Kumbaya Alert: Some Online Handshakes Are Really Helpful Hugs

This is not a bell pepper (but in Micronesia, these are a lot cheaper per pound )

I occasionally write for Squidoo, Seth Godin’s ” … platform that gives people a simple way to organize their interests online ….” Squidoo recently began publishing a series of online magazines that cover a range of pursuits, such as crafts, eating healthily, holidays, and business. I had an article recently published in Upmarket, the business publication, called How Pedaling Your Bike Is Actually Pedaling Your Mind. Perhaps that sounds like it should be in the Dubious Metaphors magazine, but they haven’t put that one together yet.

But I’m not here today to argue whether pedaling your mind is self-abuse or psychic stimulation; I’m here to talk about the power of connection, and to try and not get all gooey about it, because when I go gooey, it’s paper-towel-in-triplicate time. The reason I wrote anything for Squidoo in the first place is because I’m a member of Seth Godin’s Triiibes network, a online playpen of successful solopreneurs, new-media mavens, generous gurus of ethical marketing, and outlier lunatics who stumbled in from the pool hall, where they play Bach harmonica fugues for tips. (Note: I am an agent for the outlier harmonica fugue-ists, if you want to talk licensing.)

You can read a lot of circulating cynical comments about the questionable quality of online relationships, and how much of online congress is people trying to sell their self-printed posters of baby harp seals being threatened by real estate agents, but there’s a counterpoint to that: I know that some of the connections are real—and warm. For instance, though I’ve never met Megan Elizabeth Morris, I’ve gotten to know her through her posts on Triiibes as smart, soulful, and witty, and as an indefatigable idea-powerhouse. As Head Solicitor and Sifter of Submissions for the new Squidoo magazines, she invited folks on Triiibes to submit pieces for consideration.

Online Exchange of the Not-Dry-Business Variety
But because she is Megan, and because any exchanges with her have much more than dry business in them, she has been particularly encouraging to me about submitting a series of pieces, and getting my stuff up and read. I cannot refuse a person who can sing operatically in Welsh, so I’m trying. Another Groove Child of Cyberspheric Connection is Jodi Kaplan, who has been working a bit with Megan in herding the cats of Triiibes Squidoo-ing. Jodi is another Triiibes marvel, a person who has consistently offered her broad and pointed knowledge of marketing and copywriting done rightly (and by rightly, I mean effectively and with integrity) to the people on Triiibes, and to her clients and blog readers.

Just out of the blue, Jodi recently profiled me on Squidoo in this Are Professional Writers Worth It? post. What’s she getting out of that? Nuttin. Other than the sweet glow you get when you do a pal a good turn. My point—and though my hair is covering it up, I’m getting to it—is that I can list a whole bushel of connections I’ve made like this on Triiibes and other networks, where just hanging out and golfing ideas around can crack the walls between people. Even though I’ve only known some of these folks in the ether (though some have even come to my house, where I’ve collected their DNA and am making a golem who will help with the vacuuming), I know that they are real. And real good. So, yeah, online connections can be trivial tripe, but they can also be genuine gold.

By the way Jodi, you ended that profile by wondering about the full story of what happened in Micronesia. Well, the full story will come (I have to carefully align all my lies), but Traveler’s Tales just published another part of the story: Read about the 5-dollar bell pepper, and weep, weep for the children. (Or the cereal eaters—good God, the infamy!)

Turkey Tales and Turkey Tails: An Island Christmas

I’ve been spending time on the Bahamian island of Eleuthera for the past 7 weeks or so. “Spending time”—such a peculiar expression, as though time could be counted like pennies or pomegranates. Time is much more like taffy, in that in some instances it can seem to stretch and stretch, and in others, break off or shatter. My time here has had many shattered moments, some where the blindingly sharp sun and brilliant blues of the ocean have been more like make-believe metaphors than the cloth that clothes my days.

Let’s skip past wrestling with the quirks and questions of time and move more toward its standard December measure: Christmas. Alice and I will not be on Eleuthera at Christmas, instead stealing away from here just a few days before the date. At some level, I regret that, because Christmas in a foreign country, especially on an island, is just that: foreign. And that foreignness is a good reminder that customs and traditions are just arbitrary, where cultures that might share a holiday like Christmas, don’t share it in quite the same way.

In that spirit, I recently wrote a piece on an island Christmas I did experience some years ago, when we lived on a little stretch of land in Micronesia. Courtesy of Squidoo; look for the Santa wearing flip-flops.

How to Unsuccessfully Try to Convince Readers That You’re Suffering

Digging the local brew at Tippy's, a fine institution of learning and scholarship

They do say travel is broadening. I’ve found it can also be narrowing. I lost 15 pounds in my first six weeks of my year in Micronesia, mostly because we didn’t understand how to shop on our island, with its scattered roadside stands, few stores (none of which resembled the supermarkets my suburban upbringing inured me to), the oddity of some of the local foods (i.e., dog), and gastro-tremblings from the water.

