The Art of Competitive Travel

Konnichiwa.  I write this to you from a traditional style Japanese room in Kyoto.  You look lovely, as usual.  I like how you have enough hair to put it in a ponytail.  I admire that.  It implies patience.

So, as I was saying, on this, our Skype phone call where I am presenting an informational monologue about my trip: there is an art to travel.  It is the art of strategic competition. The goal is to be the best traveler in your group–the best out of your family, your friends, the best.  If possible, try to be the best traveler at the restaurant, in the shop, in the entire hotel.  People should continuously be impressed by you.  In little ways.  Delicate yet fierce assertions of dominance.

I give you an example:

Yesterday, my traveling party and I went to lunch at a Japanese sushi place.  It was a two fork Michelin restaurant.  I’m not sure what the fork system means.  Maybe stars?  Or possibly maybe it is a different category, like “Hey, here’s the deal, you’re not quite star level, but you are definitely two forks!”

So, this restaurant required an extensive knowledge of Japanese culture.  Going into the event I was prepared to win.

First, I have been studying Japanese on Memrise for three days before the trip.  I can say “Konnichiwa (hello), Arigato (thank you), Domo Arigato (thanks a lot) and Sayonara (goodbye, but no one says this as I found out the awkward way).”  Second, I read a Japanese graphic novel, half of a 2016 travel guide, watched the Netflix show Terrace House and interviewed my Japanese students during their presentations about their homes (this was a trick.  I just wanted to know travel tips.  Ha.  Suckers! The class was just a way for me to find out cool activities to do.   I got you good students. Je rigole ou peut etre pas!).

Upon entering the restaurant, we took off our shoes and put on slippers.  I didn’t handle this very well as I forgot my socks and I currently have a small foot odor problem that I’m trying to figure out.  So, starting off, I was in last place.

Next, when we walked down the hallway I went into the eating room with my slippers on.  The waiter kindly told us that we weren’t supposed to wear shoes in here. Ah! Non!  I was falling behind quickly, fastly.  Was I the worst traveler?  Oh mon dieu.  No.  C’est impossible. The rest of my traveling party was killing it.  They all wore socks.  They didn’t go into the room with their shoes on.  Their feet smelled normal.

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Seiza sitting

But, then let me tell you about a little thing called Seiza.  At the traditional Japanese table, you can sit with your legs curled under you or you can do the cheat way of putting them in the cut out square below the table.   Guess who did Seiza for 75% of the time?  That’s right.  Yours truly.  I could feel my heart racing with impeding glory as the waiter definitely noticed how I had stayed seated like this the entire time he was in the room (25% of time I was not in position was used strategically when he left).  I also used arigato repeatedly, with a polite bow and also learned from the other members of the traveling party chopstick etiquette (don’t point them at someone).  Again, a trick.  I asked them information, only to use it against them.  The points were racking up. Victory spread like the early sting of wasabi on my tongue.  Sweet, hostile, intoxicating.

At the end of the delicious meal, I had to use the bathroom to attend to some personal matters.  Here, was the final sprint: I knew to change from my hall slippers to the bathroom slippers.  I was very quiet.  And on the way out, I saw the waiters.  They were standing in a line at the door.  I bowed and said domo arigato because it was really a good meal.

This is when the waiter pulled his hands from behind his back and presented me with a trophy postcard while giving me a special smile, “Yes.  It’s confirmed.  Out of your whole traveling party, maybe the whole last six months of our restaurant, you were by far the best!  It is so obvious.  We are humbled by your knowledge and appreciation of our culture.”

Anyone who’s ever won something like this knows it’s important to be modest.  So, as I walked outside to meet everyone, I held the postcard in my hand, tenderly, nearly hidden but just enough exposed so everyone could so that I was given this gift.  I didn’t need words.  The postcard spoke for itself.

However, in walking to Himeji Castle, I casually mentioned the postcard to Vincent.

He was looking at the google map, “Yeah, everyone did. They were super nice–standing outside with us thanking us.”

Thanking them, giving them the postcard too?  While I was inside the bathroom figuring out if I could manage to wash my feet in the sink.  What?  How could this be?

Anyway, I didn’t wash my feet in the sink. I decided against it.  Obviously, I’m much too sophisticated for something like that. IMG_4131


France is your nation.

