In my last blog post I described how it felt to be robbed of my ‘labels’. I was delighted to see that the agony of anonymity amongst strangers resonated with so many of you. Well, I write this from the fog of jetlag and depleted adrenalin that always arrives at the end of a bout of excitement.
In the last 14 days I have spent three days on long haul travel and nine working. Do the maths and you see that I have not had much time off at all, but I was buzzing. The trip has taken me to Dubai, Kuala Lumpur and Penang and all this time my label has been emblazoned on my chest, written on my forehead and tumbling from my lips. I loved every single second
After eight months back in the Netherlands life has been hectic. We’ve moved house three times, I’ve made eight trips to the UK, two to France and one to the WIN conference in Oslo. I’m not quite sure I’ve managed to find myself again in The Hague yet and with good reason.
But I am just back from a solo trip to run my first Writing Me-Treat in Penang and every second has been a thrill. First, I broke the journey in Dubai to visit my good friend Anne. Ian and I had lived in Dubai 30 years ago and the boys were born there. This was memory lane and despite the soaring, gleaming metropolis that has all but drowned out what I consider to be My Dubai, Anne helped me find the places that fed my soul, my tum and my sense of nostalgia.
There are two words that I adore because when I find cause to use them it shows I’m in my Happy Place – they are fillip and frisson. Breathing in the scent of the oily Creek, listening to the throb of the water taxis, tasting the smokiness of the muttabl, the sight of the thankfully renovated Bastakia, gave me the kind of fillip that is the best cure for jetlag. A meeting with Mariam Ottimofiore, in which I interviewed her as my newest mentoring client and she interviewed me for the FIGT Oral History Project gave me such a boost that I felt brave enough to do my first ever Facebook Live interview. Being myself, slap bang in my favourite comfort zone of Writer, Mentor, Teacher, Publisher there in the morning sun of Anne’s exotic garden of palms and desert roses (thereby adding Traveller to the list) gave me the fillip and the frisson that I crave.
Four days in Kuala Lumpur, this time with my good friend Pam, let me catch up with people I care about and teach a workshop. Again, here, I fed my soul, my tum and my sense of nostalgia. Jetlag? What jetlag?
Penang. Oh Penang, how I love thee.
After the excitement of Dubai and KL what follwed was a whole blissful week on my favourite island in my favourite Campbell House Hotel but this time with the first batch of Me-Treaters. I had planned and booked and organized. I had written handouts, sorted restaurants, taxis and excursions. I was ready. And they came. Four writers all at different stages of their writing journey. One already a published author, one a popular blogger and soon-to-be-published author, one who just writes for fun and then an early dabbler in the craft. Somehow the Universe always provides exactly the right people to come together and as my Skunk Crew, they were perfect. My Me-Treat baby was in safe hands.
We were inspired by the stories of the early settlers who arrived at a mosquito-infested swamp, by the Brits who ruled the roost and built the colonial mansions and today’s Penangites who pedal trishaws, sell fish at markets or make sculptural jewellery. We drank cocktails by the sea at sunset, dined on the finest local cuisine and ate local fried noodles off plastic plates with plastic chopsticks. My goal had been to supply an inspirational feast of experiences as I led my wards to stretch their comfort zones and write in new styles and unfamiliar genres. What happened was that in along the way each one was delighted to find her natural writing voice at last and to pledge to take their writing lives up a gear.
It’s been more than five years since I last took a trip like this, where work was mixed with memory lane. I’ve solo-travelled and spent time in the presence of soulmates and wordsmiths. I’d dreamed of running writing retreats for years and now it’s happened. Now I can’t wait for the next one in The Hague in March.
I am beyond grateful that my life allows me to do the kind of business trip that gives me the greatest joy and where I feel ‘allowed’ to wear my labels with pride. Like the baggage tags on my suitcase, they are the means by which I find myself again.