The Daydream

February 17, 2010

I’ll spend a lot of time missing this if I’m not careful – lying in a hammock, music in my ears, banana trees swaying softly off my right, beautiful mountain vista ahead. I could, and some days do, spend hours upon hours lying here in silence, thinking, dreaming, letting mind and body wander freely. It’s not something I was used to before this life, but now I question how I ever went without it. A break, siesta, a time for me, my needs, my wants, for my spirit to rest and recover. It fits so well with everything, and yet I know it will interfere with a more traditional American life – who takes an hour break after lunch these days? Only hippies, weirdos, and other dangerous sorts, I’d wager. It’s a pity too, because after a short lounge I find myself a whole lot more motivated and ready to face the world! Well, face this world anyway – I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready to face that other one again.

What sort of world is this? Well, here’s today – wake up before anyone, yoga on a big flat rock overlooking the city below, playing with the ants and practicing my balance, then a cup of strong coffee and another of fresh orange juice. We fly midmorning to just past noon, playing on the thermals with the chulos (vultures) then drive back up to the launch site house where we all live for coffee, tea, or beers depending on who you are. I cook something easy – beans, onions, peppers, and perhaps a couple eggs – while the rest of the family takes off to eat at a little comedor in town. I’m broke past any sense of a budget, and I can cook 4 or 10 meals for the same cost as anything I can get down there. Plus, cooking is meditation. Eat, hook up the computer for some tunes, then it’s hammock time, writing, reading, or napping.

After watching the clouds a bit and relishing in the pure joy of a life lived simply, we’ll fly again around 4 or 5:00, wind depending. Some days it rains and we’re grounded, others we soar for hours, riding the ridges up and down – it’s magical, almost, with the almost coming in whenever my lack of experience leaves me in a shit spot, fighting for altitude and space, hoping not to crash into a tree. With a dozen flights and the nickname “K of the Jungle” one might say I’m not doing so well on that last part. Still, it’s a beautiful sport, and I’m finally living a lifelong dream of flight – no engine, no enclosure, just me, wing, and sky. It’s exactly what I’ve always wanted, and I can feel this sport taking over my life already – I want nothing more then to learn to see the wind like the expert gliders can, to make the whole world my playground, to get into the air and soar like an eagle.

Nights we spend alternatingly crashing into tire walls at the Go-kart track in town or sitting around drinking and telling stories. The Canadian friends have their wild flying tales, Alex her scuba stories, Jake the crazy Alaskan his entire life, and I my hitchhiking and bad decisions. It’s a great group, conversation flows with the shit talking, ebbs with the early night. By ten or a bit most people have retreated to bed, and those of us remaining shift to late-night email on the cranky wifi, or just sit out and watch the skies. I try to end my night by pissing off the cliffside launch, inky blackness over the neon city. It’s primal, the feeling of power that comes from such a stupid act., but you won’t catch me complaining. After that, with the world seething awake below but my tiny corner fast asleep, there isn’t much to do aside pass out, and dream of another day the same as the last.

My question really is this – how can I spend as much of my life doing exactly this? There must be some way, be it working at a launch site, bank robbery, or inheriting some grandiose fortune, where I can live like this forever, right? I don’t feel I’m looking for too much – just a bit of peace, quiet, and good company. Given those, I think I could live quite happily. The only parts that trip me up are the debt, the needs of others, the gossamer strands of past that still yank across distance, time, and space. I’m not truly free of their world, much as I try to hide and deny it – I still need filthy lucre, still must contribute something of “value” in order to live, and believe me, writing, poetry, advice, companionship, and camaraderie are grossly undervalued in this economy, unless you’re telling people what they want to hear. No, truthfulness doesn’t sell, doesn’t satisfy, doesn’t get you ahead – if I could just get more into lying and conniving and scheming I could probably be filthy rich enough to do anything I want!

Yet I’d be miserable then, because the ends quite clearly do not justify the means. If I want to be a writer, to create something beautiful, then a trashy novel will not suffice regardless of how well it sells. I could be a therapist, tell the richest of rich twats what they want to hear about themselves, be a friend-for-hire, but that won’t make me happy if I want to be the best confidante I can. Better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a pig blissful in shit. Better to live by and die doing what I consider irreplaceably valuable than to cower before the painful difficulties that keep most people trapped in lives they do not want. No, I cannot bow before the altar of global capitalism, cannot suck off the golden teat, because the source is something I cannot agree with, and as such, I’ll always have to live around the edges.

Perhaps then, it is best that the things I’m interested in are so marginalized – hitchhiking, paragliding, camping, living in hostels and on beaches and mountains. For me, and for those who feel like me, the margins of society are the best bits. We don’t have to hide here, conform to social pressures to act, live, breathe, behave a certain way. We don’t have to pretend we’re like the unhappy people we’ve been trying to get away from in the first place. We don’t have to guard ourselves, swallow our desires, keep mouths clamped tight to avoid offending people who don’t know any of the things they hold like precious truth. How do you know I’d be better off if I lived like you? You don’t know I was dying when I tried that, you don’t even know me anyway! No, best to get away from that, to stay up here, out there, far from the great vacuum of suck in the middle.

