2017 New Year’s Resolutions

From my bullet journal:

Read 110 books
I read 100 books last year, so I don’t think this will be impossible. If you sign up for the Goodreads challenge, you get a handy little meter that tracks your progress and tells you when you’re ahead of or behind your goal. If you’re trying to read at least two books a week, this is invaluable. Also: short books are books, too!

Complete the Yale lecture series on The Novel: 1945-Now (read all the books and listen to all the lectures)
I followed the Yale lecture series on Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Faulkner last year and it was really enriching. Definitely put me on track in terms of trying to read the “American canon”, whatever that might be. I mean, whatever it is, The Great Gatsby, something by Hemingway, and something by Faulkner are on it. I have high expectations for this series and the books I’ll be reading.

Complete the list of 100 things to do in Zhongli and all blog posts
Why? I don’t know. It’s fun for me, gets me engaged with what’s going on outside, and gives me something to say when partypoopers say Zhongli is boring. It’s not Tainan or Hualien or Taipei, but we have a good time.

Plank for two minute every day (even if it’s not continuous)
Um I am already failing this. It’s not too late to get back on track, though. Just I’ve been having these lower back pains…

Stick with yoga 2-3x a week; if class with Neil ends, enroll in a yoga gym
My buddy has been showing me some of the ashtanga yoga moves and we’ve been meeting up to go through Leslie Fightmaster’s 50-minute ashtanga yoga video three days a week. I am worried that taking Chinese class might make it easy for me to find excuses not to go, but so far, so good. It feels great and I know it’s good for me in terms of mindfulness, too. (That back pain tho…)

Keep hula hooping, even if it’s just five minutes a day
I wish I had some people to hula hoop with because having someone show me what they know would be so helpful, but until then me and my exercise hoop can spin around the living room in between classes. I’m not really committed to the every day thing, but I learned a lot last year just by hooping every couple of weeks, so I want it stay on the menu.

*Pay off all our student-loan debt
This would be so great, but unless we make it absolutely our number one priority, I don’t think it’s possible. I don’t want to teach more than I have to, but I want to the go to the U.S. to see my family this year. Also I want to take Chinese classes at the university, J has some trips in mind, and my scooter is possibly dead now, so I think the realistic thing is just to keep on paying and saving what we can.

Resume studying Chinese with a tutor or at the uni or a language exchange partner
So right before the end of 2016, like literally the last Friday of 2016, I enrolled in a Chinese class. So I have eight hours of Chinese every week now, and I am considering upping it to 12 or 15 hours a week next semester. I know that I always get excited at the beginning of new projects, but I am especially excited this time, and as long as the enthusiasm’s there, why not ride the wave? Also, tutoring is way boring in comparison, and I kinda sorta don’t love language exchanges as they usually end up being either free language lessons or you spend like two hours a week chilling with someone who isn’t actually your chosen friend when you don’t even have enough time for your real friends.

Get back on the Wahls Protocol diet-HFLC, organ meats, no dairy, limited alcohol, lots of fruits+veggies
So that probably isn’t exactly how Dr. Wahl would have described her diet, but that version of it was working really well for me and J in the beginning of this year. We both lost weight and every day it was like a competition of who felt better and had more energy. We rode that wagon until June, when we went to Thailand and Cambodia and decided nothing was off limits. Now we’re back to chasing that wagon as it rolls down the road. But now that holidays are over, we have no more excuses for making or eating hash brown casserole, and I feel like there’s a better chance we can stick to it.

Play the receipt lottery
So in Taiwan in order to encourage businesses to actually provide receipts (and thus keep their books in order and pay their taxes), the government came up with a plan to provide lottery numbers on every receipt. So every time you buy something, you get a lottery ticket. J and I have never really participated, but it seems like you can win a little bit of money quite often, and who are to throw money away? The Rockefellers? Maybe some of that can go towards our student loan payments or helping someone in need…

Give charitably every month
We haven’t figured out like life insurance or our retirement funds yet, but we have more than most people on this planet. I wish we were better stewards of it, to give ourselves a more secure base from which to help others…anyway, start small. Maybe sponsor a grandmother in Cambodia? Donate money to build toilets in India? You really gotta do your homework, too.

