Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Zen and the Art of Holiday Packing

Even as you read this I’m fresh back from a fortnight in Italy and busy unpacking my bulging case. The kitchen is dotted with piles of laundry, every flat surface littered with stuff to be put back in its right place.

A suitcase compresses all your essentials into one small space, temporarily, then sort of explodes. It disgorges all your worldly possessions in a formless heap which takes ages to disperse. I spend days after a holiday putting my life back to rights, but this is nothing compared to the time my SO spends packing his case.

It always seems to me that once you start your packing, life descends into chaos. Suddenly there are things I can’t use, things that must be ‘put away’ for the holiday. I have favourite clothes that mustn’t be dirtied because there may not be time to wash them before we go. Toiletries need to be planned, lined up and counted. The suitcase with its huge, yawning mouth, ever hungry, lurks on the landing, smacking its lips. It devours all my precious and useful bits and pieces not to be seen again until I arrive safely at wherever.

Given all the above, all my instincts scream that the suitcases should be left in the loft and the packing should be delayed until the last sensible moment. Obviously not the last minute, that’s just poor planning, but a ‘just in time’ policy seems to be called for.

My husband disagrees. He starts weeks before, thinking about his holiday wardrobe, gathering the stuff he wants to take and putting it aside, nice and safe and ready. He’ll ask me what shampoo I want to take, and of course I have no idea. We’re not leaving for a fortnight. Do I have a new toothbrush? I shrug. What about towels, for the beach or pool? More blank looks from me.

There is also, I gather, a correct way to actually place the items in the case. Towels go on the bottom, along with anything heavy. I can’t see the logic. Airport baggage handlers are no respecters of top and bottom, my case is as likely to find itself upside down as not. But this whole thing has become an industry. There are books written on the optimum approach to packing, folding, what to take, how to maximise space and minimize weight. It’s a science, or a dark art, and one which my husband understands and I just plain don’t.

We always fall out in the run-up to a holiday because our approaches are incompatible. He insists on getting everything ready well in advance and complains that I’m leaving all the work to him. He’s right, I am, because as far as I’m concerned that’s next week’s job and we all ought to concentrate on what matters now. Important matters, such as pre-scheduling Oh Get a Grip posts, for example.

He also has a near-obsessive fear of missing the plane. I agree, that would be a disaster, but traffic is what it is and as long as we set off in reasonable time what more can we do? We can set off even earlier, that’s what. The result? We spend literally hours perched on plastic airport chairs waiting for check in to open. By the time those suitcases trundle off on their little conveyor belt on their mysterious journey into the bowels of the airport I’m heartily sick of the sight of them.

My husband is a planner. As well as his meticulous and organized approach to preparation for the break, he likes to have the entire holiday mapped out, a timetable agreed for the various outings and activities. He’ll pre-book tickets (a thrifty habit, I know, but I can’t bring myself to want to think so far ahead), and he always has a healthy pile of Euros stashed weeks ahead. Given the recent nosedive in the conversion rate since Brexit I suppose that’s also a prudent move but I’m not going to say so. It’ll only encourage him to more and greater feats of forward planning.

Italy is gorgeous and I know we’ll have a fabulous time, but a part of me is looking forward to it all being over. By the time you read this, it will be. Travel broadens the mind and we can all do with a bit of that, but holidays are hard work. I think I’m going to need a lie down in a darkened room to get over it all.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Baggage Claim

Sacchi Green

Baggage. Luggage. Not much difference. Baggage would seem to refer to what you pack things in for travel, or possibly what you put into those bags-of-many-terms. Luggage is more evocative of what you have to lug around when you travel. Suitcases and portmanteaux suggest carefully folded formal or business garb. Steamer trunks (now archaic) indicate the same careful packing of a much larger wardrobe. Valises and satchels (also archaic) wouldn’t hold as much, while carry-alls and duffle bags of any size would hold whatever you could stuff into them, with no promise at all of neatness.

But there’s more to some of the various types of luggage than how well they serve for travel.

Carpet Bags (a type of valise presumably made of heavy carpet material, often with designs woven into them, possibly made from actual cut-up carpets) were the quick pick of Northern entrepreneurs (generally con-men) invading the defeated Southern states after the Civil War, looking for whatever economic or political swindles they could finagle. I don’t know whether they were all scoundrels, but the term “Carpet-bagger” certainly inferred that, and even now you might see it used when someone runs for office in a state where they don’t actually live, or have only moved to recently for that purpose.

