The Dilemmas Of The Creative Process

My brain wheels have been CRANKING ever since I wrote a new 10 page short last night and had a long analysis and discussion about it with one of my dearest friends, Brian Villalobos.

This was an idea that I’d had many, many years ago and never actually wrote. Recently when I switched to FadeIn as my new writing software, I was importing old scripts and saw this title among them (even though I never actually wrote anything). I was like “Oh yeah! That idea!” I then heard a podcast which actually related to certain elements of this idea, and with my shiny new software (Ooh! New toy!), I was off and running.

I knew there would be three related scenes, all set at the exact same location over three different periods of time. I knew roughly what the “story” of each scene was. I actually wrote them in reverse order because the last scene was practically complete in my head, the second scene I had a pretty good idea about and the first scene I only had a very loose concept of the basic theme. Scenes 3 and 2 flowed out of me like water from a firehose. I tried not to think too much and just let it get out of my head and into existence so I’d have something there that I could always go back and tweak. Then I had to figure out the first scene. I took a long walk. I had a few basic ideas and possibilities, but then on this walk, one of them locked in and it started writing itself. I got home and started pouring it out, and simultaneously messaging with Brian. I finished it and immediately sent it over, as one of the parts was written for him and I trust and respect his intelligence, instinct and feedback immensely. I told him to pull no punches, I’m not delicate, and I’m good at filtering what is useful to me and what is just “not in line with my vision” or such. I’m open to critique.

He gave me lots of great feedback, all of which I agreed with and as often happens, confirmed some of my own instincts as to what could be viewed as weaknesses. It was revealing. It got me thinking. Mentally exploring other paths and possibilities. It was late so I went to sleep on it. Today my brain still ruminated on it all. What does it want to be? What do I want it to be? What is my intention here? I still have not answered that question but it’s all terribly interesting to me.

The biggest (subjective) weaknesses (my word, not his, and I totally agree with this) is that there isn’t enough conflict and not really any stakes. It’s light, quippy, and (as most of my writing is) extremely dialogue heavy. Walls of bantering dialogue. Here was my biggest revelation of the day though: I’m not sure it wants to be anything different. Again, I completely agree with the feedback and even things that I just personally see as deficiencies that didn’t even come from him, but every time I thought of good ways to introduce more conflict or higher stakes, I wasn’t sure I liked it. I realized that what I had written was just three moments in time about love in different forms between three characters. By all conventional wisdom and “rules,” this likely is not a good screenplay. And yet, it might just be what it wants to be and what I wanted it to be. There’s so much conflict and darkness going on all around that maybe I just want three scenes about three good people and the love they share between them all. Or maybe not. Maybe there’s so much deeper it could go.

So it’s a strange dilemma. I’m trying to just get some distance and come back to it a little fresher later. I don’t want to “force” any changes on it but at the same time is there any chance of it turning out well under these circumstances? Could the story, acting, cinematography, atmosphere, etc. still engage people and make them feel? Or will it just be a boring 10 minute character study that doesn’t really go anywhere or do anything and keeps people from really connecting with the characters? I really don’t know. I have no idea where this journey will go but I find it utterly fascinating, and I always say that the journey is more important than the destination.

Do The Thing

For any given thing you may want to do, your brain will likely come up with a million reasons not to do that thing.

For example, I’ve had just over 30 original and cover songs recorded for quite some time now, starting as far back as 2000. Over the years my skills as a musician, engineer and producer have grown, as have the tools available to me. Consequently, over the years I have occasionally, tweaked, remixed or otherwise “improved” some of my previous recordings. This, obviously can get dangerous and you may end up like George Lucas, constantly “improving” and tweaking your old work. The thing is, as Admiral Ackbar would say, “IT’S A TRAP!” Perfection will remain ever elusive, just ducking around that next corner. It’s so easy to fall into a purgatory of never being “finished.” There is a saying (attributed to various people throughout history) that art is never finished, only abandoned.

In all these years, I had never taken the steps to get my music on the most popular streaming services and stores such as Spotify, iTunes, Amazon, etc., for various reasons. Some of those reasons related to what I’ve said above were that I needed to really, finally, finalize the mix and make sure I had exported them in the highest quality possible, as in my earlier years before I knew what I was doing as well, I had not done either of those things as best they could be done. So my music was only available on my Reverb Nation page where I could easily replace the file with a new one if I made changes and wanted to do so.

