Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Search for Clinton: Update
While traveling in Uganda in October, I met a little boy named Clinton who tried to sell me postcards. I made a promise to him, and I broke it. To make good on my broken promise, I need to find Clinton. I'm working on it, and updating the blog on the way...



Again: "Hello?"

Some gigglng, a lot of background noise, some more giggling, and another click. I have to admit, my efforts were laughable, even to me. No, especially to me. I was trying to call Uganda, to find a little boy I'd met who'd tried to sell me postcards. Who may or may not be an orphan. Who called himself Clinton. In other words, I wasn't just searching for any old needle in a haystack, I was searching for a particular needle in a haystack.

"Friday?" I shouted into the phone. There was a screen of static, and behind it, more peals of laughter. "Is Friday there?"


Weeks earlier, while Jesse and I were still in Africa, Mr. Friday had introduced himself to us as the Public Relations Director for the Bwindi Orphanage. Although he'd told me right then and there that he had no idea who Clinton was among the 250 orphans, Friday was my best hope for finding Clinton, simply because I'd already had a conversation with him about Clinton. Imagine the alternative: calling any orphanage, anywhere in the world, without the benefit of a point-of-contact, and looking for a kid you'd met who'd tried to sell you something.

Founded in 1998 by a Mr. Ignatius and a Mrs. Bright, the Bwindi Orphanage began as a shelter for kids whose parents were dying of AIDS. Left to fend for themselves, the kids would have to beg for food, if they got a chance to eat at all. In fact, as the orphanage's website puts it, the orphaned kids would "eat by chance, but not by choice." I don't know about you, but that really strikes me. Eating by chance, instead of by choice. Worse still, the kids were often put in the hands of caretakers who wanted them around as much as the next orphaned HIV/AIDS victim, and they were beaten by the very people who were supposed to be giving them shelter.

I know, I know. If you've heard this story once, you've heard it a thousand times. After a while, you turn off. There's only so much you can do, and we all know that that's very little. But what if, what if you could change just one life? Rather than trying to take on the world, to "boil the ocean" as my best friend's husband puts it, what if I found Clinton and helped him change his own life? After all, at just seven years young and already a salesman, he already seems to be making his own strides.

Anyway, without much luck in getting in contact with Friday, I decided to try to call the founder of the orphanage, Mr. Ignatius. This time, I got through, but only to Ignatius's brother, who informed me that Mr. Ignatius is in the hospital, with malaria.

To be continued...

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Finding Clinton: Found & Lost in Uganda

This post might be the first of many or the last of one. I found someone in Uganda, then I lost him, and now I want to find him again. Here's what happened...

"Hey lady, where you going?" the little boy said.

About seven years old, he was covered head to toe in red dust from the road. My new husband and I were riding a pair of rickety bicycles, trying to negotiate our way down a pockmarked gravel path to the village's only internet cafe. Actually, the cafe wasn't a cafe at all, but it was the only place in this tiny town in southwestern Uganda that had an internet connection. On an outdoor porch, the computer table was flanked on either side by an orphanage and an emergency room.

"I'm going to check my email. Where are you going?" I said with mock parental seriousness.

"To the dance," the little boy said as he hooked his thumbs in his navy blue cut-off shorts. Night was falling and it was too cold to be wearing shorts. "I'm performing," he said without adding that he was one of the orphans, although I'd already guessed it.

Every evening at five o'clock, the Bwindi Orphanage sponsors a variety show for the tourists staying in the village. Nestled into the base of a rainforest so dense that you have to climb over partially felled trees to trek through it, Bwindi plays host to the lucky few visiting foreigners who've been granted highly restricted permits to track the endangered mountain gorillas. There are only two places in the world where you can do this, and Bwindi's aptly coined "Impenetrable Forest" is one of them. In other words, attending a variety show put on by a hodge-podge group of orphans plays second-fiddle to cutting through the thicket of the jungle to come face-to-face with your ancient silverback ancestor, with whom you share no less than 99.6% of your DNA.

"My name is Clinton. What's yours?" the little boy asked, still blocking my path.


"Hi Patricia, will you come to my dance?" Clinton said 'my' like he was responsible for the show's production. Notably, he left out the word 'orphan'. So I did, too.

"Sure I'll come to your show," I said, hoping I meant it.

"Do you promise?"

I wanted to promise him, but I couldn't exactly. It had been two weeks since I'd checked my email, and I was waiting to hear back from my agent about the Mongolia book we're in the process of pitching to publishers. The orphan dance was due to start in just a few minutes, and Jesse and I were still a mile or so away from the internet center.

"Clinton, I can't promise you, but I will do my very best to be there."

