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2014: Lessons Learned and Wishes Granted

December 28, 2014

brookeburgess

(by Brooke Burgess)

Dearest Friends,

I hope your Holy-days find each of you in the midst of loved ones — feasting on all things homemade, gravy-soaked, and likely carbicidal — and looking back fondly on another cycle of us all whirling together around the Sun.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who downshifts into more reflective, contemplative gears upon December’s end. Seems to be par for the cultural course, right? One of the few rituals we all still embrace on some level.  And for me? The past 12 months have been unlike any other chunk of calendar to pass in…well…pretty much ever.

WARNING:  this will be long post. Like, TLDR-cubed kinda long.  And it may seem a smidgen mid-lifey.

But if you hang in there ’til the end?  If you tough it out, you may just find some diamonds in the dross.

Worse comes to absolute worst, there are some pretty pictures.

Alright.  Are you ready…?

TIME MACHINE GO!!!

JANUARY: Of Research and Reward

I had been in southern Thailand for just over four months by this point, and beaucoup de merde had gone down.  Muay Thai training and meditation practice through late August and early September gave way to an exciting, one-of-a-kind work meeting in the City of Lights. Upon returning to Asian shores two weeks later, it was clear that I needed a thorough recharge after the Parisian battery-drain and gastronomical assault. A mild strain of dengue smacked me around, too. Change was in the (monsoon) wind.

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Harnessing a newfound level of intuition (vipassana is your friend, people), I happened upon a tiny isle in the Andaman Sea.  And it was there — in a wee hillside bungalow with a cold shower, no internet, and a beat up writing desk — that I chose to make camp, call upon the Muse, and let my fingers do the talking. Three months later — on January 1st, 2014, — an 82K-word draft of my first novel was splattered across the screen, still sticky with afterbirth.

The year was off to an auspicious start. But my allotted time in the Land of Smiles was nearing an ‘end’. Ex-pats and ‘digital nomads’ in these parts quickly learn the ritual of border runs to neighbouring countries, with a handful offering multi-entry return visas from accommodating Thai Embassies.  Singapore does it, but they’re notoriously strict. Malaysia’s popular, but I wasn’t craving another round of urban frenzy in Kuala Lumpur.

I got a mail out of the proverbial blue from an old film industry friend, who just happened to be visiting the north Thai city of Chiang Mai the following week. And Chiang Mai wasn’t so far from Laos. You know, as in The People’s Democratic Republic of.  As in the dirt-cheap, opium-laced, French-sausage-and-baking stronghold of Communism.

Sounded cool beans. But first? A few days of fine Thai cuisine with my filmic brother-in-arms in Chiang Mai’s northern suburbs. Followed by some smoke-filled evenings of shopping in the sprawling night markets.

Oh…and topped off with an afternoon here:

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It’s a sanctuary/enclosure beyond the city limits, committed to breeding and boosting southeast Asia’s big cat populations. Specifically tigers.  And, for around $30, you can spend an hour just chilling with beautiful murder machines of various sizes. They’re freshly fed in a different pen so they’ll be sleepy and sated when you’re with them.  They’ve also been exposed to human contact from birth, and independent agencies have verified that the animals are free from abuse and drugs.

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It’s hard to describe the experience, and part of me doesn’t want to. All I will say is this — you haven’t really lived until you rub the warm, thick-furred belly of a 6-month old tiger cub, and feel your hand and arm begin to tremble from its purr.  Now that’s what I call a tax write-off. Research. Honest.

FEBRUARY:  Of Shit and (Happy) Shakes

Right away, Laos felt different.  Landing in the UN Heritage city of Luang Prabang, a customs officer was quick to take my $40US for an entry visa, nonplussed when I tried to ask why it was nearly double what every other country’s citizens paid to get it. I guess they didn’t like Stephen Harper much either.