Re: writing = measure activity, not results
Yeah I am getting sick of myself talking about writing, too, except that I do write a lot, whether it’s this blog, short stories, memoir, or in my diary. I beat myself up regularly for not finishing more things, for not submitting anything, for never really being published, but all I need to do is write, and anything that gets in the way of that, including self-flagellation, has to go.

Write for myself every day
For me, this kind of means journaling, but also not wondering what anyone else thinks about what I am writing. I mean, blogging, obviously, somebody might be reading it, and I’d like reading it to be a good experience, otherwise I am an asshole/sadist, but anything else, man, worrying about what people think before I’ve even started writing is creative suicide.

Make writing a priority: first thing every morning
Okay, so, no, ten days into January, still not good at this. I am still figuring out how to make time for Chinese class and Chinese homework, so I am not going to beat myself up. However! I know that I am quick to discover things that will distract me from all the complicated feelings I have about writing/not-writing or will substitute for the sense of accomplishment I get from writing, so no excuses: writing has to come before anything else.

Say yes more often!
If it’s not obvious to you, I am generally anxious and always worried about the consequences of my actions, which makes for a very boring day/year/life when you look back on it. I hemmed and hawed about taking Chinese classes for like a year, but so far, I am so glad I just made the impulsive decision to sign up. What else has this year got in store for me?


this plant right here

This plant won’t die.

A photo posted by Keili Rae Gunden (@amateur_vagrant) on

This plant right here was in our old apartment when we moved in a year and a half ago. The girl who was moving out said, “This plant was here when we got here, so, yeah…”

It was growing out of a hole in a rock that was rubber-cemented to a little ceramic saucer. It was kind of cool, insofar as you were like, “Whoa, how does that plant grow out of that hole in the rock?”

We cat-sat for a friend for like a month, and this cat had a thing about eating houseplants. We tried to keep her away from them, but every now and then she’d get on my desk unobserved and start nomming on my plants. She ate the leaves right off this one, so I knew it was gonna die cause a plant can’t survive without leaves.

But it didn’t die. The leaves grew back. At first, there was just a tiny green bud, and it took a couple of weeks, but then the little leaves came back.

I watered it every now and then, but I knew it was gonna die cause it was stuck in that tiny hole in a rock.

We moved to the new place and I brought it with me. I noticed the rubber cement was loose now and I pulled the rock right off the tray. Then I saw that the hole was perfectly round, probably drilled in the rock, but not much bigger than my finger. There was some dirt in there, but it was the same dirt that had been there since whenever this plant was stuck in the rock.

I could only get the plant out of the rock by pulling it out roots first. I was careless and some of the leaves fell off again, or maybe they would have fallen off anyway. But I knew they would grow back. I planted it in a bigger pot with some fresh soil, gave it some water and stuck it in the window where it would get at least a little sunlight.

Now the leaves are back, as big as ever, and a second stem is growing out the top.

I love this plant. It hardly needs dirt or water or sunlight, just a little of the basics and it’ll slowly keep doing what it’s supposed to do: grow.

Anyone know what kind of plant this is, besides badass?

The 環島: One week in Dulan 都蘭

beach near dulan taidong taiwan
A beach south of Dulan.

Dulan is such a small and unremarkable place at first glance it would be easy to cruise straight through without realizing what you were missing, like this guy apparently did. You can drive right past the one 7-11 and the one gas station in town and without noticing if the ocean here is any more beautiful than the ocean is all along the east coast.

Pro-tip: “Water Running Up” is not really worth stopping for. It’s a place on the side of a road where there’s basically a nice-looking gutter next to the parking lot and the water is crawling–not running–up a gentle slope. Unusual, unless you’ve ever seen a fountain or any other instance of water pressure in action. If you’re in Dulan, yeah, stop. Just don’t try to make a weekend of it.

