BS is no longer permitted), and I pay full price for prescriptions and most doctor visits. But it’s one of the better plans I found, with a fairly low premium ($1,000), and I might not need it for very long, because… 2) I got a job! I start the day after I return from my sibling’s wedding in New York. I signed up with a local staffing agency, and they got me an interview at an auxiliary health care-type office. I’ll be doing data entry and a little proofreading, full-time, and the bosses seem very nice. It doesn’t pay a lot, but I’ve done the math and it should be enough to get me back on the road sometime next year. Also, I can walk there from my parents’ house, so I don’t need to buy a car.
I’m hoping that having taken care of #1 and #2 from the original list, I’ll be able to really dig into #3. Now that I’ve removed the stress of job hunting and hiding inside lest I injure myself and have no way to pay for recovery, I should be able to use my free time writing. The changing season will make that even easier, as the nights come faster and the days grow colder, and I stay inside and focus on writing. Fingers crossed.
Next week I’ll be in New York, helping set up for the wedding and then dancing the night away at said wedding. After that, I’ll be in an office for the first time in over a year. Wish me luck!
I’ve been back in the States for a week, and I’m just now starting to settle in. It’s been a whirlwind of cleaning and organizing the stuff I carried around in a backpack for the better part of a year, meeting up with friends I haven’t seen in as long, going to one of my favorite weddings ever, and dragging my family along to my most-missed eating spots in town. But now it’s the second week here, the jet lag is behind me, and it’s time to think about what’s next.
As I’ve mentioned before, my long-term goals involve more travel and finding the money to make that happen. I will definitely be in the States through the end of September, and possibly through Christmas, depending on what kind of employment I find. But I’d like to skip winter again this year if I can, so in the new year (if not sooner) I’ll be heading off to Africa or Latin America.
In the short term, I’m readjusting to suburban America, which takes some doing–the politics, the modes of transportation, the distances from place to place, the foods, they’re all different. I’m also living with my parents again for the first time since I graduated college 8 years ago. That takes adjustment on both sides! We’re figuring out how to make it work for everyone; they’re quite content with their lives and I don’t want to get in the way of that, and they want me to be happy but also productive. Which sounds about right.
Here are my goals for the next few months:
1) Get short-term health insurance. This is easily the biggest difference between where I’ve been and where I am now. I’ve had health insurance through my various employers ever since I graduated college, and before that I was covered under my parents’ plan. If I were in the UK, I’d show the National Health Service (NHS) proof of residency and they’d assign me a doctor (who I could change if I wanted), and that would be that, no fuss. But as we know, it’s a very big fuss in the States. It’s scary to be without insurance here, so I’m shopping around to find a short-term plan that won’t charge a huge deductible or monthly fee. If you have any leads, let me know!
2) Find employment. If I stay through the end of the year, I’d like something stable, but I also don’t want to feel bad ditching after just a few months. I’ll be signing up with temp agencies, which will hopefully provide me with admin or data entry work, or something that will put some money in my pocket. Of course, I’m always on the lookout for freelance editing work, so I’ll keep that search up, and I might try pitching some pieces of my own to online magazines and such as well. Be sure to tell your friends and neighbors they can hire me for odd jobs, housesitting, babysitting–just about anything!
3) Focus on the writing. I’ve been cranking out blog posts for y’all Monday through Friday for all of 2013, as promised, and I’m happy I challenged myself to do that. I’ll continue to make that a goal, but I’m also going to try my hand at more in-depth essays and pieces that someone other than me might want to publish.
4) Keep within a budget. It’s easy to simultaneously feel like I’m still traveling about and should experience everything at least once and the extra dollar or two isn’t that much, AND to feel like I’m back on familiar ground so all the old spending habits can come back. But I do not have the steady job I used to, and the whole point of this interlude is to save up for the next adventure. I have to keep that in mind.
Of course, there are other things I want to do, too: visit my friends in Chicago, make the playlist for my sibling’s wedding, learn new songs to sing with my dad, take walks with my mom, enjoy the beauty of a Michigan summer, read new books, and finally watch the new season of Arrested Development.
It’s going to be a good few months.
Welcome to the 500th post on Stowaway! I’ve been writing this blog for 3.5 years, and in that time it’s gone through one name change, 1508 comments, and, almost unbelievably, 500 posts.
I started Stowaway as a way to get back into writing, which is something I’d enjoyed doing in college but neglected in the years since. I also wanted to record my plans for this big RTW trip, partly as a way to encourage myself to actually go on the trip. I wanted to try my hand at travel writing, but not limit myself to that. Five hundred posts later, I’m writing on an almost daily basis, and I’m on my RTW trip, so I’d say I’m doing well on those fronts.
I’d enjoy writing Stowaway even if I were the only one reading it, but it’s even more fun knowing that other people like reading it too. I like the challenge of making my travel updates entertaining and the photos nice to look at. I have a small audience made up mostly of people I know personally, and in some ways that makes it easier to write, to guess who might like what joke or who might appreciate which detail.
But I’m still refining my style; as every writer has ever said, I want to write the kind of thing I like to read. For travel writing, I like a chatty but not chummy tone, thoughtful reflections on the implications of why and how we travel, and a few wry asides. I don’t know that I’ve ever spelled it out before, but there it is: that’s what I’m going for with Stowaway, but whatever actually turns up on the blog every Monday through Friday, I hope it resonates with you.
I don’t know what Stowaway will become once I return to the States. I might try harder to write pieces that can be published on other sites. I might put the blog to the side for awhile and focus on getting a job. I might take another year just to get the posts caught up to where I am in real time (yeesh).
Stowaway has already changed somewhat since I started it, as recurring features came and went, and I made the inevitable switch from planning the trip to doing it. It will naturally change again, and even after 3.5 years and 500 posts, I’m still excited to see how it does. I hope you’ll stay with me as I continue to explore the world with my faithful travel companion–Stowaway.