Another amazing friend arrived on the flight after (something about Laos made me think the buddy system was called for) and she treated me to a belated Xmas prezzie: a posh hotel in the city centre. This turned out to be a life-saver. The flight in, combined with a drastic change in climate — 24C nights in Chiang Mai became 0C in northern Laos — conspired to knock the immune system silly. All the fine french food and worn cobbled streets and rich silk scarves and bamboo crossings of the fabled Mekong couldn’t compare to an in-room heater capable of 24/7 tropical temps. But there were some noteworthy distractions on the road whilst gripped in full death-shiver:

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Recovery in swing, we headed south in a packed mini-van along breathtaking cliff roads, over vast rice fields and through ancient valleys crowned by limestone and gnarled trees.  A few days chilling in a riverside guest house on the outskirts of notorious party town Vang Vieng were enough for us, and the capital city of Vientiane came next. Almost pissed myself from a burst bladder in direct response to insane pothole navigation on the way. I signalled the driver to pull over and let me out on the highway’s edge. Passing farmers howled as I tumbled in loose gravel on the shoulder, and then came to a dignified squat in the dusty reeds. Good times.

Long story short. Vientiane has very good coffee and chocolate croissants. It also has a palpable air of menace after dark.  Thievery is ubiquitous. Ladyboys physically harass you for ‘business’ (women prostituting themselves is seriously illegal, so having a peen is a loophole). Cops have been known to make troublesome tourists magically disappear (I think lead is somehow involved in said transmutation).

Also THIS.

I booked two seats on the overnight bus down south. It only costs $20, and this keeps you from having to snuggle in metre-wide wooden berths with a farting, drunken Laos man…or an hirsute, bi-curious Luxembourgian. 18hrs later, we pulled into a strip of tin-roof shops flanking a crumbling pier, and they loaded us in groups of 20 onto wooden ‘needle’ boats that made Thai longtails feel like catamarans.

We cruised for 20 or so minutes along grassy peninsulas and overgrown outcroppings in the muddy Mekong River until we hit the ‘beach’.

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I ended up spending 3 weeks in the 4000 islands, but not by choice. Sure…the vibe was chill, the prices were right, and the absence of motorized vehicles (pedal bikes are king) was downright heavenly. The food seemed passable, and even the internet worked (kind of). I didn’t step on any landmines, as there were polite warning signs in almost every field.

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There was even a national park within day’s walking distance with waterfalls, freshwater pools, and pink dolphin sightings. Oh, and when they offer you a ‘happy shake’?  You drink that green bitch down, son, and say farewell to your woes (and the immutable laws of physics and reason) for 16+ hours. Shit just got (sur)real, amirite?

But notice the bit where I said that the food seemed passable?  Yeah. That bit. For one whole week, I was curled up on the bathroom floor. I knew something was wrong the afternoon I started burping sulphur. That night, around 3AM, was my first trip to the throne. Tops and tails, if you will. By the third day, nothing was coming out of either end, as I was scared to even drink bottled water. When I could muster the strength to stand, the thing staring back made me flinch and weep. I closed my eyes, breathed, and asked myself if I wanted to die in a toilet in a country that only had two state-sanctioned beers.

The internet is your friend. And my friend told me that I had Giardiasis — Beaver Fever, as we called it back in Canuckistan. These particularly nasty parasites get in you from contaminated water, or fecal-friendly food handlers. And there I was, 3hrs from the closest hospital, unable to really move more than a few meters, and with no way to get a dose of metronizodole that would put the critters in the cemetery. Awesome.

But my savvy cyber-friend also informed me that you can slow that shit down (heh) with garlic. Massive doses of garlic. Like, 12 cloves of the stuff, raw in salted broth. So, with the help of my guesthouse host, I did that. Three times a day. For three days. The guts swelled, expelled, and then calmed. My rockstar French neighbour — seriously, the dude had been bringing his pornstar girlfriend to southeast Asia for years on ‘recreational drug holidays’ — gave me some pills to ‘harden things up, oui? But not your dick.

30hrs later, I had taken a boat and three buses in order to cross a border into northeast Thailand and loop back south in order to reach Bangkok before dawn the next morning. Antibiotics soon after, and the temporary suicidal thoughts that always follow a dose of said wonder drugs. Intestinal flora is no joke, people…trust me on this.