But the waves here break against warm sand instead of intimidating walls of stone, and they come in fast and high enough to attract surfers from all over the world. There’s actually an international surfing competition held at nearby Jinzun Bay every year since 2011. If you just pass through Dulan without stopping, you’ll miss some of the most awesome beaches in Taiwan–an island blessed with plenty of breathtaking shoreline, but few accommodating spots to lay down a towel for the afternoon.

scenic beach in Dulan
scenic spot in Dulan, or just south of it

We booked a room at a hostel called Wagaligong at the recommendation of a friend, who knew one of the owners because he was also South African and had also lived in Chungli for many years. He and I spent a long time tossing out names of other people we knew who’d lived in Chungli at the same time we had, only to conclude that we didn’t know everyone like we’d thought we did, and that we’d led parallel lives for years. It’s always unsettling to realize your world is bigger than you thought it was.

at the beach in Dulan, Taiwan
On the beach at Dulan, a short walk from where we stayed. The rocks come and go with the tide, and there’s plenty of soft, black sand where you can sit and read or just watch the water.

After a few drinks the first night, none of that mattered. I went to bed early after booking a surfing lesson for the next morning, but Tieney and J stayed up all night drinking with other expats who wandered in and out of Wagaligong. Obviously, J was in rough shape for the surfing lesson the next morning, but our instructor was Irish so it didn’t faze him. In fact, he turned out to be a super friendly and generous guy. For the next few days, we followed him to wherever the local surfers were surfing whenever we weren’t too hungover or lazy to get ourselves out of bed.

The expats we met in Dulan were a loosely-assembled motley crew of teachers, surfers, chefs, businessmen, and fathers. The only expat women I met were guests at the hostel where we were staying, though I saw the same fair-skinned, light-haired family in 7-11 almost every morning. There were dogs and naked kids all over the place; wives, kids, and college students taking orders for expat chefs locked in hot kitchens to cook. In between orders, the men would come out to smoke and chat with the customers until they were chased back to their stoves.

I got the impression that if I sat at the bar at Wagaligong for enough nights in a row, I’d eventually lay eyes on everyone who lived in town, either as they walked by or when they stopped in for a drink and some gossip. I could collect a book’s worth of secondhand stories to share as  they drank and shared stories of past lives already used up before they got to Dulan, where they can live the next thirty years by the beach, swimming and surfing and cooking for tourists. I met so many men and women who spoke two or three languages, who were multiskilled in music and arts. Everyone could surf; asking about the waves served as a greeting. They moved from chair to chair at friends’ houses, dogs and children and instruments and surfboards in tow. In their company, I felt filled up with inspiration and empty, as I have nothing to offer. I wanted to be one of them, people who make the easy yet impossibly bold decision to live lives that will make them happy, even if they have to “sacrifice” being encumbered by the artificial trappings of conventional successes.

sculpture at sculpture park south of Dulan next to Xiaoyeliu Taidong County Taiwan
A head made of driftwood at a park next to Xiaoyeliu, just south of Dulan.


xiaoyeliu dulan taidong county taiwan
Interesting rock formations at Xiaoyeliu south of Dulan. They would have been a whole lot more interesting if it weren’t literally 100°F+ the day that we decided to walk around and looking at f$#%ing rocks.


twilight at the beach near dulan taidong county taiwan
Twilight at a beach just north of Dulan. That’s Green Island in the distance.
Dulan Beach Taidong County Taiwan
We didn’t take many pictures of the beach at Dulan because we went there to get in the water, so here’s another picture of me carrying a surfboard.

I felt lovesick after leaving Dulan. When I unpacked my bag a few days later and I saw the sand in my bag and the tan lines on my chest, I felt sad because it ended, the same way anyone feels when they find tokens of an old love and regret that a special time in their life was over too quickly. I want to go back and learn how to surf, get a dog or three and walk them on the beach in the mornings and evenings when the sand is cool, walk down the street with a cold six-pack in a plastic bag and see who wants to share it with me. But I don’t want to keep working for a paycheck or open a restaurant where I’ll be locked up cooking food for hours every day, so I still have a long road back to Dulan, or some place like it.


Living the Dream: Zach Nafziger, Artist

Zachary Nafziger ZN stained glass
Zachary Nafziger, stained-glass artist and entrepreneur, is creating his own success story, one project at a time

Zachary Nafziger is a stained-glass artist in my town of Harrisonburg, Virginia. He was recently laid off from his corporate job as a Post Production Lead from Rosetta Stone, but transitioned almost seamlessly into making stained glass windows and artworks. I met him at his downtown studio at Larkin Arts to ask him how he did it.