This week, I finally made the jump and using Distrokid, I uploaded all my originals and covers. Theoretically I could still make changes if I wanted to, it would just involve pulling my old song from all stores and then re-releasing a new one. Now there was a new angle: I had to add “album art” to each release and also decide if I was releasing a batch as an “album” or just singles. I’ve never recorded an “album” per se, every song was just recorded as it came to me. I joking have all my songs tagged as being part of the album “Best Of” because that amused me to have my debut (and only) album be “Best Of.” That’s right! No filler here! Every song I put out is my best! It’s also an ever growing album since every new original gets tagged that way as well. All my covers are part of my also, ever ongoing “Duck And Cover” album. So I decided I’d release every song as a single and just have the “album art” be either my “Best Of” or “Duck And Cover” art as appropriate. However, apparently stores don’t allow multiple singles to use the same art, so I quickly mocked up art for each “single” which was just the album art with the title of each single on it. In addition, I started worrying about all the old worries again “Is the mix good enough? Is the mp3 maximum quality?”

Sometimes it’s hard to know when searching for perfection is holding you back or whether you are allowing yourself to be lazy or mediocre and justifying it by saying that striving for perfection is a game you can’t win. In the end, I think it’s better for my imperfect music to be out in the world as widely as possible, than forever in purgatory waiting for me to “finish” it.

Intellectual Elitism

Books are not superior to film, TV, or video games. And on the other end, video games are not mindless wastes of time for immature people with Peter Pan syndrome.

Aw crap, Heath has something stuck in his mental craw and has to spout off about it.

This should not be a controversial or inflammatory statement, but likely it will be for some. Anyone who knows me even a little knows that intellectual elitism and snobbery is a huge hot button for me. People who think their opinions are facts, or are somehow more valid. “You like that thing? You have no taste then. That thing sucks.” It’s something I encounter quite often in various ways with regards to books and their superiority, and conversely about video games being the other end of the spectrum. A meme I’ve seen posted many times including a list of what “Successful” people do versus “Unsuccessful People.” “Successful People read books. Unsuccessful people watch TV.”

I saw a question online that asked “Could you date someone who plays video games for 2 hours a day?” To which a LOT of people answered “No.” And one of the key things that bothers me about these kinds of snobbery is that they tend to be one direction. I’ve definitely heard many folk laud the superiority of books, while I’ve never heard anyone who prefers film/TV/video games say “You READ for 2 hours a day? Pathetic. What a waste of time. I could never date someone who reads so much.”

I personally believe that they are all different but equal and equally valid. Books leave more to the imagination and allow you to revel in prose and (hopefully) well-crafted sentences. TV and film can have great writing, breathtaking cinematography, and incredible acting. Video games can have immersive original stories, exercise your problem solving skills and hand-eye coordination. They can all be some wonderful escapism and entertainment. They can all have soul moving gravitas. They all educate. They all have masterpieces as well as pieces of crap. In this day and age especially, TV and video games have really outgrown their stigmatic roots and come into their own with regards to creativity and originality to match the greatest books and movies.

But in the end, it’s a preference. An opinion. None are “superior” or “inferior” to the others. I like to get my share of all of them, personally. A (not quite) balanced diet. So, maybe try not to be so judgmental. You might be cutting yourself off from some seriously amazing people, and cutting those people off from the amazing person that is you. Let go of the tribalism. There’s enough room for us all to like what we like and still find plenty of common ground.

The Tale Of A Heart

Once I had a heart.
A wonderful heart full of magic, whimsy, love, and dreams.
An exceptional heart. An amazing heart. A wise and romantic heart.

She had had a heart that harmonized and synchronized with mine.
A perfect balance of similarity and complementary.
We opened ourselves and shared our hearts, unequivocally and in totality.

She cared for my heart like no one ever had.
Made it do backflips in the vibrant sun.
Discovered new rooms, dimensions and qualities that no words can describe.

Until the day it ended.
Suddenly and unexpectedly.
With no room for conversation or compromise.

A painful hole where my heart once was.
Ragged, black, scarred edges.
A place where nothing can grow.

This is the reality of my heartless existence now.

If I let it be.
If I choose that perspective.
If I let that be my identity.

And I do have a choice.
We have far more choice than we think or feel.
But we do.

