Thursday, February 26, 2015

Dare to Fail Gloriously: What Happens When No One Reacts to Your Work?

It's usually about this time that I just put the laptop away and start
surfing reddit and imgur.
I'm pretty lucky in the fact that there are usually at least a couple dozen people who check out each post, and oftentimes more (maybe as many as 4 DOZEN! or MORE - like 5 dozen. So crazy). But not always.

Sometimes it gets me down. I've read a fair amount about blogging. The ins and outs, and the way you need to divide your time among many different tasks, the hard work of building, engaging, and maintaining an audience, etc etc etc... it's actually a ton of work, and a lot of it is promotion stuff that I, frankly, am not very good at.

One of the pieces of advice I see repeated regularly is that the ratio of content creation to promotion is much more lopsided than I previously assumed. In my incredibly naive brain, it went something like "IF YOU WRITE IT... THEY WILL COME."

Humph. Not good enough, apparently. There's this thing called 'social media' of which blogging is an intrinsic part, and you simply can't do one without the other. In fact, many self-described blogging 'experts' say the actual ratio of your workload should be about 20% content creation, and 80 DAMN PERCENT promotion. I hate self-promotion (although one of my new year's resolutions is to tackle it head on this year).

So every so often I'll see that I've been particularly prolific, turning out what I consider to be a series of high-quality posts that address a wide variety of subjects, but they get no views. In fact, several of the pieces that I feel are my best, thematically, content-wise, and in structure and form, get very few views.

Trip to Bummertown? Maybe a temporary layover...

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Three Vital Skills I Learned from Acting Classes, and One I'm Still Working On

I don't always use memes, but when I do, I use five of them.
I've always valued the training I received in theatre school. It was a really rough time for me mentally, but as I've grown older ('matured'?) I am able to look back and be amazed by just how many wide-ranging situations I've navigated by dint of my training.

I am continually surprised at how these various skills (and, my god, what a bizarre, heady, useful range of skills they turned out to be!) have come in handy here in this brave new world of traveling abroad. As I get to know myself better, and fall back in love with who I am, I wanted to take a moment to detail here how they've helped me on my worldwide, and inner, journeys.

I graduated with a degree in Technical Theatre. Practically speaking, I was a carpenter, designer, stage manager, stitcher, props designer, and periodically unemployed person before deciding that my career in theatre was unappetizing and way too uneven, to say the least. I wanted out, but I had no idea what to do, where to go, or how to get there. It was like coming to the end of a road and discovering that the last bridge I crossed had been struck by meteors (that I helped direct there) and the road up ahead goes off a cliff into a ravine, like the train tracks in Back to the Future 3.

For years I thought I didn't have a hoverboard or means of escape... but I was wrong*.

I bemoaned my theatre degree for years. I made terrible mistakes. I bemoaned my life choices. I lathered, rinsed, and repeated... and instead of being an agent of change in my life, I became one who reacted, instead of acted. I was a passive, unhappy meatbag of a person.

I bemoaned a whole lotta things, and never really got objective enough to rise above the bleak, depressed person I was and achieve something brighter, something that my Self always knew I was capable of, but never let myself achieve.

But then I made a choice.

To me, this choice was to build a new dream, something with long-term value and interest for myself. (which are evolving every day). I want to get into sustainable landscape urbanism, with a strong eye toward regional environmental balance. We are social animals, and we should live within our environments, in balance... and in cities.

To survive in a foreign culture, I think that you have to be willing to embrace a certain amount of flexibility. This was definitely NOT in my personal vocabulary when I came, or at least not in my immediate brain. My animal brain knew what was up, though, and kicked into gear. And while Flexibility is certainly a skill that theatre helped hone (along with creative problem-solving and keeping a cool head), there were several skills that I discovered came from the most unlikely of places...

No one was more surprised than I to find that these skills originated in acting classes.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Cơm Tấm Ba Ghiền: Broken Rice, Topped With Grilled Perfection


Cơm Tấm is one of the most delicious and popular rice dishes among visitors to Saigon, and Cơm Tấm Ba Ghiền is where to go get it.