Q: How long have you been doing this? What inspired you to get started? Why stained glass and not some other medium?

A: I’m generally a studio artist, so I’ve done anything that’s hands-on, from painting to ceramics to sculpture. I’ve been doing stained glass for about twenty years; I started when I was 16 in high school. I was always artsy-minded and I tried about everything. Stained glass related to me best; it has let me have more say in color and output. It was the one medium that connected with me personally and I stuck with it.

Q: I know that you consider yourself more of an artist and not a hobbyist or someone who makes stained glass items with the goal of selling them, like arts and crafts. What’s the difference, to you?

A: Stained glass is overused as a crafty-suction-cup-type art. But I traveled through Europe and stuff with my parents and I was never attracted to the suction-cup art. I was attracted to the cathedrals, the things by Marc Chagall, the things on a grander scale. I wanted to make art that has a purpose, art that makes people think.

Zachary Nafziger ZN stained glass Starry Night Harrisonburg Virginia
Zach’s latest project, a recreation of Starry Night

Everything that I make is strictly mine, or a combination of what the client imagines with my artistic input when it’s a commission. Everything starts as a full-scale, hand-drawn design. I feel like the crafty people are more about mass production and they lack creativity. I argue with people like that. I have people who say, “That’s a great design! Where did you find it?” My belief is that with a little time and effort, anyone can make a design. It comes down to doing the work. It’s like going into a big gallery and seeing a Jackson Pollack and thinking, “Oh, I could do that.” Yes, you could, but you need to take that risk that comes with creating something unique and original.
I really like this story about Picasso when it comes to explaining the creative process: He’s sitting in a bar, and this young woman comes in and says, “Hey, you’re Pablo Picasso! Can you draw me something?” and he said, “Sure.” And he quickly sketched something and gave it to her and said, “That will be $10,000.” And she said, “What! $10,000? But that only took you a minute to draw!” And he said,”Yeah, but it took me a lifetime to learn how to draw like that.”

Q: You were laid off recently, but at the same time, your stained glass business picked up. How did you do it? Are you going to be able to continue making art for a living?

A: I signed a year lease on my studio and feel this is my opportunity to pursue my lifelong dream as a stained glass artist, so it’s all or nothing. I like this method of doing things, full speed and diving in. It’s hard to commit myself to art if I’m looking for another full-time job, I need to believe art is my full-time job.

zachary nafziger butterfly stained glass
One of Zach’s latest creations

My current studio is located in the heart of downtown Harrisonburg at Larkin Arts. A married couple, Scott Whitten and Valerie Smith, run the studio and our paths have crossed during many art events in the area. They posted two openings for studio space and I never hesitated. I knew that I couldn’t get the specific audience I needed sitting at home doing this, but I knew I could get them through Larkin.

There are many events that are obvious opportunities for moving forward in your life. Doubt can destroy those chances when you don’t take that leap of faith.  Doubt never crossed my mind, I reacted immediately with the mindset “I can do this and I can ride this wave until it’s done.” The first four months have been a great predictor. It’s like any sales commission job. You don’t have the luxury of a steady paycheck, it’s based on the amount of sales, and you just have to keep working. I know if I slow down, I might go bankrupt, but if I keep working I can make it. Granted, I’m not making the same money, but the overall satisfaction of every aspect of my life has greatly increased and that doesn’t have a monetary value.

Q: I know a lot of people out there who are considering major transitions put it off until “the time is right.” Do you think you would have eventually quit your job to pursue stained glass full time, or was getting laid off what got you motivated?

A: Getting laid off from Rosetta Stone is what motivated me. I could have done it years ago, but there was always something that kept me there. There are always more reasons not to take a chance, doubt being the biggest factor. But even though it’s always been my dream, I can’t say I would have done it if I hadn’t gotten laid off.

Q: What advice do you have for anyone who hasn’t made the leap into living the life they want just yet? 

A: Do it. Go for it. Take the risk. It’s always a big chance, but if it’s something you feel that dedicated to, that should be enough motivation to not let it always be just a dream. It’s a whole different world to be self-employed just because everything you do is a challenge.