I don’t know whether the French still use the term portmanteaux for the things they pack their clothes in, but the word has another, rather literary application: “a word or morpheme whose form and meaning are derived from a blending of two or more distinct forms (such as smog from smoke and fog.)” I can only guess that this use stretches the French meaning of "port" as “carry” to indicate a word that carries meanings from two words packed together into one. The English carry-all would serve just as well, or better, but it doesn’t have the elegance or panache of portmanteau.

Duffle bags are called by several other names now, but to me they have a military aura because I remember my dad’s big khaki bag from WWII. In Britain as far back as WWI the same things were called kit bags, leading to the wartime song, “Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag/And smile, smile, smile.”

And that brings me in my meandering way to what I really intended to write about. The intangible things that we pack up in our metaphorical old kit bags, the memories, traumas, misunderstandings, mistakes, guilt, phobias…all those influences that we bring with us from our pasts and call, sometimes, baggage, even though luggage might be the more logical term since we can’t avoid lugging them around. We tend not to include the good times in our concept of baggage, probably because those memories don’t weigh us down the way the bad and sad times do.

In fiction as in real life our psychological baggage plays a big part. A writer friend just went through a break-up with the third person she’s dated seriously since the death of her partner of twenty years, and now she attributes all of the relationship failures to the baggage she carries. That may well be true. I hope she does find happiness again. In fiction, though—romance, I’m looking straight at you--I wish authors wouldn’t rely so heavily on this trope. I also wish that they wouldn’t splatter their book’s blurbs so recklessly with question marks. “Will she ever overcome her tragic past?” “Will so-and-so and so-and-so be able to forget their ingrained fears and find happiness together?” Really, have any of you ever read a book with that kind of blurb where the answer turned out to be “no”?

We erotica authors aren’t quite as dependent on this means of dragging out the tension before the inevitable clinch, but we still need to approximate some level of realism in our characters’ relationships, and recognizing the baggage they carry is important to making those characters multi-dimensional and understanding their needs and actions.

Recognizing our own baggage is even more important. Everything we write comes from inside our minds, no matter how it gets there. We need a certain kind of empathy for our characters, whether its details come to us through personal experience, travel, observation, persuasive reading, or dozens of ways we can’t quite identify. I think of all these things we draw on for our writing as baggage of sorts, even the relatively happy bits. Maybe those especially. Some ideas we pack neatly, as in a suitcase, for instance items we research and study carefully in order to draw on them at will. More are crammed haphazardly into amorphous duffle bags and only retrieved by accident, or triggered by ideas that wander by, or certain sights, or scents. Sometimes I’m astounded by the bits of information and details that seem to come from nowhere and slide neatly into place in a story that I hadn’t realized needed them. They’re not coming from nowhere, they’re coming from some niche in my mind where they were stuffed away carelessly and forgotten until, suddenly, they were retrieved. Yes, my mind is an old duffle bag crammed full of random bits and pieces.

The ideas and information we accumulate from actual travel tend to fall into the suitcase category, willingly preserved mental souvenirs more valuable than most of the tangible artifacts we pack in among our shirts and underwear. Cameron’s post about his unexpected visits to war cemeteries reminded me of this. Whether or not we ever use these exact memories in our writing, they become a vital part of who we are, how we see the world and people in it. Even when the travel isn’t very extensive, it’s valuable, shifting our outlook for a while, maybe even lifting temporarily the burden of our other baggage.

Right now I’m about to pack up a suitcase, boxes, a cooler, and various other things to take home with me from a four-day mini-vacation in New Hampshire. On the whole my every-day baggage hasn’t receded much—the guilts, responsibilities, should-haves, might-haves, fears for the future—but as always there have been moments of release, of joy, like sitting on a rock in a mountain stream watching the flow of water over a multitude of kinds and colors of stones left behind by a long-ago glacier, or taking in the vast view from the top of the highest mountain in the Northeast. I realize once again how lucky I am in my suitcase memories, and how relatively light my baggage is after all.

Saturday, September 16, 2017


by Jean Roberta

I sometimes wonder what I would pack if I had an hour to gather up my belongings before being rescued from a crisis situation.

In the early 1970s, my aunt and uncle and their three children were living in the Niger Delta area when a new country named Biafra seceded from Nigeria, and a civil war broke out. (My uncle was an American engineer working for Burlington Mills, and he was showing local employees how to use big industrial looms.)