Well done, France!  I recently watched your new president, Emmanuel Macron, as he invited innovative Americans who are worried about climate change to come to France.  You don’t have to ask me twice, EM!  Allons y!  Et vous allez me donner un travail, non?  J’adore les forêts du Costa Rica.   I just taught a class about eco-criticism.  I can do this Monsieur Macron.  Je peux!

I really identify with the term “innovative.”   For instance, recently, I have had many highly impressive innovations:

  1. I innovated a paper bag into an exciting cat adventure park 
  2. I innovated a dress my sister wore when she was 16 into an adult tank top
  3. I innovated a dinner conversation card game, which has such thought provoking questions as “why do men’s haircuts have a little V at the bottom?”, “why do humans have emotions?” and “how does our new understanding of tree communication influence our understanding of capitalist vs. socialist systems of rule?”
  4. I innovated a system where I no longer buy shampoo but instead just use all the free ones from hotels.  This also goes for soap

    innovative eco-bird sculpture
  5.  I innovated a paper maché bird made out of recycled newspaper by sculpting it over a stone from my sister’s garden

  6.  I innovated an incredibly useful labeling system for all the salads at my recent pétanque party out of old art tape I had from college (oh sorry to cut you off, President Macron, you were just about to invite Vincent and me to play pétanque with you and the first lady, ah oui, I think we are available.)

  7. I innovated a two handled bag into a fairly comfortable (if not traveling long distances) back pack 

As you can see, I think I am precisely the kind of innovative American that President Macron is looking for.  None of my innovations required money.  They all used recycled objects and I am very serious about climate change.  

The future is not coal.  It is not oil, not diesel cars.  It is not new clothing, not war, not destruction of land for stupid profit.    It is using our resources (the most valuable one being our minds) in a smart, effective way.

It is government incentives that encourage conservation.  We can create macro (Macron!) and micro environmental change this way.  We absolutely can.  By using togetherness, that beautiful kind of global cooperation where we could all come together and to find ways of progressive change.

For instance, right now, Lake Ontario is flooding with clean, fresh water.  This is bad for upstate New York, but if there were a way to take this water and give it to countries who could use it to improve health, then why not! Could we use this water’s power to create electricity?  Could we redirect it to water the farms in upstate New York?  Possibly to even make fresh water swimming pools to combat childhood obesity? Come on. There must be a way.  The answer is not conflict.  The answer is not showing off.   It is not arrogance. It is not nuclear.  It is not isolation.  It is creative, communal, scientific, hope.  

Oh, désolé!  C’est mon téléphone avec le code pays “+33.”  Ah, parfait.  I should take this.

Literal French Laundry

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The assertive note. 

I’m in a bad mood.  Yeah.  My stomach hurts. It’s kind of cold and the window is open. Although it’s five inches from me, it feels much too far to travel for comfort.   Also, I have a pain in my neck.  This isn’t a metaphor. I’m not talking about someone being a pain in the neck.  If I were, I would be like “Prioritizing peace is a pain in the neck.”  But, I’m not talking about a pain in my neck; no, this is about laundry.

So, first, in this blog, Le Poisson Nage, you may have noticed I have a deep respect for France.  Why?  Mostly because I like their yogurt.  I like their dating show about French farmers looking for love. And, I like this French tattoo artist, Faustine D.R. Tarmasz,  who I follow on Instagram (link at bottom of page).  Yeah.  I like France.  I like that the French aren’t afraid of darkness, of sadness, and of death.  Sometimes it’s relaxing to not have to be cheerful.

I also like that a common French response to political chaos is to pin a photo of Marine Le Pen on our dartboard after central left globalist Emmanuel Macron won the first election and then to stand in our backyard and then realize we are both really bad at darts.  And then inviting all of our friends over to see how good they are at sending darts into this photo.  Some of them are really good at this.

I like Emmanuel Macron.  He finds his own path. He married his French high school teacher; I married my French tutor.  He is concerned that fascism may take over our world.  Me too.  We have a lot in common.  It’s obvious.

Anyway, I don’t know what’s going to happen in France, but last Sunday when the results came in at 5pm (US time) things looked pretty hopeful and as an American, I haven’t felt that kind of hope in about seven months now.  Maybe that’s why my neck hurts all the time.