Want to see more of Zach’s beautiful artwork? Check out his Facebook page to see what he’s working on–and what’s for sale!  

(None of these links are affiliate links, btw…I just dig his work and respect his mission.)

Living the Dream: Josh Horton – Juggler

Josh Horton - Juggler
Josh Horton – Juggler, performing at a halftime show earlier this year

When I told Josh Horton that I wanted to interview him for the Living the Dream series, he laughed. “That’s my general response when someone asks me how I’m doing,” he said. “I never say I’m good or all right. I say, “I’m living the dream.”” And by all accounts he is. The 23 year old is paid to juggle professionally, a skill he learned as a young participant in Illinois State University’s Junior Gamma Phi Circus. After winning a high school talent show, he had the opportunity to develop his talents in competition with the best jugglers in the world. When he realized he wanted to juggle for a living, he changed his major to entrepreneurial studies and leveraged his skill as a juggler into a business as a performer.

Q: How much time do you spend juggling these days? Do you have to put in a lot of practice time? 

 A: When I was in high-school and college, I was practicing about four hours every single day. But now that I’ve focused on juggling as a career, I’ve taken it down to to about four hours a week. That’s partly because I’m not competing anymore. Once you get to a certain level practice gets more frustrating because the better you get, the slower you are to progress because everything you’re trying is at such a different level. And part of it is having pains like shoulder, neck, and back pains, so I had to scale back because of that.

Q: How competitive is the world of juggling? How do you get the word out and differentiate yourself from other people with similar talents?

A: The world of juggling can be competitive depending on what market you are pursuing and where you live. The thing is, it’s not really about skill, it’s more about how well you’re able to market yourself. After that, it comes down to your likeability, your stage presence, and your comedy. I focus a lot on my internet marketing and that brings people to me. When creating my website I focused on SEO so that I show high on Google and other search engines. There are also certain websites where I pay to be listed and people see my profile. I don’t do too much cold-calling except for the halftime shows, but now I have an agency that knows who I am and they book me stuff.

Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley, and Kenny (The Jet) Smith discuss a clip of Josh’s halftime performance for the LA Lakers playoff game.

Q: What’s the hardest part of your job? 

A: The hardest part is having nothing to do sometimes. No one is hiring a juggler seven days a week. And I’m at a point in my career where charge enough per show so that I can make a living only performing once a week. Sometimes it is more, but often it is less. It’s important to learn how to use the down time effectively and productively.

Q: Do you see yourself doing this as a lifelong career? Where would you like to be in the next couple of years?

A: I don’t want to travel a lot when I’m older, more of a part time thing as I get older, maybe I can start doing some local things. I’m not exactly sure what the plan is, but I don’t want to be struggling at 60 to be a juggler. I want to keep gaining knowledge and learning about the world.

Josh Horton juggling basketballs during a halftime performanceQ: What advice would you give to somebody who’s interested in pursuing juggling or entertaining professionally? What are the ups and downs?

A: I have a very strong opinion that you need to look at it as a business. It’s called “show business,” and “business” is a longer word than “show:” You have to work on business more than your show. It doesn’t matter how good you are, if no one can find you, if you’re not marketing yourself in a way that makes you seem as good as you are, then all the hours you’ve spent perfecting your skill are wasted. I have a lot of friends who are jugglers, even better than me, but I’m more successful than they are because they just don’t get it.

Q: Any words of advice for those of folks still waiting on their big breaks?

A: I think you should do what makes you happy and makes you comfortable. If you are totally happy with playing piano in your living room and going to your accounting job and getting your paycheck every week, then do that, but if you want to do your hobby, skill or passion full-time, then go for it. Just do it in a smart way.

For more photos and videos of Josh performing, visit www.joshhortonjuggler.com or his Facebook page

Living the Dream: The Winemaker

Lee Hartman, young winemaker at Bluestone Vineyard in Virginia
Lee Hartman, winemaker at Bluestone Vineyard in Virginia, with some of his award-winning wines

Lee Hartman is the young winemaker at Bluestone Vineyard in Virginia’s beautiful Shenandoah Valley. He oversees production of the winery’s fifteen wines, including planting and growing the vines, harvesting and crushing the fruit, and making decisions at every key point of the wine’s evolution and maturation. He took some time out from bottling on a rainy day to tell me how much he loves his job, from growing the vines to doing inventory.

