Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Airports

The most stressful place in the entire world is the inside of every airport. I just looked it up. There are 40,000 airports on Earth. That means there is a 40,000-way tie for "Most Stressful Place." That is a crazy big tie. This should be reported on more in the news. Shame on journalism that this is the first time you guys are hearing about this. FROM A MOMMY BLOG.

I discovered this fact the first time I went to an airport and saw a man sprinting through it crying. A GROWN MAN. Sprinting. Crying. I didn't know him. I was like 7 and we had gone to the airport to say goodbye to one of my 73 cousins who was leaving for his Mormon mission that month.

This was back before security is what it is today. Back when they would hand you a rifle as you walked through the front doors just as a party favor for coming to the airport. Then security would high five you and slap your butt on your way to the gate even though you didn't even have a ticket. They would put a knife on every seat on the plane as a practical joke.

Ah, the good old days.

But even then. Even back when they didn't treat you like the only reason you could be flying somewhere was to commit a high crime and misdemeanor like they do now. Even back at that time it was still stressful enough to make some grown man sprint through the airport, openly crying.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

The Only Footprints I Shall Leave

I walked out onto the beach. It was sunny, already pretty warm even though it was only 9:30 AM. There aren't waves in the water in Palau. Not really. The coral reef extends miles outward and hugs the body of islands. The water at the islands' edges is calm. Quiet. Shallow. Warm.

The beach was mostly empty. A Japanese tourist was slowly slapping his fins in the water, his face down, beads of saltwater shooting out of his snorkel as he blew to clear it out. Twenty feet from him a man in a speedo tried to get his toddler to float on his back. "Maladyets," he congratulated the boy. Russian.

I was wearing pants and a white t-shirt. My only clean clothes. This was our last morning in Palau.

I stopped, my feet dipped in the water, and looked out at a small island two miles away, just off a little to the right. No more than 20 square feet, the island used to be the home of one single palm tree that leaned a little to the left. I used to sit on this same beach and stare at that island and that one palm tree. It used to calm me for some reason. The palm tree is now gone. I don't know what happened to it.

The last time I had a last day in Palau was in 2013. I spent some time alone then as well. I was a little more frantic that day. I worked in my office until the night before moving back to the U.S. I spent my final hours wrapping up my personal life. I had underestimated how long it would take to clean out my large apartment and ship some boxes home.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

The Year Of

We flew into Salt Lake City a few hours ago and I'm trying desperately not to fall asleep until at least 9:00 PM. I don't think I've really slept for about 30 hours. At the moment it feels like a Biblical miracle that my brain has been able to conjure up enough unique words to write these sentences so far.

Am I a saint now? Is that how that works?

I don't have the capacity to write what I want to write about leaving Palau, so I'll save that for next week. Instead I want to tell you about my theme for 2020, and I want to hear yours as well (or whatever resolutions/goals you have).

I started doing the yearly themes when I was living in Palau at the beginning of 2013. I had always been a resolutions person, even though those typically went as well for me as they do for most people. Determination and dedication, for a few weeks. Then a falter and total abandonment.

In Palau I was really struggling, and I realized that I needed, desperately, to change something. At the time I believed a huge part of my problem was an attitude issue. I was very much in the depths of despair and flailing in my Palauan life. So one afternoon while sitting in my little suffocating office I decided to make a concerted effort to stop thinking of that office as suffocating.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Cookie Present

I booked a tour with a Japanese company several weeks ago to go see Kayangel, which is the northernmost island in Palau. I had never been, but heard it's beautiful. Palau is made up of hundreds of small islands and although I saw quite a lot while I lived here, there are still many places I need to explore.

The Japanese company was the only one I could find that travels to Kayangel. A friend told me several years ago to avoid booking anything through them if I could help it because no one with the company really speaks English so it's difficult for English speakers to coordinate any excursions.

I went for it anyway. The website was lovely. It contained some basic English translation, including, mysteriously and in large red letters: "PRIVILEGES: Booking and receive cookie present!"

Obviously once I saw that I had to make some arrangements. I emailed them--something short and simple. "We would like to go to Kayangel. There are 3 of us."

They wrote back: "Yes Kayangel. You are thank you."

It felt a lot like when the aliens and Amy Adams tried to communicate with one another in Arrival.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Worlds Collide

Palau is so much more beautiful than I remembered. I knew it was breathtaking. At least, that's how I described it when people asked. But coming back here and waking up to the calm reefed waters dotted with vibrant green jungled islands in every direction has caught me a little off guard.

The place is calmer--happier than I remembered it, too. I know a lot of that probably has to do with the eyes through which I'm viewing it now. I'm not totally surprised by this. When I returned to Ukraine a few years after living there I had a similar experience. The revisit softened some of the rougher edges that clung to every ounce of nostalgia. I think there's something about seeing a place that didn't kill me and realizing that all that's really left beyond that are some sweet memories and scars I wear with pride.