Anyway, I’m getting off what’s really important: my complaint about French laundry techniques.  In my experience, the British do this too.  The French air dry their towels instead of putting them in the dryer. Yes, sure.  Certainly, it is more environmental to air dry your towels.  Of course.   But, I was recently at a meditation retreat and I composted a tissue; I’ve regretted this for four weeks now.  Sometimes being environmental requires being even smarter than just pretty smart.

So, two days ago, I wrote a very assertive note to Vincent addressing his laundry method of hanging up the towels instead of putting them in the dryer.  I wrote that American designer, J. Ross Moore, from North Dakota didn’t invent this awesome technology so we could have these horrible sand paper towels. That we, here, in America, used our heads to figure out how to avoid scratchy towels.  That’s why we invented this machine.  Obviously.

But, then I looked into it more.  Around 1799, a French person, Pochon, invented the ventilator–a kind of rotating bin with holes in it that circled over the fire.  But, then this caused a lot of fire problems.  So, later, in 1892, an African-American, George T. Sampson, got the patent and figured out that the heat from the stove was better to dry the laundry than the fire.  Smart.  Then in depression era America, along comes the  North Dakotan and figures out a way to sell it for about $250.

The point: we need each other to make things better.

So, maybe, it’s good for the skin to be scratched up once in a while, maybe it’s good to feel kind of shredded.  Maybe this kind of discomfort is good for me, for us.  Because maybe there’s an even better way to dry towels–maybe the Dutch book designer, Irma Bloom or South African, Elon Musk can offer their thoughts.  Maybe there are some great laundry ideas we don’t even know about.  Maybe these new innovated laundry techniques might just be able to save us all.



  1. Totally cool French tattoo illustrator:
  2. More about Emmanuel Macron:
  3. More about Laundry Techniques:
  4. Irma Bloom’s books:
  5. The featured image is a Japanese bonsai that has been in training since 1625 and is at the Arboretum near Washington, DC.  It survived nuclear war and was tended by the Yamaki family who then gave it as gift for The United States of America’s 200th birthday.  We are a young country and I’ve always found it important to have older friends.








Mistakes? Puh. No such thing.

Bonjour!  Are you interested in l’art?  Oui?  Allors, you may want to take my course about mistakes and illustration (click bottom photo, svp).  And, if you are curious, I took this cloud photo at the Musée des Confluence á Lyon, France.  Cool, non?   Bonne semaine mes amies!


Minimal Comfort

Making friends has always come exceptionally easy to me.  I think largely because of my natural aroma–a soothing mix of sausages and cedar.  Because of my high demand, I often have to write people a rejection letter of friendship, much like the rejection letter I just received from a certain graduate program I applied to.  I hope it inspires them to go out and find other friends, like this rejection letter inspired me to madly apply for interesting day jobs.

Currently, I am in two groups of friends: the Minimalists and the Hygges (hoo gah ees).

I like hanging out with both groups.  The American Minimalists usually invite me to parties that take place in either vacant loft spaces or abandoned beaches.  I wouldn’t say their parties are “extremely fun,” but they certainly require very little preparation.  I never need to bring the usual entry ticket of a bottle of wine or beer.

Conversation at the Minimalist parties often involve a lecture like interaction about the benefits of Minimalism.   At the last party, Jaco (he minimized his name) began a power point facilitated conversation on freeing oneself from stuff. I noticed that out of the all the stuff he had given away, he did choose to keep a tie dyed shirt that said “Hilton Head” on it.  I questioned this choice and soon found myself more interested in the offshoot group that was emerging: the French Minimalists.

It was led by three French people who subscribed to the French concept of wardrobe.  This wardrobe fascinates me.  When flying from Lyon to Rome over Christmas, the French minimalists members each packed an incredibly small suitcase.  They wore a sweater, jeans and sneakers for every event.  Because we were flying on a low cost European airline, I had to share this suitcase with one of these members.  I was forced to become a French minimalist.  My strategy was simple: black.  However, black can get boring so I soon accessorized with socks, the airline’s seasickness pamphlet and a found pen.  These came in handy.  It should be noted that I grew up in a collective community of TJ Maxximistas which gave out awards for creative approaches to outfit design.   Thus, unwilling to let go off my roots, one night at a Roman cafe, I took a wool sock and made it into a Hermes-like foulard.  I’m not sure what everyone thought, but I got the impression that I fit in perfectly.  Dare I say I was a style leader?  I’d feel fairly confident saying that. However, there was a slight sweat problem as I could only bring two pairs of socks and we walked around the city for 8 hours each day, hence why I now smell like cedar foot powder.

