More from my daughter in Cambodia, where she is amazing me every day.

Girl Meets World

This has been an exciting week! Student teaching began Monday.  My students call me Chur (as in, Teachur.)  I have nine kids age 6-13 at the orphanage in the mornings, and work with the restaurant staff at my hotel at night.  Not all of the kids are actually orphans: many come from families living in the provinces that are too poor to support them.  These families send their kids to the orphanages for most of the year, where they are housed, fed and educated, and pick them up for the holidays.  The kids eat well there, too!  Rice is their primary staple, as it is in most of the country.  They own a rice field, about an hour down the road, but are often given several bags a month from local benefactors.  On site, they grow dragon fruit, mangos, coconuts, star fruit, bananas and chili plants – all…

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My 22-year-old daughter, Melissa, is in Phenom Pehn, the capital of Cambodia, where she will begin teaching English on Monday.  She is an adventurous soul with a beautiful  heart and an eye for the details about life and people that make for good writing and good living.   She’s also taking gorgeous photos of this place on the other side of the earth, where paved roads turn to yellow mud and luxurious houses shrink to shacks as you walk away from the city center.

Below is a link to her blog.  You can follow her directly, or you can read my feeds: I will be posting her blogs regularly.  This one features children selling souvenirs on the the beach…instead of going to school….and a wrenching insight into the unfortunate souvenir Melissa brought home from the coast.

How about YOU? Where have you ventured lately?

Sihanoukville.

Year Number 2, Day #1

If you haven’t been walking much, I understand. So does Kafka. Here’s what the great master said about life, liberty, and leaving your house for a walk (or anything else):

You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quite still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.

Besides reading Kafka, I have been busy walking, cycling, writing, and getting a job teaching literature and writing at a leading private prep school (I’m super excited about that one — thus, the Kafka!).  Meanwhile, I have a few riddles for you.

1) If you walk in the park by yourself and no one sees you, have you still walked?

2) If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears, has it made a sound?

3) If your publisher lowers your ebook price from $9.99 to $1.99, will your sales increase 10,000* percent?

The answers to those questions is, miraculously, a resounding YES! And that’s the news, friends: My wonderful publisher, HarperCollins eBooks, has lowered the price of The Miracles of Prat0 ebook to an awesome low price of $1.99. If you’re looking for a fun summer read for your Kindle, or iPad, pop over to Amazon and upload this book 1-2-3. If you’ve got a Nook, go here.

So there you have it, friends. I hope you’re still walking. I hope you’ll forgive me for being silent for so long and that you’ll read the pieces I post this weekend from Montreal and the Eastern Townships.

Meanwhile, in the immortal words of Kafka: You can buy the eBook for $1.99…and you do not need to leave your room!

_____

*10,000 percent is an actual number based on Amazon.com’s sales increase of this eBook from last week to this week.

Day 365+

The daily walk as meditation, adventure, exercise, freedom, existential ramble, break from daily tedium, time with friends and for contemplation: I’ve experienced and written about walking in all these veins over the past year. I’ve walked in Montreal, Vienna, Budapest, Prague, Newark, Ocean Grove, Long Beach Island, a couple of Costos (ha!) and lots of place in between.  This weekend I walked in Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky in the footsteps of Daniel Boone and beside the great Captain Joseph Martin circa 1775 who staved off the Cherokees and helped us win the Revolutionary War — the photos you see here are from my last walk in Coony Hollow (pronounced HOLLER), when I came to the bridge across Powell’s Creek and I crossed it…only to find there was no outlet on the other side.

The entire idea of the MyBigWalk (one woman, one year, and lots and lots of miles beyond 1000),  I understand now, was to ensure that I was living an active life. I needed an attainable goal and I set one. That way when life gave me other setbacks I was able to draw on that one hour a day and know that  I had a daily goal I could and did meet without much difficulty.

It’s not stretching the truth much to say that I needed a purpose for my days besides writing and chasing editors and dreams and plots and characters and deadlines and so I gave myself one that didn’t require that I visit my therapist, go to the gym, travel to Europe, confront my demons, go a little crazy, heal my past, or put myself in harm’s way.

Funny enough, I did all those things…and then some. I questioned authority and convention and limitations and a lot of the rules we live by. Even when the questions were too difficult to answer or the impasse was insurmountable, at least I walked the walk. Literally. I put on my sneakers and hit the trail. I’ve laughed and I’ve cried a bunch, too, but mostly I’ve gone out with an open heart and an open mind, and I’ve been rewarded.I didn’t hide from my fears or from the things I wanted to see and do and taste and feel. Sometimes I was ambushed, sometimes I was lost, sometimes I hobbled on blisters through the snow and rain, and I endured the mockery of sunny days when I felt unhappy and confused.

Much has been written about the importance of putting one foot in front of the other and walking the path you’ve set for yourself or taking that bend in the road you know you need to follow to become the full, honest, and whole person you want to be and can be.

Of course that path is sometimes difficult, dark, or scary. But if you turn back, you’ll never know if you could have made it. If you give up, you’re back where you started.

That’s not for me: not literally and not metaphorically either. I’ve always believed that if I didn’t try, if I didn’t peer around that corner, if I didn’t take on tasks and personal challenges that are daunting, that I’d have regrets. Trying and failing is the only way I want to live.   It’s not trying that leads to weakness and sorrow and the  feeling that “it could have been,” “it might have been…if only I’d tried.”

I can honestly say that not one single thing that came into my life this year went unexamined or without following the path until it could not be travelled any further — and that almost always, what stood in my way was not my own will (or lack of will) or my own fear. I refuse to be deterred because I’m afraid. I refuse to step down because I have a lack of will. That’s not for me.