Clinton eyed me up and down, considering his next move. He still had his thumbs hooked in the pockets of his dusty blue shorts, and he looked like he was weighing whether or not to ask me a favor. "Buy one of my postcards, okay?" he said with the precocious self-confidence of a salesman decades his senior.

As it happens, postcard art is one of my favorite souvenirs. Hand-painted watercolors of villages or people or animals, they're pocket-sized paintings that you put a stamp on and post to your friends at home who can put them on the fridge or even frame them. Better still, the postcards are like windows into the mind of the artist himself, who is usually a child, and who is always sketching simply what he sees every day.

"Now that I can promise you," I said, certain that even if Jesse and I were late to the orphan show, at least we'd be able to find Clinton afterward to buy some of his art.

But I was wrong, and we didn't.

By the time Jesse and I had returned to where Clinton was supposed to be, the show had ended and he had gone. 'Gone where?' you're probably wondering, and so am I.

There are some 250 orphans under the care of the local Bwindi Orphanage, according to its Public Relations director, a man who introduced himself as "Friday". Orphans fall into three categories: children who have lost both parents, children who have lost one parent, and a third group, murkily described as "vulnerable children whose parents are still living". After trying in vain to appeal to Friday about Clinton's whereabouts, I asked him about the circumstances by which a "vulnerable" child would become orphaned. His response shocked me.

According to Friday, each woman bears, on average, seven children. On average. That means a particularly fertile woman could bear, say, ten children. That also means that, on the low end, a woman will still bear as many as four children. In one of the most remote provinces of one of the poorest countries in the world, that's a lot of mouths to feed. But putting food on the table is not the only problem. HIV, AIDS, and malaria run rampant. And according to Friday, many of the "vulnerables" come from families where one or both of the parents are dying. I wondered about Clinton, if he had a parent, or two, or none. Friday didn't know who Clinton was, but he said he'd ask around to find out.

"Come back tomorrow and we'll see about Clinton?" he said, inviting Jesse and I as his personal guests of the orphan show that would be put on again the next day.
But we couldn't come back. The next morning, just after dawn, we were due to return to Kenya and then home to New York.

"Friday," I pleaded, after explaining to him what had happened, "I need to find Clinton. I need to buy those postcards."

"You cannot," he said simply. "But you can sponsor his education."

Ah, easy enough, right? For $200 a year, I can anonymously sponsor Clinton's education. Every year, I write a check made out to 'Future', pat myself on the back, and vaguely hope that the little orphan boy I helped makes something of himself. Ignoring the fact I made an actual promise, I put it and Clinton's abstract plight out of my mind, thinking of all this once in a while, but not too often.

Or not.

Or, instead of just writing a check, I actually find Clinton. After I apologize to him for breaking my promise, I buy the postcards that I promised to buy, and I tell him why I'm buying them (because he's a damn good salesman for a seven-year-old). Assuming Clinton accepts my apology, I ask him if he'd like me to sponsor his education. Then maybe I ask him what he needs, like a new pair of trousers, for starters?

But I'm getting ahead of myself. First things first: I need to find Clinton.

To be continued.

So, want to join me on this little adventure? I hate tell you that's it's going to take a teensy bit of work on your part. All you need to do though is click "Follow" in the upper left-hand corner of this blog space,and I'll try to figure out how to fix my RSS feed. Thanks for your support.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Our Wedding!

Great news! The New York Times has published the story of how Jesse and I met in their weekly "Vows" column in the Styles section of the Sunday paper. Written by Devan Sipher and photographed by Kelly Shimoda, the piece was published in the Oct 31st print edition. Below is the online link to the article! (Above photo taken by a friend; read the article to see the NYT's photos).

P.S. I have some exciting news about our Africa honeymoon, and I'll be updating this blog space very soon with what I found (and then lost!) in a teeny-tiny village in western Uganda.

The NYT article: The couple met as Snow White and Hugh Hefner, in costume at a Hong Kong rugby tournament. Click here to read the article!

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Ever heard of a "word cloud"? I hadn't either, until a blogger friend clued me in. A word cloud is kinda what it sounds like - a cloud of words. In my case, it's a red rainstorm of all the words I've entered onto this blog since 2006, with the most commonly used words in larger font. As my agent Doug Grad and I head to the publisher soon, a red storm of words seems a fitting celebration for the years of effort that have gone into creating this blog and the coming book, Live! From! ...Mongolia??

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

...What about Steve Matre?

Remember that ridiculous dream you had as a kid? The one where you would become a professional athlete? Well, as a kid in Little League, Steve Matre dreamed just that. And then he kept right on dreaming too, right up until he was in college and facing down major surgery on his pitching arm. Listen to Steve tell the story of how "anything's possible if you put your mind to it."