Parties with the Hygges are pretty relaxing as they consist of meeting in yurts with roaring fires.  We don’t talk a lot–instead we just read books, light candles and eat dark chocolate.   Sometimes the parties go on for a very long time.  The Alpha Hygge, Lana, asks that we turn off all cellphones upon entry, so last time I was hanging out with them, I hadn’t realized that fourteen days went by and I missed a call for an interview from a high paying think tank in upstate New York.  I don’t blame Lana or the Hygges for potentially missing this incredible job opportunity that would give me a sustainable salary and dental insurance.   Instead, I just heated up some potatoes, put them in my socks, chopped some more wood and picked up where I left off in my German novel.

One time I invited both sets of friends to a bar. In retrospect, this was a pretty bad idea.  Jaco kept collecting all of the comforters that Lana had brought and Lana told me she found Jaco condescending.  She left the bar by giving him the middle finger and shouting “Minimize this.”  I get this.  Jaco is super annoying, but Lana is also kind of stressful too in that she is always asking me to chop more firewood.  Man.  How many fires are we going to have.  It’s like April and there is this cool class on user interface systems that I want to take.  I may have already missed it.

So, I actually just have been avoiding all groups of friends and instead using my time to ceaselessly mock interview myself.  It’s going well.  I never knew I had so much to offer.



As They Say

Kara Walker (American), Pop-up Book, 1997

Recently, I was an influential member on a docent tour in a lovely art gallery in Naples, Florida.  I tried very hard to ensure everyone on the tour knew that, yes, I know a lot about art.  I did this by nodding my head enthusiastically with key points or smiling widely  at the mention of an artist’s name, as if that artist were a personal friend of mine.

For example, the docent would say someone like, “Kara Walker” and I would rapidly nod my head and then make an insightful comment to my traveling partner/arts patron/mother, “Oh her work is awesome.  She was at the Albright.” My arts patron looked at me with the sheer awe of watery eyes that seemed to say, “The student has outdone the master.”  Or maybe that was just my art patron’s eye contacts giving her a hard time.  It’s unclear and I was too busy showing everyone that I was taking lecture notes on my cellphone to clarify.

While in the elevator to the second floor of the museum, the docent said something like “Don’t worry, we can all fit on this elevator” and then she added, “As they say.”  The elevator occupants smiled.  My head perked up. That phrase “as they say” was of exceptional value and I quickly added it to my English vernacular.  Obviously, as a personal friend of the country of France, herself, I knew I would also need it in French, so I looked it up “comme on dit.” This phrase is so valuable because it can be used to authenticate any statement, regardless of whether this statement has even once been said.  The “they” is vague and thus useful, as it infers a committee or a large group of trusted people.

Here are a few possibilities, but please feel free to comment with your own:

In spin class in America, “Why does our gym insist on playing Fox News all the time?  Well, I guess you can’t eat the chess pieces, as they say.”

In a cafe in a foreign country where no one really knows you or is unaware that you have never actually published a book or a poem, “Je suis le mieuller écrivain dans le monde.  Connaisez-vous Simone de Beauvoir et Gertrude Stein? Allors, moi, je suis quatre fois meilleur, comme on dit.”

To the condescending leisure biker on the walking path who acerbically said, “Excuse me.”

And I said, “Oh sorry” and moved over.

And then she said, in sharp little cocktail knives, “Uh, you’re right in the middle of the path so . . .”

I could have said, “Wow, some people are really a waste of human life aren’t they? As they say!”

And then walk away and point to the gigantic yellow sign that said “Bicyclists please walk your bicycle” that was standing behind me.

But, I didn’t notice this until it was too late, so instead just froze up and then walked away muttering improperly constructed insults that included the word bitch and the word rich, over and over again.  And, then I felt bad for containing such cruelty and felt rotted inside.

Or, to your lovely friend in the cafe who is visiting from France, “I miss you very much and wish we could continue run club and cook club every week, but you know, life is a voyage and we are all ships on the sea finding our own winds, comme on dit.