There’s nothing in the center, no value, no soul, no heart, nothing! This isn’t to say that there’s no value in finding your own personal center, no, quite the opposite – what I’m trying to convey is that the supposed middle ground isn’t what they say it is. If I try to be all things to all people, what am I truly left as? I become a chameleon, a poltergeist, a shadow then, representing nothing, holding nothing, not being me, and at that point I have become meaningless. Like pop art, like the music on the top-40s station, like television commercials and the people in movies – I’ll have become just more meaningless drivel, oatmeal for the toothless man. I’m not bland enough, not flexible enough, not stupid or weak enough for that – I actually care about life, live like it means something. My values make me strong, not weak. I am not a coward or an idiot when I say that I will not help destroy the world to propagate one species – my position isn’t based on hysteria or fear or misinformation – I just happen to like the natural world and know that paving it over will eventually kill us as certainly as we kill it.

Yet the pavement spreads, and the fields shrink, the fences go up and the wild world slides down, down, down into the shit. The garbage dump fills day by day, the packs of SUVs roam the concrete jungles, as the real jungles burn, and the packs of real animals are devoured by the mechanical ones. When are we going to have enough? When there isn’t enough left to grow any further? When the world can’t sustain us? What then? It’s madness to build your society around production with the goal of more production when your space and resource pools are both limited. What happens to all the cars when there isn’t any more gasoline, and we can’t make enough fertilizer? Who gets to eat and drive then, and who doesn’t and must die? Am I out of line for noting that we’re going to have to make that decision sometime soon? That we’re making it now? Do we kill the African so that the American can keep driving another few years? We’ve certainly decided that Iraqis and Afghans must forfeit their lives when it suits us!

We have the biggest guns right now, so at the moment these decisions remain ours, but what happens when the people who finance our wars see their interests splitting from our own? The Chinese won’t be content to sit and let us run the world forever, you know? Certainly not while they have us by the balls, producing everything we use, buying our ever-ballooning debt – whenever they’re ready, that bill comes due, and then who makes the decisions? The next biggest gunslinger, and after that the next, and the next, and the next, until someone with the wrong values and his finger on the trigger starts seeing the appeal of mass nuclear warfare. Perhaps I exaggerate, or maybe I don’t understand humans, but I don’t see anyone in power giving it up willingly! No, as the resources dry up, as the starvation and disease and desperation of poverty grip white people instead of only brown ones in far away lands, then the leaders will be pressed – protect us, save us, coddle us, keep us safe. I don’t want to be around when that happens.

The best solution then, as I see it, is not to play – don’t try to get ahead, don’t try to beat them at their own games, don’t fight the crushing hand of dying empire. Emigration seems better, to a place with real communities and people who know their neighbors. A place like here, on the mountaintops, away from the cities, away from the crush and consumption that can’t go on forever. And it can’t go on forever – don’t pretend at such thoughts, comforting as they are. When the oil runs out, when the ships can’t sail around the world, when the trucks full of groceries can’t make it to the supermarket, as the combine sits rusting in fields laid fallow for lack of fertilizer, where will you be then? I hope I’ll remember times like these, the ease, the convenience, the extraordinary complexity that makes life seem so simple.

At least there will still be hammocks, open porches, and banana trees – perhaps if we’re smart we can keep the paragliders around. Actually, this is not a bad place to be in such a time, since the people here still remember life without modern clutter, can still cook and grow crops and work with their hands. Where the average American would be staggered by the thought of growing their own food, the Colombians still have their gardens and orchards, still have the open land and knowledge to feed themselves, the animals to work with, and the community spirit necessary to make such projects succeed. They still know the value of lying back and dreaming, of thinking forward toward what may come instead of rushing blindly toward it, phone to ear, steering with their knees as they eat their fast food. Perhaps here they won’t hit the wall, will slow in time. I just wish I had the same trust in the United States, and in the people there.

Until then, this is my siesta, my stream of consciousness, my worry, my goal, and now I need only to find a way from here to there and back to here. There’s a lot to get to know – sustainable farming, building without depleting scarce resources, community governance in the face of societal collapse, how to play the harmonica, much more about medicine, plumbing, renewable power sources – the list goes for days, but at least I’m getting started! I’d advise others to think about what they’re capable of doing without fossil fuels, without factory food, without the resources and conveniences of industry – they can’t last forever, that’s just a brutal truth you’re going to have to accept! If we don’t have some new fuel source, new pile of resources, new reality-changing moment, then this lifestyle is not sustainable, and we’re going to have to live without most of what we take for granted today. Where will you be? What will you want to keep around? What do you know how to do?

