My Two Lives

August 5, 2010

At the base of it, my problem lies in the mutual incompatibility of my nomadic and sedentary selves. They live different lives, have separate dreams and goals. They have never met, and never will, for one must die if the other is to live fully.

A wandering adventurer can’t have the house, wife, family, stability that society deems necessary to be a normal human being. Already I see my friends couple off, marry, settle down, and work themselves into careers and the associated chains. How on earth could I hope to go off and be a nomad with a wife, child, mortgage, car, dog, cat, garden, house to maintain? There is no way to be that person and still have those things, yet if I commit to that, commit to never being stable, I’m also resigning myself to a life where I will never be understood or accepted by my friends and family. I’m already an outlier, simply for having left. I’m already a weird guy for being alone and happy with it, for having no corporate career ambition and never buying things. It’s unacceptable to bring up my empathy for bums, downright uncouth to dare question whether our society really has the correct path to happiness nailed down, and yet the nomad does all this, and so much more, simply by his existence!

At 24 I am strange and not understood, but that is alright because in the minds of my peers I have not yet found my place (by which they invariably mean their own place) in this strange and wonderful world (by which they mean lower-middle class America.) If I continue this same path, continue to wander at 25, 26, 30, 74, then I will slip past weird to a waste, to a lazy mooch, to a hopeless case who never could quite live up to his potential. “Look at K,” they will say, “such a strong start, such a beautiful life he had ahead of him, and now look how he’s gone and cocked things up. Such a shame… His poor parents.” They will say this and think far worse, because the sedentary mind cannot comprehend her nomadic brother – cannot indeed hope to grasp the edges of what makes the life in motion worth living.

Our lifestyles breed certain blind spots into our thinking, and the chaos, movement, unknown that envelop the wanderer are incomprehensible to those brought up to be steady and stationary. One fears the same things that the other craves and chases after! At a young age, or with an open mind, it is possible to see across the void and perhaps understand part of what endears such a wild life, but the simple truth is that all of us will grow old and most of us will never develop the mental ability to see another’s life from within her shoes. Certainly we are not taught to do so here! No, any student of the American school comes out thinking that her view is shared by all truly good and honest people, and that any who derive from this view are deficient in some way, else they would live and think as she does. Thus as I age, with my friends and family doing the same at their own paces, more and more of my social group will lock themselves into the sedentary life, and I will be pushed further outside of their lives until we no longer have the overlaps called friendship. As a nomad, I will lose the comfortable connections with friends and family – it is inevitable, I see it already all around me. The links are strained now, and one day they will snap – there is no forever in human ties, no matter what the romantic comedies or boys who want to get into your pants will tell you.

This is perhaps the most painful realization of the wanderer – impermanence surrounds all that we do, indeed becomes who we are. A ghost slips into town, makes friends, carves out a niche for a short while, is interesting and attractive, funny, a great addition to the universes of those whom he touches. Then he tells one fantastic story too many, and the doubts slip in. Who is this guy? Why is he lying to us? What is he hiding? The doubt turns fear turns distrust and resentment. The happy audience begins to heckle, and the wanderer brushes them off. Resentment becomes anger – who the fuck does that guy think he is? That cute girl has been around here for weeks, – we’re all lusting after her – what gives him the right to just walk up and start joking with her? He’s full of shit; has to be. Then something happens – some small encounter, brief-lived evidence that the wanderer was telling the truth in at least some small way, brings the crowd back around. Anger fades back into grudging admiration – what a life this guy must have lived! “What lives,” the wanderer corrects, “there have been a lot of them.” Nobody gets that, except those who already have lived a handful themselves. Life goes on, and then one day the wanderer is gone and nobody can quite remember what he was doing there anyway.

