Posts Tagged 'glimpse project'

Bones In The Dirt, Best Women’s Travel Writing and Thank Yous

So… this is big news:

“We are interested in including your story ‘Bones Surfacing in the Dirt,’ in our forthcoming book, The Best Women’s Travel Writing Volume 8, to be published in April 2012.”

Which is great for a number of reasons, perhaps chiefly that it delivers a boost of encouragement just when I need it most.

Some of you may remember the crowdsourcing I did on IndieGoGo a few months back, raising funds to help me move to Cambodia and extend my Glimpse project into something book-length. Some of you may have even kindly contributed. And some of you may be wondering what the hell is going on with the project and when the hell you’ll be getting your postcard/zine/etc.

Well, answer number one is that a lot depends on the Cambodian postal system. Haha. But a lot has been shifting and taking shape for me in terms of my project, and I was waiting for official word from the BWTW folks to write an update.

It was a year ago now that I first came out to Cambodia. I thought I was here to write about someone else’s tragedy, someone else’s story. But the more I worked on the “Bones” piece, the more I realized that the story I had to tell was much more my own than I’d thought.

And I guess you could say the same’s true this time around, with this project. I most definitely still plan on writing something book-length, and I most definitely still plan on writing it about Cambodia. But over the course of my 4+ months here, the focus has begun to shift. I’m still super interested in the long-term effects of the war, on trauma and the ways it affects both individuals and a society. But I’ve realized that’s only one of the fascinating stories out here. Or rather, it touches on all the fascinating stories, is like a kind of thread between everything.

It gets draining, all the Khmer Rouge talk. It’s mostly among the foreigners. As one friend says, there’s a certain breed of expat here who’ll chalk everything up to Khmer Rouge—any problem or quirk or peculiarity in the culture.

It’s both true and untrue, both a legitimate reason and a scapegoat for all the country’s problems: “the war just ended.” But when you put that beside the general silence of Cambodians, it’s an uncomfortable contrast. And not one I’m sure I want to participate in.

But that’s not the only thing going on here. It’s a crazy intense confusing place, utterly confounding for a Westerner—and it’s modernizing super rapidly. There’s construction all over the city; there’s people getting kicked off their land to make way for foreign-owned development projects; there’s millionaire pedophiles getting royal pardons and dodging extradition; there’s human trafficking and sexpats; there’s shady NGOs and fake orphanages; there’s all the wayward foreigners that wash up on the country’s shores—myself not excluded. (Because no one ends up here on purpose; we’ve all got a fucking story—a deep inhalation and a “Well…” If we lived in Paris or Rome, that would be the reason: we’d be in fucking Paris or Rome. But we’re in Cambodia. We’re all a little wonky, some more than others.)

A journalist friend here was complaining about his deadbeat staff. Cambodia is kind of the place were “Australian journalists go to die”—his words, not mine. He was talking about someone saying it’d been a slow day, and he’d said, “Bloody hell, this is Cambodia. Don’t tell me you can’t find a story—you can’t walk outside with tripping over stories.”

And it’s true. I’ve started to realize that, beyond just the war history and its effects, I wanna write about that: Cambodia, now, in this moment, and what it’s like being a foreigner here. Of course, the Khmer Rouge is a part of that—even if you hear about it ad nauseum, there’s no escaping the fact that so much of what I see everyday is a result of it. But that’s not all is is, you know? I guess it’s like childhood shit, friends of mine who survived fucked-up and horrific childhoods—it’s always kind of there, but it’s not all that’s there.

Is this making sense? Probably not, because the ideas are still forming. I’m definitely in observation mode—so much of what I wrote before was about those initial encounters with the country. Right now I’m just sitting back and watching; I feel like it’ll still be a good few months before I have anything of substance or value to say.

Which makes me feel a little unsteady, a little worried sometimes about the project and all. So the BWTW announcement came just when I needed it—like a little nudge, telling me I was on the right track. (I hope.)

On that very positive and celebratory note, I wanna give a shout-out to everyone who helped me get here—through love, support, encouragement, whatever.

