Spots of Time

December 05, 2005

New Year's Resolution - Circa 2004/5

The belief that the activities of the first day of a new year can foretell what an individual will do for the remainder of the year proved true for me in 2004.

It began for me in Bangkok, on Khaosan Road. It was the first time I saw the chaotic backpacker streets filled with more Thai people than tourists. As New Year’s celebrations go, it was average, though the very act of celebrating the start of a new year in a foreign land made me giddy with anticipation.

After leaving Thailand I traveled on to Cambodia, The Philippines, India, Mongolia, China, and back to Thailand before returning to the US in September.

The year saw me eat hairy spiders, watch pigs transported by motorbike, become a (temporary) vegetarian, witness the suppression of news regarding the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, drink fermented mare’s milk, join in the celebration of a good friend’s marriage, and find myself once again living and working in San Francisco.

What the year 2004 did not see for me, however, was my name in print. Which is only important if you read or remember my column from December 31, 2003 – in which I shared my one New Year’s Resolution for 2004 – to become a published writer.

When I made my announcement I put no time constraints on the goal and only hoped that when it happened, I would be satisfied with the final product. This was as much to protect myself from failure as it was to ensure quality. So, when the ball dropped in New York City in 2005, I wasn’t too upset that I hadn’t (yet) achieved my goal. I just rolled it over to the next year.

Yesterday, I'm thrilled to say, my 2004/5 New Year’s resolution finally came true – and with just 27 days to spare until 2006! Yesterday, the San Francisco Chronicle published a travel story I wrote about Sarajevo, the capital city of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Publication came with a potpourri of emotion: of joy, pride, excitement and more than a little relief. I’m not usually a goal-oriented woman – this is only the third New Year’s Resolution I’ve ever kept – yet reaching a goal I had verbally outlined and expressed and wanted so badly gave me a sense of satisfaction that felt really, really good.

In less than a month 2006 will emerge from its preparatory cocoon and throw itself upon us, full of possibilities. And while the year most likely won’t see me gallivanting around the globe, it will certainly be another year of adventure, knowledge and discovery.

I’m not sure yet what my New Year’s Resolution will be, though I know that I will have one. And, humbly, I encourage you all to choose one as well. With one caveat:

Don’t choose to quit smoking, or lose weight, or eat healthier. These are the most common resolutions and also the most commonly broken. Pick something big, something you’ve always dreamed about but weren’t quite sure if it was possible. Then tell someone - to make yourself more accountable. :)

Resolve to learn French, write down your memoirs, or cook an entire Indian meal from scratch.

Decide that 2006 will be the year you get promoted, run a marathon, or make peace with your mother.

Choose to read Finnegans Wake, Gravity’s Rainbow or In Search of Lost Time.

Learn to understand string theory, or how to swim, or the capital cities of every country in Africa.

Commit yourself to something – anything. See what happens. And, if it doesn’t work out, don’t beat yourself up about it. There is always next year.

A writing friend of mine once told me that being published doesn’t mean you are the best writer, or the luckiest, or the hardest working – but it is usually a combination of the three that takes you across the finish line.

But, don’t listen to me. Listen to the words of another writer, one whose work has already stood the test of time:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” (Mark Twain)

May all your dreams come true - in 2006 or beyond.


p.s. The picture is mine too!

October 31, 2004

Kerry vs. Bush

The sign in the second story window of the old Victorian building on Bush Street said, "I'd rather live on Kerry Street." In two days, all Americans will find out if they will be living on Bush Street or Kerry Street in one of the most closely divided presidential elections in recent times. But, it is not just America that is keen to know the fate of this election - the whole world will be watching.

While many American's would be surprised to hear it, the US presidential elections are watched all over the planet. In recent weeks I've had foreign friends email me from as far away as Australia, the Netherlands and Afghanistan, all telling me they will be anxiously watching the results of the US elections. And, even more than just watching, all of them also hope that Kerry will be elected the winner.

Several months ago, in a Confucian temple in a city in China, I was practically accosted by a monk who, upon finding out I was an American, began to question me about "why little Bushy make Iraqi people cry?" A month before, I spent the better part of an evening and into the morning trying to explain to a German man and French woman in my Beijing youth hostel that not all Americans agree with or even voted for Bush. Several days later I saw the shock and amazement in the eyes of the Spanish couple who had no idea there were actually peace protests in America regarding the US invasion of Iraq. In fact, an almost universal trend in political conversations while I was overseas was my trying to explain that not all Americans agree with Bush - or, even voted for him!

It's been two months since I have been back in the US and where I was previously shocked by the misconceptions people from other countries have about America and its people, I am now depressed by the lack of understanding that US voters have about the consequences of re-electing Bush for four more years.

With great anticipation I watched all three presidential debates this year. Since I was overseas until September, I hadn't had a chance to see the candidates speak or hear their stance on the issues and I was keen to form a more educated opinion. Well, that and I was hoping that instead of voting for Kerry as the "Anti-Bush" vote, I could vote for him in his own right. My enthusiasm dwindled from the first debate until the last, until I could hardly control my frustration and anger at the slew of polished rhetoric coming from the candidates lips.

It is a sad state of affairs that as a 30-year-old having voted in only three previous presidential elections, I don't believe a word of what the candidates are promising. I'm tired of hearing conflicting information about how many jobs were created (or lost), what someone's voting record says (or doesn't), and what will happen to the US if someone is elected (or not). I'm tired of someone asking a question and hearing the same polished, scripted and standard response - especially when it doesn't even answer the question.

My dad and I got into a debate while I was visiting him in Indiana last week - a debate regarding the two candidates. The details of the debate are not important - except that because of the debate I was finally able to verbalize why I was voting for Kerry. For better or worse, it has almost nothing to do with his stand on the issues. I am not voting for him because he might be called to chose a judge or two on the Supreme Court. I am not voting for him because he says he has a plan for Social Security or for Health Care. I am not voting for him because he supports rights for gay couples.

I am voting for Kerry because I believe that a vote for Kerry has broader implications than just voting for the next president of the United States. I believe that electing Kerry is the single most important strategic move for the people of the United States of America - and the only thing Americans can do to even hope of restoring the tarnished image of America on the world stage. I say this because I believe that Bush is the biggest public relations liability the US has had in my lifetime.

We went from a country with the world's sympathy (France's Le Monde September 12, 2001 front page reading "We are All Americans") to a country rallying behind a leader who used such brilliant quotes as "if you are not with us you are against us," and ostracizing the US politically, socially and environmentally from much of the rest of the world. We say the world is becoming smaller yet we continue to act like our actions don't have broader consequences. Do we really want the school bully image in an increasingly smaller and more unified school yard?

I choose Kerry because I believe him to be someone who has an awareness and understanding that the United States is not an island unto itself - but a part of a world community. I think he has the potential to be a president I could be - dare I say it? - proud of - or at the very least, not cringe in embarrassment at having as our leader. I am voting for Kerry because, plain and simple, I think he is the smarter man. The smarter of the realitistic options available, anyway.

Now, I admit it is entirely possible that Kerry is no smarter than the speech writers and spin doctors that surround him and mold his image. And, in that case, domestically we will remain status quo and will be no better off than we are with our current leader. But, I suspect there is more there. And, frankly, I'm willing to risk voting Kerry just so I have the potential of a president I am not ashamed of calling our own.

But, even more so, because I want my overseas friends (my connection to "the world" as a whole) to know that we all don't believe the United States is an island, that we all don't believe that "you are either with us or against us" and that when the American people realize that we made a mistake - we do our best to fix it.

Fingers crossed.