Do you see why I’m going to treasure these moments in the hammock?

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Word Vomit

February 15, 2010

I am a part of everything, and everything is a part of me. Every smile, every cloud, every rock, every plant, every living thing that has ever or ever will exist on Earth shares common heritage with me, with you. We’re of the same cloth, sewn together with common thread, interdependent in a way that we can scarcely fathom. We exist in unison because none of us could exist alone. Don’t fall into your own hype with that batshit stupid lie of independence being desirable, or even possible – if you thought about it, you’d see how ridiculous that is. How can you even claim to support yourself when your air, water, soil came from the world that nurtures you? We are still children, the human race. Bad children in some ways, defiling our home, abusing our siblings. The world that supports us, our loving mother, is too kind to punish us directly, letting us instead come to our logical end, but that doesn’t give us right to act as we do, so callous, so stupidly, without responsibility for ourselves or our world.

We’re so solitary that it makes me scream.

I haven’t the voice to scream much longer.

This is my last gasp.

I’m falling from grace, grasping at the beautiful dream, struggling to pick up the shattered pieces, to fit them back together. It’s no use – I’ve lost the picture, can’t even remember what it was that drew me in in the first place. Nothing left to do but sweep it all into a pile and bin the whole mess. Start over. That’ll help – no use clinging to what was, what might have been. I pretend not to be sentimental, but that doesn’t stop me from slipping one glinting shard into my pocket and carrying on as if nothing has happened. I’m not so stupid as to abandon my own memories, my past. Later, in my room, in the dark, I take the piece out, run my fingers over the edges, trace the small lines and imperfections. There are so many lines, so many imperfections – the flaws are what make this life and not an image of the same.

The edges are sharp.

I cut my finger on the bitter one.

The bleeding lets me know I still live.

Sucking my finger I hobble to the sink, throw open the cabinet – need to staunch this flow, it will only weaken me if I let it all out. I must keep some of this in. Christ, where is a towel? And what happened to that piece of memory I was playing with? Cut forgotten, I have to find that shard of my past! I’m digging frantically through the bed, through my messy filthy present. It’s gone, no matter how I look, and now I’m stumbling drunken back to the bathroom, collapsing at the toilet, spilling my guts to the porcelain god. Purging myself of everything, of all of it. Every fond memory, every small hope, all the heartbreak, the joy, the anger and fear. There She went too, down into the dirty white bowl. I can’t keep it in, can’t hold onto it any longer.

It ends now.

Everything must end.

Yet nothing truly does.

How could I have been so stupid? What was I thinking, trying to run away from myself, from the life I led, from the entire human condition? What an idiot! And aren’t I even worse now, trying to avoid it at the end of all? At least when this started I didn’t know it had to come full circle! Now, knowing beyond certainty, with the dates and destinations carved oracle-like into stony future, I’m just being pathetic. Of course it’s all gone. Of course I can’t remember the brilliant bits. Why would I think myself that special? I’m not – if I’ve learned anything from this it is that I am, you are, we all are nothing special, nothing to write home about, all the same. That doesn’t make me any less likely to do so, to marvel at insignificant and trivial, to fall in love with us, with you, with her and her and also her. Does it make me crazy or a genius to keep hoping, keep pretending, keep living as if this actually matters? No, it just makes me human – self-delusion is essential to surviving the human condition.

We hope to keep from cutting our own throats.

I hope it won’t be too late before I get there.

She’s hoping she won’t be later then she already is.

If I sit here and try to think rationally, calmly, orderly, I freak the fuck out. Chills up the spine, sweating, biting my lip as I fight to ride out the stormy seas of terror I’ve been heaved into. A job, a “normal life”, a steady, regular existence… I’d rather get my teeth knocked in. I don’t desire it, that life – it’s too sterile, too artificial, too saccharine for me. I’d rather go live in a hut somewhere, work the fields, hitchhike and walk my way across the planet, go from place to place on foot with nothing then have the largest mansion, the biggest staff, the richest and most powerful friends. The moral bankruptcy and hopelessness of life like that disgusts me. I’ll vomit it all up, the fakeness, life in plastic. People are afraid to do or say what they really want because of how it might be perceived, and how it might hurt them later. “How will the boss, the neighbors, the PTO, the bourgeois pencil pushers see me?” outweighs what truly satisfies, robs life of joy. Yes, they might judge you, but who cares?

As if they all didn’t wish they could do the same.
They would if they could.

They would if they weren’t stupid with fear.