So I let that voice have its say.
And I let my heart hide away.
But I feel its beat.

I am a Love Warrior.
Scarred and scared, but alive and strong.
My heart forever the beat of my song.

Farewell And Fair Sailing, Carnival Liberty

1 month of rehearsals in Florida.
52 cruises over 26 weeks.
107 band shows.
5 shows as the only vocalist (co-singer was out sick).
1 show as solo vocalist and guitar player (guitar parts learned in the hours leading up to the show), while the normal guitar player covered the bass parts on his guitar, pitch shifted down an octave because both the bass player and female vocalist were out sick).
1 show as bass player and co-vocalist (bass parts learned in the hours leading up to the show).
2 shows missed due to being sick (I was hoping for none).
A handful of shows with a very sub-par voice due to illnesses.
100 America Rocks Shows (Theater production) .
Approximately 31000 nautical miles traveled.
Approximately 177,000 total guests (No way to know how many actually saw us perform, of course).
We leave as the #1 band in the Entire Carnival fleet of 26 ships.

Personal Accolades (braggy, I know):
Volunteered as the Entertainment Department Safety Representative.
Chosen as “Star of the Month” (Entertainment Department only).
Nominated for “Team Member of the Month” (This one is shipwide).
Multiple trainings such as “Crowd Management and Control” and how to pilot and command a survival craft as well as it’s layout and vital information and such.

I got to turn my brain off for seven months and make a good paycheck doing what I love 6 nights a week. No hustling or wondering about my next job or how much money I would make next month. I got to sing and play great tunes with an amazing band for enthusiastic, appreciative, and hyperbolically complimentary crowds. I performed with an amazing cast and crew in a great theater. I worked alongside an international crew of amazing people all over the ship.

For the first time in my life I performed as (mostly) just a singer and front man, something I had been a little worried about as it’s not normally what I do and I feel a little naked without an instrument, but I settled into it fairly painlessly and rose to the occasion (according to my own self-assessment as well as my evaluations by management). I educated myself on how to treat myself as a “vocal athlete” and trained to do my best at meeting the incredible demands of singing 6 nights a week. I honed my instrument to be the best and sharpest it has probably ever been (when not hobbled by cough, colds, phlegm, etc., but more on that in a moment).

I had my ego and confidence boosted and reinforced and can confidently say that I am good at what I do. I had my ego and confidence bruised and humbled by the fact that I have limits and can’t always do anything just because I put my mind to it or because I want to. I learned how use my voice in new ways. How to best use it when it’s not fully functional. Different techniques and approaches. How to feel out where it was on any particular day and gauge how well it was operating so I could adjust accordingly. I developed alternate strategies and plans for when it was not operating at peak efficiency. I learned how much I could really “go for it” in a given night while still being able to do it again the next night and when to pull it back and take it easy to preserve it.

I learned the huge variety of ways my voice can be adversely affected by cold, cough, illness, phlegm, etc. You open your mouth and only have maybe 40% of your normal voice. While you are normally a belter, that doesn’t work tonight so you have to sing in a completely different way to just eke out as much sound as you can. Sometimes your high range is just gone so you have to do a lot more falsetto than normal (strangely, through all of it, my falsetto was always there). Some nights you just have no stamina, vocally. You start out feeling like your voice has finally recovered, but then as the night goes on, it deteriorates. Some nights your mouth and throat just seem determined to be a barren desert no matter how much water, tea, lozenges,and throat spray (multiple types) you use, and again, your voice quickly deteriorates. One night, the only way I could get a decent performance was to constantly keep Grether’s Pastilles in my mouth while singing, and all night long I was super paranoid and careful about making sure I didn’t suck it down my windpipe. There were just so many different ways in which my voice could be hobbled by illness and each had to be dealt with in its own way. Some nights my voice was just unpredictable and erratic. With singing six nights a week, I could really tell the difference after our one night off. The next night everything would be so much more effortless. So much so that I would sometimes overshoot or overpower a note. I got to know my voice more completely than ever.

I’ve been playing music for 36 years and singing for around 32 years. Vocally, I’ve always been kind of wild, chaotic, untrained and quite frankly, lucky that my voice has performed so well all these years under those conditions. I come out of this journey with so much valuable experience, knowledge and wisdom. I come out of this a better singer, performer, and just overall a better person. It didn’t solve any life problems or banish any ghosts or demons (you can’t run away from those, no matter how hard you try or how far you run), but I think it gave me (mostly) what I was looking for from it and more.