Oh, and guess what? Steve's dream has come true. He's just signed with the L.A. Dodgers.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Enough About Me. What About...Heather Redderson?

Do not watch this video.

Do not watch this video if you love the outdoors. Do not watch this video if you are this close to quitting your day job. Do not watch this video if you have the Sunday blues, and you're dreading another Monday morning at your desk.

Do not watch this - because this story could really be about any of us. Any of us living in a town we love, enjoying the perks of a well-paying job; and whose social circle makes up the difference when money and location stop cutting the mustard. In short, this is the story about someone who really left it all behind and stuffed her life into a backpack - to climb a total of 50,000 feet, hike 125 miles, and spend several months living in a tent.

But if you're as intrigued with this woman's story as I was and still am, then please allow me to introduce...Heather Redderson.

Special thanks to Karen Knapstein for introducing me to Heather!

Oh, and pardon the sound quality - we did our best, despite an ocean between us and a squeaky little old Mac on my end.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Enough About Me. What about...Danny Sexton?

At 17, when most kids are thinking about how to cook up their next tweet, Danny Sexton was watching a documentary about Darfur. Somewhere in the middle of actual footage of villages being burned down and orphans searching hopelessly for recently killed parents, Danny said to himself, "I can't let this happen. I can't just sit here and watch this movie and walk away from this."

So, he didn't.

Danny and his friends Peter Beaucage and Ryan Finke came up with an idea that would eventually lead the three teens to founding an organization that helps save Darfuri women from rape and murder. And it all started...with leftover donuts.

Watch my interview with Danny by clicking the "play" button on the TV screen below...

Welcome to my new blog-TV series! If you're like me, you're sick of hearing about me (although you're definitely very excited to read my coming book about what can happen when you follow your wildest dream in life). Anyway - since I'm sort of sick of talking about myself, perhaps we could talk about you? You, who used to sit at a corporate desk job and are now training to become a mountaineer. YOU, a teenager who heard about Darfur and started up an organization to help save 600 refugee families from rape and murder. YOU, who, well, tell me! Tell me your story about how you've followed a dream. I'd love to hear from you. Frankly, I bet a lot of people would. -Patricia

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Enough About Me!

May I be straight with you? Yes? Thank you.

Here it is - I'm getting a little bit sick of the sound of my own voice here on this blog. For four years, I've been telling you about my adventure leaving a job for a new career, and the moments in between: writing for a London magazine, roadtripping in Africa, meeting my husband-to-be in an oversized Snow White costume in Hong Kong, and eating uber-delicacies like whale sperm in Japan. But as someone recently pointed out to me (someone important, someone in 'the industry'), four years on I have nothing to show for what I've done. I don't have a career. I don't have any direction. I just have my book.

More than anything, "just" was the word that stung.

After all, I've spent years believing that approximately almost-nobody has ever stopped achieving their dreams. That a dream is not necessarily a goal, but a process. That most people are like me, midway through their adventure. Some are closer than others, and some are still sitting at their corporate desk jobs thinking "What if?" But all of us, I still think, all of us are hanging onto the thread of belief in possibility.

So, on that note, I will bid you goodbye for a time. In the interim, I'd like to introduce to you, right here on this blog, a series of people who've followed their dreams. Like you and me, they're regular people with or without a bit of savings in the bank, with or without the wisdom of age, with or without the certainty of direction, and with or without concrete success. But they all have stories about how they shut their eyes and took that leap of faith.

So, coming soon: "Enough About Me, What About You?" Featured in this series will be a teenage president of a corporation working to help save women from rape in Darfur, a gorgeous New York woman who quit her corporate job to become a mountaineer, and hopefully, many more.

If you know anyone like us, like me and you, who's somewhere on The Path, write to me on this blog or at patricia.sexton(at)gmail.com and let's hear their story. Like I said, enough about me.

And finally, one last goodbye from Mongolia TV...

Friday, June 25, 2010

How Bunkle and I met: in Chinese

I'm interrupting the Mongolian news updates to bring you a little sidebar: how Jesse and I met, but told in Chinese. I butcher our story a little bit, and the Chinese a lot, but it was fun trying to write how we met from the limited amount of Mandarin that I've learned so far this year.

The true story is this: Two years ago, in Hong Kong at the Rugby 7's, while wearing costumes of Snow White and Hugh Hefner, Jesse and I met not once, but several times, randomly in a crowd of 40,000 people. He asked to take me to dinner in New York, and a few months later, he was living in NYC, and now we're getting married.