Skylar thinks Palau is lovely. He has joked a few times about moving here with me. Since he only weighs around 30 pounds and is perpetually shivering, the equatorial heat and suffocating humidity is more like a welcome warm blanket on a holiday sleigh ride for him. But also, he has devoured the hiking to waterfalls and kayaking through dramatic island canyons to find secluded blue bays for snorkeling.

The other day we went on an all-day tour where we swam with dozens of sharks, hung out on a remote white-sand beach and then snorkeled in Jellyfish Lake.

Friday, January 3, 2020

The Land of Coconuts

Alii, from the land of coconuts.

It feels weird to be able to say that again.

It's still hot in Palau. Still humid enough that walking feels more like swimming and I keep letting myself get surprised when I pull new clothes out of the drawer and find out they are a little wet.

We've been in Palau for two full days now, staying in a resort just half a mile down the road from my old apartment, which looks exactly as I remembered it. Most of the island does, actually. Including the Stormtrooper (my old car) which we happened to park right next to last night at a restaurant. The poor thing has probably changed hands six times since it was my own baby. It's currently hauling a new slightly-panicked white person who is too uptight to understand why nothing seems to start or end at any particular time in this place.

Returning to Palau is fun, but attempting to see old friends is a challenge. The internet situation in this country has hardly improved since 2013. Most people don't have consistent access to it, and when they do, sites like Facebook and Gmail load so slowly that it's common to give up on them altogether. So leading up to this trip I attempted in vain to get in touch with anyone I thought might still be on the island.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

He'll Love Palau

A high energy version of "Walkin' in a Winter Wonderland" is blasting through a not-so-bad sound system embedded in the airport ceiling. It's New Year's Day. I think the clock struck midnight in Salt Lake City about twenty minutes ago. I may be wrong about that. I've been disoriented since Christmas. I'm not sure I could guess the day of the week right now.

My sister just commented that the sky outside looks like a painting. A group of Filipino teenagers are posing for group selfies ten feet from me--not a single photo has achieved unanimous consent. It's fine. They have 90 minutes until our flight leaves.

I'm in Guam. The last time I sat in these seats--these exact seats, if my memory is correct--I plucked out a blog post on this site using a much heavier laptop that had a battery that kept falling out. This was almost exactly seven years ago to the day. I had gone on a weekend trip to Guam. Daniel needed to take a test for a grad school program he was thinking of pursuing and the closest place where it was proctored was this slightly bigger island two hours away.

I went with him because I desperately needed to get out of Palau, where I had been living for about four months at that point. This was near my rockest of rock bottoms. At that time I was waking up every morning, my sheets drenched in sweat, geckos skittering across the walls, piles of laundry molding and mildewing because I hadn't quite figured out yet how to properly store them by spreading them out on flat surfaces to prevent this.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

2019


Every year when I write my year-end post I try to think about what made the last twelve months "good." There certainly have been years in which that task was harder than others; but even then, I can usually think of a reason the year was valuable. I learned something and became a stronger person, for example.

I'm proud of those times, of course. We become the best versions of ourselves because of storms, not naps. But I have to say it really was wonderful that in 2019 I got to just breathe a little. I kept myself busy, yes. I got stressed from work from time-to-time. But this really was just such a lovely year for me. I'm sorry if it wasn't for you. I know how that is, and I don't mean to brag now.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

The Top Ten Posts of 2019

I started this tradition a few years ago and I've enjoyed taking the walk down memory lane so I always look forward to it now. These are the top ten most trafficked Stranger posts from 2019. Thanks for making this year so fun, thoughtful, and a little strange with me.

Duncan thanks you, too.



10. Neck Pillow

It was one of the worst flights I've ever had. I was seated next to a couple that was, well, very interested in reading.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

I Don't Understand.

Years ago I told you that I was well into my twenties before it occurred to me that eggs were not a dairy product. I know that seems obvious, but I had just never really thought about it. The eggs were next to the milk and butter at the grocery store so they were grouped together in my mind.

One day in college I was listing dairy products to a roommate for some reason (BYU was wild) and I included eggs in that list. This prompted months of mocking in my house. My roommates would regularly hold up a piece of bread, for example, and say things like "Eli, would you like some fish?" And then they'd all laugh hysterically to themselves.

The point is we were all single and no one wondered why.

That was probably 12 years ago. Sometimes I get into this habit of thinking, now that I'm in my mid-thirties, I probably know most basic things. Like, there's probably not going to be another "eggs aren't dairy???" mix-up at this point in my life.

But then this morning Skylar said something about his shirt being made of polyester and it suddenly occurred to me I have no idea what the hell polyester is. Does it come from animals? Is it made from the same material that gives us plastic? What actually is plastic? Is polyester found in nature or did we make it in a lab.

I have no. idea.