The U.S. government sent planes to rescue American citizens stranded in Biafra. Among a few other items, my aunt gathered up her silverware, made of actual silver. When the family arrived home in South Carolina, they had no furniture for at least a week. They used orange crates as chairs and a table for dining on, but they used sterling silver knives, forks and spoons at every meal.

My aunt and her two brothers (one was my father) were the children of a jeweller and watchmaker. Items made of precious metal were not disposable for them.

A few years later, I experienced my own Nigerian crisis when the Nigerian man I had met in England and sponsored into Canada as my fiancé became unbearable to live with. When my closest friend offered to rescue me and my three-month-old baby while my husband was out of the house, I threw some stuff in a black plastic garbage bag, and away we went in friend's car to the local women's shelter.

Compared to the baby herself, everything else I owned looked non-essential, and it was all replaceable. Clothes and shoes? Well, yes, I had to have something to wear for the next few days, but none of them last a lifetime anyway. Grooming products? They’re easy to carry, and besides, they’re available at the drug store. Books? Hard to transport in bulk. Knicknacks? Meh. Plants? They don’t always survive in temporary, makeshift living arrangements. Luckily, we had no pets. If we had, I wouldn’t have left them with a raging alcoholic.

So many people around the world have had to cope with natural disasters over the last few weeks. My heart goes out to them, and I wish it were easier for hordes of refugees to come to the Canadian prairies. The worst thing we’ve faced lately is an unusually dry summer that has affected the wheat crop. (Watch for higher-priced bread in the next few months.)

I’m sure there’s nothing like an out-of-control fire or flood or winds that uproot trees and tear the roofs off houses to remind people of what is really valuable. Parents grab their kids first. Some pet-owners round up the furry children before leaving the premises.

It’s actually freeing to realize that inanimate belongings are not really essential to human life. Even books, as reluctant as I am to say this. I can literally live without books, and so can other avid readers.

I don’t need it is my mantra when I pack for a trip. Like Lisabet, though, I find it hard to travel light. (What if it’s very hot where I’m going? What if it’s very cold or very wet? What if there’s no sun-block or toothpaste or antiseptic cream there? What if there’s nothing to read except what I bring with me on a six-hour trip?)
I just need to put myself in crisis-survival mode the next time I plan to see the sights in some faraway place.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Leave It All Behind

by Giselle Renarde

For more than 50 years, my grandmother was married to a man with unchecked mental health issues.

My grandfather didn't believe in doctors. I want to say he hadn't seen one since WWII, when shrapnel was embedded in his lungs (where it remained until he was cremated), but I think I'm romanticizing the past a bit. Because in the late 1950s my grandfather was incarcerated for committing a violent crime against his family. Since he was institutionalized in psychiatric correctional facility, I suppose he would have seen doctors then.

I can't imagine that helped matters any.

Point being: my grandfather didn't see doctors if he wasn't being forced to. But he did self-medicated. With alcohol.

I spent a great deal of time with my grandfather, in my youth. I remember him very fondly. After his death, my grandmother revealed to me that he'd been abusive toward her in every way possible.  I was shocked to hear this. It didn't sound at all like the grandfather I'd known and loved. In fact, it sounded more like my father... who was also institutionalized after committing criminal acts, in what's now known as a forensic psychiatric hospital.

When I started working in the domestic violence sector, I learned more about the cycle of violence that plays out through the generations. That's when the pieces started coming together. My mother was "daddy's little girl"--her words. So she married a man just like her father. She saw no reason not to.

When my grandmother began speaking more openly about the family violence that had taken place throughout the years, my aunts started talking too. Not my mom. My mother doesn't like to talk about unpleasant things. She says the past is in the past. It isn't, and perhaps one day she'll come to that realization, but she hasn't yet and it's not an issue that's easy to push.

Throughout my childhood, my mom's two younger sisters were an endless source of funny family stories. I remember taking the subway with them when I was six or seven years old and saying, "Tell me another story about when you were kids!" I couldn't get enough.  I loved their hilarious stories about my aunt's pet rooster and the family of ducks that lived under their house.

So when the darker stories started coming out, I was really amazed. All those sunny family stories were still true. They'd just left out the unpleasantness until now.

My younger aunts told me about coming home for lunch on school days. My grandfather did shift work and he was home during the day. My older aunts were in high school, and their lunch period started a little earlier than the lunch hour at the elementary school. So my younger aunts would walk home together, and on certain days they'd find my older aunts leaving the house. No words would be exchanged. Only a frown and a shake of the head. That was enough to inform the younger kids that it wasn't safe to go inside. On those days, my aunts didn't get to eat lunch.  They went into the field across the road, and they played or gleaned grains for their pets.

