Thursday, May 20, 2010

Notes from Down Under


Well here I am, at the start of a two-month tour that will take me around the world, from Australia to Hong Kong to mainland China to Ireland, from performances at the mighty Sydney Opera House to a humble parish hall in rural Ireland. If ever there was a time for TRAVELMONKEYS, this is undoubtedly it.

And yet.

I'm having trouble because I can't quite see the point of it. Which wouldn't be trouble at all, except that three different dear friends of mine have recently been tugging/prodding/encouraging me to update TRAVELMONKEYS, and it's got me thinking about what it's all for.

I started this blog because I wanted a way to connect with my family and friends while I was on the road. Then along came Facebook, and goodness, it's been a blessing for me, allowing me to feel much more connected and far less isolated. It's also ridiculously easy to upload photos and post updates.

Of course, it lacks depth and persistence. Looking back at these TRAVELMONKEYS entries, I enjoy their scrapbook quality. I enjoy that I can flip back to my trip to Istanbul and see the photos I've arranged, the little narrative I created, and remember that time.

Facebook is like writing on the wind. Here it is and there it goes, and if it's been more than a week, it's already gone.

But creating good TRAVELMONKEYS posts is time consuming, and the process of uploading the photos is kind of cumbersome, and in the end it reaches far fewer of my friends than my posts to Facebook do, and honestly, I don't think the time it takes is worth it to me now that I have this other path to achieving that feeling of connection I seek.

So it's not looking good for ol' TRAVELMONKEYS, which might make about five people out there sad, myself included.

Because when I read the entries, I really enjoy them.

This is what I've been thinking about.

But maybe I'm going about it all wrong. Maybe the problem is that I'm trying to be too completist. Maybe I need to change my lens so that I'm not telling the story at the end of it all but right from the middle. Maybe I need to make a sketch of the place en media res, and whatever I capture, I capture, and at the end of that day, that is better than nothing. Maybe.

Like, if I were to write about Sydney right now, I might say something about how fun the differences in the English we speak are. Instead of a cinnamon bun it's a "sultana scroll" for "breaky." Coffee with steamed milk is a "flat white," without milk a "long black." Two things that don't belong together aren't apples and oranges or oil and water, but "chalk and cheese." In the theater, strip lights are known as "zip strips," bulbs as "bubbles," the cherry picker is a Cougar, and nobody says "break a leg," they say "Chookas," which has something to do with chicken, like if you do a really good job, you'll get fed chicken after the show instead of the usual scraps.

I might also talk about how every day I walk along the famous Circular Quay (which is pronounced like something that opens a locked door), dodging around tourists taking photos of themselves with all those iconic sights behind them: the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which tourists in chain-gang suits pay to climb to the top of; the glowing eyes and rides of Luna Park beckoning from across the water; the ferries and sailboats and catamarans zipping back and forth from the Taronga Zoo, Manly Beach, and points beyond; and of course, the Sydney Opera House itself, probably the most iconic piece of architecture the world has yet known, and the very reason we are here at all.

From the moment we leave our hotel to walk the half mile to the theater, the Opera House beckons us from across the harbor. All eyes are on its majestic sails, which I'd expected to be a sun-bleached white, smooth like actual sails, but which in fact, in person, possess a reptilian texture, causing the whole thing to look rather like a great lizard. Make that a majestic great lizard, but a lizard nonetheless.

That's what I'd write about.

I might be tempted to mention the wild parrots who ate sugar out of my hand this morning, or the girls who fill the streets on the weekend with impossibly short skirts and ridiculously high heels, or how the other day the northern foyer of the Opera House was occupied by a man named Hari Das who was busy summoning a Hindu deity and allowing himself to become possessed by Him. The remarkable thing is that this man is an ordinary well-digger in southern India nine months of the year, and then is worshipped as a god for the other three months. Not a bad balance, I'd say.

And then, dear TRAVELMONKEYS reader, I might stop right there. Without even mentioning the Sydney Writers' Festival, or how I've been reading "Moby Dick" for the first time and am startled with its loveliness and relevance to my life. I might save that for later or maybe even just save it for myself.

I reserve the right to be incomplete and absent. I reserve the right to be overly detailed and loquacious. I reserve the right to bore you. I especially reserve the right to be imperfect and quickly post. This is not my life's work, these are simply a series of sketches, a loose affiliation of notes, and I thank you for sharing in the journey with me.

Onwards!
JM

12 comments:

LB said...

I hope travelmonkeys continues...it makes me happy. Have you found the blogspot iphone app? I have found it makes quick, on location blogging easier.

nallasenyt said...

Ah, but what a lovely light your comments give! I understand how things pile up and interfere with intentions, but that makes your infrequent posts all the more special. Thanks for sharing your life with us.
Allan

The Yarn Lady said...

Lovely--please continue these gems whenever you can.

la Ketch said...

Great post! Welcome back. Thanks for letting us visit Sydney vicariously through you. xo1

Suzanne said...

I reserve the right to hope you'll keep writing these, I love them so!

Busboy said...

For all the reasons you have given in your post, and all the reasons your readers have recorded here, yes, you should continue to post. Please!

JM said...

You're all so lovely. Thank you for your encouragement!

Lindsey, thanks for the iPhone app tip. I will go look for it. Does this mean you have a secret blog I don't know about?

Tina Rowley said...

You do this whenever and however and how big ever or little ever or midstream or whatever you like! And also, for satisfaction and reaching-people-feelings, you could make it so that your posts automatically go out to Facebook.

In any case. So glad you posted. You're giving me Sydney nostalgia feelings, too. Circular Quay is Dave's very favorite bit of Sydney. On my first morning in Australia, we wandered there in a love daze clutching flat whites in a light drizzle. Total happiness.

Stephan Stubbins said...

Great post JM! Have an amazing time in Sydney. It's fun looking back and seeing your Juno pictures too... I love the bears

Sophie said...

Thank you for writing again, I've missed you monkeys.

zeldazelda said...

Hooray! What a liberating manifesto! How freeing to banish guilt and perfectionism and allow the writing to be incomplete, imperfect, infrequent -- elliptical, even. :) The snapshots and sketches from the moment usually end up being far more interesting and true than grand essays that afterward try to sum things up neatly and completely anyway. This post of yours is a wonderful example.

Jenny

colin said...

yay! y'all are the best.