Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Season’s Greeting…Season’s Cleaning

It started with a rat . . . . A rat visited us last Christmas, too, came up through the drain in our bathroom, but I caught that one.  This is a relative that lives in the ceiling and ate its way through a couple of wires, thus darkening our kitchen.  Since we needed to call an electrician, we thought, well, what else can the electrician do?  The boys ceiling fan needed fixed or replaced and my wife has been hinting (for years) that our living room is too dull, so when the electrician arrived we asked for a quote on some down lights. 

While shifting furniture to make room for the electrician and his ladder, I noticed a lot of dust; then the electrician created a mess under each down light, so I furiously swept and mopped the living room and the dining room for good measure (the kitchen, too).  Just in time for some Christ­mas carolers from my wife’s village in Quop. 

After wishing us a Merry Christmas, the carolers left and moved onto the next house, and my wife hinted at the next project . . . . We really needed to do something with our wall that separated our property from the neighbors.  The lower half was fine, but the upper metal grille was rusty and looked horrible.  We had it painted two years ago by a contractor friend.  His bid was rather unfriendly, so we asked the contractor who recently completed the back wall at my sister-in-law’s house.  We’re glad we did. 

Impressed with their work, I got the idea of turning our upstairs balcony that we rarely use into a separate room for our exercise equipment, since keeping fit is one of our resolutions for 2015 (as is running a second marathon).  After doing some furious tape measuring, I could see the possibilities, so I got a quote.  It was reasonable if we opted not to knock out the wall separating it from the master bedroom since that would affect the ceiling, the floor and substantially increase the cost.  We’ll remove the door and shift the existing window out to the balcony and leave the windowless space empty, giving the balcony room a sense of spacious­ness and making it easier for my wife and me to talk while the other works out.  (Good for encouragement!)

As soon as they finished plastering the back wall (and the front, too, since we were at it), they got to work on the balcony.  Initially I had agreed to paint the back and front walls to save on costs, but the more we talked to the contractors about that, we thought it might be wiser to let the experts do that, since they knew how to seal it properly before painting (something I never considered) so the paint won’t come off during the first torrential downpour.  (We live in the tropics.)  Besides, my wife wasn’t convinced that I would get around to it as quickly as she wanted it done.  While we were at it (famous last words), we had them paint the side walls, too.

While rearranging some furniture in our master bedroom so nothing got damaged, my wife noticed that our ceiling fan was dusty.  Once we started cleaning that, it naturally led to other things that were equally dusty like our floor, our curtains, so before you know it, she has me vacuuming the curtains in every room of the house including the living room drapes, some­thing we haven’t done in years.  Who has time to vacuum curtains?

In the midst of vacuuming, my wife asked me what I wanted to do with the door that they removed from the balcony.  Knowing it’d come in handy the moment we tossed it, I thought of storing it in the back room where we do our laundry.  But first I had to move every­thing out so it wouldn’t be in the way of everything else.  Then I swept, dusted, mopped and tossed stuff; while I was at it, I did some serious rearranging to make it more pleasing to the eye.     

Once the balcony room is ready, we’ll call the electrician again to add an outlet and replace the light.  Before he comes we’ll take another look around the place to see if anything else needs repaired or replaced.  In the meantime, we’re taking down the Christmas decorations, but before putting it back into storage, I’ll clean out that storage room, too, since it’s looking fairly cluttered . . . . That happens when you have children, boys especially.

Hopefully, that will be the end of this year’s Season’s Cleaning, so I can finally relax and get back to revising my novel . . . . But already my wife is eyeing the boy’s room and subtly remind­ing me about my promise to paint it.  So for 2015, I see more work in my future, though I’ll probably procrastinate until another Christmas rat comes around . . . . By the way, when I was a kid, they were called Christmas mice, but everything back then was smaller.

Now on New Year’s Day, when many people around the world, including our neighbors, wake up with a hangover, we’ll be waking up to a clean, uncluttered house with a new exercise room and freshly painted outer walls . . . . Not a bad way to start the New Year.