All things are fleeting dreams – the rush to cast them into permanence – to marry love, to photograph a beautiful moment, to write out thoughts and feelings, hopes and dreams – these all create mere shadows of the existence they hope to capture pristine. No marriage can hold the intensity of falling in love for the first time. No photograph holds more than an image of what was once brilliant, dizzying reality. Words on a page are poor substitute for words spoken, burning kisses, wild actions. Who can ever describe a breeze well enough to negate the need to feel one on your tear-stained cheeks? No one can. There is no permanence, no stability in the universe save everpresent chaos. The nomad embraces this as best he can, but what a bitter pill to swallow! The times I have wanted to stop, to rest a while and build a life for myself are cut forever short by the burning desire to move ever onward, upward; to fill my glass with every beautiful experience I can fit into these despicably short years of my life. One day all we will have left are our memories, and even those are faulty. Far better to let them fly, to cease efforts to hold them to my breast, and simply try to live each present moment as best I can.

I am happy as a nomad – I feel fulfilled because I am not looking for meaning or fulfillment, I have purpose because I do not seek any. There is no existence I have ever found more rewarding, more pleasurable, more healthy and spiritual than that of the wandering soul. Certainly I could be happy in this.

And yet… for this beautiful life there is much that I must lose. The price of being forever able to go, do, be whatever I desire is one that most people would never dream of paying. First there are the friends and family, as I mentioned before – different worlds, separate realities create such a rift as cannot be crossed in the old ways. There is the lack of ownership – the nomad is forever touching upon the world, never standing still, always bouncing along to the next adventure. Societal expectations – designed to keep people from acting out in the first instance – are strong forces on all of us, but the wanderer cannot keep a house, a household, a steady life without failing to be a wanderer at all. Instead, the nomad becomes an outsider to those whom he once called brother, even as he realizes that all are his brothers and sisters. Perceptions are strong, and the wanderer will be perceived as a threat, a nuisance, an ugly blemish on an otherwise unchallenging world view. If I choose to wander, I will lose those close to me – we might still see each other, call one another friend, spend good times together even, but there will never be the same dynamic as before.

How could there? With new experience, with new worlds and languages and peoples invariably comes change, and the biggest changes are in the nomad himself. How could it not be? He runs headfirst into the maelstrom of competing ideas, and some at least will pierce his skin. Others will penetrate deep, change him at the very core of his being. He will experience crippling poverty, unbelievable wealth, systems of government bad and good, religions of all stripes, beliefs completely foreign and uncomfortable – great beauty, ignorance, hate, love, peace, environs so hospitable and unforgiving that his mind will buckle at times. His world will be transformed – not once – but over and again, constantly. The nomad drinks deep of the well of life, and such experience leaves nothing unscathed. How then can such a man re-enter his old life and fit there in the same way as before? I have found it to be quite impossible, that a certain level of pretending and play-acting are necessary simply to survive in this old life.

Now, this is not to say that people kept in the same environments throughout their lives do not also change as well. Certainly changing location does not hold a monopoly over inner development. Society, stable as it is, still permits some disaster and fortune to affect those who live within it. Still, the concentration of change, the timespan upon which one is affected by her changing world is greatly compressed for the wanderer, while stretched quite long for her stationary sister. Take two twins, raised in the same family, in the same city. To a certain point their lives are very similar, but there is one day a split, and they go different directions. One of them continues on with her life, falls in love, is married, graduates college, gets a comfortable job with good benefits, and has a child. The other, in the same time period, drops out of school after catching her fiancé with another woman, hitchhikes the country, works at a dive bar using her body to push drinks unto drunk men, has a number of sexual partners, saves up for a plane ticket, and spends several years living across Eastern Europe, learning languages, making friends different than herself, and finally returns home to her family due to emergency.

Which sister will be the strange one? Which sister will not fit into the same old family mold? Which twin will be the one who works well within the framework of American society, and which will chafe and long to leave? There are several points to be made here – neither sister is “normal” – there simply exists one who found her path by doing what she was raised to believe desirable, and another who had that world come crashing down on her head and had to rebuild by her own rules. The traveling sister will never fit into her old life, but there is no guarantee that the sedentary one will either – how many of us truly stay with the same friends our entire lives? I count myself fortunate simply to have those few friends who do stay true, as who we befriend is a factor of who we are and what we do in a given instance – to find people who truly speak to your soul regardless of circumstance is a rare gift indeed!