I tried to escape it, still am fighting, and yet now I’m going right back into the belly of the beast, the center of self-aggrandizing, mental masturbation, and voracious consumption. If you think I’m going to settle down, settle in, tune out, well then you don’t know me quite well enough. I’ll fight as best I can, not against their bullshit or their rules, but for my own survival – I can’t live like that again. It’s not some dramatic pledge, just the realization that I was dying before when I thought I was living, and I’ll die in inches if I try again. To live my own way isn’t some sort of choice any longer – compromising values deep held is betrayal of the self – and really it never was. It’s just that I didn’t realize it before, too wrapped as I was in what I thought was important. I never lived, just died my way through life.

One inch at a time, I slowly die.

Every joy denied.

Each desire unsatisfied.

I wipe my mouth, sit back on my heels. The worst is past, the bleeding slowed. I’ll be ok. Thank whoever, I’ll get through this. I didn’t lose the good bits anyway, just shared some of my insides. I can afford to share those, even if it is just with the toilet. Stumble back to the room, and I realize now I haven’t lost anything – it isn’t really possible. Sure, I can’t look back on it and chart day by triumph by joy by ecstasy by laugh; but that’s not worth two shits except as a nice story to tell people. I can’t carry this life with me, don’t have a printed list, but I have it with me always in the way that I exist. The things I do, the thoughts I have, the very breaths I take are part of it – going back isn’t going back at all – at least, not in the sense that I’ll be headed back to the life I left there. Sure, I’ll be in the same places, the same spaces, the same groups and family and ties, but that doesn’t mean I’ll possibly be the same me that I was then!

It won’t be easy.

Was it ever?

I just hid it better then.

Ran away to find myself.  Suceeded.

An incoming Peace Corps Trainee sent me a message the other day, asking about my story, and what information I could give on the disciplinary process and standards of the Peace Corps – the “dark side” if you will.  Here is my response to him, and to anyone else wondering the same:

Congratulations on the PC acceptance – that application process is an ordeal wrapped around a shit sandwich, and I still remember the immense relief and joy I felt at finally KNOWING that I was going somewhere, anywhere, and that it hadn’t all been in vain.

Yes, to answer your question succinctly – they really will kick people out for bad behavior, as defined by them, by the Peace Corps handbook, and (this is the kicker) for Trainees, “at the discretion of the Country Director.”  What this last one means is that during training, from day 1 until you swear in, you can be removed from the program without warning, without any specific rule violation, and without ANY RECOURSE WHATSOEVER.  This was my situation – I was removed from FBT a week before Swear-in and subsequently given the options of 1) resigning my post, getting what small sum I had earned for my service, and going home immediately, or 2) refusing, getting kicked out, getting nothing, and being forever barred from serving with the PC in the future.  What I wasn’t told was that in order to have any legal or formal grounds to protest my dismissal, you MUST make them expel you from the program, but even that ground is very, very slim.  As the regional director of Central America in 2009 put it to me “we don’t interfere with the discretionary decisions of Country Directors.”  To conclude: as a PCT, you have no rights, you have no standing, you are there are the pleasure of the PC.

That said, the best advice I can give you is simply to not fuck around, at least not before Swearing in!  Really, it’s 90 days, unless you’re a total idiot, you should be able to keep on your best behavior for at least that long!  Granted, it’s degrading, constrictive, and insulting to your basic humanity, but the reward is 2 years of much looser supervision and a much healthier relationship with the administration.  Volunteers have rights again, they are protected by the rulebook, and are infinitely more autonomous and free to act than Trainees.  If you can make it through training, you will probably not get kicked out so long as you aren’t blatant about your rulebreaking.

You will break rules.  Yes, you.  I’m guaranteeing this you, and if you read through your rulebook, you will probably see why.  The rules aren’t written for you, the human being, but instead for you, the idealized model of a Peace Corps Volunteer.  They protect the organization from being liable for things that happen to you, and give them a better means with which to control you.  Yes, some of the rules, if followed, will keep you safer, but no, that isn’t the primary goal.  The organization comes first, in their eyes, and you are a distant, far-off speck of a third or fifth.  If you stay with the PC, you will eventually come to terms with this in your own way – everyone I’ve met has found their own workarounds and coping methods, and I’ve yet to meet anyone who lives inside of all the rules.  You’d self-destruct, most likely, from the sheer insanity of contorting yourself that badly!  Thus, I’m pretty confident that you will break the rules, and often, during your service.  The advice I give you assumes that you will.

Here’s the take-away portion of this ramble: different violations are weighted more or less heavily based on your personal circumstances.  If you are a nurse, teacher, or engineer, you can bend or break a lot more rules than if you are a 23 year old college grad with no experience.  It’s just a fact of life – to the organization you are a tool, and thus your personal usefulness to them and their goals is taken in as a factor in disciplinary action.  If you were a 40 year old pediatric doctor with  perfect Spanish who happened to be having a midlife crisis and doing an amazing job volunteering, I’d give it about 50% that you could have an illegitimate child with a local teenager, and the PC would cover for you.  As a recent college grad with basic language skills and no specialized degree, you are a pity case in many ways, and don’t get nearly the same leeway.  Don’t get angry, just keep this in mind – I’m not trying to discourage you, but giving you the warning that I wish someone had passed to me.