But I made it through. I lived to tell the tale. And I had lost almost 6kg. Almost enough to see my abs for the first time since high school.  Poverty and parasites are the new black.

MARCH:  Of Faith and Frugality

Made it back south to the island haven in time for Songkran: Thai New Year. 

In most of the country it’s a crazy water festival where people clog the streets and try to drown each other with buckets and firehoses and super-soakers and diluted bladders for a few days.  Luckily, my wee Muslim enclave is much more chill about such things. Just a matronly blessing, some squirt guns topped up with ice water, and maybe a handful or two of powdered talc thrown at a passing cyclist. Kids’ stuff.

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And let’s get one thing straight right of the (xenophobic) bat. Thanks to FOX News and the bullhorn blaring conservative right, ‘Muslim’ has become a dirty word in (too) many corners. It makes a lot of people ‘nervous’. It makes them feel ‘at risk’. Threatened, even…

You know what?  I have never felt as wholeheartedly welcomed and utterly safe in my entire life as I did/do here. Ever. Not in Canada. Certainly not the US or UK or even western Europe. Maybe Fiji…but I still wouldn’t expect to find my wallet again if I left it in town after dark.

But here? I could leave my key in my goddamn scooter for overnight. My bungalow door was always unlocked with laptop and passport and cash inside. Village elders would bloody well hunt me down to return things they thought I may have lost, and then apologize for troubling me in the process. Folks here wouldn’t dare shame their community by making a guest feel fearful. That’s how it’s fucking done in these parts.

So..praise Allah…or something similarly nice. But just for the record? I sure did miss bacon.

Oh, and did I mention the quiet seaside bungalow — with sunset view, maid service, and a motorbike — for a whopping $250/month in low season?  With spicy southern Thai food at $3-5 per (amazing) meal?  When every goddamn penny counts, and you’re living on the dregs of credit and goodwill? A place like this feels positively Heaven-sent.

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And that’s not the only thing I was blessed with there…

APRIL: Of Cats and Community

Asia can be a rough karmic ride for animals. And southeast Asia, with rampant industrialization in tandem with 2nd and 3rd-world poverty conditions? Even rougher. I’ve seen things I wish I could forget, and (likely) eaten things I could’ve fasted through to keep a clean conscience. But part of the appeal of my island home is again derived from its Muslim ‘village’ vibe — specifically, its respect for cats.

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The island is literally teeming with them. Most appear quite healthy, and they’ve come to supplant the few monkeys as the apex predator. They’re crucial in keeping the geckos and rats under strict control. Old-timers will even tell you not-so-tall tales of cats padding nonchalantly through their bar or restaurant, a cobra or viper dangling limp in their mouths.

One night I was at my preferred jungle establishment — and Italian owned stone-over pizza bar in the jungle. Really cool place. I heard something behind the sing-song Thai chit-chat and iPod 70’s funk. A pained sound. It was a high-pitched mewing.

I looked around and spotted a tiny kitten. It was shivering, and crying for food. It’s eyes and ears were infected, and when I touched its belly it was over-hot with fever.

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My heart broke. And it kept on breaking.

But with a little passionate urging, the bar manager agreed to help rally for the poor thing’s life. And just four weeks later…? The turnaround for little Pesche (he likes fish!) was nothing short of miraculous.

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MAY: Of Sweat and Silence

I was determined to see a 10-day silent retreat through until the end.

It was combining an early birthday present to myself with a fat camp for my cake-loving monkey-mind.

Shhhhhhhhh. Probably better just to let this do the talking.

JUNE: Of Flats and Fists

My birthday month! As a timely treat, a cool lady from my gym offered me her amazing flat in Phuket for a few weeks — A/C. Jacuzzi tub. Saltwater pool. Huge kitchen. Massive flatscreen. Workout room — all I had to do in exchange was care for her two ‘children’. And if you know me at all? You know this wasn’t work in the slightest…

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But here’s something you might not know about me — four is my favourite number. I was born on June 4th, and was turning 44. Before I left the small island for a bigger one, a pregnant cat I often visited gave birth to four kittens.