And how is your own Season’s Cleaning coming along?  Good luck with that, or perhaps wait until next year . . . . Cheers.
              —Borneo Expat Writer 

*Links to my website, to MPH online for orders for all three of my books, including my latest, Spirit of Malaysia and to the French translation of Lovers and Strangers Revisited, Trois autres Malaisie.  Thanks! 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Congrats to the Winners and Finalists of the 2014 Faulkner-Wisdom



Although my novella The Act of Theft came up short as a finalist in the 2014 William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition, and two of my novels A Perfect Day for an Expat Exit (finalist 2012) and The Lonely Affair (The Resurrection of Jonathan Brady) were short-list finalists for the 2014 Novel category, congrats to the winners and the other finalists and all those who took part. 

Again, this was the fourth time that one of my works has made it the Faulkner-Wisdom finals in four categories:  novel, novel-in-progress, novella and short story (“Malaysian Games”,  runner up in 2007).

Winners for the Novella:
1st place:  Give Me You by Kay Sloan, Cincinnati, OH
2nd place:  Tickfaw to Shongaloo by Dixon Hearne, Madison, MS

Finalists:
A Different Life by Philip Erickson, St. Paul, MN
Cold War by Farah Halime, Brooklyn, NY
Further by Deborah Jannerson, New Orleans, LA
Juanita by Kent Dixon, Springfield, OH
Not the Usual Sleep by Tim Knowles, Brewster, NY
Resistance by Amina Gautier, Chicago, IL
Tansy by William Thrift, Columbia, SC
The Act of Theft by Robert Raymer, Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia
The Little Girls by Lori Fennell, Lake in the Hills, IL 
The Year We Froze by Stan Kempton, New Orleans, LA
Witness by Melanie Naphine, Frankston, Victoria, Australia
Yankees Angels by Robert H. Cox, New York, NY

        Winners for the novel
1st place:  Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradel, Los Angeles, CA
2nd place:  The Talented Tenth by Ladee Hubbard, Champaign, ILL
3rd place:  The Invention of Violet by Amy Boutell, Santa Barbara, CA
4th place:   Sunrise for Asphodel by Dan Turtel, New York, NY

Finalists:
Advice for the Wicked by Glen Pitre, New Orleans, LA
A Stone for Bread by Miriam Herin, Greensboro, NC
Mask of Sanity by Jacob Appel, New York, NY
Scoop the Loop by Charles Holdefer, Brussels, Belgium
The Lenin Plot by Barnes Carr, Houston, TX
The Truth Project by Tad Bartlett, New Orleans and L. Ed Marston, Chattanooga, TN

                —Borneo Expat Writer 

*Links to my website, to MPH online for orders for all three of my books, including my latest, Spirit of Malaysia and to the French translation of Lovers and Strangers Revisited, Trois autres Malaisie.  Thanks! 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Resolutions: Promises are Cheap, but Actions and Good Habits are Priceless!


I know it’s early for New Year resolutions, but if you want to do what you resolve to do, you better start now so it’ll become a habit by December 31.  If it’s not a habit by then, well your chances of sticking with your resolutions will be about as good as they were last year and the year before, going all the way back to your first New Year resolutions and then breaking it by Valentine’s Day, if not sooner.

If you really want change, and we all do, then you need to start doing what you resolve to do today (or the first chance you get) and continue to do it for the rest of October, November and December.  By then, or after 21 consecutive days some experts say, it will become a habit . . . . Habits are good, of course, so long as they are habits of doing what you want to do or what you know is right for you to achieve your goals, whether those goals are for your fitness and health, your relationships, your career, or your finances. 

Most of us, at times, have unwittingly fallen into bad habits, doing those activities that under­mine your success, your health, and even your relationships, both professional and personal.  You know what they are.  If you don’t, just ask yourself how is your health?  How are your relation­ships?  Are you doing the things you know you should be doing (and with those you love) or are you letting things slide, or worse, doing the exact opposite, engaging in risky, unhealthy activities with others (getting drunk, getting into trouble, having affairs) or even on your own like smoking, drinking, overeating, or spending all of your free time on the Internet.

Then there are habits of not doing; habits that you’ve fallen out of or gotten into the habit of no longer doing on a regular basis, which can happen after an injury, a separation, or your first child, or changing jobs or taking on new responsibi­lities at work or at home (taking care of an invalid or an elderly relative).  Or you just haven’t found a new fitness center after moving to a new place.  After a while, what you no longer do is your new habit of not doing, like no longer reading to your children at night (or reading period), or no longer spending time with your family other than watching TV or meals.

