How to keep naked guys from talking to you

I’m not sure of a more awkward situation than a naked guy striking up small talk while I’m scrubbing my privies. Yet this is the ritual I must endure every time I head out for my weekly bath at the local banya. (Ok, well maybe bi-weekly.)

When I say banya, picture a combination shower-and-sauna. Now instead of a shower, picture two taps and a bucket. Also there’s a lot of bare skin. (I hope you stopped picturing.)

Being the considerably less pigmented and infinitely more tattooed (I have two) of the bunch, I tend to be identified as not being from around here. This invariably engenders the usual line of questioning for a foreigner in Kyrgyzstan.

“Are you married?”

“Do you have a girlfriend?”

Should I be scared that a naked man who I’m showering with is asking me if I have a girlfriend? I brush it off, along with the water that’s splashing off his naked body onto mine.

So to alleviate my bathing woes, I’ve developed a strategy. I start talking first.

Because here’s the truth: nobody likes small talk from strangers while they’re naked. It’s one of those universal human things.

The trick is to immediately upon arrival at the banya start asking a ton of questions—where are you from, what’s your name, do you like to eat meat, are you getting married—the usual. The other person quickly realizes, “Oh my gosh. It’s a talker. If I start grunting my answers and hide my shame towards the corner, maybe he’ll stop.” After a few of these exchanges, you can close your mouth and enjoy the remainder of your bi-weekly washing in peace.

And if the other guy doesn’t stop talking? Well, then you might just make a friend for life. There’s nothing more enduring than a friendship made in the nude.

Where I used to bathe when I lived with my host family out in the village

My life is things

There is an entire industry consisting of multi-million dollar companies which exist for the sole purpose of providing us ways to haul around our shit.

Think about it.

Samsonite. Jansport. Chanel.

We have so much that we run out of places to keep it on our own person so we have to fashion straps to a large pouch and drag it around.

Turtle syndrome – even more painful than it sounds

I was walking out of school one day with my counterpart, Nazgul, when another teacher tagged up with us.

“What’s in his bag?” The teacher asked Nazgul, pointing at the turtle-like shell connected to my back.

“Ask him yourself,” Nazgul said, a kind head jerk thrown my direction.

“My life.” I answered automatically.

“Good answer,” she nodded, adding one of those breathy nose laughs for good humor.

Then it hit me. My life is things. It’s not people. It’s not situations. It’s not doing or even being. My life is a laptop computer, a water bottle, various power chargers and apparently a few used Kleenexes and empty candy wrappers. My life is sad.

I remember one occasion vividly, if not for its harrowing sear, then for the humiliation. I had detaxied and was standing in the center of the large bazaar in Naryn City with a giant backpacking bag on my back and another 40L bag strapped to my front, and was unsurprisingly looking around at where to pick up even more shit. I looked utterly ridiculous. Two kids passed me in the bazaar, stopped, turned around, came back, circled me, and then lost it in fits of laughter. I’m not even exaggerating. They absolutely lost it, doubling over and slapping their knees all while pointing and generally drawing the type of negative attention to me that I deserved. I looked blindingly stupid.

I couldn’t tell you today what was in those bags. I know I didn’t touch three-fourths of it on my two day journey. So why had I felt the need to carry it around all weekend?

IMG_4757Let’s see, what am I forgetting…oh yes, my sanity.

I eat pieces of stuff for breakfast

It’s just stuff. And this is one of the hardest lessons for me to learn.

I’m getting better at it. I’m getting better at letting people touch my things, pick them up and mull over them. (Or maw over them with their grubby little fat fingers, placing oily little fingerprints on every surface and…ok, ok, breathe.)

Once, for a secret-santa-slash-white elephant gift giving party many years ago, I parted with my SpongeBob alarm clock I paid seven dollars for at a CUB Foods grocery store. It spelled out the word FUN in big plastic letters and launched into “F is for friends who do stuff together, U is for you and me…” at whatever interval you set it at. It was glorious. And giving it up was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I still think about that clock.

Now two plus years into the Peace Corps, I’ve given away so many items I don’t really think about it anymore—books, chargers, food, clothing items, cookware, to name a few. I still get a little cringy when anything under the age of 12 walks through my door and starts pawing stuff, but as long as they don’t smash anything I can’t cheaply replace, I let them go on touching. (While quickly thinking of an intriguing story that would usher them to further shelves beyond the line of my room.)