When I arrived back in Phuket, I felt full o’ juice from all the sun and surf and meditation.  I needed to do something with it. Not some Dionysian indulgence, but a worthy expression of the birthday energy coursing through my veins.

Enter my favourite kickboxing trainer: Pot Bunpot. Normally, he only trains pros and visitors who are committed to taking an actual fight at the local stadium. He was a provincial champ in his prime, a nationally ranked fighter, and a serious grappling badass.

10371977_10152972164546758_1409665907204886903_nWhen I first came to Sinbi Gym in 2010 he humoured me. I was a bigger guy, and I tried hard…but I couldn’t kick or grapple to save my life. Pot would break into girlish laughter during group training whenever I asked to work pads with him. He’d shake his head and wave me off. But I kept trying.

And I kept asking.

And then he saw this thing I made — a short film to celebrate my time there — and it’s been mutual respect ever since. I could think of no better way to spend MY day. I got to lose a kilo or two of sweat whilst having my arse kicked (literally) by a seriously rad dude: a fighter, father, husband, and friend.

JULY: Of Fixes and Fundraising

For months, I had been hearing of a little hippie town in the northwest province near the border to Myanmar that had clean air, friendly locals, and incredible local/organic food:  PAI.  In mid-June, I made the jaunt up into the northwest mountains. Well, less of a jaunt and more of a ‘whirl’. The locals like to joke about the roads in these parts, and recommend that you close your eyes on the 3-hr van ride up.

I found a lovely little bungalow near the river — we’re talking four-poster bed, huge bathtub, and really fast wifi for $200/month! — and hunkered down for combat. I had two very important things to focus on for the next six weeks, and I couldn’t let them slide a day longer.

I had made a call for donations on my birthday, and a cadre of friends and peers had miraculously stepped up with open hearts and wallets to help kickstart my dream — in less that three weeks, the Shadowland Saga had raised over $6K!  But I still needed a little more to be safe, so I put together a Pubslush campaign (targeting media, literature, and industry types) to run for 6 weeks until mid-August.

Most of the book world turned a blind eye…but, thankfully, my friends and colleagues did not. Another $3K+ was raised, and I was ready to launch a goddamn book!

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Sara’s illustrations were coming fast and furious by this point, so the time for dilly-dallying was over. Not only did I have to start thinking about formatting, but I needed to do a gut-check on the writing itself. Was the current draft (third) good enough? Were the agents offering polite ‘passes’ and the Wattpad’ers reading with muted enthusiasm trying to tell me something?

I turned to a wonderful friend I had met during a second 10-day detox in Phuket. At this point, she was back in her hobbit-hole in Wales, but that’s the wonder of the modern age, right? After a little back-and-forth, she contacted her father — a respected Irish writer and publisher with a history of editing books for younger audiences — and he agreed to take a look at the manuscript.

Two weeks later, I had eight pages of notes from him. they weren’t all kind. This was detailed professional ‘coverage’ (pro bono, no less) that smash my ego, and make me question the writer’s path altogether.  But you know what else it did? It lit a fucking fire under my ass like you wouldn’t believe.

For the next 3-4 weeks, I barely left that riverside cabin. Sure, I’d take a stroll into town for breakfast, or grab a beer at night by the snaking food carts on walking street.  But I had work to do. Good work. And it wouldn’t have gotten done if I had joined the 20-somethings in their World Cup revelry and billowing green smoke (no matter how organic). Besides, the streets in Pai are full of stray dogs. You know that’s not the way I swing.

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I emerged tired, and bloated, and pale from lack of summer sun. But I felt accomplished. Triumphant, even. And this feeling was confirmed on my last day in town. I was celebrating pressing SAVE with a double bacon-cheeseburger and a mango-avocado smoothie at the crossroads cafe by the Buddhist temple. I snarfed some wifi to check my email, curious to see if any Wattpad readers had comments on the updated chapters I had posted the night before.

Dear Brooke — I’m one of the content editors at Wattpad, and I think you’ve got something special going on with THE CAT’S MAW. We’d like to feature the story for six months — features tend to reach thousands of new readers on the network, so it’s a good way to evangelize your work. Looking forward to hearing from you.”

