So, I could tell you a story about food poisoning and crazy rides across the Philippines, but I suspect you want to know what the cover of my book looks like, or what its final title and release date will be, or how you can pre-order it, or read about some fascinating characters from Portland who played both heroic and sinister roles in World War II.
My head hurts. My carpal tunnels hurt. My blood is mostly coffee sludge. I've become a master of doctoring up Top Ramen. I know the shame that is ordering pizza from a place three blocks away because I can't be bothered to stand up because this sentence is connecting with that one and this with this one and oh my god I'm actually writing, there are words coming out and they make sense and I actually think I have something here and wow I'm going to win the pulitzer and.
Chongqing was hot. It was loud. It was squalid. It was crowded.
It was home. Chongqing was home.
"You get to like it,” Mel wrote.
Will I like it? Five weeks from today I will wake to my first morning in Beijing on the first leg of a trip through China and the Philippines. In the weeks to follow I hope to visit Guangzhou and Manila, to see Shanghai and Cebu, to ride trains through Guangxi, and to sail through the Visayas. Most importantly, perhaps, I hope to climb from the Yangtze through the exploding megalopolis of Chongqing and, I hope, to find this place Mel and Annalee and so many others once called home.
A new year looms. As it has since I began unfurling this story, New Year's Eve carries a special meaning. As much as I'm thinking about Mel and Annalee, I'm also thinking about the people who left similar impressions upon them, and upon whom they left their own impressions. They are on my mind as I consider how, 73 years ago tonight, Mel and Annalee made the heartbreaking decision to leave their friends at a Manila hotel, run to the city's burning docks and leap aboard the last boat sailing into a dark, mine-strewn harbor before the Japanese entered the Philippines' capital. It was not an easy decision; the people they left behind were their colleagues, their friends, their fellow "soldiers of the press." They were, as I've addressed before, their tribe.
Around the corner from my house, inside the streetside window of a fancy spa, a slogan painted on an interior wall reads "Allow sufficient time." As the spa's clients emerge from their massages and saunas and wraps, the sign reminds them not to rush back into the world. It also reminds passersby like me not to rush through the world. I'm still trying to learn that lesson.
As much as I have to corral my writing and my research, I find if I have a camera in my hand instinct takes over. When I travel — whether across the country or across the city — I begin to see potential photographs framed everywhere I look. It's a delicate approach; one doesn't want to miss the moment in the search for memories of the moment. What's more? Some moments are meant to be transitory, to be fully experienced, not boxed by lenses and mirrors. Still, I've been enjoying photography as a counterpoint to my writing, and, since I often travel alone, the chance to share what I see with people I wish could be there with me (by the way, are you following me on Instagram?)
I've been reading a lot of letters. It seems all I do these days is read letters.
But here's a letter for you. I wish I could send it to you on the onion-skin I so often find myself reading, the translucent sheets etched with the black ink of a an old Hermes's or Corona Portable's hammer-strikes, the sheet carefully folded into an envelope covered with bright stamps and decorated with a picture of a DC-3 and bold capitals reading "VIA AIR MAIL."
Of course, I can't, but I still want to say hello, because it's been a while (probably) and I miss you (certainly) and connecting beyond the superficial digital zones where we encounter one another. You may know where I've been, but perhaps something will settle on this screen. Letters, whatever their substrate, allow thoughts to steep better than ever-flowing streams of information we feel we must address and process now. Right now. Always now.
So feel free to read this and whatever letters follow at your leisure.