So, as you can see.  This phrase is extraordinarily handy.

Okay, so I must go and find another art tour that I can conquer.  I think I’ll make sure to use the 100 foot walking-only section of the path with my leisure bike.

nota bena: the photos here are ones I have taken at the Baker Museum  (Kara Walker above and Dale Chihuly  for the feature photo (red glass).  Photography without a flash is allowed at the Baker, however, if the artist feels this is copyright infringement, I will immediately take them down.)

S.V.P et Merci!

Bonjour toute le monde!

  I see that you are enjoying a pain au chocolat
I’m sure you won’t mind if I just take that last bite . . .ah oui, tres bon!

Allors .  . .I just published a class on Skillshare.
If you’re interested in learning how to craft a postcard to

a logical friend
a revered enemy
a platonic admirer

please feel free to click this word, no not that one, this one!

Merci!  Et bonne journee!

post script: The texture of that image is from a photo of decaying street art that I took in Rome.




I like to attend a lot of meetings.  I don’t get paid for these strategic outings; I just find them by word of mouth and sit through them.

The last one I attended was for a public school where I do not work.  They were trying to decide how to run the k-12 program with a reduced budget.

When I came into the meeting, they said, “You don’t look familiar.  Are you new?” and asked me to introduce myself. I used the classic “vague affirm and specific redirect approach” that I was taught as part of my online graduate work.

“Yes.  I don’t look very familiar and am new to this . . .state. But, I’d like to start with a story, if I may. . .”

This is a classic strategy and very handy when you forget your personal journal and instead want to tell the people at the meeting an annoyance in your life, while also eating as many of their donuts as you possibly can.  The words “if I may” allow you to say basically anything and the hint of a “story” allows for people to think of you as sort of a theatrical podcast.

For instance, I began to tell them about this annoying vet experience I had where I thought the veterinarian’s personality was cold and made me feel awkward about repeating the word “feces” and “rectal area” over and over again.  She didn’t seem like she was familiar with this technical language, so I just kept repeating it, “feces, feces, feces,” but her face was like a stone.  Then she said, “You should bring in a sample.”  How annoying can you get?  I took eight classes on dealing with difficult online patients.  It appeared her “degree” from “a real college” failed to stress the importance of this. When I finished telling this story, the teachers around the table, looked at me, surprisingly annoyed, but I had said “if I may,” so it was totally fine.  Their time to object had long passed and we all knew it.

Also, they should be grateful they got to hear such an interesting story.  It seemed like they had a lot of other things they needed to do and like they were somehow unhappy that they had to get up at 5am and be at the school and then grade at night in their kitchens and then couldn’t properly enjoy their weekends because of some kind of existential dread of Sunday nights.  Personally, I was pretty glad I had spent those eleven years on the online medical veterinary leadership md/phd/mba program at that point.  Some of us contribute to this world and some of us don’t.

Which brings me to the only word you need in a French conversation: exactement.

I learned it over Christmas and it has come in extraordinarily handy.  Like in that meeting, no one said anything positive about my contribution to their daily agenda.  They just looked down to the floor and one teacher seemed to be preoccupied by giving some of his own lunch to a student, so I just waited a few seconds, to make people think I hadn’t been the one telling the interesting story in the form of a soliloquy and I said “Exactement!” and left.  I felt better after complaining to these strangers and there were many job related things I had needed to get done that day and if I didn’t go to bed now I wouldn’t get my normal eleven hours of sleep; the e-mail form letter diploma I received needed to be framed and hung over my online office immediately.


this smells very good. when i wear Coco, I often stop into nearby British phone booths just to smell myself in an enclosed space.



I have reason to believe that I smell incredibly good.

I recently purchased a new perfume: CK1 Red.  I like CK1 because it reminds me of the 90s, when America made sense.  But, anyway, I was standing in line at a luxury discount store and a young, stylish, child in front of me said “Something smells really good.”

Her mother said, “Perhaps the candles–the vanilla?”

And the stylish child said, “No. No.  I don’t think so. Something else.”

Something else. Yes.  Standing there, I knew what that something else was: me.  I thought, what good choice of aromas that stylish child has.

However, I do have some other evidence, which I’m unsure how to classify.