Q: How did you get into winemaking? What first interested you?
A: First my family planted about 130 vines back in 2002, and from that we gained enough knowledge to get ourselves into a lot of trouble. We thought, “We can totally do this, let’s plant 9000 vines!” Then we started buying a ton of grapes from this person and that person, and that went well. Meanwhile, I wanted to move to Europe. I have a degree in history and I’ve always loved travel, so I thought I might go be a tour guide for a few years. My dad said “Well, while you’re figuring that out, how about you help me plant some vines?” Fortunately, I fell into farming and winemaking. And when you make wine, you realize that this clear bottle of Sauvignon Blanc or this inky bottle of Petit Verdot is nothing but dirt and water and sunlight and it’s amazing. I know I’m not the only one to have ever had that thought, but it was an “aha moment” that grabbed me.

Continue reading “Living the Dream: The Winemaker”

Living the Dream: The Zookeeper

A lioness at the safari park
One of Amanda’s work-friends

Here’s the first interview for my Amateur Vagrant’s Living the Dream series. I interviewed Amanda Sorenson, my adorable cousin and a badass zookeeper. She spends her days outside, feeding and caring for the herds of animals at the safari park where she works. Does that sound like your kind of dream job? Read on and see if it’s for you! 

Q: Did you always want to be a zookeeper? What prepared you for this experience?

A: I always wanted to work with animals, but when I was in the ninth grade my mom found this program at the zoo near my house called the Keeper Aide program and I got to follow the keepers around and help with the animals. It was once-a-week, year-round during high school and then during breaks from college, but I would go in more often. It was all volunteer. Then I took an unpaid internship at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh during the summer between my sophomore and junior year of college and that was full-time. I worked with the bird show there. We had to do all the diet prep and things like that, so for raptors we would cut up the mice and chicks and mealworms and stuff like that. We cleaned their enclosures, brought them down to the stage and helped from behind the scenes, like releasing the birds and catching them back.

Continue reading “Living the Dream: The Zookeeper”

Biography: Jean Rhys

Jean Rhys as a young woman
Jean Rhys as a young woman

Jean Rhys, when she’s recognized at all, is most widely recognized for her book Wide Sargasso Sea. It was written as a prequel to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Rhys’ book describes the tragic life of Antoinette Cosway, a wealthy heiress from the Dominica. Manipulated into marrying the young, fortune-less Mr. Rochester from Bronte’s novel, Antoinette is forced by English law to hand her inheritance over to him. She slowly loses her mind amidst the political and social unrest in her not-quite-native Dominica and her daily domestic insecurity. She’s pulled between the advice of her longtime caretaker Christophine and her growing, but confused, love for Mr. Rochester. After he sleeps with the housekeeper in the room next to hers, Antoinette never really recovers. Mr. Rochester feels obligated to bring her back to England with him, like livestock or any other possession. Then he locks her in a room with only Grace Poole allowed to interact with her while he travels about Europe, womanizing and wasting her fortune. When he begins his relationship with Jane Eyre under the same roof, Antoinette–now known as Bertha Mason–is driven to fulfill an insane fantasy of dying in a fire.

The novel’s post-colonial, feminist overtones are very accessible, and as I understand it, the book is widely read by lit majors. But Rhys’ fiction–she wrote four novels, including Wide Sargasso Sea, as well as many short stories and an unfinished autobiography–was also autobiographical to a very high degree. I couldn’t help but read it and wonder how much of Antoinette’s ambivalence about living in Dominica, how much of her insecurity about her identity as a white woman whose family was losing its privilege in a country populated by poor freed black slaves, reflected Rhys’ own struggle  to understand who she was without being able to either to identify herself as native to either Dominica or England.

I hadn’t heard of Jean Rhys until I went to the Green Valley Book Fair and found a copy of her complete novels for ninety-nine cents. Four books for a buck? Yes, please! When I finally started reading Voyage in the Dark, I knew I would fall in love with her writing. I wished I had been reading her instead of Henry Miller as the foil to all my romantic failures while I was an expat in Taiwan.