This might help you to keep in mind – here are the Peace Corps’ top priorities as I see them:

1) Liability
2) Their Image
3) Washington DC Politics (Ex: Honduras’ program is rated against the other nations, lets appear better than the others, and get more funding and attention.)
4) Your Safety
5) Your Work and Progress
6) Your needs and wants

Bear in mind, that’s my opinion – I don’t have a magic list of how the admin thinks, but I’ve seen the Peace Corps from a position very few volunteers get to, which is to say living in the same nation, working in the same fields, and from across the Director’s desk as she kicks you to the curb.  You’ll see some of this regardless, like in Safety&Security briefings where you are advised to not resist rapists and possible killers in any way, but much of it is impossible to see without being first inside and later out.  A lot of the Peace Corps’ partners, the local and foreign NGOs you will be interacting with, will express a lot of frustration about the organization, it’s policies, and limitations.  Again, not discouraging, but giving you a view of how some people see the group from the outside.

Anyway, just be forever wary of everything higher than you on that priority list – those things are more important than you, and so you’d be well advised to keep them in mind when deciding what you should and shouldn’t do.  You do have allies – you aren’t alone in this, and I would never want to leave you with the idea that this is some sort of strict, rule-centric environment where nobody has any fun. The volunteers are your allies in this, as they have had to go through the same ordeals, and have a much clearer picture of how things work.  Befriend them, intimidating as things might seem in the first days and weeks, and you’ll find that they have a lot of very good advice and guidance.  Some of them might even teach you what you can do, what is particularly frowned upon, how to jalon, and they’ll give you your best view into how things work – I’ve been out for too long, things have changed, the rules are enforced differently.  Know that they have been in your shoes, have had your doubts and fears, and are stronger for the help of the volunteers above them.  Let them help you.

Lastly, let me give you an idea of the things that I did that would constitute bad behavior, what got me removed from the organization, and a few final thoughts on the matters of behavior, discipline, and rulebreaking.

Here’s what I did that would constitute “bad behavior” by PC standards:
-Left training site without informing administration
-Went to a concert in Tegucigalpa without permission
-hitchhiked, repeatedly
-rode a motorcycle
-didn’t wear a helmet
-Went to bars in my site, smoked cigarettes
-Was drunk in bars in my site
-Smoked weed with volunteers
-Smoked weed with locals
-Left site during my volunteer visit to go to the beach
-Separated from my volunteer during the visit

Here’s what I was removed for:
-Writing in a US college newspaper, without permission, attempting to persuade graduates to consider volunteer work in lieu of immediately entering the workforce or continuing their education.  (Key part: get permission!)
-Using bad language in this writing, painting the organization in a negative fashion.
-Writing unflatteringly of my work and local customs online (Twitter, titles of blog posts which were passworded)
-“Cultural Insensitivity”
-“Subversive attitude”

As you can see from this, I did a lot of things that could have justified my removal from the Peace Corps.  Despite this, what did get me in trouble were not the things that endangered myself, or went against my work.  Instead, the things that got me thrown out were those that threatened to damage priorities 1),2),or 3) – Liability, Image, and politics.  If your goal is stay in the organization, the rules you need to follow are those which protect the highest priorities.

You can get away with a whole lot if you’re careful, and a whole lot more, albeit for a shorter time span, if you’re reckless.  There are “bad” volunteers that don’t spend any time in their sites, travel around to party, smoke, drink, and party their way through service, who never get in trouble for it.  There are dedicated, serious volunteers who get thrown out for stupid, idiotic reasons, or for first time violations of petty rules.  It’s all about how good you are at hiding what you do, and how smart you are about your behavior – don’t get cocky, cover your bases, and you can do anything you want.

Am I advocating rulebreaking?  I guess I am, but that’s consistent with my personal philosophy – I don’t condone following regulations that you don’t personally agree with.  If you like smoking pot, taking vacations, or living with your boyfriend, and are willing to accept the consequences of being caught for this, then by all means do it!  Better to murder a nursing infant than to nurse an unacted desire – the very attempt to hide yourself, to lie to the world and your own soul is so much more deeply damaging!

I am the conundrum I suppose – the guy who got thrown out but chose to stay, the black sheep who somehow has a rather good reputation with the remaining volunteers.  All I can say is be true to yourself, and if that jeopardizes your service, then perhaps you weren’t meant to be in such a restrictive, conservative organization.  Many people are not!  A full 40% of my H14 class has since returned to other lives, mostly in the US, though I know a few have gone on to other locations.  Honduras is not for everyone, the Peace Corps either, so you should feel no shame in leaving if that is your desire.  It will prove better for yourself, and for the organization too, than for you to remain unhappily and help no one!