The new stories, the dark stories, don't go into detail the way the sunny ones had.  But they don't have to.  I know now that my mother grew up in much the same family environemnt I did. There are so many nuances to the type of fear a child experiences growing up in a household that could spiral into violence at any moment. You can feel it all around you. The air is too still.

My grandmother once told me about a book she read some time in the 1950s. It was a novel about a woman she identified with, a housewife with a whole bunch of kids. Not a bad mother, but not a happy housewife. A woman who'd had enough of the pressures at home.

The character in this book packed a suitcase and left it all behind. Left her husband, left her kids. Took off and had adventures of her own.

I remember my grandmother telling me how much that book meant to her.  That character was her hero, because every day of her life she wanted to do the same thing: pack a suitcase, leave it all behind.

But my grandmother... she never did leave.

Giselle Renarde is an award-winning queer Canadian writer. She was nominated Toronto’s Best Author in NOW Magazine’s 2015 Readers’ Choice Awards, and her book The Red Satin Collection won Best Transgender Romance in the 2012 Rainbow Awards. Giselle has contributed erotica and queer fiction to nearly 200 short story anthologies and written dozens of juicy books, including Anonymous, Seven Kisses, Bali Nights, In Shadow, and Nanny State.

Visit http://donutsdesires.blogspot.com for free erotica and exciting new releases.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

