Sunday, March 31, 2013


How I feel, how I feel, how I feel.

I feel the mood swings of a teenager. I feel hopeful that the ups and downs will give me rippling muscles, just like the ups and downs of sit ups or push ups. I feel sore, just like the ups and downs of aforementioned exercises.

Thailand. Sometimes I wonder what is different? Am I really even in another country? People are people everywhere, and they all eat food and most of them have children at some point, and the toilets are an adjustment and people try to charge me more money for things because I'm a noob, but they do that in the U.S. too. I'm just less of a noob there. The houses are smaller generally speaking, and all the stores are outside, even when they are inside. The dominant religion is different and the language as well, and even the alphabet, making every road sign a work of art, and a mystery unless also written in English.

Wifi is hard to come by, as is good coffee.

My friend Koi asked me today how I have been changed by my trip. I'm still working through that. It's all these small things that don't necessarily come together, things that I'm hoping will make me stronger but at the moment I'm just a little sore.

Out of a month of traveling, it is only in the last week that all the challenges have arisen. A motorbike accident with road rash and stitches. I feel I have dealt with that quite well (although the nurses here are NOT GENTLE.) A lost camera, which was lost once before for 2 years, and really I am not sad for its absence, just sad because I thought three times in the last day "I should upload my pictures" and I did not. And the heartache that so often accompanies my tendency to fall in love with inaccessible people.

How have I been changed? We shall see. But I think it is in the strength I feel in my legs. Not physically. It's this rooted feeling that connects down to the ground, and up to the rest of me, that reminds me that I can deal with these situations, and I can deal with change, and I can deal with disappointment, and I can make my way across a country and around the world, and hopefully back. And I can make a damn good run on sentence. I don't have a photograph of how I feel, because I lost my camera, but really that's an excuse because I do have some pictures, I'm just lazy and prefer to write.

I feel strong, and aware of my weaknesses. I am proud of my accomplishments, and willingness to go in the direction of my fear. I feel a little more alone and a little less lonely. I feel a little less alone and a little more independent. I feel quite nervous for the return to album releasing/massage frenzy world, and the ups and downs that come with it, but I think I'm getting pretty toned over here. I look forward to using that strength back in the U.S.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Adieu, Chiang Mai

Last night in Chiang Mai. Some days, I want to write without editing, speak without thinking, think my thoughts as they come out of my mouth/fingers/improvisation is an art form.

I'm learning every moment in every conversation and new relationship.

Art, for the evening, a strong resonating theme. V's art exhibition was tonight, and I had the privilege to play and sing at it. Thailand has been a wonderful refresher for my love of music. After being gifted a small backpacking guitar, I have been playing at every available moment, reveling in it, taking comfort from it (and singing along to it). This is how I started with music, but things always take a turn when there is money involved. I'm glad that a sincere enjoyment returned within less than a week of leaving paid gigs behind.

Not that I want to leave them behind forever. I'm realizing much about my worth, and about what I mix up for my worth, which maybe has very little to do with it.

Staying with V and Aree is an inspiration, a lesson in passion, an encounter with some really alive people who can't help but make everyone else a bit more alive while they're living.

Tomorrow I take a minibus to Pai, 3 hours north in the mountains, to stay in a bungalow and veg out a bit after all that learning. Larnin. Ya know. It was really nice to see my friends from school and my friends from town and my friends from the guest house all at the art exhibition tonight. And V painted live for us again, with a particularly brave nude model.

I enjoy writing my thoughts for the public, like live art, or maybe sometimes just a ramble, but I'm also learning that the things worth doing are not only the things I am good at. And sometimes by doing I get better. And sometimes I just get enjoyment out of doing. Painting. Dancing. Writing. Running. Mmh. I am alive.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Thing About Time

I am always amazed at the depth of relationships formed during only a week or two of camp, travel, or other such temporary things. It occurs to me that this is the nature of temporary things. At least as I see them. There are two approaches to a temporary circumstance: 1. Dive in wholeheartedly, making the most of every moment. 2. Hold back almost entirely since it will all be over soon anyway.

I tend to fall in the category of divers, perhaps to a fault. Sometimes I contemplate holding back, but I'm not so good at it. Today, for example, I began a weekend course in Thai Foot Massage. After spending the last 2 weeks getting close and rather attached to my classmates, I wasn't eager to start all over. I said my goodbyes to most of my new friends last night or this morning. When it was time for lunch with a brand new group of people, I decided to sit on my own, feeling like "holding back" this time around.

