I love this poem, fascinating and beautiful.
My final university exam was over. There was nothing more to do but sit back and wait for the results. I went to the campus pub with some friends who had also taken the exam, and there we met one of our lecturers, who joined us for a drink. He asked us what we were planning to do next and why we had decided to go to university in the first place. My answers were, unfortunately, not the ones he wanted to hear: I don’t know and because I didn’t know what else to do after I had finished my A levels. He was not impressed.
During the course of the conversation, he suggested that we should look into living abroad and teaching English as a foreign language. I didn’t say it at the time, but I thought it was a terrible idea. I had not moved far from my parent’s house to go to university and I didn’t like the thought of living in another country. But a couple of months in a poor job market was enough to persuade me, and around six months later I left for Ho Chi Minh.
That lecturer doesn’t know I followed his advice. He probably doesn’t even remember giving it to me. But he set in motion a journey that culminated in a book of poems, “City of the World”, focused on my time in Vietnam.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for Inspired Stories and Poems.
Here’s an excerpt:
A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 3,200 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 53 trips to carry that many people.
Today’s prompt for Story a Day’s May challenge is to write a story in a style/tone that I never use. You can read the full prompt here.
I feel silly *hides in embarrassment*.
LAURA’S CHRISTMAS LIST AGE 6
To Mr Santa (and Mrs Santa and all of the reindeer and the elves and your friends)
This year I have been so good I am a really really good girl. I have been the best. One time in April I punched my baby brother but that was because he was crying and every other time I have been really good. Please bring me these things for Christmas because I have been so good.
- A new Barbie car because granddad sat on the one you brought me last year and now the screen has fallen off.
- Green paint for my play shed because I like it.
- Lots of money but don’t let mummy put it in my bank account please!!!
- A new top. There is a top with flowers on in one of the shops in town that daddy won’t let me have because it is lots of money and I can’t remember which shop but I would like it so please send me that.
- More chocolate than last year and please take away the vegetables for Christmas dinner we don’t want them.
- A different baby brother OR NO BABY BROTHER.
Remember Santa I have been really really good this year I would like to wake up on Christmas day to all of these things or if you can’t bring them all then just the Barbie car will do.
Today’s prompt for Story a Day’s May challenge is to write a story inspired by a memory from my own life. You can read the full prompt here.
I have previously written a short story based on my memories of the 2014 Color Me 5K Run in HCMC, which you can read here.
The first time I kissed a boy was nothing short of disappointing.
I had been taught by music, television and movies that a first kiss was something special, something to be remembered, and something to be cherished for the rest of my life. Instead, we had walked down to the end of the street holding hands, awkwardly skirted around the act that we both wanted to do, and then bumped noses with each other in a clumsy kiss that had been more spit than tongue.
It taught me a valuable lesson. I stopped listening to the songs that told me about the sparks of a first love. I stopped watching the TV shows that told the stories of young couples who stayed together their whole lives and were perfectly happy and never wanted to try anyone else to see if they were missing something huge. I stopped paying attention to the movies that taught me that, as a young woman, I needed to look at physical pleasure as something sacred that I could only share with the “right” person.
Instead, I focused on what I wanted in my life. I wanted to have lots of kisses with lots of different people so that I could find out what was good and what was bad. I wanted to experiment in as many ways as possible so that I could learn about what I liked and what I disliked. I wanted to fall in love with someone and fall out of love with them, to feel the magic of a blossoming romance and the heartbreak of an impending break up.
And what I wanted, I went out to get.
The first time I kissed a boy was nothing short of disappointing. The second time I kissed a boy, I felt no social pressure to find “the one”. The second time I kissed a boy, it was exactly what I was looking for.
Note: Yes, my first kiss was disappointing. And yes, I did want to kiss lots of other boys. But in real life, those boys didn’t want to kiss me back!
Today’s prompt for Story a Day’s May challenge is to take an object from a museum’s website and write about its significance or value. You can read the full prompt here.
I have chosen to use these canopic jars from the British museum.
From the moment that my parents created their greatest mistake (which, of course, is me), I have been fascinated with one particular ancient culture: Egypt. In particular, kid-Laura gaped in awe at images of the jackal-headed God Anubis, because he was just plain awesome and that was that. As Anubis was the God of embalming, funerals and death, somebody probably should have noticed at that point that I had a peculiar fascination with dark concepts surrounding the underworld and the afterlife.
I was also extremely interested in the story of Osiris, who was chopped into pieces by his brother Seth – not because of the violence, but because I found the tale that his wife impregnated herself when she found his dismembered penis hilarious.
Kid-Laura was the original, basic version of adult-Laura who still finds the tale that his wife impregnated herself when she found his dismembered penis hilarious.