The Chinese story is this: Two years ago, in Hong Kong for a party, while wearing an oversized red and yellow outfit (kinda like Snow White), I met a handsome man wearing a black hat (a la Hefner's wig). He introduced himself and invited me to a meal of rice (the translation for the word "meal"). Surprised, I asked where we would have dinner, and he said he'd come to NYC to take me to dinner. I agreed, but my friend Joanne and I were tired, so we went home. The next morning, I got up early and showered and ate breakfast (very, very key!) and sent him a text message asking him to lunch that day. I end lamely, with nothing more than "He gave me a call," but I was running out of vocabulary. And mental capacity!

Special thanks to Willow Wray without whom I would not be posting any video at all. It's not often you get someone as dedicated to making things work for you as you are for yourself, but Willow's that person. And she can sing to boot.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Episode 2: What if you...just did it?
From Wall Street to Mongolian TV

"Food Poisoning and Tongue Twisters"

And in the second episode of Mongolia TV news broadcasting, I labor over a tongue twister so twisted that, years later, I still remember exactly what I said: "Doctor Thara Tritarakarn, Director of the Asia-Pacific Anesthesiologist Training Center". Try saying anesthesiology to yourself in the quiet of a dark room. Now try saying it quickly, sprinkled with a lot of unforgiving consonants, and do it in front of a TV camera and a half a dozen foot-tapping-wristwatch-glancing TV producers.

But that's not my favorite part. My favorite part about this episode is that the night before I went on air, I came down with a horrific case of food poisoning. The kind of food poisoning where you consider dying may actually be a relief. I'd eaten cole slaw, yes cole slaw, and I'd eaten a lot of it. Insistent upon filling myself with the roughage I'd had so little of during that summer, I ordered a family-size platter of slaw, and ate the entire thing - myself. A few hours later, stricken with what was probably salmonella, I spent hours heaving into a toilet. Badma, my Mongolian host mother, cured me so that I could go on air the next day. Force-feeding me mug after mug of scalding salty rice water, and thrusting her fists into my back and gut, she spent all night performing an ancient version of the Heimlich on me. By morning, I was completely cured. And fully ten pounds lighter.

Watch the short video for then-breaking news on Mongolian female archers, financial reform in a distressed economy, and an award given to a man who'd honored the 800th anniversary of Genghis Khan's founding of the Great Mongol State.

This video is the second of five. I'm posting these now because I've just finished a book about my wild adventure from Wall Street trading floor to Mongolian TV, and I thought the pictures would go well with the story. So each week, I'll be posting some tidbits about my experience anchoring, and my time living in Mongolia. I'd love it if you supported me, and forwarded this blog to anyone who's thought of throwing in the towel and pursuing a life of passion.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Quirky Food Tour in the East Village

There's nothing like a forecast of 87 degrees to ring in a Manhattan restaurant crawl. "Restaurant crawl?" you ask, "Not bar crawl?" Well, at a recent East Village tasting event, there was ample emphasis on the eating part. From gourmet mac'n'cheese to savory caramel macaroons and fiery Vietnamese sandwiches, the event showcased some of the best examples of typical village quirk. And that's certainly saying something, because anyone who's ever tucked into that hush-hush bar , hidden inside a hot dog restaurant behind the doors of a telephone booth can tell you this: the East Village itself is defined by quirk. So getting a chance to sample miniature versions of, well, just about everything, was the perfect treat on a sweltering weekend afternoon.

Kicking off the tour: S'Mac (345 E. 12th)

If you are American, or ever heard of America, you or someone you know has eaten macaroni and cheese. What's amazing about this product is that even the boxed, mass-produced Kraft version is actually pretty good, only so far as comfort food goes anyway. Which is to say that S'Mac has set itself a world apart with its Four-Cheese Mac'n'Cheese: al dente pasta baked in a lusciously rich and creamy cheese sauce, with a roof of firm, and slightly chewy cheddar, the varying kinds of texture that play war games in your mouth, and explode with flavor.

Next up: The Village Pourhouse (64 3rd Ave)

I assure you, this stop on the tour was more about the scene at the bar than what the bartender was pouring. After suffering through a pint of Bud Lite in a delightfully breezy open-air pub, I took a look around. Across the bar, a trio donning sombreros and faux mustaches, celebrating Saturday in anticipation of Cinco de Mayo. Next to my table, a group of eight or so identically-dressed Where's Waldo fans drinking and posing. Of course they were. Only in the Village.

And now, a tasting: Baoguette (37 St Mark's)

"Can I be in your picture?" the homeless man asked me. "No," I said, somewhat abruptly, because I'd just imbibed the liquid attitude that is Bud Lite. "But what about me?" asked another man, standing to my right, not looking very much like the chef he claimed to be. Cheerful in that humble sort of way, he hinted that he was the boss at Baoguette, and invited me inside.

And sure enough...