I will miss every single person who I have crossed paths with in this adventure and I emerge from this a richer person than I entered it. Time for new adventures, of which I already have many waiting when I get home.

To quote Samwise Gamgee from the Lord of the Rings trilogy of books (a quote I’ve used before and will again as I find it so powerful in its simplicity and context), “Well, I’m back.”

Or, you know, I will be after a week at Disney World and Universal Studios.

The Tell-Tale Hose

A true story told in the style of Edgar Allen Poe

‘Twas the third day. The third day that the incessant sound of water being sprayed from a hose onto the echoing metal of the ship stirred me from my sleep and slowly filled my bosom with annoyance. Droplet by droplet, the annoyance accumulated until it was like a Sisyphean boulder made of water that your hands and body can find no purchase to push. Try as you might, the watery gargantuan grows with each watery pebble added to its girth and simply envelopes your hands, arms, body and soul.

How long had it been spraying it’s aquatic taunt? For the previous two days, it must have gone on for several hours, and today seemed to see no end as well. Time skews as I drift in and out of sleep, trying to ignore the aural leviathan. What possibly needs to be sprayed with that much water so often? The walls? The floor? The ceiling? In an echoing metal ship, the sound is impossible to precisely locate and yet sounds as if it comes from within the very walls themselves. It gets softer, as if perhaps they’ve moved on to a section further away. Occasionally it stops, giving me hope that once again slumber might take me in its welcoming embrace, but then it returns and with each subsequent visit, my heart beats faster in my bosom. Is this what going mad feels like?

Each rivulet colliding with a metallic cackle pierces me like a meteor shower to my planetary body leaving me cratered and pock marked and pushing my sanity slowly out of its orbit. Three days of this seemingly perpetual hydrolytic cacophony buffeting my eardrums until my very heart in my bosom has no choice but to fall into a rhythmic duet. This hydra is my master now. I will arise from my bed, giving up my dream of sleep, for the only other choice is madness. I am awake now, resigned to my fate as a slave to the dancing duo of hydrogen molecules in a ménage-a-trois with their oxygen lover, and their countless identical allies. Why, I myself am made primarily of these trios and never stood a chance. They are inside me.

And then silence. Now that I am awake, silence. Where the mocking marine melody once made its music, now an empty, silent, and all too awake space in my bosom, like an empty bed after a lover’s all too abrupt departure. Its work is done. I’m not mad, I’m simply virtually and aurally hydrated. Look into my wide and watery eyes and you will see I’m not mad. The glistening teeth, tongue, and lips of my enveloping smile are well lubricated, but I am not mad. Perhaps you just feel my water calling to yours.

Bosom.

The Story Of Kaylee Ane Me

I’m thinking about my “ex-dog,” Kaylee, tonight for some reason and feel compelled to write about our story together. I’ve always loved animals, but never wanted any myself as I didn’t want the expense or the responsibility. Being a freelance actor and musician, I’m gone a lot as well, so not the best home for an animal. Kaylee belonged to my ex when we started dating and so I started spending a lot of time with her, watching her and walking her a lot (Kaylee, that is…not my ex). When we moved in together (all three of us), Kaylee very much became “our” dog. It was never like “Hey, you need to get your dog some more food,” or anything like that. My ex had a regular day job, and so me being a freelancer, could spend a lot more time with Kaylee at home, on walks, for vet appointments, etc. She was a very quirky dog. Not in any bad way. She was a poop diva. Very particular about where she went, and almost always had to poop twice per walk instead of getting it out all in one go which was slightly annoying and used a lot of doggy bags. She was very enthusiastic and loving in her way but not the most affectionate dog you’d ever meet. Never the less she was sweet, good-natured and I loved her immensely (Kaylee that is, though that also applied to my ex).

When my ex and I broke up, it was the first time I’d ever had to deal with losing a pet in the process (as well as a girlfriend, a home and neighborhood I loved, and such that made it feel like many breakups in one). Now once again, my aim here is not to gain sympathy or paint my ex in a bad light. It was complicated and she had to do what she felt was right so there are no villains in this story, to be clear. My ex soon after got a job traveling a lot so, much to her dismay, was not really in a position to keep Kaylee (and neither was I), so Kaylee went to live with my ex’s parents which is actually a great life for Kaylee. She has another dog to be with who she loves, a great climate, attentive humans, a yard, and wonderful scenery. All in all, her life likely got majorly upgraded.