What is the road to hell paved with?  Good intentions.  We all have good intentions, but . . . well; what follows next after that ‘but’ is the problem!  We talk ourselves into changing our bad habits to good habits, but then we talk ourselves out of actually doing those things we know we should be doing.  Someone once said, “Argue for your limitations and they’re yours!”  If you keep telling yourself you’re not good enough, not smart enough, not thin enough, not fit enough, not pretty enough, not strong enough, not ______(fill in the blank), then you’ll forever own those limitations!

Earlier this year I challenged myself to run my first marathon, but in the weeks leading up to the race I began to give myself all kind of reasons why I should not run: my age, my knees, my lack of training, my concerns about potential injuries, and the fact that I hadn’t competed in a race in thirty years (a 5K fun run)!  That wasn’t helping me, so I focused on my goal of completing the marathon and started making lists of what I needed to get done before the race, what I needed to wear/bring on the day of the race.  Instead of arguing for my limitations, I challenged myself to complete that marathon, and I did!    

What can you challenge yourself to do by next year?  It may not be athletic, maybe you want a closer relationship with your spouse or children, or start your own business, or a second career as a writer or an artist, or lose some significant weight, or make better financial decisions for your retirement (it comes faster than you think!).  What can you start putting into place right now?  What new habit can you start working on today, this evening, tomorrow morning, or by this weekend?  So by the time December 31st rolls around, you’re well on your way to achieving your goal. 

It’s what you do right now that counts, not what you promise yourself you’ll start doing by the New Year.  Promises (even with the best of intentions) are cheap, which is why they don’t work!  Actions that turn into good habits are priceless.  They will benefit and serve you for the rest of your life.  They can also serve as a model for your family and your children, too.  If one of your goals is to be healthy and fit and also spend more time with your spouse and children, think of the activities you can do together to achieve both goals, like hiking or biking or swimming.

So get started now and get a huge jump on everyone else waiting until December 31st to making their resolutions.  And good luck!
–Borneo Expat Writer

*Here’s a fun, practical way to
raise your self-esteemhttp://borneoexpatwriter.blogspot.com/2011/11/raise-your-self-esteem-by-listing-your.html, list down 25-50 of your personal achievements (even if they mean nothing to anybody else except you!)

**Leap For Success

***Start Your day by asking questions

****A link to my
website, to MPH online for orders for three of my books, including my latest, Spirit of Malaysia and for Trois autres Malaisie. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Running Your First Marathon or How to Suck it up!

Kuching Marathon:  Robert Raymer with his sons Jason and Justin
I just completed my first marathon; yes, that’s 42.195km, or 26 miles, 385 yards.  I won’t tell you my age (other than I’m one of the latter baby boomer from the US) nor my time, which isn’t all that impressive.  I did beat the seven-hour cut-off time for the in­augural Kuching Marathon (located in Malaysia, in the state of Sarawak, on the island of Borneo).
“You came all the way from America?” several runners asked me, impressed.

“No, I live here.  I’m a writer. 
 
They seemed less impressed.
 
My wife wasn’t impressed either.  When I announced that I was running a marathon, she flat out told me, “You’re insane!”

The insanity began when I saw this guy around my age and I could tell from a distance, he was fit.  He wasn’t muscular, but he had this pres­ence about him, and I thought, OK, that’s my goal for 2014, to get fit.  Then I read an article about a woman who ran her first marathon at age 60; she ran one every year for the next 18 years.  I thought, if she could do it . . . . I figured if I could get myself into shape then maybe in two years I could run a marathon.  Then I heard a radio an­nouncement about the Kuching Marathon only to realize it was the final day to enter, so I impulsively signed up.  I thought, OK, I still had four months, plenty of time to get fit.


Clearly I had been thinking too much.  Not that I’m all that out of shape; last year I did compete in my son’s primary school jogathonPrior to that, my last competition was 30 years ago in a pair of 5K fun runs at a company picnic back in America.

When I told my brother Bill I was running a marathon he thankfully didn’t laugh at me.  Having run in marathons himself back in the 90’s as did another brother Terry, who also ran in triathlons and Ironman competitions, he sent me helpful articles on how to run a marathon, so that got me thinking and training a little.  Very little. 
 