So my latest manuscript is still unpublished and my latest novel, The Miracles of Prato (co-written with my dear friend Laura Morowitz),  didn’t make any bestseller lists. But my accomplishments,  my dreams, my integrity, and  my peace of mind are all intact. I have my imagination, I have my determination, I have grace, generosity, and gratitude. And I have 1000 miles of walking carved into the heels of my shoes. I have friends and family and strangers near and far who kept me company and encouraged  me along the way.

For everyone who ever called me up and said, “Hey, did you walk today?” I have a great big shout out: THANK YOU!

MyBigWalk is over (for now). But endings are new beginnings.  And so I leave you with some words from Goethe (or attributed to him) that I have lived by for years. The first carried me through my twenties into my forties:

Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.

And the last is painted on my office wall where I can read it, and strive to live by it, each day now that I’m in my (gasp) fifties.

Do not hurry; do not rest.

The wisdom is in the semi-colon. Not one; not the other.  Feel the fear; do it anyway. Do not  hurry; do not rest. Keep on truckin’ (no semi-colon) baby. And while you’re on the road, drop me a line now and then to tell me where you’ve been, where you’re going, and how you’re doing. I’ll be walking my own private path, but I’ll be cheering you on.

Second Day of the Last Week of MyBigWalk

Guy Whitlock Goes to the Head of the Class

On the third day of school I rushed out of the house and arrived at Mt. Hebron Middle School at 7:20 (five minutes late for school, some things never change!).  Guy Whitlock, the school’s new principal, was easy to find.  At well over six-feet  he was  taller than everyone else in the main office and that was a good thing because everyone was clamoring for his attention.   Crisp and cool in white shirt and tie, Whitlock’s expression was focused, sharp, thoughtful and — when it broke into smile — sunny as hell….

It was picture day, and the school office was filled with boxes and books, students and teachers, ringing phones and pressing schedules. Shall I come back for our scheduled walk another day, I asked.

“Every day can be like this,” Whitlock said with a broad smile and easy shrug as we set off for his morning stroll around the school. “It’s a big learning curve.”

Every so often you come across someone whose light and energy is unmistakable. Guy Whitlock is that kind of man… to read about the morning walk I took with him, please visit Baristanet.

And remember, walking to school is a great way for kids to get fresh air and the kind of relaxing cardio exercise that gets their day off to a great start.

The LAST WEEK of MyBigWalk (year one)

My father used to say I was impatient. Even as s a little girl  I hated waiting for things to happen.

“If you need an answer right now,” he’d say, “then the answer is no.”

My father was a patient man. He knew things happen in their own time, that  sooner or later you have the answer to your questions and you reach the end of the journey and finish the job — even if it feels like you never will.

For two months now it’s felt as if the END of MyBigWalk Year One would NEVER COME.  It’s sort of like those Frog & Toad books I used to read to my kids when they were small. My favorite story was the one in which Toad plants a garden. Toad, you may recall, is the less wise, more impatient friend in the pair. He wants a garden as lovely as Frog’s and so he plants and waters his seeds just as he’s supposed to.

But Toad can’t stand to wait for the garden to grow.  He wants the time to hurry by. He plays music to the silent soil, he shines a light on the garden all night long, and he despairs when nothing happens.

When they were small I read that story to my children night after night hoping they’d learn patience. Patience, I knew, would make them happier people.  The fact is that I certainly raised children who are more patient than I am.  But I never fully taught that virtue to myself. It’s not that I mind doing the work it takes to get somewhere or to get something I want.  Like Frog, I don’t mind shining lights on the dark soil all night long; I’d gladly play the violin long past midnight if the serenading would make tomorrow dawn exactly as I wish it would.

But the day can’t be controlled. Some seeds will be planted and they won’t sprout. Some, as Toad fears, will be too scared to grow. But either way, you end up with a garden. That’s the moral I always tried to take away from the story.

I’m sorry to say this year of walking didn’t teach me patience. But it has been a time for me to constantly remind myself that I have to take each step in order to get from here to there. It taught me that sooner or later, you will reach the end of the road.

And then, of course, you’ll have to decide where to go next.

“Don’t rush things,” I can hear my Dad saying. “You don’t have to be deciding things all the time.  Sometimes you just have to wait to see what comes up next.”

Boy, I wish my Dad was here to tell me that in person.

Day 361 354 (Oh hell)

David Allen walked 32 miles around Manhattan Island in a single day. He started in the morning and headed clockwise from the Southwest  to keep the sun out of his eyes. That took some knowledge of physics and sun angles, n’est pas? But I don’t need to consider Photo Montage of David's Walk (from the NYT)his superior math or algebra skills to know that he did something I haven’t done (yet): thirty-two miles in a single day replete with blisters, sunburn, and urban adventure.

Writing in the New York Times this Sunday Allen said, “Circumnavigating Manhattan is the ultimate and extreme city walking tour and promises the seemingly impossible: a path less traveled on an overly trodden island. Half sightseeing tour, half endurance test, the journey at Manhattan’s edge takes you into the shadows of 19 bridges, through as many parks and past art installations, city landmarks and 360 degrees of ever-changing views.”

For a year about ten years now I’ve been thinking of walking the entire circumference of the North Jersey town where I live.  Montclair is roughly one mile by six miles. If I had some math skills I might be able to figure out how many miles around that would be. I’m guessing about 14. Which means it would take me a single afternoon.

Since I’m not getting to Rome or Barcelona to mark my 365th day of walking, I’m thinking that might be just the right adventure to culminate my year. Because you know what they say, right?

There’s no place like home.