With our twin sisters, we will soon find that there is no way to measure who has done right or wrong in life without relying on our own subjective views. There is nothing that allows us to authoritatively say one or the other has done “better” unless we set some sort of strict parameters as to what it means to succeed in life, and even then we run into random chance, to decisions made, to promises left unfilled. If the sister with the kid and career had spent her life prior to having a child dreaming of traveling the world for the rest of her days, can we judge her to have failed? What if the traveling sister has the five most beautiful, wonder-filled years of her life, then dies in a freak accident? There are so many questions precisely because we cannot judge people’s lives except based on the fulfillment and happiness they feel with themselves. As much as I might think you have done things wrong (by which I really mean not as I desired to see them) I am not you, I am not able to judge. Yet chances are good that I will regardless, and that I will make some decision that I pretend is objective, and then I will spread my good or bad opinion of your life among anyone I feel necessary to tell.

In this world of reality TV and virtual social networks we have lost our ability to tell the objective and verifiable from mere opinion, and we must accept that committing to live any life outside of mainstream culture will be viewed as inferior to adherents of that culture. Within America, with American blinders and prejudices, taught history and ethics from an American perspective, alternative lifestyles are incomprehensible – I assure you that once outside our world and into theirs, the behavior of just about anyone makes a hell of a lot more sense. Still, I cannot convert the world to my way of life, and indeed I have no desire to do so – if we were all nomads there would not be so many worlds for me to explore! I merely wish to illustrate the proposition I put forth here:

In order to be a nomad, one must commit to losing oneself, and all that is attached to that self. If we attempt to hold onto anything that we feel defines us then we let it do exactly that, and in doing so jeopardize ever finding who we truly are – we destroy our ability to become all of the people we will one day be. Likewise, if we wish to live the life stationary, we cannot be nomads, for we accumulate possessions and baggage that slowly begin to define us, and eventually become us. The nomad and the stationary man are matter and anti-matter – they cannot come into contact, cannot exist in the same body. One will have to win out, leaving the other destroyed.

In my case, I have the growing suspicion that the battle has already been fought, and the nomad has won out. I say this because the sacrifices I made while wandering – cold water, lack of privacy, the constant feeling of being an outsider, etc – all seemed quite tolerable, while the ones I now face in trying to be a stable, responsible, “normal” being grate on me daily, drive me mad an inch at a time, and all of my free time is consumed by thoughts of escape, adventure, and further wandering. I dream of learning six languages, of climbing tall mountains, of seeing every continent stretch out before me. I do not dream of marriage, of career success, or of raising a family of kids with the love of my life. That, to me, is what best speaks as to where my future lies.

And yet… there are those days; when I see a good friendship blossoming, when all the things in my life are going right for a day, when a beautiful woman and I talk of parallel dreams; those days I find myself wonder “what if?” Then the feelings pass and I’m left alone again and let’s face it honestly – if my life here was one that I desired to live, the pressures to stay would be a whole hell of a lot stronger.

The fight between selves will continue for a while yet. In the meanwhile, does anyone know a good Arabic tutor?

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Junk in My Trunk

August 5, 2010

I was standing on the side of the road just now, changing into my work pants, and I got hung up digging around in the trunk of my car for a quart of oil. The car burns a lot now, 2 quarts or so every oil change, because she’s an old girl and apparently old girls leak a lot – it’s certainly true of the dog anyway.

Still, what caught up to me finally was the realization that I have entirely too much shit in my car. Way too much shit – enough shit to build a house almost. Therefore, I am making a list of all the too much shit I have in my car – here goes:

The interior is clean(ish) because I throw everything into the trunk. Nonetheless, I still manage to carry around a glovebox full of papers and notebooks, old receipts, the near-useless owner’s manual, some melted chapstick, the case to my glasses, a pile of pens, and god only knows what else. I don’t go in here because it’s scary. Under the seats I’ve shoved one of those dusting brushes I never use, a half-dozen copies of my resume, a Thomas Bros guide from 8 or 6 years ago, and some old french fries, which still look brand new but are hard enough to be weaponized. Oh, and there’s a remote for the stereo floating around somewhere, because everyone needs a remote for the things within arms’ reach, right? I used to have a lot of change in here too, but yesterday I went to the bank and turned that into about $16 – at least part of the whole mess paid off.