Maybe all this thinking was prompted by the latest Radiolab episode which had a part about dogs and their behaviors and such (specifically whether they can be “racist”) and it made me wonder how much emotion, thinking, and anthropomorphism we put on them and how much is real. Like, I haven’t seen Kaylee in probably 2 years and I wonder if she would remember me and how much she loved me, or if I would just be like any other stranger to her now. Was it simply that I fed, walked and took care of her? Do we imagine these bonds because we want them to be true? I don’t think so. I do think there’s enough evidence throughout history to support these ideas to some degree, but I just wonder if it goes as deep as we want it to. I hope she would remember me. Sometimes I still send her thoughts. I hope her doggie brain still thinks of me sometimes. You’re a good girl, Kaylee. I know you’re happy. I just hope you don’t forget me. I’ll chew on a squeaky stuffed snake in your honor.

Dream Theatre 50

In last night’s dream, I was doing another western themed immersive activation like the SXSWestworld I did last year with MyCoToo and Giant Spoon. I was a sheriff and Andrew Hunter was in it as well as was his wife, Elizabeth Hunter. Andy played a crotchety town drunk and Liz played his wife. It turned out that their characters were con-artists trying to defraud the town. I remembered that I also needed to take an audition for the next immersive activation (This year’s Game of Thrones activation) that was due at 4pm, so Andy and I went to an upstairs room so he could help me film it. I couldn’t remember if it was due at 4 or if I was supposed to record it at 4, and being that it was almost 4 now, I just decided to hope for the best. In the dream, I was actually remembering the monologue that I recently (in the real non-dream world) had thought would have been good if I had been available to audition for the GoT activation.

Dream Theatre 48 and 49

Dream Theatre 48 guest starred Emily Hahn! In this dream, a bunch of us had just finished performing a play and it was super late so Emily let a few of us crash at her place because we were all there after the show. She had a huge husky-type dog who was the cuddliest ever. He actually liked to snuggle up, put his legs around you and rest his head on yours and lick your face. It was the best thing ever.

Dream Theatre 49 was very busy. As in I had lots of work to do so it didn’t feel like a restful night. One dream I remember was that June Griffin Garcia needed a 41 page voiceover by tomorrow and I said I could do it. Then I had another pending project as well so it looked like it was going to be an all nighter. I seem to also remember doing some work in a computer repair type workshop

My Journey To Atlantis and Beyond

I had an item. The exact details of this item are unimportant, personal, and will not be detailed here. It was a special item to me that I had acquired shortly after my last breakup, over two years ago. It was a totem. A token representing love to me. I have a tendency to anthropomorphize a little too much so this item was alive to me. I spoke to it. Especially when I couldn’t speak to her. It was also a conduit, a connection.

Now, I’m sure many of you at this point are probably thinking that it sounds like something I should have been rid of long ago, but we each have to walk our own path, be true to ourselves and no words will do this item, or my relationship with it, justice. For me, it was a symbol or unconditional, unwavering love, despite any obstacles, storms, logistically unfortunate circumstances. It was a symbol of a promise that I had made. A badge of being a steadfast Love Warrior. I figured I would probably keep it until such time as someone new entered my life, if that is to happen, or else until such time as it felt like it was time to let it go.

A while back, I started using a dice rolling app when I was having a hard time deciding between two things. I would ask the universe which way I should go, and then use the virtual 2 sided “die” to get my answer, choosing to believe that it was universe answering me and not just random digital bits giving me a meaningless random outcome. Over the last two years, I had checked in with this item at least a couple of times to see if it was time to let it go. The last time I remember was just before I left for my six month journey on the cruise ship. When I asked then, it told me that it should come with me, so I brought it. Over the course of my time here (at this point, I’m just about at the halfway point of the 6 month contract), I started to get the feeling that maybe one of the ports of call would be where it would get released.