AUGUST: Of Coffee and (Crapped) Pants

This was a month where all of Creation seemed to shout: “Jesus, dude…pay ATTENTION!”

I was back on the isle in the south. Visa extension time was looming, so I waited ’til the last possible day and grabbed a boat over to the Krabi side. From the pier over there, it’s a cheap local songthaew (open truck with metal benches) into town, and a quick zip on the back of a scooter-taxi to the Immigration Office.

I prayed for a little Luck that morning. If you had been following the international news at the time, Thailand had been in a state of Martial Law for several months — the ruling family had been overthrown, and the military was in control. Sounds scary, but things were pretty damn peaceful from an ex-pat’s POV.  Smiling soldiers. Less traffic. Fewer parties. Beaches cleaned to their 1970’s state. Aces.

But the General and his posse had also clamped down on visa runners, ‘longstayers’, and backpackers doing their best to exploit the loopholes in the immigration rules. Technically, you’re only supposed to be able to stay in the Kingdom for a maximum of 180 days per year. Technically.  And now, after years or turning blind eyes and opening palms for a bit of bureaucratic ‘grease’ at border checks, they had begun to enforce the law.

The immediate effect was refreshing = a vast reduction in Russians. But that’s a candid tale for another day, in a more fitting locale. But us ‘digital nomads’ (hey, I didn’t make up the douchey term — blame the ‘Burners’) were stuck between a rock and an impoverished place. Few countries possess the magical mix of affordable living, incredible climate, and plentiful wifi that Thailand has in spades. The tattooed, dredlocked, and bearded masses had begun a nervous mass-exodus to Cambodia, Bolivia, and other less-explored third-world shores.

So, when I got to Krabi Immigration that morning, I was sweating. My passport was full of stamps and tourist visas from the past year, and I had clocked in more than 9 months in the Kingdom. I had made sure to shave, get a haircut, and wear a respectable shirt (wife-beaters emblazoned with beer companies being par for the white-dude course).  I presented my current address, bank statement, and proposed flight out the following month. And I had my 2000Baht (approx $70) ready for my 30-day extension.

‘No,’ was the woman’s terse response.

I flushed with panic. I made a heartfelt prayer, bargaining that the rest of my trip could be ‘hard’, but to please make this one moment easy. A sincere urgency filled my voice. Thais appreciate honest emotion, and are culturally compelled to help those in real need. They looked over my paperwork again, and called over the office manager. He flipped through my passport, dense with regional stamps and border run evidence, and cocked an eye my way. ‘Where you stay?’

I told him.  He asked who I knew there.  The first thing that came to mind was one of the police chiefs. Thais have a real love/hate/respect relationship with their cops, so knowing one carries some heft. Turns out the fellow I knew — the policeman who just happened to own the hillside bungalow where I had written the first draft of the book, and bought a beer for in his Japanese wife’s restaurant overlooking the bay? — that man was the Immigration chief’s school chum.

No problem. Give him 30 days.’

Phew. Problem solved. Right..?

The trip back to the pier was a race against black storm clouds. The slender wooden longtail, packed to capacity with elderly locals and a few bloated tourists, was battered by waves on the return trip and almost capsized twice. Folks screamed and cried and prayed, and the boat was flooded with seawater. My phone and passport got drenched. When I pulled them out of a cargo-pants pocket to shield them, the rest of my money was snatched from my hand by a gust of wind and errant wave. An old woman dug her nails into my arm as I clung to the bow, saying over and over in my stupid head: Be careful what you wish for.

Obviously, we survived. The next day, I was going to write about the incident. I set up my old Macbook Pro at a seaside cafe (not my usual, but was craving direct sunlight after the storm), and the disinterested waitress set down an overflowing mug of coffee on an uneven section of tabletop. I turned to grab the cup, and the heat and moisture made it slip from my hands.  Right above the keyboard. Fuck.

Sticky keys were the first symptom. Unresponsive ones the next. Complete shutdown soon followed.

I think I screamed.