The trunk is undeniably “where it’s at” in the world of my having too many things – from all of my work clothes, aprons, and dirty laundry to the three towels and the pile of clothes I still haven’t donated to anyone yet, it’s getting rather full these days. There’s also a lot of tools – 2 crates of assorted rags, jumper cables, brake cleaner, a dozen pairs of vice grips and wrenches, a dashboard cover I will never use, carpet spot remover (as a joke apparently) carburetor cleaner for my fuel-injected engine, a volt meter with no screen or batteries, a lot of duct tape, an extendable magnet for the car parts I love to drop into corners of the engine compartment, an oil filter, an air filter, several quarts of various sorts of motor oil, and probably a lot more that I’m done digging for. Next to those boxes is a gigantic funnel I’ve never used that serves the purpose of keeping the 100 piece socket set from sliding around too much – by jamming the funnel between the rock climbing shoes and the running ones, it props the socket box against the back of the rear seat and anchors it from slamming into things while I’m playing speed racer. To the other side is the gigantic towel that never dries and is covered in surf wax, and under that are the shoes I haven’t worn since high school ceramics – they’re really comfortable though! I also have three shopping bags of clothes I will never wear again because they’re terrible, but which I apparently won’t donate either because I haven’t gotten around to it. There’s some dirty socks floating around, 3 work shirts, two pairs of black dress pants, a couple of aprons, a lot of pens, a handful of change, and probably some sort of flesh-eating virus or a gerbil underneath it all. Oh, and let’s not forget the baseball caps (CBG and Census both) which I have not and will not find any need for ever. Not last but also not least, I have the Census office manual that I found in the back, 400 pages of who gives a fuck, which made me laugh and inspired this list.

Here’s the real question – how much better would my mileage be if I didn’t carry an extra person’s weight in crap in the car everywhere I go?

Thinking

August 5, 2010

I wrote this a while back, after meeting back up with my good friend Matt when both of us had tried and failed the west coast thing.  It’s not happy – my writing rarely is – but I do like the sentiments expressed.

Thinking – truly thinking, pontificating, expounding, whatever – is a bit more difficult than it sounds. There are so many mental blocks to deep thought, so many distractions, annoyances, small needs that interfere with the process. Bodily functions take charge over the questions of existence – what a pity.

Even more, there are the man-made interruptions, the ringing phone, the neighbor’s music, the little chirp of iPhone yelling “pay attention damn it!” – there are thousands of these little pests, gnatting around and stinging wherever we lie unprotected. Still, it’s possible to post up in a hammock outside or a tree, turn off the devices of fake-world importance, and just think for a while, and that’s what I intend to do today.

I don’t have work for once – I asked for it off so that I could say goodbye to a traveling friend and not have to be in bed early. We went down to San Diego, hung out at bars and the beach, met some Irish girls and a South African singer, and watched open mic night. It was bittersweet, I don’t know where Matt and I will ever cross paths again, and though our shared history is timeline-short, it is simultaneously experience and memory-long – we are the sort of friends that can only come into being by shared adventure. We hugged goodbye in the middle of the street in Pacific Beach, and that was the end of that.

Something he said last night got under my skin though, enough so that all the drinks and dreaming couldn’t pull it out. We were talking about Los Angeles; her vast shallows of wannabe stars pretending to be the characters they want to play, when Matt turned to me and without pretense let this one fly – “They’re a bunch of liars – that’s what separates them from you and I. They pretend to be like us because it serves some purpose. We just wander because that’s who we are.”

It’s just who we are – hopeless romantics, drifting souls, forever on the road even when we’re standing still. We work best in transit, moving from place to space to state to mood. To remain stationary is to stagnate, to fall apart really. Yet here I am, same place, same space, as I was 3 months ago when I abandoned the road and got immobile. What has happened to this traveling soul?

To start, I’m much less poor (though still overall in the red) – after taxes I make some $600 a week, an enormous, ridiculous sum to me. I was marveling earlier over how I can pull money out of any ATM and it isn’t just a withdrawal against a credit card I can’t afford to pay. In practice, I never actually can do this because all of the money I have is tied up in paying off the bills from when I was just running up oweance, but hey, it’s nice to see the pile of debts subsiding a bit.