I did run to my wife’s village Quop, which took me forty minutes from where I live, and ran twice more, there and back, for one hour and twenty minutes without stopping.  In my mind I planned a series of longer runs, but, well those didn’t pan out since my knees were throbbing and who wants to run a marathon on throbbing knees?

The marathon was slated to start at 4 am (it’s the tropics).  I thought that was pretty insane time to start a marathon until they pushed the starting time back to 3 am and we had to be there by 2 am, which meant I had to wake up at 1am.  I was starting to wonder if my wife was right: Am I truly insane?

I was glad my wife convinced me to check into a hotel so I could walk to the race; she didn’t trust me to drive at night without sleep).  The day before the race, I went to sleep at 4 pm, but my two boys woke me up at 6 pm, and then I twisted my own arm to join them for a pizza.  I was back to bed by 8 pm, but didn’t fall asleep until around 11pm, just in time for the alarm to go off.

I took a quick shower to wake up, ate some granola bars for breakfast, and applied generous doses of Vaseline on any part of my body that came in contact with my clothes to avoid chafing, especially those safety pins attached to my number A1-0445; I even put plaster across my nip­ples after seeing a photo of a marathoner whose nipples were bleeding from the chafing.  Who needs that?

Before leaving, I put on a blue headband and a silly hat and slipped out of the hotel room only to bump into another guy dressed like me, also running in the marathon.  I was glad I wasn’t the only fool staying at that hotel.

After some monkey-see, monkey-do stretching, I made my way to the starting line in the middle of the pack.  The front is reserved for the Kenyans, those competing with the Kenyans, and those taking selfies with the Kenyans.  (Kenyans took 8 out of 9 top spots; the other went to an Ethiopian and a Malaysian took tenth!  The winning time: 2hr 22min 9sec.) 
 
Altogether there were four races 5K, 10K, 21K, and 42K (plus veteran categories for those of us above 45), with a total of 5,500 runners from 30 countries.  Thankfully the starting times were staggered:  The race finally started for those in front.  For us in the mid­dle we still had a ways to go before we got to the start.  I was impressed by two things:  how far ahead those Kenyans were as they curved around Padang Merdeka and by all the people lining the street to cheer us on.  Did I mention it was 3am?  Don’t these people sleep?

Once we got out of town, people gathered in front of their homes to watch us run by.  Some made a party of it, banging on drums, chanting and holding out their hands for us to slap. 

“Good Morning,” the children would say to me in English and I’d reply in Malay, “Selamat pagi!”  But was it morning?  Hell no, it was 3:30 am!  Shouldn't they be in bed?

Then there were long stretches when there was no houses, no people.  So I noted the road kill, includ­ing a scorpion and a couple of snakes, hoping I wouldn’t join them.  In marathons people do occasionally die, usual­ly of a heart attack as did Pheidippides, the legendary messenger who ran to Athens after the Greek victory over the Persians at the Battle of Marathon.

A 54-year-old runner from Brunei did die that morning after fainting a half hour into his run, not the marathon but surprisingly the 5K fun run . . . . Always make sure you’re fit and healthy; if in doubt, consult a doctor before your race, even if it’s chasing your grand­ kids around the dining table.  Those miles do add up.

Some runners ran in groups, some ran with blink­ing reflector lights on their backs or the back of their shoes.  Others ran barefoot.  Some carried special backpacks containing special fluids with a special hose that could reach their mouth.  Others wore specialized fanny packs for their drinks and energy gels.  Many ran with head­phones and a few Mickey Mouse ears.  This one guy sang as he ran.  I was im­pressed with both his voice and his repertoire and was so disappointed when he ran out of range.

Many brought their phones and cameras and took plenty of  photos of their com­pan­ions and new-found friends and some selfies, too; they would pose at every pose-able local from Slow Down signs to scenic bridges with middle-of-the night fishermen.  One lone fisher­man with four poles was eyeing us as possible bait. 
   