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The next two days were a blur of sleeplessness and gnashing teeth. I hadn’t backed up the machine in ages. Nothing was in the Cloud. The latest version of the book was still on my desktop. And I was on an island in the middle of nowhere, with time and finances running out.

My surrogate family — a Canadian mother/daughter who owned a restaurant near my bungalow, and who had been the first to bring me into the fold on the isle a year earlier — were quick to try and help. The mother looked up boat times and maps and called her taxi driver. The daughter, quite the tech whiz, steered me towards some shops at the big mall on the mainland, and gave me a checklist of tasks once there.

The next day, I left my secluded seaside paradise at 7:30AM. By 8:30, I was standing in line at the shopping mall escalator, waiting for the security guard to let us go upstairs and fight the good commercial fight.

Even with her fragile grasp on English, the slick technician at the recommended shop understood the problem.  She told me to come back in three hours, which was enough time to run tests, remove the hard drive, and take things from there.

‘Will I lose everything?’ I asked with moist, frantic eyes.  She just shrugged and went in the back.

All I could think to do at that point was to soothe my jangled nerves with a cup of fro-yo and Guardians of the Galaxy in super-duper big-screen HD.  And then, after the credits rolled..?

I had to part with almost half of the Pubslush campaign donations in order to buy a new laptop from the Apple store across the hall. But the woman at the store guided me thru the transfer steps, and the young Canadian back on the island made sure that nobody used the internet as I connected the (now) external drive from my old machine to the shiny new Air and hit the magic Mac button. Which led to three excruciating hours of watching the transfer bar approach 100% like a snail crossing a garden path after heavy rain while you dump salt on its back.

In the end, a tragedy was averted — the files were uncorrupted! I could even use old software (like Office, and Storyist, and moviemaking goodies) without a hitch. My guts softened. My breathing resumed. And the first thing I did after kissing the screen and shedding a tear of joy was to learn how the fuck OS Time Machine worked.

SEPTEMBER: Of Planes and Poisons

A month later, I was on a plane to Nepal by way of Kuala Lumpur.

I scored great seats on both legs. The plane and airport staff were crazy friendly. I even blissed out over the first sausage McMuffin w/egg off the griddle at 5:30 — my first of such tastes in almost two years.

The flight into Kathmandu was kinda nuts. The city itself even nuttier. I was in complete culture shock. I’d never been exposed to such a contrary energy, or urban third-world conditions of this magnitude. It took days to decompress and adjust, but you never really accept it.

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And soon after, my body rebelled.  The end of the month was chock full o’ the following:

  • A pollution-triggered bronchial infection. I had been warned about this by, well, everyone. The ubiquitous face-masks should’ve been my first clue. I couldn’t breathe right for over a month.
  • Food poisoning. I had planned to do a homestay in a hilltop village on the outskirts of Pokhara (the large tourist town to the north), and found what looked like a good place. The family was lovely, and the father did his best to make me feel welcome and comfortable, western standards be-damned. The incident occurred when his mother served me a cooked leaf dish, similar to spinach, that a small percentage of Nepalis experience as toxic. Apparently that holds true as middle-aged Canucks. All I could think as I lay on the spew-and-shit-soaked earthen floor of my en suite was: ‘Just let me live long enough to eat one last cheeseburger and hit the Createspace ‘publish’ button…’ Nearly a week to recover from. Kind of.
  • Parasites 2: The Poopening. Turns out that Giardia never really leaves your body, short of extreme fasting or chemo. The eggs just lay dormant in your pipes, waiting for an opportune moment to go all Walking Dead on you. And an immune system staggered by food poisoning, and lung infections, questionable restaurant hygiene, and a decided lack of fresh/clean fruit and veg?  Well, that’s like the checkered flag at an orgy for these crafty fuckers. Another dose of meds. And another multi-week suicide watch, as I’m of that lucky ilk that experiences extreme depression during antibiotic cycles.
  • Psoriatic Revenge. Infected pipes and poor diet and no exercise and jacked cortisol and beer binges are for Candida Albicans what a Boy Scout Jamboree is for pedophiles. Which, for me and 1 in 35 of you, pretty much guarantees a psoriasis flare-up. Think really dry and inflamed skin, like eczema. Then hit eczema with a tactical nuke, which raises leprous Godzilla from the ocean depths. Yup. Really good times.