"Hound Dog Part Two: A Little House Cleaning" A story of packing a suitcase

She stood by the cleaning cart and knocked again.  "Housekeeping!" she said in English.  She could feel the emptiness through the door.
 There was no answer so she took her pass key and unlocked it.  She pushed the door open and stayed by the cleaning cart.  She announced herself again in Italian and waited. Staying with the cart, she leaned in the doorway cautiously and glanced around.  There was no one.  She went in.
 On the dresser below the wall mounted TV screen an open suitcase was still in the process of being packed.  She glanced at it in passing as she went to the bathroom. 
She had been working in the little hotel in Rome for ten years.  In that time there had been four suicides.  Also two murders, most likely a result of adulterous affairs, but the poliziotto would never tell you anything.  She glanced at the bed, which had been roughly made up.  She stepped into the white tiled bathroom, alert for spots of blood.  The toilet had been flushed, that was nice. The American woman who was staying there, she had met her once, had neatly folded the towels out of that guilty thoughtfulness rich Americans sometimes put on for the working class.
 She took the towels and carried them out to the cleaning cart and brought back a fresh armful.  She replaced the towels, went back to the cart and took the soap bottles and sponges. She scrubbed down the toilet bowl and the sink.  She emptied the waste basket. 
She went back to the cleaning cart and took the spray bottle of glass cleaner and tore off a wad of paper towels.
 She didn’t like cleaning mirrors.  It was something she got through quickly.  When she was a girl she had seen a horror movie of a mirror that imprisoned a woman's soul. You could see the woman trapped behind the glass beating her fists, screaming soundlessly. In the movies people were always looking in mirrors and seeing someone's bloody face there. 
And this morning, as any morning, she did.  The face of an aging woman with tired eyes holding up a blue bottle of cleaner and a paper towel.  A woman who had not been touched for a long time.  A woman with two children and a useless run away husband she hadn't seen since the birth of the second one, a son.  A son!  He wouldn’t even stay for a son.  She did not like mirrors.  They did steal your soul.
She finished the mirror, took a critical glance around and went back to the bedroom.  She peeled off the comforter and tossed it in a pile on a chair.  Sure, the bed sheet had a wet spot, there it was.  Two of them.  A busy night.  She checked the bedspread to make sure it was clean underneath and it was.  Americans.  Full of this kind of catholic guilt, but then doing these things like hiding their spunk under bedspreads, like a dog burying its shit. 
I'm a just a cleaning maid, she thought.  I’m not your priest.
 She tore off the sheets, but the wet spots hadn't gone through to the mattress.  She gave it a sniff, shook some cleaning fluid on a sponge and wiped it down anyway.  She changed the sheets and put the bed back together.
 She stood next to the bed, thinking about the two wet spots.  How would they have done it?  Had she lain across the small bed with her legs in the air?  Had she gotten on all fours?
She felt herself shaking.  It was an effect of being in a room where sex had occurred. It made her apprehensive as though being haunted by the ghosts of the living.  Her body told her what to do next.  What to do with that tension.  Trembling, muttering softly, she went to the open door, looked outside both ways and gently shut it.  She threw the deadbolt lock.  She went to the TV, turned it on, found a talk show and turned the sound to a neutral level.  Loud enough to hear a knock and still give herself a little time. 
 She lay across the bed with her legs wide apart, with her feet dangling over one side and her hair dangling down the other. She looked up with the fucked woman’s traditional view of the overhead light in its baroque little glass globe and the odd cracks running across the ceiling. 
 Had the woman with the suitcase laid across the bed counting the cracks while the man  - did what?  Laid over her, belly on belly?  Made the bed springs squeal to the rhythm of his grunts while her head dangled over the edge of the mattress, eyes half closed looking up at the bouncing ceiling?  Maybe he had been a good lover, he spread her legs, maybe put his face down deep, maybe took her swelling, ticklish nub between his lips and licked and sucked it.  Slipped a wetted finger inside her and rubbed his finger tip in and out while he sucked at her, and gently batted her nub with his tongue tip for as long as it took to conjure her ecstasy.
 They start like that to suck you in, to make the sale, to convince you they will always make love to you, just that way.  But you marry and it all changes.  You're not a lover, you're a responsibility.  Some men have the ability to be friends with women over time.  Some men just don't.  They want their mothers, and you are not, are not never, their mothers.
It had been so long since she had laid like this, across the bed, laid out in such a way you could shift a man off his balance ever so slightly,  making him drive the weight of his delicious thrusts into you.  He might have to grip you by the shoulders to keep you from slipping off the mattress while he drove you hard.  Feeling yourself being banged and inched towards the void so that you might grip him as well, wrap your thighs around him, so tight that he would never leave you, while he slipped an arm behind your shoulders and hugged you hard as he made the bed springs shake with each famished thrust and your hips ached deliciously, painful and eager. 
She rolled over on her side, reached over and took a pillow.  She put the pillow between her legs.  She crushed it hard with her thighs and felt the thickness of it pressed all up into her, all the while listening for any rattle of a key in a door lock. She reached for the other pillow and took it into her arms and held it tight to her face.  She put the corner of the white pillow case into her mouth, between her teeth and sucked it ferociously. 
She stretched her legs out, crossed her feet, wiggled her toes, squeezing the pillow hard between her strong legs.  She imagined a man who would not leave her, thrusting harder, perhaps to fend off her own aggression, riding a horse gone wild, struggling to keep his very balls from being mashed by her mindless frenzy for him.  She bit with her teeth, crushed with her mighty thighs and thought she could feel for a moment, that lost, reeling, suspended moment of a man when he rears up like a stallion, makes that final hard, brainless push, all the way in, hard, holding it right in there, their groins clenching at each other like animals mating, eyes squeezed shut as he makes that desperate cry of release and then the warm thick splatter reaching at her insides, deep, so deep within, filled with possibility. 
Antonio, that fucking finnoccio, would always burst into tears in that moment, lay his head between her breasts, sag his weight down crushing the breath from her, weeping his little boy heart out.  Men never tell you why they do these things.
To be so desired again.  Maybe, maybe to sit in a restaurant with the man who had stayed in this bed with the woman.  In the restaurant, his eyes would scan the room jealously and he might say something like -
"There.  Don’t look at him, no – don’t - but at the table by the window the man in the rich suit is looking at you.  He is staring at you.  His mouth is open, I think he is drooling.  And now there's that other man with the red beard, the one who looks like a pirate.  Now he is staring at you.  He has that dull far away look.  I know that look.  Now a third man, standing in the line waiting for a table, staring at you with that dumb face.  His eyes move up and down, because he can see the profile of your breasts from where he is standing and he is imagining how it would feel, the weight of them,to hold up your breasts in his hands.  He has that look of a man under the spell of a woman. If there is an afterlife he wants to be reincarnated as your bra.
"Do you know what they are thinking?  These men?  They are imagining you naked.  Right now they are imagining it! I know that look because I have that look.  You know it too, because you make me stare just that way, when you stand right in front of me and lift your breasts. You do it slow, to torture me. You make my eyes beg. And then you allow me a little touch.  That's your game. Its not enough to fuck you is it?  You have to stop my heart with one look, so that you are the only woman in all the world.  How do you seduce these men from across a noisy room?  Without even looking their way?  How do they pick you out and fall for your spell?"
And then maybe he would say, these pillows between her legs, maybe her man would then say -
"Every man wants to fuck you.  I want to tell these men – she’s even more beautiful, more impossible when she’s naked than you will ever know.  More than you can ever imagine.  You get to want her.  But me, I’m the one who gets to fuck her anytime she calls to me.  I’m the blessed one."
Are there men like this?  She wondered.  Or do they all turn into dried up old husbands in the end? 
  She opened her legs and tossed the crushed pillow up against the bed stead.  Took the other pillow from her teeth and looked at the wet crescent she'd drooled onto it.  She yanked the pillow case away and got off the bed.  She unlocked the door, looked left and right, took a fresh pillow case from the cart and changed the pillow.  
 The bed was done.  The bathroom was done.  A quick once over with a vacuum cleaner and there an end.
As she ran the vacuum over the carpet under the bed it made that whine of something stuck in the nozzle.  She turned it off and flipped it over.  There was a sheen of three gold wrappers which she pulled out and held in her hand.  Three fresh torn condom wrappers, one with teeth marks, two stains on the bed.  She had worked her man hard, that woman.  Drained his balls.
She tossed them into the trash bag of the cart and sighed. She wrapped the cord of the vacuum and put it out by the cart.
As she passed the open suitcase, she saw the corner of good stationary.  Listening for the door, looking around her, she carefully drew it out and read the English hand writing.
  .  .  . and then I shove my face down there and just flat out rape your pussy with my tongue while you curl your toes and curse me until you come in my face.  I miss you so much I want to take out my dick and look at it standing up in the morning air. I'm keeping it for you. I have the celibate patience of a monk.  You'll be here soon. . .”
She took the hotel stationary from a drawer, scribbled down the faithfully waiting man's return address on the front of an embroidered envelope.  She put the condom wrappers inside, licked it and sealed it.  She put the envelope in her work apron and carefully replaced the American woman's letter back in the suitcase.