Just one last piece of advice, and this will apply somewhat to everyone, but mainly to those who get kicked out – you are a human being, a free, intelligent, and interdependent soul.  You are not scum, you are not a tool, you are not the property of the US government, the Peace Corps, or your director.  It is easy to forget this in the training process – subservience is one of their goals in creating successful volunteers.  If you find yourself facing disciplinary action, remember all of this above all else – you don’t owe them anything!  You enter your service freely, willingly, and as a gift to them.  Never let anyone make you feel guilty for what they have given you, for your gift was far more precious.  Never let them intimidate you, make you cry, or feel worthless.  The Peace Corps does not play nice with those it has discarded, and so you should not attempt to “be the bigger person” or act reconciliatory.  Fuck that!  They owe you volunteers everything, but act as if you are their property.  Never surrender to that sort of attitude, and you will have a much healthier time in your service, and especially in leaving it.

Thanks for taking the time to read this ramble – if you found it useful, pass it along, and if you have any more questions, I’ll happily answer what I can, or pass you along to those who will.  You can and probably will have an amazing time in the Corps, my experience was an outlier and an unfortunate one at that, so please – enter this commitment free, open, and ready for anything.  I just can’t let anyone go off without knowing the darker possibilities!  Have the best of times, and keep in touch – I wish you only the best.  Mucha suerte, contestame pronto!

Ciao -k

PS: here is the longer version of how I got kicked out of the Peace Corps

You’re wrong.

February 2, 2010

You’re wrong.

You don’t know anything.

You can’t.

Nobody does.

There is no one, not one person that has ever been born of this earth, that has the perspective, knowledge, and experience to make accurate judgments about the world around them.  How could you anyway?

Face it – you don’t know shit about anything.  You don’t know the texture of your lover’s skin.  You’ve never seen the true hues of her eyes.  You’ve never even seen the world as it actually is.  You perceive them a certain way – you know how each of these things is to yourself, but you have never seen the truth.  If you did, you’d think it was a lie, most likely.

It’s not your fault, it’s not anyone’s fault.  We all do it.  Not a one of us will ever be able to know.  We can only think, and act on what we think.  We have to judge, to trust, to decide.  There is no book that will give you the answers, there is no old guru that can lead you down the true path, especially not those who claim to have the answers. These things can help, can give you snippets and disorganized bits, but in the end you have nothing more than yourself, your wits, knowledge, experiences, and morals to guide you.  Somehow, you have to navigate this whole world, with all it’s swirling confusion, injustice, unanswerables, and find your own  route.

Fucked up, isn’t it?

Don’t feel bad though – it’s not like you’re the first one to have to do this.  Nobody in human history has ever had those things; no king, emperor, pharaoh, garbage man, drug addled homeless bum, or sex worker has!  Truth is, they have exactly what you do, which is nothing but the means, ability, and responsibility to live in any fashion you choose.  Take it as a challenge, recoil in dispair, or ignore it and keep trusting those people who tell you what’s best for you – after all, they must have a better answer than you do, right?

Wrong.

Petr

February 1, 2010

So January was fantastic, and February is turning out reluctantly like total shit.  Things do that sometimes, so be it.

What I do want to do is start posting more often.  I write a lot, but post nearly none of it – just the big stories, or bulk diary entries ever make it in here, really.  The day to day stuff, the funny anecdotes, the people I meet, those get lost in the shuffle, and so I’m going to make more of a concerted effort to show off that side of things.

An example:  The last 3 days there has been this Swedish guy living in my dorm room, Petr is his name I think.  He’s absolutely crazy, in that sort of “this guy is  the stereotypical crazy fucking Swedish guy” way.  I don’t know if anyone really understands that.  Look – there’s a certain sort of image that you get of traveling Swedes.  Most of them are normal, if outrageously blonde, backpackers, all unusually pretty, mostly very well educated and mannered.  Then there are the few, the proud, the Petrs of the world, and these guys are just plain fun, like a roman candle fight or doing drugs – immensely destructive, but a hell of a ride.

Petr shows up Friday night right as a group of us are going out  to get dinner, and we invite him along out of camaraderie.  Nobody enjoys eating alone all that often, and he was brand new in town, so off we all go.  Over the table he’s telling wild stories – sex with models, all the women he’s met in Colombia, the drugs, the wild parties – you kind of get used to this stuff on the road, but there’s a certain line – the bullshit Maginot – the third rail of conversation – where if you touch it, you’re dead.  You’re a liar and nobody wants to hear it any more.  Petr came pretty damn close, but out of humor and politeness, nobody was going to call him on it.  Plus, they were funny stories.

Still, later that night I’m looking for ways to avoid thinking about my recent past, and Petr is the only other person who wants to go out.  Well, might as well be him and I as opposed to just me, right?  Kinda hurts my chances of meeting women if I bring my own 6’2″ blonde supermodel around, but from the sound of things, that is much more his sort of party.  I just want to have a few drinks, dance if I care to, and force a smile on my face.