Thank You to:

Hugh Bright, Eva Holland, Bailey Nichols, Stephen Beatty, Patricia Marquardt, Katherine Peck, Shana Breeden, Katherine Palau, Lileana Ayende, Joshua Samuel Brown, Meara Breuker, Melanie Westerberg, Shannon Purcell, Erin Gilmore, Ben Sturtevant, Ekua Impraim, Cheri Lucas, Carlo Alcos, “zwiebel16,” James Marquardt, Miranda Gibson, Aaron & Emily Quinn, Alicia Goode, Nhu Troung, Suki Khalsa, Mary Howe, Judith Tannenbaum, Beverly Quinn, Tracy Waugh, Sharon Bjornson, Morgan & Candice Tigerman, Sarah Menkedick, “Sam,” “Lynn,” “Lu,” “Hai,” and of course, Mom & Dad.

Thank you all so much for giving me a 1000 other little nudges.

“The River That Empties Into The Ocean”: Glimpse Piece #2

Wax refugees from Khao Lan

So. Finally, finally, nearly a year after I originally landed on this continent, the second piece for my Glimpse project was published. You can check it out here.

The piece depicts my trip to the Thai border, where I searched for the remains for an old refugee camp my friends’ family passed through. If you’ve been following this blog for awhile, you’ll recognize part of the journey. What I didn’t write about at the time—because I knew I wanted to save it for this piece—was the strangely fortuitous meeting that occurred after I’d returned to Cambodia, made entirely possible by this blog. (Hey, I still may not have monetized this thing, but at least I’m getting something out of it!)

With the publication of this piece, I’ve officially completed the Glimpse Correspondent program. As such, I was asked to write a few words about my experience. What I basically told him was how incredibly valuable the program was to me. Getting the clips was nice, getting a stipend was nice, but what it really came down to was the editorial guidance. Sarah hashed through some insanely deep-level edits with me, giving me the kind of feedback you usually have to pay a lot of fucking money for.

I was gonna come out here and do the project regardless—I’d already booked my tickets when I’d heard my project was accepted—but it would have ended up being a much different project if it hadn’t been for all the support and guidance I received. I think the process pushed me to grow a lot, both creatively and personally. And I secretly kind of doubt I’d be back out here now if that hadn’t happened.

So read up! It’s mega long, so grab some coffee and get comfy. Then tell me what you think—and what you for real think, not what you polite think. [Insert smiley face]

Jogging Where Tanks Once Rolled

Aerobic dancing at Olympic Stadium

3pm, barefoot in the dim room, whirling fans and headphones on, staring at the screen. It’s my first trip back to the Bophana Audiovisual Resource Center, where I spent hours last spring, trolling through their archives of documentaries and newsreels and scanned photographs of the old Phnom Penh, before the war—which, it seems to me today, doesn’t look so different from the Phnom Penh outside the open-air terrace, just minus the new cars and sidewalks. Sometimes.

I’m back to refresh myself. I’m working on editing my second Glimpse piece. I wrote it over the summer and haven’t looked at it in months, so when I got Sarah’s comments, it all felt vague and faraway. I knew I needed something to kickstart me.

To be honest, I haven’t been thinking much about my project, or the Khmer Rouge, or any of it. Last time I’d arrived, it’d been on my mind constantly, a lens I saw everything through: everyone over 35 was a survivor. I couldn’t turn it off, and I’d hit the ground running, dove right in to the research and writing, the quest to understand.

And it’s not like I’ve forgotten all that—I can feel it, sitting there, off to the side and waiting, in the corner of the room when I can’t sleep at night—but my focus has been elsewhere. Getting an apartment. Buying all the crap I need—dishes and towels and non-neon-plastic chairs and Western bedsheets (really effing hard to find, btw). Reconnecting with the friends I’ve got left, and making new ones. Getting a phone and internet and finding a good laundry place and all that very unglamorous day-to-day stuff that’s part of life, part of living somewhere.

So I’ve pushed it all aside, knowing that it was waiting and that I’d come to it when I was ready (and, really, I’ve only been back two weeks). So it was with a little hesitation that I went to Bophana, took off my shoes and climbed the steps, climbed back in to The Reason I Came, and the thick-as-mud emotional difficulty of it all.

Most of the newsreels are in French, and I watch ones from the Thai refugee camps, 79-80; I watch the same newscaster in different suits, and fish out token words of French: “famine,” “guerre,” “mort.” Mostly I look at the faces, which are shell-shocked and gaunt.

I scroll down, down, down the list of archives, never-ending, thinking how long it would take someone to watch it all. I see “Rediscovered Propaganda Films” and click on it. There’s an English dubbed version, which is exciting. I watch and listen.