Sure enough, he was the boss, and while I waited for my "Sloppy Bao", which was graded "Very Spicy" out of four categories of pain, Chef Huang offered me sweet, creamy Pandan soft-serve. True to his claim, the bao was hot as hell. But its heat was cut with the tart sweetness of slivers of raw, young mango. On a freshly baked "baoguette", the sandwich of marinated minced beef couldn't have gone better - with a dark wheat beer, poured by an Aussie with an excellently coiffed weave - at Jimmy's 43, my next stop.

Pit stop: Jimmy's 43 (43 E. 7th St.)

The perfectly-coiffed Aussie bartender recommended a wheat beer with such authority that I gave in to my hesitation. Normally, wheat beer is just so yeasty and so hoppy; in my mind, it's lightweight material. But not this wheat. This wheat was brown and nutty, marrying the edginess of pecan with the softness of a shandy. It served the bao well, and I quaffed alongside the coiffed.

Next up: Luke's Lobster (93 E. 7th St.)

I don't know about you, but there's just something about white toast. Which is odd, because there's just nothing about untoasted white bread. Nothing - at all. But back to white toast, which usually sits in the background of a good sandwich, smirking smugly that it can't help but be noticed.

And so it was...

And so it was noticed, even in the company of lobster so tender that an entire restaurant of tasting revelers were completely silent, save the orgasmic exclamations of those of us eating: "Oh. My. God. That was so worth the wait!" Toasted white bread, mayo, tender lobster, an option for cocktail sauce. A simple sandwich, done just right.

Winding down: La Lucha (147 Ave. A)

It's a little bit difficult to focus on the food in front of you when there are scary S&M masks on the wall. What to do?

Face your fears, of course and wear a scary S&M mask while eating an open-faced taco. So that's what I did while sampling a vegetarian taco stuffed with cactus (looks and tastes like a sticky, gummy version of a snow pea) and a pork taco laced with pickled red onion.

Finally, dessert: Chikalicious (204 E. 10th)

Chikalicious has something of a cult following. I know this because I have walked past its two restaurants (which happen to be in such proximity to each other that they share a block) as early as 4PM, or as late as 11PM, and there is almost always a line of desperate sugar addicts waiting to get their gourmet fix. I mean, it's like seeing a line snaking outside of two Starbuck's on the same block. Oh wait, that happens all the time. Anyway, on offer that day for The Dealist's ticketholders were cupcakes and macaroons. If I may, I'll skip over the cupcakes (they were as good as cupcakes always are, especially red velvet ones), and move right onto the thing that will change your life: the salted-caramel macaroon. Never have I ever tasted such a waltz of sweet and savory, nor have I experienced the struggle to keep my cool between layers of crispy exterior giving way to silken caramel interior. It is possible that my life heretofore will be referred to as "B.C.", "Before Chikalicious", and "A.D.", "After Dessert". If you haven't sampled one of their salted-caramel macaroons, you haven't lived.

The End...
And that was where my tour ended. Although I hadn't even made it to every restaurant and bar on the tour's list, I'd done my best. Full and happy, I rang in the coming summer season in the quirkiest neighborhood of the best city on the planet.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Actual footage from Mongolian news broadcast; Patricia Sexton as anchor

What if you...just did it?
From Wall Street to Mongolian TV

If you're like me, you've spent years thinking about it. Worrying about it. Considering its endless implications. Creating Excel spreadsheet scenarios to forecast every imaginable outcome in the event you ever actually worked up the courage to Just-Do-It. And if you're a lot like I was, many years later, you still haven't done it.

But what if you did do it? What if you finally decided to throw in the towel on what's expected of you, instead of what you truly expect from yourself? What if you traded in security for passion? What if, finally, you pursued your dream?

For ten years, I worked on Wall Street in currency sales. It was a job I liked, but didn't love. And like exactly 100% of people working in jobs that they like but don't love, I daydreamed. What if, I always thought, stopping myself at the persistent call of obligations like mortgage, bills, lifestyle.

But then one day I did do it. Suddenly, or so it seemed to everyone but me, I quit my job and landed an internship at a TV station in Mongolia. Moved to Ulaanbaatar for a summer and lived with a family of Mongolian Mormons. And I can hardly believe that I'm telling you this next part because, years on, I can still hardly believe it myself - I was named anchor of the Mongolian national news. And that is what can actually happen if you follow your wildest dream in life.

Of course, I was pretty terrible at what I was trying to do. Just before we went to air that first time, I had a panic attack that can be blamed on a banana. Maybe you don't know this, but bananas are your enemy if you're planning on speaking into a microphone. They turn to paste and stick like glue to your tongue. In fact, try reciting a series of Mongolian names in front of a camera with a mouthful of paste and you'll suddenly understand what I mean. But that aside (oh, and the embarrassing head-bobbing like a buoy on a choppy sea), I can tell you this: there hasn't been a single moment in my life that, for even one second, I have regretted simply trying. I walked away from a lot, and discovered a world I didn't even know was there.