One of the earliest things I remember actually finding interesting at school was learning about Ancient Egypt. We drew a map of the country and studied some common artefacts, amongst which were canopic jars. For those of you who do not know, canopic jars stored the four main organs of the deceased before they were mummified (which is where the film The Mummy got their facts wrong – there were five jars in that movie, not four). The four organs that were considered sacred enough to be placed in these jars were: the stomach, the intestines, the lungs and the liver. The brain and the heart were not given this special treatment.
I have always felt disheartened about the fact that I did not study Ancient Egypt – or, indeed, a great deal about any ancient civilisation – after I left primary school. From then on, history lessons focused on subjects like the Cold War, Women’s Suffrage and Victorian England, which (although interesting and important) were repeated again and again as though there was nothing else in the world that could possibly be studied.
Sometimes I went back to my old notes and read up on what I had studied as a child. Sometimes I went online to read whatever I could find on the subject of Ancient Egypt, and in doing so I became increasingly aware that my education in history lacked significant depth. When I later went on to study history at university, my interest in the medieval world was thankfully allowed to grow, and at last the syllabus presented me with something exciting again.
Without those lessons studying Ancient Egypt at primary school, I may never have discovered something to be interested in during my history lessons. The subjects I covered at secondary school and in sixth form were not only repetitive, they also seemed to have been designed specifically to sound as dull as they possibly could. It was knowing the facts and the arguments back then, rather than forming them as I did at university. The subject was bland and it was only by looking back at my lessons on Ancient Egypt that I maintained my interest in history at all.
That is the significance of these canopic jars. They are a memory that led me to my degree, and they present the question of what I might have studied (even – if I might have gone to university), and who I might have been, if the history curriculum at my primary school had been tedious.
Today’s Prompt: We all have anxieties, worries, and fears. What are you scared of? Address one of your worst fears.
I won’t make this a long one. No point in blathering on, is there?
No point in much else, either.
Everyone has fears. I’ve always found it bizarre that people are afraid of the little things. Spiders, dogs, darkness. I can understand others to a point. Heights. Yeah I get it. Enclosed spaces. A bit weirder, but then I don’t like being close to people too much. Flying. Well, more like falling, I guess.
We all fall, don’t we? Hardly unusual.
But those things don’t seem to bother me. Pick up a spider and put it outside. Check. Help stray dogs. Check. Wander around in the darkness. Check. Climbing. Check. Working in small spaces. Check. Long plane journeys. That’s a big check.
No, those aren’t the things I worry about. They’re infrequent.
Everyday. That makes a difference.
So, what does make me anxious? Lots of things, if I’m honest. Speaking to a group of people in a formal environment. Informal is fine, but formal? People expect things of me then. Making a new post. Not all of the time, but on those days when the prompts just don’t go my way. Meeting new people. That’s a big one. Sometimes, just walking past people. Clients at work who say good morning. That makes me nervous. Doing new things. Oh, not all new things. No.
An adventure or two never hurt.
And therein lies the point. I’ve gone out on a whim and done things that loads of other people might never do. I’m not afraid to pack up my life and move it somewhere else. I’ll take on a new job. I’ll take on new challenges.
What I am afraid of is normality.
Today’s Prompt: Think about an event you’ve attended and loved. Your hometown’s annual fair. That life-changing music festival. A conference that shifted your worldview. Imagine you’re told it will be cancelled forever or taken over by an evil corporate force.
How does that make you feel?
How disappointing! Must I resort to sounding selfish in this post?
The greatest band I have ever seen was Motorhead. I was at a festival, although I do not remember which one, and I spent the whole set just staring up at Lemmy. In those moments, I understood everything. I understood why people are in awe of him. I understood why women flock to him, despite his less than handsome (sorry!) appearance. I wanted the music to go on forever. I had no concept of time. There was only Lemmy.
The best party I have ever attended was a ‘surprise’ party. It was about a week before I left for Vietnam and the surprise was actually on the guests – only my mum, my dad, my brother and myself knew what it was really for. We invited my aunts and uncles, my grandparents and my cousins and pretended to be throwing a surprise birthday party for my dad, who conveniently went out for the day. When my dad came home, everyone jumped out and shouted surprise – at which point I announced to the bemused party guests that, actually, my dad had known about the party all along and I was going to leave for Vietnam. My favourite part about the whole thing was that my grandma, who has selective hearing, paid no attention to my announcement. As she knows nothing about Vietnam besides the Vietnam War, when I repeated myself she went white as a sheet and asked me if I was joking. Nobody will ever trust us to throw a surprise party again.
