What would you replace?

Three hours before my flight was due to leave for Jakarta, my car was broken into and the carry-on bag I’d packed for the flight was stolen. I lost my laptop, work badge, e-reader, paper notebook and pen, favorite headphones, makeup, phone charger, international plug adapter, hand sanitizer, makeup remover, toothbrush, hairspray, scarf, eye mask for sleeping on the plane, extra socks, and antibiotics in case I got sick while traveling.

For a moment I thought, am I still going? But I still had my wallet and passport and phone, and because my suitcase was too big to fit through the car window the thieves had broken, I still had most of my clothes. I’m a big believer in momentum and at this point, the momentum of things said go. I called the security office at work to deal with the work side of things; my husband called the car insurance company to deal with that. And then we headed for the airport. My husband dropped me off – this was a work trip, not vacation – and I headed inside to check in for my flight.

This was when things got interesting. I’d expected that I could replace anything I really needed once I was inside the airport and past security – but the shops at SFO close at midnight, and by now it was 12:05 a.m. No paperback book or phone charger for me.

This was an odd feeling. I hadn’t realized how accustomed I was to having a large handbag with me most of the time, and I kept double-checking my wallet to make sure I still had it. It was attached to a loop handle around my wrist, so the odds I’d lose it were low, but still. I wondered if I was more shaken up by the theft than I realized. Maybe?

I sent my husband a text message saying everything was fine, then settled in to wait for the flight. Thirteen hours and I’d be changing planes in Taipei. In Taipei, surely there would be a place I could at least buy a phone charger.

I tried to figure out the odd feeling. Was it the lack of a backpack slung over my shoulder? (I’d liked my backpack!) The inability to write anything down, to think through what had happened or what to do next the way I do it best, on paper? The lack of anything to read? I’d turned my phone off to save battery; just in case I couldn’t get a charger in Taipei, I wanted to make sure I still had power when I landed in Jakarta. Supposedly someone would meet me at the airport to take me to the hotel, and I’d be meeting up with work colleagues once I was there, but still. The ability to look something up or call someone if something went off-kilter seemed worth maintaining.

What do you do on a plane flight with no book, no music, and nothing to write with? I don’t usually watch in-flight movies, but this time I did: I Feel Pretty and Deadpool 2.. Meh. Then I slept.

Taipei: the flight landed so early that the shops weren’t open yet. I paced up and down the hallways, stretching out my ankles. The layover was nearly three hours. There was plenty of time.

Taipei airport is interesting and to me, uncomfortable-feeling. The ceilings on most of the concourses are relatively low; most of the places to walk feel very closed-in. There’s a central area with the airline lounges and food court that’s much taller, two stories, but the lighting is dim and as you look up at the ceiling, everything fades to darkness and girders. I saw almost no exterior windows. The whole thing feels post-industrial, or like a setting for a post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie. On the other hand, there’s an orchid display and a Hello Kitty store and a small lounge with hand-carved wooden furniture and potted plants.

By now the stores were open, and I had to decide: what am I actually going to need? I don’t love shopping, and airports are pretty expensive places to buy most things. I wanted to keep my purchases minimal – but I also knew our agenda in Jakarta was packed full, and I didn’t want to count on having time to shop for anything specific while there. If I was going to need it during the trip, this was my chance.

I settled on:

  • A charger, cord, and portable battery for my phone. This was a work trip; I had to have some way to make my phone work.
  • A scarf. Indonesia is a majority-Muslim country, and I might need to cover my hair.
  • A notebook and pen. I just feel too weird if I don’t have something to write with.
  • A small, professional-looking backpack. The trip would involve being out all day, and that meant being able to carry bottled water, the scarf, and so on with me.

It took me an hour and a half to track it all down, partly because while there were a lot of electronics stores, they all had slightly different options and the plugs in Taipei are different from the plugs in Jakarta, so I had to find an adapter, and then I balked at how much it cost. Happily a store clerk helped me figure out a cheaper option that still worked, based mostly on knowing which items had cables included vs needing to buy them separately. I am also pretty picky about backpacks. It needed to be a backpack for comfort, but again, I wasn’t up for spending a ton of money, I wanted it to be lightweight, and it needed to look more work-appropriate than hiking-appropriate. I would have bought a book, but the only English-language books I found were travel guides for places I wasn’t going.

At the end, I settled into one of the lounge chairs next to the potted plants and used my phone’s data roaming plan to purchase and download a couple of e-books. Now that I had a battery and charging cord, I could use my phone as something to read.