After doing my favorite class at the gym: “Stairs and Chairs,” (which includes: making the chairs into stairs that we run up, jumping from one office chair to the other office chair, and sitting on the chair while a carefully selected partner carries you up the chair stairs), I decided to try the sauna.  I had just showered.  The stair workout is intense and causes my muscles to sweat uncontrollably.

I entered the sauna to see a woman reclined on the bench.  She then said something out loud, which I assumed was a dream.  I began to create an intricate backstory for this woman: stressed out middle-aged woman with sleep disorder finds comfort at local gym sauna.

However, this thought process was interrupted by her saying, “No scent!”

Soon, I realized she was talking about me and the lotion I had used on my face and hands.

I didn’t know what to say.  Like the 18th century French writer, Denis Diderot, I am quite sensitive and often taken aback when someone says something oddly rude to me.

She said, “It is almond, no?”

I said, “Coconut.”

She said, “Ok. If I sit up, it is better.”

I realized my mouth was open without words coming out. I closed it and then remained silent.

I agree with Diderot about his phrase “l’esprit de l’escalier:” a person can only think clearly at the bottom of a staircase.   I knew I had to return to “Stairs and Chairs” immediately.

At the bottom of our chairs staircase, I thought about the incident.  It seems it would indicate that I do not smell as incredible as that stylish child had lead me to believe.

In the end, there are some things you can’t control: like how your perfume will smell in someone else’s nose or the outcome of a recent election.  But, there are some things you can control: like how quickly your hips will move the chairs in tonight’s hula inspired workout where we put the office chairs over our bodies and climb as many stairs as humanely possible, forever climbing our way up.


French Underwear

A long time ago, I was at a party discussing underwear.  There was a hobo trashcan fire burning in the background. I may have had a glass of wine in my hand.  I believe the other person was wearing a t-shirt.  I get nervous at social occasions and often find myself in the middle of strange conversations.  This is not a rare event.  In fact, I’d say this is a typical night for me and often the reason why I stay home and read a French middle grade book that frequently uses the word “Berk!”

Well, this particular evening, I was talking with the friend in the t-shirt.  He is a wiser, older friend who often tells me informative things.  For instance, most recently, he told me to purchase a pipe wrench.  This came in very handy on one particular night.  I don’t like to talk about that night, but let’s just say it came in very handy.

So, at this hobo trashcan party, this gentleman began to speak, parler, au sujet de . . .les underwear!

Oui, c’est vrai.

For a long time, I didn’t think underwear was very important.  During my senior year of college, my friends got me a joke gift of Superman underwear that was meant for a thirteen year old boy.  I have non-ironically been wearing that exact underwear since I was 21 years old.  I am now 33.  Yes, that underwear is 12 years old.  C’est extraordinairre!

This older, wiser friend of mine suggested/scolded/shamed me into perhaps updating my underwear.

Quoi?! Porquoi?  I don’t need beautiful underwear.  I need cool dresses and pleather jackets;  I need that skin toned make up that covers an unusual facial birthmark;  I need a leash to take my adventure cat outside, but underwear–puh.  Terrible superman underwear is fine!

Non.  Cette n’est pas vrai.  You do need beautiful underwear.  It is one step before fluency.

So, coincidentally, my other friend, this gentleman’s lovely wife, opened up (avec sa soeur) this really beautiful lingerie store.  It is called Lace and Day and it is in Buffalo, NY and it is extremely fun to go there (

When I went, I was pretty much astounded.  Quoi le coq?  Pretty underwear?  Who knew?

Because I like to learn, my friend, the co-owner of the shop, began to educate me about French companies that make underwear.  And, soon, I began to be infatuated by these companies.  They made underwear differently than Americans.  Instead of padding in bras and all this covering up so we look like repressed Puritans, they are like, “Puh!  Let ze breast be free to be ze breast!” (I’m not quite fluent in French, but my English as if spoken by a French person is getting extremely good!)

J’adore l’idee!   You’re free to disagree with me, but I feel like one of my heroes, Simone de Beauvoir, would approve.

Anyway, there is this brand from Paris: Simone Pérèle and it is really lovely.   I feel like a nouveau femme!

Cultural understanding happens on many levels: some of them, very intimate levels and others, more external.  I think understanding a part of France is understanding how to be elegant.  And now, I have to go clean the sewer muck off my pipe wrench.