She would pass the post office on the way home. Airmail with a 1st day delivery, even if it cost a little more.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Unplanned Moments

I’ve done a fair bit of travelling in my mid-twenties. I was never (and am still not) the type that travels for shopping or partying. You’ll never see me at a beach and if you see me in a mall, I’m probably just passing through or grabbing a quick bite to eat.

I love to see sites of historical and cultural significance. I love to see the out-of-the-way places, visiting towns and cities where the tourism industry hasn’t really hit yet.

While I do plan an itinerary when I travel, the most meaningful experiences are often the unplanned ones. When I was in Edinburgh, I made a new friend in the hostel who lived in Ludlow, England, and I ended up visiting him for a week after my time in Scotland was over. I got to see small-town England and Wales and got a lot more out of my time there than if I would have just stuck with my itinerary.

But it’s my time in Bosnia and Herzegovina that will forever remain with me as the most meaningful non-planned experience. I went on a month-long trip to the Balkans in late 2008 with my old Brazilian pen pal. Our plan was to visit Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina — but we ended up also taking a day trip to Italy and another to Montenegro.

In Bosnia we planned a few days in Mostar (famous for the high bridge it has over the river, which is also famous for the annual event in which divers dive off the bridge and into the water) and a few days in Sarajevo. My pen pal was working on his masters in a journalism program and he had arranged for some interviews in Sarajevo, so he could write about children growing up in the shadow of the Bosnian war. I tagged along and we met with staff at an orphanage, met regularly with a local journalist, and we met with children who attend an after-school program run by an aid organization.

The scars of war are everywhere in Bosnia.

The first thing I noticed in Mostar were the graveyards. Fields of hundreds of identical white headstones are spread throughout the city, with almost all death dates being in the same year. The buildings are still pockmarked by bullets. Other buildings still lie in ruins, waiting to be completely demolished and rebuilt. By the time we were in Bosnia, the war had been over for thirteen years.

On our first day in Mostar, we went to the bank to exchange money for the local currency. On our way out of the bank, a security guard who was blind in one eye and missing a leg, held the door open for us. Immediately across the street is a sea of white tombstones.

We proceeded around the corner to pass through the Old Town and head back to our hostel. The street was made of cobblestones and people around us were chatting happily as they proceeded about their shopping. As we neared a corner, I heard a man singing — full of soul and pain, his voice haunting. Rounding the corner, I found the singer. An older man, also missing a leg, sat at a table in an empty open-air bar, singing into his beer. I don’t know the words but it doesn’t matter, it’s clear he was still mourning losses suffered in the war.