Instead, we get shitfaced.  I’m talking shots in the hostel, drunk before the taxi.  “Forgetting the name of the bar you wanted to go to” drunk.  It’s economical, but not what I was planning for the night!  Better, as soon as we find a nightclub, Petr is walking around openly asking for cocaine, bumming cigarettes off strangers, talking to everyone about anything, and flirting with the entire world at once.  He’s talking to people’s girlfriends in front of them, making dangerously good friends with some drug-dealer looking types, and generally attracting way too much attention for how conspicuous we both are.  This is going to be great, so I just grab a table and a beer and start watching the fireworks.

I was wrong – dead wrong.  This guy, instead of getting his face punched in, makes friends with everyone.  Someone not only gives him coke, but refuses to take his money.  The hot bartender is giving him drinks on the sly.  The “silicon valley” girls are all over him, and generally the new money crowd is loving him.  You’d think he was being smooth and social, instead of overly drunk and dancing alone!   I just stare, and try to find some lesson in the madness.

By 4am, when I give in to the urge to pass out facedown into my small table, he’s the most popular guy in town.  A model for the local beer company is all over him in a corner somewhere, and neither he or I have been able to pay for anything all night.  I haven’t learned anything, except that this guy could probably pull his cock out and slap someone across the face with it, then make best friends with them 2 1/2 minutes later.  He’s a phenomenon.  I grab my jacket, say my goodbye, and barely make it home without falling asleep.

I don’t see Petr until 10pm the next night, and I’ve just about given into fantasies about commandeering his fancy laptop if he ended up dead when suddenly he appears in the doorway in his clothes from the night before, and pitches facefirst into bed.  “Oh man, you shouldn’t have left!  Where did you go last night?  Did you sleep?  Should have had the coke man.  I took that girl to a hotel in the morning.  You know, to fuck.  Then we went to her mom’s house and she cooked me breakfast.  The mom!  Crazy man.  Then this girl and her friend and I went to a pool on top of a hotel somewhere.  I don’t know where, far from here.  Anyway, they live together in Bogota, and I’m going to go visit them.  They told me they both want to have sex with me at the same time.  Such nasty girls here man!”  A few minutes later he was snoring, after burning all my phone credits texting.

The next day is more of the same, with Petr out all day, coming home looking disheveled with more wild stories and insane adventures.  He invited me out, but I felt lousy and heartbroken and said no, only to regret it as soon as he left.  We didn’t see each other again.  Today, I found his bed empty, bags gone, just some money for the phone and a note that said “should have come”

I really should have.  Probably would have been the time of my life.

Madrugada Rambles

February 1, 2010

I can’t sleep any more.

It’s because I don’t know what I’m doing. This shouldn’t bother me so much – I rarely know what I’m doing.  I’ve spent nearly a year flying by the seat of my pants, doing whatever seemed right in the moment, just living day to day as I saw fit.

It was wonderful.  Truly fantastic, if I am to be honest with myself.  Finally, in the unknowing, in the not planning, I had found a life that made me truly content, happy in the most basic way.
And now that’s over.

It wasn’t my choice – it wasn’t anybody’s choice.  Things just change, ebb and flow, with time.  The universe just does this, and it isn’t our place to whine or bitch about it.  Life back home, the life I left behind, abandoned like a prom night baby, walked out on and never looked back; that life caught up to me again.

Debt was a big part of it.  Family drama is a much bigger one.  People I love need help, and I can perhaps give it.  I might be a freer spirit, a selfish prick living a life based on doing on what makes one feel content and fulfilled, but what sort of complete shithead would I be to walk away from family?

Don’t answer that – I really don’t want to think about it right now.

There here it is, all of these thoughts – am I ready yet? – where will I go? – can I even work in the US? – won’t I just get trapped? – how the fuck will I even eat? – can I, this me, be happy there in that past me’s life? – all this shit, nonsense, worry, pain just rattling around in my head, and I’ve lost my coping mechanisms.

It was easy to quit smoking when I had sex on a regular basis.

All the little things that I take particular joy out of in this life, like singing into the wind in the back of a speeding pickup truck, running into the ocean with my pants on just to float out in the waves, spending an entire day walking circles aimlessly around a bustling city, making lifelong friends over coffee on a small couch, then saying goodbye forever – those sort of things didn’t happen before.  Those sort of things don’t happen in a place where the magic is dead.  Where is the place for someone like me in such a hard, rude, fast place as the US?  People who write poetry and sit around all morning watching the clouds pass by aren’t exactly in high demand.  Where is the productivity, the value, in any of the things I enjoy doing?  What if I just don’t want to become another wake-eat-work-shit-sleep automaton, desperately throwing myself into hobbies, activities, to pretend that I have some sort of meaning in my life?  Where’s the fucking place for that, huh?