Then Carlos sat beside me. Carlos lives in Texas. He is from Bolivia. Somehow, in the course of a 30 minute lunch, I learned the stories of Carlos and his family, the struggles of immigration, the multitude of routes he and his family had taken to live and work in the U.S. I found myself with tears in my eyes as he talked about his cousin who risked her life three different times to cross into the U.S. illegally, only to be sent back. I was humbled, hearing about the sacrifices parents make to send money back home to their families. And in turn, their children use these opportunities to care for their aging parents. And I live a life with small problems which I pretend are big, and small sacrifices which I pretend are big. And I hadn't thought, until today, about how important it is from me to be available to my parents and grandparents as they get older (and preferably before anyones health declines?). They sacrificed a lot for me, even without crossing any country borders.

The thing about time is that when it is short, it is more valuable. If you found out you only had a year, or a month, or a week left to live, you might make a few changes. If you know you have only a week of camp/school/travel with someone, your relationship might develop a bit differently from someone you expect you could see any time.

And because time is so valuable, because life is not infinite (or so I believe), the way we choose to spend our time can be like a gift. To dedicate oneself to caring for another person is a more genuine display of love than any cash contribution could ever be. Giving your time towards the service of another- a child, a parent, or even a stranger- shows how much that person is worth. They are worth your time, which is "short" in a sense, though it may be longer than a 2 week thai massage course. And it is because time is short, because we do not live (on earth, in this particular body) forever, that our time is worth something. That is my idea of a happy ending. Not happy because everything always works out perfectly. Happy because there is an ending; which makes the story worthwhile.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Constant creation

Thai people work so hard at whatever they do. It's like a performance, a creation, whether they are washing dishes, giving a massage, or driving a tuk tuk (three wheeled motorbike-cab). Whenever I buy steet food (every day), I enjoy watching my food being prepared. The making of a papaya salad looks about equally as complex as the composition of a fugue. Coming home from dinner one night I met a man making tiny beautiful flowers out of discarded plywood, wich he cut into petals, painted, and assembled. He looked "homeless," though you might consider many thai people "homeless" by western standards. I was inspired by his artistic skill, his passion for his work and the creativity to make money from virtually nothing. This creative process has captivated my attention,  especially as it relates to the discipline of creativity. (Are these things not contradictory?!)

Every weekend there is a night market on Saturday and Sunday. The best comparison I could make is if the Ann Arbor art fair happened for 2 days a week every week.  The street is shut down, and food, clothing, art, massage, and music take the place of automobiles. Vendors begin setting up hours and hours before the market begins. Small old women walk down the street balancing huge loads on either end of long poles. Impressive strength. Discipline. There is so much manual labor involved, for vendors to display their handiwork. Their creativity. Discpline. Creativity. Discipline.

This saturday I walked down the street at an impressively slow pace, "shiny" distractions slowing me down even more than the impassable wall of people. I made it to the center of the street in about 2 hours time, where I found V, a previous acquantance. V is one of those people who is actually cool. Not just in appearances, but in genuine kindness, enthusiasm, and (you got it!) creativity. V, like many of his Thai counterparts, is a creator. At this particular Saturday market he was in the center of the throng of traffic with three other artists, drawing portraits for whoever would stop and sit for a moment. He saw my guitar and asked me to play a song.

I was invited into the creation process.

As I sat and played, V began to paint me. In no time at all, a crowd gathered to watch. A live painting of live music! The energy was really something, the feeling of the crowd and the focus of the painters (2 more began to paint me as well, and one let me keep the portrait for free). I felt so priveleged to be part of it all, to create side by side with the thai people, from whom I have so much to learn.

I don't know that I have a closing thought. It was a really rad experience?  Come to thailand? Maybe I would be a better musician if i worked my ass off like these people do? All of the above, I spose. That and, I think I'll keep carrying a guitar to the night markets.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Walking down a street in Chiang Mai, one can catch any number of whiffs. Flowers are a particularly nice smell after months of a Michigan winter that still hasn't ended. Smells of food waft from every direction like wailing sirens, pulling me helplessly toward another Rotee, Mango with Sticky Rice, or some unidentifiable fried goodness on a stick. My smell of choice for the day was incense.

The markets are one place where odors might be a tad more offensive, but prayer incense does a nice job of covering the smell; or at least distracting from it. I have much to learn about this culture so full of respect, honor, politeness, and prayer. It's fortunate that Thai people are so gracious, because I am full of mistakes. This morning I cycled past flowers and street vendors and into the morning market. From the outside it's a farmers market with mostly fresh produce. Further in, the smells get more complex, as do the vendors. You can buy food or clothing or shaving cream... sort of like Walmart, only completely different. For one thing, everyone was Thai. 