After a few days of seeing Mostar — with its unusual feel of being both an attractive place to visit and a city still struggling to get back on its feet — we headed to Sarajevo. The capital of Bosnia, Sarajevo is much the same as Mostar. Though they’ve been working at rebuilding for thirteen years, the scars of war are everywhere. From pockmarked buildings, to Sarajevo Roses (red resin poured into the craters left in the sidewalk by an explosion), to half-blind, legless, and destitute people, to the ever-present fear that there are still landmines in the outskirts of town.

On our first day, we proceeded to one of the highest points of the city — it’s something I like to do when I travel, as it lets me see a city and take photos. The first thing I noticed when we reached a high point was the graveyards. Like Mostar, there are numerous fields of identical white headstones, all with the same death year. Sarajevo sits in a valley and from a high point, you can see the seas of white tombstones. You can never not see the war.

Toward the end of our time in Bosnia, we planned a day trip to see Srebrenica, to visit the memorial for the Srebrenica Genocide.

Getting there was a challenge. Our taxi driver didn’t know English, but we managed to remember the Bosnian word for “bus” and so the taxi driver got us to the bus station. We bought our tickets and got on and trundled on down the highway. Eventually, midway between Sarajevo and Srebrenica, the bus rolled to a stop. The bus driver shouted something and everyone got off the bus, got on their cell phones, and were promptly picked up and taken away by friends and family.

We got off the bus and wandered into the little convenience store the bus had stopped next to. We found someone who spoke English — a young man about our age who learned English from movies and TV — and we learned that the bus had broken down. When we mentioned we were headed to Srebrenica, he offered to drive us the rest of the way, as it was only another fifteen minutes or so.

We took him up on his offer. As we drove, he asked us about where we’re from and what brings us to Bosnia. And when we got to the genocide memorial, he offered to walk us through it.

The morning was cool and a light fog had rolled in. The three of us got out of the car and wandered into the memorial. There is a huge circular marker that has all of the names of the victims etched on it, there’s a graveyard with another sea of white tombstones, and a memorial building with haunting images of the aftermath of the genocide.

As we walked along the path, I noticed there were a few other people in the graveyard — women and men laying flowers next to the graves of loved ones, whispering words of love and loss.

We rounded the bend in the path and our driver pointed at a row of headstones. He said, “There’s a man and his sons buried there. That’s my uncle and my cousins.”

He walked over to the headstones and we gave him his privacy, so he could have a few moments with his family. We kept walking on, completing the path through the graveyard and returning to the memorial with the etched names. We wandered around, taking pictures as tourists do — but doing our best to be discreet and respectful — and I watched as our driver came to the memorial and headed directly for a specific spot. He reached out and touched a set of names.

Shortly after that, we emerged from the memorial and graveyard. The man wished us all the best in our continued vacation and promptly headed home. We wandered through the town and eventually found the bus station to take us back to Sarajevo.

I can still remember that day vividly. It’s one thing to be in a place haunted by war and genocide, but it’s a different thing entirely to have that personal connection we stumbled upon that day. Without that personal connection, everything can be held at a comfortable distance. Even though we were in the very spot where a genocide happened thirteen years ago, it would have been easy to treat it like a history book — these are the facts of what happened in that terrible event and here is the memorial for it. But to have that personal connection — a personal tour — made me confront that this is not simply a historical event, but this is a terrible wound that has still not healed.

It’s moments like this that are not only the most meaningful on a vacation, but they can also be the most impactful on a person. I am and always have been a very peaceful person, very understanding and accepting, but I can’t help but wonder if this visit to Srebrenica — where I not only visited the graves of people who were massacred, but was personally brought there by someone who likely barely escaped with his own life — affected me in such a way that reinforced and strengthened my approach to life.

It was shortly after this vacation, after all, that I applied for and participated in a peace and conflict study trip to Israel and the Palestinian Territories, and shortly after that I enrolled in my masters program, studying equity and community development. I learned all about hate and love, about destruction and peace-building, and about death and life.

And all of this happened because my pen pal emailed me and said, “Want to go on a vacation?”

All images are copyrighted by Cameron D. James.

Cameron D. James is a writer of gay erotica and M/M erotic romance; his latest release is Forbidden Desires: The Complete Series. He is publisher at and co-founder of Deep Desires Press and a member of the Indie Erotica Collective. He lives in Canada, is always crushing on Starbucks baristas, and has two rescue cats. To learn more about Cameron, visit http://www.camerondjames.com.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Traveling Light (#packing #possessions #anxiety)

Traveling LIght

By Lisabet Sarai

One of my life goals is to succeed in packing two week’s worth of stuff in a carry-on bag.