There were celebrations in Vietnam, too. For Tet Festival (Lunar New Year), the company I worked for held a fancy dinner, mostly to impress the shareholders. There was traditional food and a dance involving two dragons and a guy dressed as Buddha that went on for entirely too long for me to concentrate. It was a nice way for the company to show that they appreciated us, although I would have been fine without the long speeches.
The problem I have with this prompt is that these things are very much a part of my past. I don’t attend gigs or festivals these days and it doesn’t bother me at all. Motorhead will not continue to produce music forever and with Lemmy’s recent health issues there’s not a great deal more to say on the issue. My life would not be over if my family had a massive fall out and we never met up again, because family is not the be all and end all. I made the choice to leave Vietnam because it was my time to go and I won’t be going back in a professional role. If I never get to go back again, I will not despair.
To put it simply: if music festivals were cancelled forever, nothing within my life would change. My life would change more if my family fell apart, but I have always prided myself on my independence. If we never held another family party again, then nothing about that would bother me. As for the company I worked for in Vietnam? I’d like to see you try to find a more evil corporate force.
Today’s Prompt: Pick up the nearest book and flip to page 29. What’s the first word that jumps off the page? Use this word as your springboard for inspiration.
The word I have chosen is ‘young’.
To myself (aged sixty),
Congratulations! I’ve reached a good age. Whatever I’m doing, wherever I am and however my life has turned out, I hope I’m in good health and good spirits.
I could ask any number of questions, but I won’t. I could make myself think about so many things, or conjure up so many memories of my life, but I won’t. There’s only one request I have. It’s something I noticed about people years ago, and it bugs me like mad.
It’s called “the good old days”. You know, those days when the sun never stopped shining, when everyone was friendly to everyone else and society was just perfect? Oh, those days when everything was brilliant! Well, I’ve got some news. Those days are fictional.
The most important thing I want myself to remember when I’m older, is that fantasising about my youth is wrong. There have always been things that are wrong, things that have not worked in society. Don’t get caught up in the nonsense of returning to a better time – because the world was dark when I was young, too.
Laura (aged twenty three)
Today’s Prompt: Where did you live when you were 12 years old? Which town, city, and country? Was it a house or an apartment? A boarding school or foster home? An airstream or an RV? Who lived there with you?
This is an easy one for me. I’ve lived in 5 different houses in my life: my parents’ house, which was originally a bungalow and later had a loft conversion; two student houses, during my time at university; and two apartments when I was living in Vietnam. I have never ‘moved’ house properly, because both at uni and in Vietnam I only packed enough stuff to fit in one suitcase. I picked up the rest of the things I needed while I was there, and left them behind when I left. When people ask me, I tell them I’ve lived in the same house for my entire life. It feels that way to me.
The loft conversion didn’t happen until I was in my mid to late teens, so at twelve I was sleeping downstairs in the second largest room in the house. My parents had the master bedroom next door, and my brother the smallest bedroom in the house. The building was very different back then. Later on, my brother’s bedroom would be demolished to expand the hallway and make room for some stairs; the master bedroom would become my brother’s room, and the second smallest in the house; my old bedroom would become the spare for guests; and two bedrooms would be built upstairs, one for my parents, the other for me.
It was a plain room. I’ve had posters on the walls of my room every now and then, but I never keep them there. It was a green room, painted by my mother. There was a life-sized, framed painting of Harry Potter on one wall. He was probably only supposed to be eleven or twelve in that picture. On another wall, there was a large cabinet filled with porcelain dolls, which had been collected for me by relatives. Strangely, they never frightened me. The fact that they were kept in the cabinet that I slept beneath at night was not a problem to me: I had become used to them at a young age.
The rest of the floorspace was taken up with toys and games. There was a lot of floorspace. When my cousins or friends came over, we would gather together to play in my room, because there would be room for all of us to sit down and join in.
Nobody was allowed into my parents’ room when I was young. The best room, the living room, was also off limits most of the time, because we were messy kids who tended to leave our toys behind instead of packing them away. That left us the kitchen, which was small, and another living area (the wall between these two rooms was later knocked down to create a larger kitchen and dining area), as well as the garden. The back garden was much larger back then. We had another field at the back of the garden, which we would play in when we had good weather; the village was quiet enough for us even to go out on the streets on our bicycles, providing someone was available to keep an eye on us.
England has always been home for me. Living anywhere else would feel like I was on holiday (Vietnam certainly felt like that). This is the only place I can truly imagine myself settling down, finding somewhere comfortable to live. Nevertheless, I have used up almost all of the time I can endure at my parents’ house. The place has changed and grown since I was twelve, but the time I spent living away from home has taught me that there is so much to enjoy about living on my own.