With hardly any traffic, we had the roads to ourselves.  Just had to avoid running into other run­ners like those who ran four abreast carrying on a lively conversation.  If I found myself getting hemmed in or stuck behind the same monotonous runner I knew it was time to pass.  Running marathons, I dis­covered was a lot like playing leapfrog.  I kept passing people, then they would pass me and this would go on for hours, and I’d say, “You again!”

Pretty soon you made friends for life, like Mohan Marathon from Singapore, who ran in the New York Marathon twice and the Honolulu marathon countless times.  Bald-headed and in his fifties, he made every­one laugh and kept calling me, Mr. Pennsylvania, and would introduce me to others and tell them to make sure they finished ahead of me.  When another runner had leg cramps he stayed with her to make sure she got some help, and kept helping her throughout the marathon and made sure that she got her t-shirt and medal, a true gentleman.

Most runners, by the way, are cheer­ful people; less than cheerful people don’t wake up to run marathons at 3am!  They also encourage you any way they can to keep you moving toward your goal of completing your marathon.  Some are road warriors, best to stay out of their way if don’t want tread marks up your back, or they'll sneer at you as you pass them.  A guy running in front of me was talking to another runner about a recent 84K race.  Who in their right mind would run two marathons back to back, but then I saw this guy with 100K t-shirt, which I found either encouraging or discouraging.  Are runners truly in­sane?  I’m not even talking about Triathletes and Ironman competitors, let alone those who run 250K across the desert!

One runner I kept bumping into had a helpful slogan on the back that said, “Never Quit.”  Another, “Run Till You Drop!” Before I did drop, I had to stop now and then to have my legs massaged.  One time I had sit off the side of the road to relieve discomfort to my left foot.  I removed my shoe but was afraid to remove the sock to see what was going on, afraid of what I would find and then use that as an excuse not to finish.  (I did tape my toes to minimize any blistering, not that it helped.)  Next time, I know, get better shoes.

In the days leading up to the marathon, I kept giving myself reasons why I shouldn’t go through with it, like lack of adequate preparation, lack of sleep, potential knee injuries that would require surgery, falling and injuring myself (I had a nasty fall in January that gave me a black eye), or even something fatal like a heart attack.  Who was I fooling?  I figured the odds were so stacked against me, and that didn’t include all those Kenyans!  But then I thought, well that line of think­ing isn’t helping me. 
 
My whole reason for running in the first place was to get in shape.  In the back of my mind, I’ve always wanted to run a marathon, but then that’s like a lot people wanting to be an author; they just don’t want to write the damn book!  Who in the right mind wants to run 42km at 3am in the tropics?  But I figured the only way I would ever run a marathon is by run­ning a marathon.  No guts, no glory!  Then I realized, once I actually showed up my odds were 50-50!  Either I fin­ished the race or I didn’t.
 
Having a 50% chance at anything in life are pretty good odds.  Then if you back that up with a valid reason (wanting to prove to my wife that I’m not insane), some sheer stubbornness (I paid for this so I’m finishing it!), and a self-motivating mantra to help your­self get past the pain and that proverbial wall (they said it was proverbial not real!), those odds start to shift in your favor.

Around the half way mark, in the middle of nowhere, like a mirage, all these people popped up playing tambourines, singing and dancing.  Or maybe it really was a mirage . . . .  By the time the call to prayer came at 5:20 am, followed by the sun rising 6:38 am, I was still hang­ing in there, though at times walking and sightseeing more than running since my legs were killing me and I felt really, really pooped out.

“Hey, are you a tourist!” another runner called out to me, as I was enjoying the view from a bridge just as the sun was coming up.   

Oh, yeah, the marathon!   

Lack of training, I realized too late,  is the consummate marathon killer.  Either you put the miles in or you didn’t.  But then I noticed how some runners walked really fast by pump­ing their elbows.  By walking at a brisk pace you don’t fall too far behind before you get your second, third, or fif­teenth wind. 
 
Then you play games with yourself, I’ll start running after the water station until the next road kill.  Basically you do what you have to do to keep going.  At the 34K mark they gave us a banana for breakfast.  Along the way I tried energy jells, Red Bull, isotonic drinks, granola bars, dried fruit, and gummy bears, some of which I carried in a fanny pack.  I carried my own bottle which gave me the flexibility to drink or sip when I wanted to and could refill it at the water stations, every three kilometers.  Glad I did.