Don’t laugh. I’ve done a lot of traveling, visiting every continent except Australia. On almost every trip, I’ve been weighed down by excess luggage. I recall my first journey to Bali, in the mid-1980s. I’d bought a new soft-sided bag, what seemed like a clever innovation with four small wheels on the bottom and zippers that allowed you to add capacity, in several stages. I wasn’t able to find a picture even on the Internet—that’s how long ago it was!—but imagine something like a vertically expandable rolling backpack. Plenty of space, I figured, plus with the wheels I wouldn’t have to carry it. I stuffed it to the gills. Then I spent hot, miserable hours dragging it behind me along the dirt roads in Legian, looking for a guest house.

In 2000, my husband and I took a dream vacation to Provence. Ten days. Four suitcases, two large and two small. We’d booked an intimate, atmospheric hotel on the harbor in Marseille, quintessentially French. I adored the place—except for the fact that it had no elevator, just lovely spiral staircases. Our room on the fourth floor had a wonderful view. What I recall most vividly, though, is wrestling those heavy bags up to the room, then down again. We had to do that twice each way, since we both arrived and departed from Marseille and stayed in the same hotel both times.

Never again, I swore. I’m going to be really careful on my next trip, taking nothing but the absolute essentials. Just one suitcase for the two of us. It would have to be bigger of course, and would be somewhat heavier, but surely a single bag would be easier to handle than two... That’s a fine theory, I discovered, as long as you’re not traveling by train in France, where many of the smaller stations have no lifts and no elevators. (I was a bit shocked at the lack of concern for handicapped passengers, to be honest.)

Why do I always end up packing so much? There are a number of reasons. For one thing, my travels often combine business and leisure. That means I need both formal and casual clothing, and the shoes to go with them.

Yes, shoes are a major problem. Another one of my life goals is to find a single pair of shoes comfortable and sturdy enough for walking miles, while still fancy enough to go with a suit or a dress. In fact, I can’t walk in any pair of shoes for more than a day. With my seriously pronated arches, I get blisters from any shoes if I wear them consistently. Thus, even for a few days away, I need several changes of footwear.

Another issue is weather. I live in a tropical climate. If I’m on my way to some place more temperate, I have to pack warmer clothing, including bulky outerwear, plus lighter items to wear on the way home.

Excuses, excuses!

Yes, I admit I usually pack more items than I need. I don’t want to have to figure out a week’s wardrobe ahead of time. I like to have a bit of choice about what to wear. Is that a sin?

If it is, it’s one I pay for in backaches and exhaustion.

We had a friend visit, back when I lived in the US, a woman from Scotland who was former stewardess. She’d come for a two week vacation, all the way from the UK, and was traveling across America. All she had in the way of luggage was a rolling suitcase that would easily fit in the bin above an airline seat. Yet she managed to look fabulous during her entire three day stay with us.

I realized after looking at what she carried that one key to traveling light is having the right clothes. You need stuff that is compressible and that won’t wrinkle. Everything needs to follow the same color scheme, so you can mix and match. Plus you need lightweight fabrics that you can wash, preferably by hand. If your destination is chilly, plan to wear layers rather than bringing individual warm but space consuming pieces.

I’m proud to report that I am getting better, though I haven’t yet truly met my goal. Lately my DH and I have been managing with a single medium-sized bag for all our clothing and toiletries, plus two carry ons. Those hold our laptops, tablets, cables, charges and other essentials of the twenty-first century. That’s something I didn’t need to worry about when I went to Bali.

At the end of September I’m off to Europe on business. It will be a relatively short trip, but I’m already stressed about packing. I’m especially concerned because I will likely still need crutches due to my broken leg. Clearly I can’t pull a suitcase behind me.

Some people have nightmares about monsters or murderers. As for me, I have a recurring anxiety dream about packing. The details vary, but it’s always a situation where I have only ten minutes before I leave on a trip. I have to select what to take, often no more than what will fit in a backpack. I race around, frantic, trying to make decisions about what’s essential.

I guess that’s the critical point: deciding what’s essential. For the upcoming trip, I’ve decided that it doesn’t matter what I look like. The main point is surviving the twelve hours in the plane, not freezing to death, and managing to get around while I’m there.

I wonder if I can do that with just a carry-on?