Hands down. End of review.

If you expect perfection on your first bite, head here. There is com tam all over the city, but few are turned out so excellently or consistently perfect as at this alley location in the midst of Phu Nhuan District. It's all they serve, after all, and they've been serving it for a long, long time.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Remember to Water Your Dreams!

Greener days, from early 2014. Pre-ShadeUmbrella, Pre-theGardenHasTakenOverTheTerrace era. HI AITO!!
I keep learning a fundamentally valuable lesson here in Vietnam, over and over:

If you don't pay attention to something, it runs the risk of dying.

I've seen it illustrated vividly, time and again, as I cycle from over-care to under-care in the upkeep of our rooftop terrace garden. I'm actually a little embarrassed that I have to be reminded of this lesson so frequently! But every so often life seems to get in the way, and focus gets shifted. The result is that plants will wither and fade, and sometimes die.

Plants and nature are a principle joy in my life - I love getting my hands dirty. For as long as I've had my own place, I've had plants. And, like many plant owners, I've killed a ton of flora in my time. Through a lack of observation, ineptitude, and downright neglect, I've crushed many organisms whose very existence is a tonic for my mind... and yet, reflexively, I still revive the ones I can, toss the ones I've killed, and start fresh.

Vietnam is a casual gardener's dream. It's actually very easy to grow things here with a minimum of effort - all that is truly needed is a pot and some soil... and water, every day. Maybe not much water (most love the excess, though, being tropical two-season plants), but the trick is that it has to be a habit.

The very act of attention becomes nourishing.

The same is true with the ambitions and dreams we hold closest to our chests.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Saigon Survival: How To Navigate Markets and Haggling

Ben Thanh Market is one of the oldest (and most highly valued) buildings in Saigon, and it's huge, crowded, and fascinating.
Learning how to haggle successfully has been one of the most infuriatingly difficult obstacles to enjoying Markets. But let me make one thing clear: Markets are the most interesting and reliable places to buy a wide assortment of things, all under one roof.

That means no jetting around on your moto/bike with increasingly heavy loads and/or slowly putt-putting along until you find the one half-hidden shop that you've heard has what you need! Meanwhile, central markets will often speak in a little English, and are quite anxious to help you... if they think they can make a profit.

Unwanted touching, a lack of common knowledge, and complicated social interactions outside your native language... there's a lot for an introvert to dread about going to Market in a new country, but you know what? It's totally doable. And the more comfortable you become at market, the faster you'll discover new things, people, situations, and more - Vietnam's bustling, dense, and outright sunny street culture is nowhere more reflected than in the local market.

At first, market is a hectic, nonsense sea of insanity, with people reaching and grasping like the zombie lake in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and you're certain you'll drown in a mass of soggy language difficulties and have no chance of escape.

But is that accurate?

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

New Year's Resolutions 2015: Foundational and Incremental

Well hello again! What's that you say - February already??  Man, I guess I'd better put all those vaguely anxious feelings and thoughts into a brand spankin' new set of New Year's Resolutions!

In America it is traditional to make promises to yourself on the occasion of the New Year. To me, this symbolizes the endless, circular nature of time, encouraging us to renew our commitments to ourselves and our world as we celebrate another year of not being drowned, electrocuted (well, not to death, at any rate), crushed, stabbed, dismembered, or plowed down by a bus.

(If, perchance, you find yourself in one of the aforementioned situations, my condolences. I hope you're reading this post in a hospital somewhere.)

Where I come from, resolutions can also act as a mental defense against the soul-ravaging bleakness of January and February, giving us some kind of vision or goal to strive for and negating, as much as possible, how truly shitty those months are (especially in those northern states, it's just gawdawful. Stay strong, friends).

And so, keeping in mind the massive scale of the goals I have for my future (however far that might be) here I am once again. The goal this year is to take small, constant steps toward a future I create for myself without letting myself lie fallow. My dreams are much to big to take in one year, or even two. But five years? That suddenly sounds sorta, kinda doable!