And then it was time to board the flight.

Jakarta was great – maybe a topic for another post – but the whole experience of first losing things I’d carefully chosen to taken with me, and then needing to quickly replace just the items that were most critical, based on a limited selection of things available, was also interesting. It’s easy to get pretty meta about minimalism, and do we really need all the things we carry, and at first I wondered if maybe this wasn’t some great life lesson about needing less. Did I really need a backpack, for example, or was the wallet I already had enough?

Then I thought a little harder about my role – professional woman on a business trip, intentionally going to learn about this part of the world – and what I was hoping for from the trip, and what would make that easier. And I realized that most of what I’d packed in the first place really was likely to be useful.

Maybe the lesson is more that sometimes, we’re already doing just fine.

Books I’m reading

… or have been reading lately:

Reader, Come Home, by Maryann Wolf
I loved this. Pulled me in, made me think, changed how I’m approaching a number of things in my life, including reading (prior blog post). I’m glad and thankful I read this, and that means I’m also glad and grateful it exists. Just outstanding.

Gould’s Book of Fish, by Richard Flanagan
Sort of a (dark) fairy tale or magic realism, sort of an unreliable narrator, sort of an indictment of the early convict years in Tasmania, sort of fantastical, with metaphorical beasts and fish and men…. I recognized that it was literarily worthy but it never fully pullled me in. Perhaps this was along the lines of “the men all so good for nothing, and hardly any women at all”? Or perhaps it just wasn’t my taste.

The City and the Mountains, by Eca de Queros
The second time I’ve read this. A book with a message, arguably a morality tale, and I usually don’t love those – but this was so engaging that not only did I read it once, I kept it around and years later (ie last week) read it again. And I liked it just as much. The second time reading it, it seemed even more relevant than the first: this time I’ve been to rural Spain, which yes is not Portugal, and it’s a hundred years later, but at least the physical landscape isn’t too far away; and this time I’m thinking a lot about information and distraction and overwhelm and the tradeoffs of things coming in vs being or doing (or not-doing) oneself. All that makes it sound boring or dry, but really it’s just fun. It’s also a peaceful and calming sort of thing to read before bed, even during a tumultuous week.

The Achievement Habit, by Bernard Roth
I think I’m about done reading books about productivity. There was nothing wrong with this one, but I keep falling back to the ones I really love (18 Minutes; The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck; Getting Things Done.) That said, a few insights worth noting:

  • Doing things is itself a habit or a muscle. Do stuff and it gets easier to do stuff.
  • The stuff that makes us crazy when other people do it is probably stuff we do ourselves (else we likely wouldn’t even notice when others do it).
  • Let go of concerns and/or tackle any given problem from a different angle by up-leveling the problem itself. Rephrased: ask “why” like a two year old and then answer that question instead.

The Wake, by Paul Kingsnorth
I’m just a little way into this. It’s beautiful and wonderful and I love it and I’m so glad I’m reading it.

The End of Mr Y, by Scarlett Thomas
Just a little way into this one too. This is the second book by Thomas that I’ve read. Like the first (Our Tragic Universe) it’s both totally engaging and sneakily intellectual. In spite of that, I keep picking it up and putting it down and losing momentum – which I think is more about the number of books I’m currently reading and/or the amount of chaos in my life right now. So I am likely going to put it down more thoroughly for a while, and then start over.

F*ck Feelings, by Michael Bennett
I picked this up to look at in a bookstore because it had an amusing title and a bright yellow cover (yep, totally judging book by cover). I read a couple of pages and grinned at the book. It was just nice to read something that was both about how a) sometimes life is difficult and b) sometimes (often!) the thing to do is just get on with it anyway. Plus I have kind of a standing joke with a friend about how perhaps feelings are overrated, and what one needs to do is think things through rationally, and why do other people not get this?! And I often feel a sneaking kind of respect for the whole ‘stiff upper lip’ and dry humor approach to life that one finds in the more stereotypical bits of British humor. So, this was appealing. Then I read a couple of pages and felt better. Oh, the irony. There’s good odds I’ll read the rest of it, perhaps in tiny doses as required to deal with chaos.

New Selected Poems, by Les Murray
Because poetry is necessary, and Les Murray is great. I’m reading this one or two poems at a time, and at that rate it will take me a while to finish. I’m good with that. Things I like about Les Murray’s poetry: the sense of landscape and space and how specific it is. Also the use of such a wide variety of words, arranged in such a wide variety of ways.

And that’s all! For now, at any rate.

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