We need things. We do. Our quality of life insofar as health and well-being and options depends on them to some extent. But we know that life is not measured only in number of years spent trudging along, dragging our stuff behind us.

It’s measured in the time we give each other.

It’s measured in the wide space in which we allow our minds and souls to soar.

It’s measured in growing and stretching and experiencing and engaging and finding new and fantastic ways to love life, love each other and love the world.

It’s measured in daylights, in sunsets, in midnights and cups of coffee. (Oh, wait, nope. That’s just my Rent DVD.)

And now I’ve found another thing to get rid of, another item to lighten the load, and a refocus on things that matter—the things you can’t carry because you always hold them in your heart.

Why writing about writing is stupid

E-mail is great. It’s like this worldwide network of virtual mailboxes where you can send and receive electronic letters from your very own little box—right in the palm of your hand. Actually, it’s exactly that.

In my magic little box I can sign up to be on the mailing lists of all kinds of different publications, for free. Heck, I even get sent thousands of letters a month from places I wouldn’t even have thought about for absolutely no charge. Add two inches, guaranteed! I’m a pretty lucky guy.

I get little electronic “howdy-s” from my boss at work. I get sparsely punctuated and over capitalized hand-typed messages from my mom. I even receive a weekly e-newsletter from the Professional Disc Golf Association, and it’s probably the best 4 minutes of my week.

Of all the mailing lists I’ve willingly submitted to, the strangest e-mails I get are from websites that are wholly dedicated to writing about writing. They’re vigorously set on talking the heck out of a subject without ever doing it—hell bent on a journey that will never reach its destination.

I’ve been receiving these e-mails about writing for months. By this point I’ve read a couple hundred articles. I always thought that these were my ticket to writing success.

After all, the best way to learn is to study. Except reading about writing about writing is one of the worst things you can do to learn how to write. (And now I’m writing about reading about writing about writing. Which, I suppose is one step better than what I was doing 15 minutes ago which was lying in my bed thinking about writing about reading about writing about writing.)

Hell—at the very least, just slash all of those steps except for the last one. Just write.

The proverbial writer’s…ball

Writing about writing is sort of like taking a basketball to the gym and then continually shooting baskets at your gym bag. You’re going through the motions. You’re just continually aiming for the wrong goal. Writing is supposed to be something, not just conversational chat about it.

Don’t get me wrong. These sites have been very inspirational. Inspiring and encouraging in the way your grandmother encourages you by liking every single one of your Facebook posts, no matter if they come at the hands of a less than lucid Friday night or a neatly cropped caffeine-infused selfie session.

Or think of it like going to flight school, taking a seat in the cockpit and instead of telling you how to turn the plane on, the instructors repeatedly bombard you with placards of motivational statements. You can do it! You’re a pilot! You just need to do pilot things!

You need something a lot more than just encouragement to put type on a page. Just because you write doesn’t mean you’re going to be any good. Just because you’ve developed a unique voice doesn’t mean it’s pleasant to listen to.

Picasso wasn’t good just because he painted and was different. Picasso was good because he knew what he was doing. It helped immensely that it was original and exciting. But it was first incredibly high quality work accomplished through years of study and practice.

The write way (ah—see what I did there?)

Here’s a better idea than reading writing about writing: read a ton of actual books. Pick a subject and read everything you can get your hands on. Read every day. You can even read your e-mail as long as you avoid ones about writing about writing.

You need to study the art and craft of writing, not have your ego stroked. When looking for instruction on how to write, find material that chooses real pieces of writing and analyzes it. If you need to dabble in writing about writing, say for a school project or something, write about the craft.

Don’t just publish article after article that says, “I’m writing about writing. I’m writing about writing. I’m writing about writing—see? Look! I’m writing! And if it’s this easy, you can do it too! Hurray for winners!”

A mouthful on writing

I read this stuff. I consumed it like regularly spaced meals. It left me with the feeling that I knew how to write, but when it came to sitting in front of the blank page I realized I had no substantial energy to even know where to get started.

I had dozens of little phrases telling me how to motivate myself to do my best work, but I had no idea what that work was to be. I had gorged myself on the shiny plastic fruit sitting in the middle of the writer’s desk and never developed physically as a writer.

If you want to develop as a writer, focus on your passion, your cause, your reason for writing. Create a subject matter that you truly care about and focus all your efforts there. Then find help with the craft of writing.

Just steer clear of the stuff on writing about writing. Which means if you’ve made it this far, you might just want to mark this article for the trash too.

Happy learning and writing. Now get to work.