The whole final third of the marathon, when you felt like your legs dropped off a few kilo­meters back, I kept pushing myself, staying focused.  I also relied on my past experience of completing the Big Loop Trail at Bako National Park with my son Zaini when he was 16 and climbing Longs Peak in Colorado with brother Bill when I was 22.

My writing mantra for the year going into the mara­thon was “Believe and Do!”  But during the actual running it became “Suck it up!”  By 7am the traffic came, and it got worse once we got back into town.  We now had to avoid cars at inter­sections, at round-a-bouts, and when double-parked!  Aware there was a mara­thon going on (signs were everywhere as were helpful policemen), most drivers were courteous (or curious) and gave us a chance to live.  Others, well, we were fair game.

When I got to those final two kilo­meters, on the last of my rubbery legs, a short, stout woman leap­frogged me and urged me on, and I thought, hell if she can do it . . . . Besides, I wasn’t about to run a full marathon and not get that t-shirt and metal!  My wife needed proof! I needed proof, too, so years from now I could look back on that day 17 August 2014, knowing that I came to the Kuching Mara­thon, saw all those thousands of run­ners, and conquered the course (but not the Kenyans).  Or in non-Roman terms, I sucked it up.

Later, I planned to use the marathon experience to lord it over my kids, “Hey, if your father can run a marathon, you can at least clean up your room!”

Then I began to wonder, why do normally sane people put themselves through the pain and or­deal of running a marathon (and do it again and again)?  Do they do it for the camara­derie, for the challenge, or because they can?  Does it even matter?  Then I remembered an expression I once heard, “You never know how far you can go until you’ve gone too far.” This not only ap­plies to running and writing books, but also to all creative, business, and pro­fessional en­deavors. 

The real question you might want to ask yourself, how far can you go in your life?  You may not want to run a mara­thon, but then again, why not?  If you can run a marathon, then nothing can stop you from pur­suing your dreams.  When things go horribly wrong and you feel like giving up or quitting life for good, you just do what you had to do to complete that darn mara­thon, including those nasty hills they throw at you when you least expect (or want) them . . . you suck it up and keep going!

Then there it was . . . the finish.  Before I knew what was happening, a pretty woman put the metal over my head, knocking off my hat in the process, and then another made sure I had the correct size t-shirt.  And it was all over except the pain . . . . You would think that the pain ends when the marathon does, but, sorry, it doesn’t.  Taking your shoes off does help. 

But you still have to make it home or to your hotel; unfortunately, the days of porters carrying you in style ended a few generations ago.  So I walked with my wife back to the hotel in my socks along with our sons Jason and Justin, with Jason proudly wearing my metal around his neck (he got first dibs).
   
Then the cramps set in.  For me, that happened while I was soaking in the bathtub.  My wife had to help me out of the tub in a very painful, undignified flamingo stance. 

“Do you need me to dry you like the boys?”

“Please!” I said, and then Jason stepped on my aching, blistered toes.  “Please, watch the toes!”

I thought I would collapse asleep for at least a week, but I wasn’t all that sleepy, so we checked out of the hotel at noon and headed home with a few stops in between.  Getting in and out of car, in and out of chairs was an ordeal, but the staircase at home was pure torture.  I had to hold onto the banister and take baby steps sideways in an effort to minimize movement.  Any jerk like motion such as lift­ing a leg to the next step was excruciating painful.
https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10204562384200381&set=a.4486670685663.2185779.1257050512&type=1 When I finally did collapse, I slept wonderfully well except whenever I changed positions, then I’d feel that throbbing pain in the lower legs and toes.  But the knees were fine!  The following morning, the pain was still there, a lot of stiffness too, so I had to walk Frankenstein-style around the house.  But at the same time, I had this incredible afterglow.  I ran a marathon!  I really did!  My blue t-shirt and cool metal were proof!
 
Now, instead of calling me insane, my wife calls me her “marathon man”.
–Borneo Expat Writer

*A fun, practical way to raise your self-esteem, list down 25-50 of your personal achievements (even if they mean nothing to anybody else except you!

**Get a jump on your New Year resolutions






**A link to my website, to MPH online for orders for three of my books, including my latest, Spirit of Malaysia and for Trois autres Malaisie.