This video is the first of five. I'm posting these now because I've just finished a book about my wild adventure from Wall Street trading floor to Mongolian TV, and I thought the pictures would go well with the story. So each week, I'll be posting some tidbits about my experience anchoring, and my time living in Mongolia. I'd love it if you supported me, and forwarded this blog to anyone who's thought of throwing in the towel and pursuing a life of passion. Even if the bananas seem to be getting in their way.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

An Interruption to the Love Story

I just found a quarter of a moldy, rotting cheeseburger. And I did not find it in the refrigerator, where it should have been. But where I found it is far less interesting than why I found it. So let me interrupt myself interrupting myself and ask you something: have you heard of Fanny Mendelssohn? No? I hadn't either.

Last Thursday, I spent an evening at Cornelia St Cafe listening to her 19th-century piano compositions. This might interest few of you, until you understand who Fanny was, and why Fanny wasn't. The sister of the uber-famous Felix Mendelssohn, Fanny was arguably as gifted as her brother, but nobody knew this until it was too late. That is, until she was dead.

As a young woman, Fanny displayed a lot of talent for writing music. However, where Dad supported brother Felix, he told sister Fanny that, for her, publishing music was a man's game, and that for her, music was to be nothing but an "ornament" in her social calendar. Without her father's support, and without even her husband's, Fanny had to rely on playing music for houseguests. How dull. Anyway, one particular night, while she was performing for her guests, Fanny got a hand cramp, and died suddenly. She was 41, and her musical publishing career was over before it had begun.

But what does this have to do with finding a rotting cheeseburger?

While at author Robin Hirsch's Cornelia St Cafe, listening to Victoria Sirota explain the life of Fanny, and Joanne Polk perform Fanny's dizzying finger-fluttering compositions, my fire re-ignited itself. The same fire to which I referred last week, the temporarily extinguished one that has all but eluded me for the past month.

Suddenly, everything seemed worth writing about - dinner, the wine I paired with it, and any number of otherwise-pointless thoughts I had between bites. Of course, my apartment's hygiene suffered terribly, as did my cuticles. Both were a mess: I wrote until my cuticles bled, and ate only to sustain myself, leaving pizza boxes, soda containers, coffee cups, and even a quarter of a moldy cheeseburger...anywhere I dropped any of them. With dragon-claw toenails (come on, don't act like it hasn't happened to you), I wrote until I finished, and then I drank one glass of the finest Spanish red I could get my bleeding-cuticle paws on.

As they say, 'There's something about Fanny,' and whatever it was in her musical recipes, she struck a chord. Whether she's struck for me the direction of destiny, or the destiny of direction, I don't know. But I'm happy to be on fire.

Sidebar: If anyone wants to know where I found this glass of wine, and what it was, let me know. It's a showstopper of its own.

(Updates coming soon to the rest of the Boy Meets Girl; Girl Meets Boy story)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Girl Meets Boy

Previously, Boy Met Girl

Beer pitcher in hand, Jesse moves to greet you. As soon as he does, he flings his empty into the crowd. Now and again, so does everyone else, creating the effect of heavy, thudding confetti. But unfortunately for Jesse, his pitcher crosses a Hong Kong cop's path.

"Sah! Sah!" the cop screams at him. "Sah! You come here now!"

Dutifully, because the man in charge is toting a gun, Jesse obeys. Trotting off, he turns around to take what might be one last look at you. After all, those arrested are not allowed to return to the stadium. Tickets confiscated, armbands removed, they're banned for the duration of the Hong Kong 7's. Worse still, it's rumored that they're relieved of their passports, too, while they spend a night in a Hong Kong prison.

"You can't take him unless you take me, too!" you scream at the cop, suddenly indignant. Couldn't he see that you and Jesse were busy meeting each other for the unlikely second time?

Of course, he couldn't. And if he could, he wouldn't, and didn't.

As Jesse is carted off, you turn to one of his friends. "We have to do something!" you implore, as if the most important moment of your life was being undone.

"Don't worry," he says with the mischievous smile of unsympathetic confidence. "If anyone can talk his way out of something, Jesse can."

And so about an hour later, Jesse returns. That he returns is of no surprise to his friends. How he returns is a surprise to everyone.

After his arrest, Jesse was marched off for questioning. It didn't last long, and didn't live up to the rumors of jail time and confiscated passports. But his arrest does live up to its expectation of being deported from the stadium - for good. Released from police custody, Jesse was ticketless and turned away, ordered to return to his hotel, or face the consequences.