I had some dark thoughts that month. Some days, the light at the end of the tunnel was just the glint on the edge of a very sharp knife. With the mounting illness, the isolation, and my meagre finances hemorrhaging from unexpected expenses — you know…like clean food, and water, and the wonderful world of petty room theft — my troubled brain could barely find an excuse to go on. It was all just too fucking much, and I was just so very tired.

I was treading in the proverbial belly of the whale when I suddenly flashed back to the meditation hall on that quiet hill overlooking the sea. To the talk our teacher had given us that breezy afternoon. Telling us how human emotions were like weather. Like the sun, or the wind, or the storm. We can’t make them stay, and we can’t force them to leave. They simply are. 

Sailing to Your Muse

And, just like weather, they’re destined to pass. 

A better day must come by design.

OCTOBER: Of Cloud-breaks and Creation

I was terrified to press SEND.

Uploading the final version of my first novel to Createspace (paperback) and BookBaby (e-shops) meant that I’d be shoving my baby bird from the nest, and out into the cruel world.  Would my child be embraced? Reviled? Ignored altogether?

My finger hovered over that damn button for days.  Friends and beta readers had told me how ‘brave’ I was for writing a book, and actually finishing it. But I didn’t feel the least bit courageous. I felt crippled. Stupid. Unworthy. Just another hack trying to build castles in the clouds. Soon, the sky would clear, and the bricks would come tumbling in failure. It was doomed before I typed the first word.

But I’ll let you in on a little secret. A trick I’ve used in most of work, especially when it comes to indie releases.

Make a trailer. Set a date. And tell any and every goddamn person who dares to listen. Then you’re locked in.

A creative failure always pales in people’s eyes versus the inability to keep one’s word. Most folks can at least appreciate the effort put into a dud. But failing to launch tends to flag you as a boy who cried wolf (or, in this case, ‘cat’).

And sometimes?

Sometimes the Fates bless you for your efforts.

And sometimes the Muse thanks you through the words of others.

NOVEMBER: Of Rats and Returns

Next it was back to Pai in Northern Thailand, as I needed to recover from getting brutalized in Nepal. It was a beautiful country, and the lion’s share of people were incredibly kind and utterly unique…but…when you get scammed twice and fall to food poisoning and score another round parasites and top it all off with a lingering lung infection?  Well…I’m the type of guy that sees it as the international equivalent to the Amityville horror.

Yes. I look for signs. Sue me.

I’ve learned to seek them as guides on where to stay, when to leave, and when to proceed with caution.  It could be something as simple as sunbeams glinting off a window at the right time and angle…or maybe just a sudden smell that makes the skin tingle and tighten without obvious reason.

On this leg of the grand adventure, the plane out of Kathmandu was 45 minutes late for take-off, and we were headed straight into a storm over central Thailand. My connecting flight was for a mere 80 minutes after the originally scheduled arrival time, and I’d have to go through post-coup immigration in Bangkok, get my bag, and somehow make it to the domestic terminal in time to check it and board for Chiang Mai.

So, by all rational measures? I was screwed. And not just me — I’d be putting out a good friend who was driving nearly four hours to pick me up, as there were no additional flights ’til the next morning.

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But, for some damn reason, I wasn’t worried. There was something I was seeing in the easy smiles of the Nepalese flight attendants.  Something in the way the plane banked and rose out of the Kathmandu valley.  Something in each bolt of lightning that tore a hole in the sky around the plane.

We landed late two hours later. Taxied slow. I hauled ass through checkpoints like a disgraced Canadian Olympian.

The Immigration dude barely glanced at me before giving the stamp. That never happens.

The baggage was late to hit the belt, but my backpack was first off.  Again…a singular event.

As I raced up to Domestic, I could hear the final boarding call. The ladies at Thai Airways giggled, checked my passport, and said they’d forward my boarding pass and baggage tag to the gate. ‘Run, mister…RUN.’