At first, I was elated! I finally found a niche in space and time where foreigners do not dominate my vision of Chiang Mai! But trekking into such territory alone means no one else will share my burden of embarrassment. I knew something was up when a monk dressed in traditional orange turned his head and stared at me as I passed. I'm not going to say I've never turned heads, but I don't think I've ever turned monks heads. They're pretty focused on things like meditation and celibacy. As I continued to walk between booths, I began to feel like quite a spectacle. It seemed everyone in the market had stopped what they were doing in order to stare at me as I walked past. Finally, an older woman held her hand out to me and shouted "Stop!" (with a smile on her face). She then pointed upward to the source of the music, which happened to be the kings song. Of course! it came flooding back - when the kings song plays, everyone stops and stands in respect. I know this! But my cultural guidebook didn't come with a sing along to help me transition from smooth jazz Titanic to more significant cultural cues.

Gracious gracious Thai people. They let me get off with just humiliation this time. The woman stopped me just as the song was ending, just in time for an impressively large amount of people to laugh loudly at my expense.  But ya know,  it felt a lot better than I thought it would. I'm finding out I like a LOT of things about Thailand; even the way they make fun of me. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Monster at the End of this Book.

Despite the title of this blog, photographs have been mostly absent from all blog posts. I have a digital SLR, a Canon SD, and a camera phone. And I actually do take pictures! But whether or not anyone sees them is a different story. That being said, I could present a whole photo album with only the most significant events and still not capture just how eventful this semester has been. And picture is worth a thousand words so let's not even talk about how long that blog post would have to be. Perhaps I will consider more photographs in the future, but I haven't done anything with them for the same reason that I haven't updated my blog or replied to anyone on facebook or caught up with emails for months. (Is it because I am too busy? Or because I have poor time management? You decide.) It scares me a little that in spite of all this, I am secretly (and now publicly) considering twitter. DON'T DO IT.

"I walked downtown today
I hoped that I could get away
from all the worries, filling up my head
I hoped to find some peace of mind
'cause I am falling far behind on everything
but this moment"

(song lyrics by Dave Harburg and myself)

Speaking of lyrics- I went to my first college party! Playing guitar. It was actually an under the sea party at the law quad, and I was not partaking of alcohol or party activities, but rather producing music that could not be heard by anyone at all due to ordinary party noises.

It brought about another set of lyrics:

"It doesn't matter who's listening
'cause I hear you, and you hear me"

(Bex and Abbie)

Far better when there's music involved, and lyrics, and when no one can hear you at all. You'd think I've been doing a lot of songwriting, wouldn't you. FALSE.

Which leads me to my next point/s:
First alcohol consumption
First football game
First Ingrid Michaelson concert for free at borders (MUSIC!)

The conclusion to this entry might take you all by surprise. Given the organization of this email, and my thoughts and actions in general, one might be lead to believe completely to the contrary. HOWEVER, the results are in. The truth is out.

I, Abigail Stauffer, am A.D.D.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A double portion

This evening I found myself beside a familiar face. My red-bearded friend has been homeless for about a year now, and his job searching is not yielding much success in our glorious Michigan economy.

We chatted for a bit, but I am also learning how to enjoy silence. He's a quiet guy for the most part. The great thing about silence is that it allows even the quiet people a chance to speak what's on their mind. My friend had dinner on the mind. it was already 9:30 and I am sure that he must have been hungry, as he had missed his only opportunity for what he called "a meal hardly worth eating." I may think to myself that he shouldn't be picky- it's a free meal! But then I've never had to live that life. I am absolutely certain that I would complain.

I knew that he mentioned dinner for a reason, but I was not feeling very generous. In fact, I was thinking, "I don't go out to eat, why should I take him out?" But this is a half truth. I DO go out to eat. I just try not to. And though my money has only been going out of my pocket this summer, I am about to begin work again, my unlimited meal plan has begun and I have more work opportunities than one person could possibly take.

Grudgingly, I handed him five dollars. I thought about praying for him or something, but it seemed completely unnecessary. We hugged and went our separate ways. I was consoled as I recalled the verse:

"Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?'" (James 2:16)

But the consolation had only begun. An hour later, I received this email:

Dear Abigail:

You have been selected for a brief online survey about college student mental health. We have sent a letter to your campus address with $10 and information about how to participate. The letter should arrive shortly, and we will also send a separate email in a couple days.

Please note that the online survey is formatted for the computer but not a handheld device, so we recommend using a computer. Participation is completely voluntary and confidential. As noted above, you will receive more information shortly. Your perspective as a RA would be very valuable. Thank you for considering this!


Thank you God for accepting my grudging offering, and for giving me a double portion.