'But what about the girl?' he'll later tell you he wondered then.

Standing outside the stadium, unsure what to do next, an unbelievable thing happens.

"Mister?" says a small boy, holding out a ticket. "Do you want my ticket?" The boy is with his father, who nods in agreement, saying, "Go ahead; take it."

Although Jesse tries to pay them, the father refuses, insisting that he accept the ticket as their gift. It's almost, almost, as if the father knows something Jesse doesn't know. Later, you'll both tell the story that way, too: that the boy with the ticket was some sort of uncanny divine intervention, like he and his father were party to some cupidinous inside joke that you both would understand only much later.

However, ticket in hand, Jesse still needs to get back into the South Stand. And just as his friends promised you he could, he talks his way right back in.

Suddenly, you see him, and it seems like time is moving very slowly. 'He's back,' you say quietly to yourself, before joining in the standing ovation Jesse receives from the crowd for his sneaky re-entry. As he picks his way through the Smurfs and sheiks, arms raised victoriously, he's looking at you and only you, smiling the guilty smile of ill-gotten, odds-beating luck.

"What would it take to get a beautiful girl out to dinner in New York?" he blurts, and you misunderstand, allowing an obvious pick-up opener to sail right over your (appropriately) blonde head.

'Is this guy kidding me?' you say to yourself, wondering why he'd have come all this way to ask you about taking another girl on a date.

"Alain Ducasse," you smirk, and wait for his reaction. Annoyed that you think you've misjudged his interest in you, you recommend one of New York's most expensive restaurants as a ploy to get this 'other' girl out for dinner.

"Okay," he says, unaware of his unintentional misstep. "Because I would like to take you out to dinner one night."

"But you live in London?" you think but don't say, trying very hard to push away the suddenly overpowering feeling that this story might be your Story.

To Be Continued - And I very much appreciate those of you who've read, forwarded, and followed. Please continue to do so, as it will help me with the coming "Live from Mongolia!" book's publicity.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The Odds Were...Terrible

Subtitled: Finding love when you weren't looking for it

For a moment, pretend you're Hugh Hefner. Put on that crushed red velvet robe, untie it at your midsection so your hairy chest is showing, and put a pipe in your mouth. Now strut. Because you're at one of the biggest parties in the world, and you and eight of your friends are all dressed alike, and you're looking good. Just like Hugh Hefner, all eight of you.

"Right or left?" one of your identically-dressed friends asks you as you both survey the stadium crowd of 40,000. At the annual Hong Kong 7's rugby tournament, you've both flown a long way from London to be here, and you want to make sure to see it all.

"Left," you respond, and your life will forever change because of it.

Into the crowd you turn left, a mayhem of grown men and women dressed as Smurfs, dinosaurs, Popeye, Gumby, life-sized beer cans, inmates, sheiks, karate kids, and clowns. You're in the notorious "South Stand", the part of the stadium that makes a college frat party look like a preschool scrimmage. It's Halloween on the grandest scale, if not the most drunken.

And then you see her.

Waddling toward you is one obese Snow White, red vinyl bow crowning her jet black wig pulled into a knot at the nape of her neck. All yellows and blacks and stripes, and those big puffy sleeves, she smiles at you from across the chaos.

"What are you?" she calls out, still grinning in a beguiling way that suggests she isn't aware how ridiculous she looks.

"Drunk!" you respond honestly, because this is a true story about how two people meet - about what they actually said rather than what they should have said.

Snow White marches over to you and your matching friend, and introduces herself. Later, you'll tell her there was something about her eyes that made you want to know her. Later, she'll tell you that there was something about your smile that made her want to know you. But right then, this was still 'then', when you were both seasoned commitment phobes, and you lived an ocean apart from each other.

"I'm a runner, really I am," she announces as unceremoniously as you just did in telling her you were drunk. Lifting up the hem of her nylon yellow princess skirt, she shows you that, yes, she probably does run. The costume shop owner in Hong Kong had only one costume left, she explains, and it was an extra-extra large.

Whether you're relieved or amused, she can't tell, but you eventually part ways. Much as you enjoyed each other's company, you both know the odds of reality - that you're at a rugby event with 39,998 other people, you're in costume, and you don't even know each other's last names.

With her friends, all dressed identically as Marilyn Monroe, Snow White scampers off into the dense crowd. You don't expect to see her again; she doesn't expect to see you again. At a party so disorderly that confetti flies in the air alongside flung beer pitchers, no one really expects to see each other again.