Yesterday, I stood out on the bow of the ship, held the item in my hand and found myself afraid to ask it the question. In fear that it was time. Part of me laughed at the ridiculousness of all this, but never the less, it was a real feeling. So I told it to show me a “1” if it was time to let it go, or a “2” if I was to keep it around for now. I hesitated tapping the screen, and then willed myself to do it, closing my eyes for just a moment. And there it was on the screen. “1”. Tears filled my eyes. I rushed back to my cabin and cried for a few minutes. Tears that I felt had been just below the surface for quite some time, and yet at least partially surprised me at their appearance. Tears that come back now as I write this. I let the feelings and tears flow until they were done and then made peace with it. I spent lat night, another “Elegant Evening,” walking around the ship with the item in my pocket. Eating, listening to music, just feeling the energy of life and all the people around me.

This morning, after a safety drill, I left the ship with the item. My initial plan was to go to a nearby beach spot behind a hotel and let it go there, but then I remembered that across the water was a popular resort called “Atlantis,” and something about that just called to me. Plus, I liked the fact that it was a bit of a trek. Not much, only a mile or two at most, but still I liked the idea of having a walk and making it feel a little more like a journey and a mission. I walked across the huge Sydney Poitier bridge and as I neared Atlantis is was starting to sprinkle a bit. As I got closer it started raining harder but I would not be deterred. Besides, it’s not like there was anywhere I could really go. I arrived at Atlantis soaking wet. It was impressive. Very cool Atlantean decor. I went inside and wandered around a bit, enjoying some huge indoor aquariums. It very much reminded me of the two posh resorts where I had stayed in Cancun with my ex when we were dating. Unfortunately, I found there was no beach access unless you were a guest so I headed back out. I eventually found out through messaging my band mates and talking to some locals that there was a public beach further down the road in the opposite direction, so I set out that way. Eventually I saw the “Beach Access” signs and followed to a beach (Cabbage Beach, I think).

I was in luck. It was high tide and there were huge, crashing waves. I found a spot a little further down that was less busy where a couple were enjoying playing in the giant waves. They looked about as high as a person not very far out, and were coming way up the beach. I took off my shoes and put my phone, wallet and ID in them, then stuffed my socks in, and wrapped it all up with my NASA shirt, and set the bundle on a beach chair, safe from any incoming waves. I walked just a little way toward the ocean, and each wave would bury my feet up to the ankles in sand, and threaten to pull my legs out from under me. I took the item from my pocket. I had contemplated the ramifications of letting the ocean have it, and determined that I didn’t think it do any harm. Nothing, plastic or harmful. Somehow, this is just what felt right. I thanked the item for its support and comfort over the years, and said it was time to release that energy back into the universe and the largest, most powerful force on the planet, the ocean. I said a lot more to both the item and to the ocean, but those words were just for them. As another huge wave rolled in, I plunged my hands deep into the sand and let the item go. I stood there for a while, with each powerful wave moving lots of sand. I never saw the item go, but I’m fairly positive it would have been carried away powerfully and quickly.

This wasn’t goodbye. This wasn’t a death. This wasn’t grieving or mourning. The item wasn’t her and she wasn’t the item. For better and worse it was too easy to anthropomorphize the item. This wasn’t any admission of defeat or hopelessness. It was simply a step in healing and letting go of the past. Trying to always be more present. This was saying that I trust the universe. Releasing control. Believing that whatever path I am on is always the path I need to be on. This was knowing that even if some crazy timeline brought this woman back into my life in the future, it would be a new beginning and not a continuation of the past. The item was a token of love, but it was also a token of pain and desperation. Too often we hold on to our pain. Swaddle ourselves in it. Weave identities from it. It is a particularly human trait that I’ll never understand. I don’t need the item to be a Love Warrior, or to send wishes of love and happiness to her into the universe. It has no bearing on any connection I may or may not have. Like almost everything in life, I have a choice as to how I view all this. It doesn’t have to “a thing.” It doesn’t have to be painful. It can easily be viewed as positive. A new beginning. Leaving behind pain. Letting go of that which doesn’t serve us. Our perspective is quite often much more in our control than we think. I’ll never forget the item. I’m sure I’ll even miss the item when my ego and pain body starve for food and try to poke the sore places, but its watch is done. As is this step of my spiritual journey. In the end, I walked over severn miles. I hadn’t eaten all day so on my way back, I stopped at Phoenix Chinese food, where I had eaten once before and had some of the best Chinese food I have ever had. As I write this back in my cabin on the ship, I feel like Samwise at the end of Lord of the Rings. Don’t get me wrong, my journey was nothing like his, but it was epic in its own very small way.

“Well, I’m back,” he said.