That night, chest heaving and sandwiched between siblings wincing at my caucasian ripeness, the impossible became possible. And I somehow knew it all along. I knew that I was where I was meant to be.

The icing on this serendipitous cake?

My friend had put feelers out, and found me a place to stay.  ‘It’s free,’ she said. ‘You only have to look after a cat.’ I had just released a mystery/fantasy/horror book for middle graders about cats.  A black-and-white cat with golden eyes, to be precise.  A cat that hunts rat-shaped nightmares in a little boy’s dreams.

So, you can imagine my reaction when this was what greeted me on my first night:

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DECEMBER: Of Money and Miracles

I’d been hiding from a troubling reality for months.

My passport was full. Maybe some room for basic stamps, but no more pages for visas. Meanwhile, my bank account was fumes, and my credit card was the fat lady at a Vegas buffet. I hadn’t written much more than an outline for Book 2 by this point, and was unsure where to go next. Vietnam and Malaysia had good Canadian embassies, but both are pricey during high season, and there was a month wait (at least) for a new passport.

Freaking out, I returned to my island ‘home’.  At the very least, I could sit in that little bungalow by the sea, watch a final month of sunsets, and meditate on what southeast Asia had given me. And then, I’d gather with kind old friends and eclectic new ones in a little pizza bar near the sea, and reflect on a year passed by far too fast.

One night, my eyes flickered open after a long, pre-sleep sit. I felt compelled to flip through the notes that I had scribbled for the first book. And it was there — nestled between creased pages of mind-maps and character notes and famous cat quotes and the earliest blush of purpling prose?

I found my New Year’s Wish List for 2014:

  1. Finish the book by Halloween to good reviews.
  2. Pet a tiger.
  3. Explore two or more new countries for a month+.
  4. Find a cheap and beautiful ‘home’ to work from.
  5. Train, lose weight, and see abs for the first time.
  6. Witness a major storm — preferably up close.
  7. Find enough money to keep the wolf from the door.
  8. Land a ‘remote writing’ contract with a major game company.
  9. Do a 10-day silent meditation for a permanent ‘power up’.
  10. Learn that I’m far stronger than I ever thought possible.

I couldn’t help but smirk. And the smirk soon grew into a smile, and then a blossomed into hearty guffaw.  8 or 9 out o’ 10 wishes being granted is nothing to whinge about, all things considered, even if the universe was being a little crafty in its follow-through on the specifics. (I’m looking at you, parasite-abs).

That night’s dreams were warm and formless, like an embrace from all sides. The next morning, I turned on the laptop, and was met with a message from an old work buddy. I can’t tell you the specifics of our reconnection. Not yet. But, it would suffice to say (depending on your tolerance level for all this woo-woo shit) that the list has since come true. All of it.

Who am I to argue with the Watchmaker, no matter how poetic and absurd it ticks?

So here I am, making a fresh batch of wishes for 2015. And I can say right now that YOU — You and your abundant, profound, and enduring Happiness — have secured a pretty high spot on the list.

I hope you’ll join me in the webs being woven, and the songs being sung, and the incantations muttered to birth some new Magic.  And I want to thank you all, deeply, for being on the journey with me thus far.

With Warmth and Respect from the hall of Mirrors,

Brooke

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3 Comments

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  1. January 1, 2015

    I really enjoyed your year and I wish for better ones to come. The Shadowland saga is something I am looking forward to finish and I’m really glad you didn’t keep the story to yourself.
    You are an inspiration, an open minded who sees through color, language and creed and the world will be a better place with more people like you.

    God bless.

    Ahmed

    Like

  2. January 1, 2015

    Yeah, that’s a pretty eventful rundown. Even though I knew most of it already it was a good ride! Very glad things are beginning to sort themselves out, as I always figured they would. Looking forward to hearing more specifics as they unfold. Thanks for taking the time to put it into words here! more soon -t

    Like

  3. Angela #
    January 2, 2015

    Should you ever tire of fiction, dear Brooke, you must consider an autobiography. Truly a citizen of the world….thanks for sharing your year with us =)

    Like

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