The next morning, Snow White and Marilyn Monroe wake up to the throb of yesterday's Too Much Fun. Nursing their pain, they make a vow they won't keep, to stay away from the infamous South Stand, and head somewhere more civilized. One look at their costumes firms their resolve - Marilyn's white costume is no longer white, and Snow White's costume is stained brown in all the places it used to be yellow. In tidy civilian clothing, the girls head back to the stadium, strong caffeinated antidotes in hand.

"What if..." Marilyn and Snow White say in unison to each other as soon as they arrive at the stadium. "Just five minutes?" they justify, rationalizing that since Snow White has flown all the way from New York, it would be a real pity to not see and do everything on offer. Besides, neither of them wants to miss out on, well, anything. Marilyn makes a phone call and manages to arrange two of the stadium's very last seats for herself and Snow White.

As it happens - actually, it usually doesn't - those two seats happen to be right next to yours, the Hugh Hefner that met Snow White just yesterday.

"Jesse?" Snow White says as soon as she sees you, butterflies in her stomach, unable to believe her luck that the handsome man she'd met the day earlier was sharing a row of seats with her today.

"Yes?" you say politely, but blankly. It's obvious to her that you don't recognize her yet.

"It's me, Snow White!" Although she's not in costume, and her hair has gone from Snow White's black to her (semi) natural blonde, you suddenly see the resemblance. And that's when everything really changes. But not before you get arrested.

To Be Continued - And let's make a deal, okay? You become a follower of this blog and I'll keep writing. Better, you forward this blog to somebody else who will read it, and ask them to forward it, and I'll really keep writing. Come on! Help a writer out! Thanks to everyone who's been reading since 2006.

To follow, all you have to do is click "Follow" in the upper left-hand corner. This will require exactly two mouse-clicks.

Friday, January 29, 2010

I'm a Liar

I went to North Korea, and I'm getting married. My apologies for fast-forwarding, but today it feels like a necessity. After all, this is a blog, and I'm the Boss of My Own Content. Besides, sitting in front of me on my Formerly-Known-As-Dining-Table is a stack of things to do. You know what I'm talking about if you're a blogger - all those things you didn't write about, but have been meaning to write about. So, I'll give you the abridged version, and then I'll tell you why I'm a liar.

Getting married - I'm engaged to someone I met not once, but twice, in a crowd of 40,000 people at a massive costumed event in Hong Kong. Consider those odds, if you will: 2 people in a crowd of 40,000, meeting twice, mostly unrecognizable in costume. Nearly two years on, it's still unbelievable to both of us.

North Korea - For years, it's been my dream to journey there, and I finally made it happen. Incredibly, I got a chance to sit in Kim Jong-il's actual seat for the Mass Games ceremony!

Okay, that's about it for the big, archived news. Now for the breaking news. And why I've entitled this post as I have, that I'm a liar.

For two years, I've been writing a book called "Live from Mongolia!", a story about a banker who leaves her supposedly awesome, lucrative job to follow a dream all the way to Mongolia to become a journalist. That's my true story; that's my coming book.

But what about now? What about right this minute?

Right this minute, it's a weekday morning, and I'm sitting in my pajamas, something that disappoints me to no end. When I had a job, a real job, I arrived everyday before dawn. Although I complained bitterly about the hours, I secretly loved them. Waking up to an alarm, knowing I had somewhere to be, being committed to a role: that was some good kind of pressure, the kind of pressure that made me react, do, achieve.

And now? And now I have nowhere to be, no real reason to even get dressed, only a persistent call of duty to finish this book. And that's why I'm here to tell you today that I'm a liar.

Ever since I left banking, I've run into colleagues here and there: a few weeks ago in Union Square, last night at Grand Central, even overseas. "Wow, I'd love to have your life!" they remark, and I nod politely in agreement. Of course, it is wonderful to have this life, this freedom to sit in my pajamas until I go to bed again, if I please. But that's not what I'm talking about.

What I'm talking about is...I seem to have misplaced my fire.

When I first started writing the book two years ago, I'd get a lump in my throat every time I wrote what I thought was a particularly well-phrased description. Eyes watering and overcome with the emotion of passion for one's duty, I'd sit in cafes around Manhattan with a goofy grin, grateful for the mere opportunity to express the literary gift I felt I'd been given.

And now? And now, two years on, I miss that old innocent excitement. The effervescence with which I approached each day has gone flat. Presumptuously expecting good turns of phrase, I resent my ability when it doesn't heed my bidding.

And so, I'm here to tell you that I've lied. That I'm no longer sure about what I'm doing and why I'm doing it. That cafes are distracting. That a flexible work schedule is completely unempowering, even though I've told you otherwise if we've met on the street. That I don't want to be in my pajamas right this moment.

So, on that note, I am going to get dressed and go to a distracting cafe. With or without you, passionate fire, I must soldier on.