They show short films produced during the Khmer Rouge and narrate. They show staged shots from the camps, aerials of people like ants, carrying hoes and buckets, balanced on a stick over their shoulders, the way the soup ladies at the market do. They show close-ups of carefully selected workers smiling; they point out child workers and how to tell who was a New Person and who was an Old Person. They show clips of a poorly acted film Pol Pot directed, shortly before the regime fell—men reenact the defeat of Lon Nol’s army, twitching on the ground with arrows arranged around their bodies. The film was never made, and the shots I see now, in the dim viewing room, were assembled from found reels. I imagine them on a dirty floor somewhere, curled and brown.

The narrator points out inconsistencies: no one was supposed to have bourgeois personal items like watches or eyeglasses. But here’s Pol Pot, that smiling cult leader face, wearing a watch, and here’s Brother Number Three, wearing glasses, and here’s the regional leader Brother Number Two snubs, who’s later deemed a traitor and tortured and destroyed, along with his family. They freeze the frame on him, and he’s smiling, smiling.

This scene is at a party meeting; women with Soviet semi-automatic weapons march, and US artillery tanks roll past, left over from Lon Nol’s time. The setting looks vaguely familiar, and the narrator says: “The meeting took place in the otherwise empty Phnom Penh, at the Olympic Stadium.”

Holy shit, I think. Olympic Stadium is in the city center, near the guesthouse I stayed at when I arrived. Every dawn and dusk, they do aerobic dancing there, and people run and powerwalk and swing their limbs around; food vendors set up carts and plastic stools, and men play soccer in the dirt lot outside.

It’s my favorite place to go running in the city. In fact, I’m planning on going for a jog there tonight.

I squint at the screen and it’s all there: the steps I run, the contour of the stone tiers, the spires of the Royal Palace rising in the background. It’s newer and cleaner and nicer in the footage, but it’s the same place.

I don’t know what to do with that.

I walk back to my apartment with a funny little feeling in my stomach, like I’ve seen a ghost—like I’ve gotten up in the middle of night and everything familiar looks strange and different, and the thing that was sitting there waiting for me isn’t in the corner anymore but is moving across the room.

I put on my running shoes and spray some more mosquito repellent on, grab a water and go back downstairs, to the street to catch a motorbike over to the stadium.

It’s surreal when I get there. I walk past the rows of motorbikes and cars, the tuk-tuks covered in ads for the new Twilight movie. Teenage boys stare at me as I walk past their soccer game, say “Hello, hello!”

I walk beside the arena, which is locked and closed, my own face in the tinted windows. It was where the meeting had been, in the newsreel. I walk past where the shot of Pol Pot wearing a watch was, where Brother Number Two and Brother Number Three had trailed behind him, wearing eyeglasses and giving silent death sentences to smiling men.

A young boy carries a sack on his shoulder. He picks a plastic bottle out of the trash.

He walks closer to me, his eyes scouring the ground of recyclables.

I say hello, in Khmer, hand him my empty water bottle.

He smiles and puts it in his sack.

I say thank you, and walk towards the track, to jog where the tanks once rolled.

Untellable Non-Stories: Researching The Intergenerational Transmission of Trauma

What do untellable non-stories look like? Let me give you an example of such a non-story.

A mother is frozen in non-mourning for her dead family. She looks at her child with unshed tears and does not see her child.

“My mom had a girl,” Lynda told me. “She had four kids. Right, Steve?”

“I think so.”

“Three boys and one girl. Actually, I’m not sure; she never really talked about them. But I know she had a girl.

“Sometimes she would tell me how I looked like her, her other daughter. Except she’d had hair the color of corn. She’d always say that: ‘poat.’ Hair like ‘poat.'” She paused, repeated the word: poat, a strange sound from another life, one that hung in the air with its own kind of weight, gravity. “That is ‘corn,’ right Steve?”

Steve nodded, and Lynda looked down, off, some abstract place on the carpet: a thread that had gotten lost, fallen out, would never be noticed except in this one second.

This induces a sense of non-existence and depression in the child. The child wants to rescue, reassure, or enliven the parent and gain life for itself; it feels guilty and worthless when it fails. This is an example of how trauma can continue unwittingly across the generations.

Lynda smiled bravely and raised her eyes.

Excerpt from “Transmission of Transgenerational Trauma


Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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