If you know me, my losing 15 pounds meant that I then weighed about as much as a pair of socks. I do have big feet, but still …. But once we adjusted, and learned how to island-shop, there were wonders at the table, mostly from succulent lobster at $2.00 a pound, and yellowfin tuna at fifty cents a pound. (I never inquired about the price of dog.) And when I say “adjusted,” I meant we learned to relax and go with the weirdness of things, and in many quarters, to truly appreciate the weirdness.

That suburban upbringing I alluded to—that was the condition that needed broadening, and broaden it did. Though I might thin out again here: a half-gallon of milk is $6.00, a box of cereal is $7. Maybe I’ll be eating my socks, since I don’t really need them here.

“Here” is the island of Eleuthera, in the Bahamas, where Alice and I are house-sitting for a couple of months. Eleuthera is one of the Bahamas’ “out islands,” meaning it’s not one of the glitzy resort islands, like Nassau. Even though it’s 110 miles long, there are less than 8,000 people here, which is about the number that lived on Kosrae, the Micronesian island where we lived a few years ago.

No, Really, I’ll Be Working
Eleuthera bears some tropical kinship to Kosrae, in that they share warm, azure waters, hot sun, warm, damp air, coral reefs, and that certain languor that seems native to islands. This isn’t a vacation for us: we’re going to be toiling at the keyboard as usual, though more sweatily; however, being able to take a mid-afternoon dip in the nearby shimmering waters will remind us that this world isn’t like our own. It is amazing to be sleeping so close to the sea again, with that big, blue womb’s encyclopedia of sounds—whispering, churning, crashing, slurping, whooshing—rolling over us in the night, since there isn’t any reason to close a window here.

Except for the gigantic insects. And the mosquitoes. And the snake we saw on the walkway yesterday. All those hermit crabs. And those crazy, charming curly-tailed lizards that are everywhere. The profusion of local wildlife also reminds me of Micronesia, detailed in a “travel surprises” piece I wrote for the L.A. Times: surprise, there’s a spider bigger than a spaniel in the living room! (One does adjust: one never goes in the living room again.)

So, my intention is to write a number of travel pieces while I’m here, and soak up some local culture. (That means rum.) I’m going to write some more about the travel-writing process in times to come. In the meantime, I’ll try to see where that beetle dragged off my briefcase…

This Is Not an Olive

Nah, Bentley's too skinny for lunch

I’ve been reading a guide to the Bahamas, and in it is more than one reference to the “gin-clear” waters. Somehow it pleases me to think of the ocean as one giant cocktail, and since I favor both the martini and the gin-and-tonic, I like to drink that concept up.

I spent a year living on a speck of a Micronesian island, whose waters were gin-clear as well, sometimes up to 200-foot visibility. Considering that there are scads of engulfingly beautiful corals, impossibly bright, darting fish and impressively large aquatic beasts there, it was perhaps less a cocktail than a massive, boundless aquarium tended by benign, giving gods who thought “more is always better.”

One of the first times I went snorkeling there, a large ray winged its slow, flapping way about four feet underneath me, just above a raised coral ledge. My girlfriend Alice, who was watching nearby, thought I handled that exceedingly well, since the ray’s wingspan was probably seven feet, and I’d only seen such things on television. I did appear to handle it calmly, but that was because my brain froze when I realized that a large creature from the big blue had decided to synchronize its swim with me—I was incapable of movement.

Shark Sightings Are Good for Thinning the Blood
Frozen movement wasn’t the case on another snorkeling occasion, when a six-foot reef shark appeared about 15 feet away from us and then actually veered in our direction for a moment. Seeing a top-of-the-food-chain predator suddenly appear and actually nose my way shot me backward in the water about ten feet, as though I was wearing a jet pack. Alice was behind me, and thus I pushed her vigorously back as well. It was only later that I explained, when she expressed gratitude for protecting her from the shark, that I had no clue she was behind me. The hero exposed. (By the way, reef sharks are generally pretty well-behaved, but tell that to my exploding heart.)

Anyway, the reason I’m again contemplating gin-clear waters is that Alice and I are heading to the Bahamas to house-sit for a couple of months on the island of Eleuthera. It’s not exactly a pleasure trip, because we’re going to try and keep our regular contract work schedules, but I’m sure pleasures will be had. Some gin too. And I’m going to try to find my inner Bill Bryson too—he’s in there somewhere.

Bonus Halloween Treat (Well, More of a Trick)
Squidoo is publishing a series of magazines, and one of them is about Halloween. I wrote a little piece about some of my own Halloween doings—kids, don’t try this at home.