Nowhere.  There is no place for that sort of bullshit.

Not in fast-food, fast-cars, fast-forward, faster-than-last-week, can’t-get-fast-enough modern society.  There’s no slowing down there – just full speed ahead until you shatter into a million pieces on the bricks, and everyone says fake shit and sheds crocodile tears over your corpse.  There’s nothing for me when I go back.  Not when I’ve sworn off the advantages of a self-destructive society.  I don’t want what it has to offer – the exact opposite is what I’ve found happiness in.

Is it possible to do what I need to, but also what I need too?

I’m being  a brat about it, honestly.  Just sitting, self-pitying, being a rock.  Me, the guy who tells every tourist, traveler, vagabond in their final days before returning to jail “go 110%, right into the final seconds, so that instead of sitting on that plane regretting the things you didn’t do, you’re that smelly, exhausted-looking guy all the other passengers whisper and point about, but secretly envy.  Live so hard, and so well, that you burn it all up in what you enjoy.  Have the best damn time you can while you can, before you’re stuck back home.”  I truly believe that, and yet I’m just loafing, lying around and wasting myself away.

Why can I give such good advice and then refute it in my actions?

It’s just – well – honestly, I didn’t see this end  coming so abruptly.  Whereas most people have a set date to leave, I haven’t had to plan anything, have deliberately avoided planning anything, since last February.  I tried to a few times, sure, but whenever you plan, you end up doing exactly what you planned to.  There’s no mystery, no adventure, no intrigue or desire or despair, pain, spontaneity, laughter, love, or authenticity to it.  You just do a list of shit, check the boxes and move on – it’s like having sex with your hand, or watching a movie.  There’s the barest outline of what you really want, but the reality, the truth, isn’t there at all.  I just got tired of fooling myself, and vowed no more plans.  Until now, that’s never been an issue.

Everything changes.

Now I need to plan something, or I’ll just be fucked completely whenever I get home.  I need a job, a life, money, an escape route, and above all, I need to be really goddamned sure that I don’t get stuck in that country any longer than absolutely necessary.   And I’ve forgotten how to even do!  What, do I make a list or something?  Should I start brainstorming, strategizing?  The most important decisions I’ve made in months have been decided by coin tosses, bets, sealed with kisses or handshakes.  Job hunting means walking door to door asking if people have work.  A resume?  That’s an insult to even ask for!  Just let me work for you, and if I’m not good enough, throw me out on my head!  What sort of fucked up system decided a contract was needed for that?

I’m used to a better life, that’s the real problem.

Make no mistake, life is better down here.  Simpler, poorer, rougher, harder, but better nonetheless.  It comes to a few things, I think.  People know each other, for starters.  They know their neighbors, who is fucking who, which dog belongs to whoever, when the neighbor’s  kid is going to have her baby, who was kissing in the park last night.  They talk, they keep up on the local goings-on, and they don’t isolate themselves from reality.  In the US, I lived years without knowing the first or last names of people who lived 20, 30, 50 feet away.  No idea who they were at all.  I’m certainly not the only one.  People know each other, and it shows in every interaction.  Further, they trust each other.  I was in a bakery today, buying a sandwich, and everything was on display right next to the door.  Not behind any doors, not covered by cameras or sensor tags, just loaves of bread, rolls, buns of any sort, sitting right next to the big fuckoff roll-up doors.

Bear in mind, this is a city of over 1 million people.  We’re not out in the countryside here.  Any asshole thief could walk right in and load up on free food, and probably even the cash register, since the employees were nowhere near it except when people were paying.  No, not here.  People don’t steal from their neighbors – not from people they know and care about.  And even if they don’t, it’s just not done!  Better to give people something, any day.  I could go for days, but let’s just concentrate on this for now – they have community here.  They have pride in their surroundings, know their fellow humans, respect each other.  You don’t see people stealing cabs, making old folks stand on buses, pregnant women lift ANYTHING.  They see the other humans around them, and live as if everyone mattered.

Try finding that at home.

I don’t know what to do, what I can do, but I do know that I will be just about the worst American in a while.  I’m giving away everything when I get back – everything I  can live without.  Considering I’ve been living from a backpack for a year, it won’t be a small pile.  I’ve been an ignorant, materialist, self-centered pig most my life, and it took this whole other life to realize it.  I can live just fine off of rice, beans, bread, and eggs.  I don’t need fancy designer pants.  I don’t need more then 3 pairs of any pants, really.  I don’t need heaps of things.  Really, all I need are friends, love, adventure, and the very basics of human comfort.  It’s not a tall order – the trick will be remembering it in the mindfuck and bustle of the corporatist world.  I guess I’ll just have to see how well I can hold onto my self and my values in the belly of the beast.

Keep smiling, and never let the bastards keep you down.

I’m going to bed. -k

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