Jean Rhys as an older woman
Jean Rhys as an older woman

Rhys was born in Dominica in or around 1890. When her parents died, she was sent off to a resentful aunt in England. She finished school, studied theater, and proceeded to get herself into all kinds of trouble with interesting men. Through it all, and inspired by love’s painful ebb and flow, she wrote beautiful books about sad women who survived by depending on men but couldn’t find lasting love and security.

I think the most tragic thing about her is how long she was overlooked. She began writing in the 1920s and continued through the 30s, but by the 40s she had fallen out of the public consciousness. Finally, when Wide Sargasso Sea was published in 1966, she gained the fame she had earned. She enjoyed it in her sad, helpless way until her death in 1979. According to David Plante, the man who helped her compose her unfinished autobiography and a friend to her during her last years of life, she drank too much and spoke masterfully about writing until the end of her days.

I love her books because I can relate to them to a degree. I’ve always felt more like love’s victim than it’s master, and I’ve traveled so much, as a child and an adult, that I can never feel entirely at home. I’ve also used clothes and wine and nice things to buffer myself against a cold world. But I really love how she wrote with a beautiful intensity that someone like Henry Miller, another favorite expat of mine, couldn’t achieve for all his fervent masculinity.

“My life, which seems so simple and monotonous, is really a complicated affair of cafés where they like me and cafés where they don’t, streets that are friendly, streets that aren’t, rooms where I might be happy, rooms where I shall never be, looking-glasses I look nice in, looking-glasses I don’t, dresses that will be lucky, dresses that won’t, and so on.” -Jean Rhys, Good Morning, Midnight

“Of course, as soon as a thing has happened it isn’t fantastic any longer, it’s inevitable. The inevitable is what you’re doing or have done. The fantastic is simply what you didn’t do. That goes for everybody.” -Jean Rhys, Voyage in The Dark

It’s a little weird to include Jean Rhys in the list of people I think are inspiring. Her writing is beautiful, but she didn’t write out of love as much as pain, like many artists seem to do. She wasn’t a channel for her muse, she was more of a victim to it. But she did write, and wrote well, bringing purpose to her own pain and helping other people understand theirs. I’d want as much for myself one day.

“When I was excited about life, I didn’t want to write at all. I’ve never written when I was happy. I didn’t want to. But I’ve never had a long period of being happy, Do you think anyone has? I think you can be peaceful for a long time, When I think about it, if I had to choose, I’d rather be happy than write. You see, there’s very little invention in my books. What came first with most of them was the wish to get rid of this awful sadness that weighed me down . I found when I was a child that if I could put the hurt into words, it would go. It leaves a sort of melancholy behind and then it goes.” -Jean Rhys

“All of writing is a huge lake. There are great rivers that feed the lake, like Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky. And then there are mere trickles, like Jean Rhys. All that matters is feeding the lake. I don’t matter. The lake matters. You must keep feeding the lake.”  -Jean Rhys to David Plante in Difficult Women: A Memoir of Three

Here’s a video from Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert that touches upon the idea of the artist being tortured by their muses and how maybe in our society we shouldn’t expect that or think it’s acceptable. What do you think? What’s the difference between a writer like Mindy Kaling and a writer like Jean Rhys. 

Living the dream?

any time spent being unhappy is wasted

Amateur Vagrant is collecting life stories for a new series called Living the Dream. This is a collection of Q&As with people who are doing what they want to do with their lives, professional or personal. The stories are inspiring as well as informative, with insight on what steps you need to take next on your own path toward your goals.

So far, I’ve talked to a zookeeper, a winemaker, and a pair of journalists who live on a houseboat, but if you’ve recently scored that office job you’ve been trying for and you love your rowhouse in the suburbs and the minivan parked outside, I still want to talk to you about how you got there and how much you enjoy it. Did you finally get up the courage to quit your life-sucking job and now you aren’t sure what’s next? I can’t wait to hear from you, either!

If you or someone you know is doing what they always wanted to do, being who they always wanted to be, or living where they always wanted to live (or all three!) get in touch with me at Rae[at]amateurvagrant.com or on Twitter @AmateurVagrant and tell me how you’re living the dream!