The cost I pay in order to pay off my bills is paid in time, energy, and sanity. I work one of my nightmare jobs – 48 hours a week, 4am to 12:30pm Monday through Saturday, overtime near-mandatory some days, business dress, doing motherfucking data entry. Here’s a brilliant idea – let’s take a world traveler, a hitchhiking adventurer, and shove him into a climate-controlled closet. Then we’ll pile on near-completely useless work, the sort that sandpapers heart and soul – just heap it on him. Nothing he does should make any damn bit of difference to anyone, and hopefully what little good he does is so diluted by layers on management, middle-management, upper-management, mid-upper-low-management, and the like that even should he strive to work hard and do better than asked it will never be acknowledged by anyone. Now surround him with an office-load of people so different from him that they might as well be another species – busywork junkies – shake well, and observe.

I struggle to stay motivated.

I struggle to get out of bed most days, as the phone alarm chirps “Wake up motherfucker, it’s time to go do that thing you hate!” and the warmth of bed is countered by formal pants and shirts I wouldn’t be caught dead in anywhere else. The human body isn’t supposed to get up and go sit in a chair for 8-12 hours a day, hidden from the sun, forbidden to pull the blinds or open a window. Instead I stare at a light bulb, sorting, scanning, keying in documents as if it made one iota of difference to anyone, anywhere, ever. “$12.50 an hour,” I think to myself, “$100 a day, a bit more if I work overtime. That’s $600 a week, give or take, and at this rate I should be out of debt in about…” (Scribbling on the notepad, carry the 7…) “8 months.”

Fuck my life.

No, wait, scratch that – I can’t even say fuck my life because this isn’t living at all. It’s dying slowly, the essence of what I absolutely do NOT want to do with my life, what I criticize in others, what I swore I would under no circumstances do once I got back home. Yet here I am, the hypocrite, the critic of the self-serving, circular, pointless existence whenever I see it, living exactly as I tell others not to.
The worst part is that I don’t really see an out. I’m not free until I don’t owe money. I can’t stop owing money until I earn enough to pay off my creditors. I can’t do that until I work some job long enough to earn the money to pay off my creditors. The economy sucks, so I’m competing in every instance against more qualified candidates – it took a month solid of job searching just to find the one I have now! Frankly, I don’t think there is a way out of this without refusing to play and just leaving, which, you guessed it, costs money.

When did we sign away our lives like this? Isn’t there some way to live without doing the things I hate day in and day out? It’s not like I’m gaining some vast convenience and reward for my labors – I can’t do the things I really want to, won’t any time soon, and even then I’m just gaining some small measure of temporary freedom in exchange for the vast skull-fuck of debt that ensues whenever I return. When you can’t even leave without owing them in the end, you’re not free and never will be. The money, and the need for it, isn’t going away. I can cut my consumption (not much more than food, water, oil, shelter at this point) a bit more, but the truth of the matter is that I’ll always need to pay for my existence just like everyone else. How I come about the means to do so – that’s where I still have some freedom.

It comes down to this – I need something, some job, some source of income, that doesn’t make me feel like a rat on a wheel every moment. They do exist, I’m certain, as I’ve found a few from time to time. Still, I’m complicating things because I want my job to support me, not the other way round. I’m sick of this notion of work being the central focus of one’s life! Jobs don’t define you any more than do hairstyles, and since we’re not forced into styling our hair that probably defines you more than a job you need in order to survive. I want to be mobile – I need to travel, to move, to explore and expand my universe – any job needs to take that into account. As is, the only times I get to branch out are when I take off after work one day, spend my day off doing something interesting, then skip a night’s sleep to get back to work again. It’s like committing mental suicide, inch by inch, as my brain turns to mush at work, gets abused on my free time, then rewarded by sleepless nights on the way back to square one!

It’s not sustainable, in any sense of the word – not the temporary job nor the extremely wasteful office (we burn reams of paper, piles of money, and shittons of electricity every day) nor even the attitudes involved – there’s nothing noble, nothing gained in swallowing your desires and loves before diving headfirst into a job that kills you slowly. All of it is just a measure of the weakness of your passions, and the strength of your self-delusion. It will come out, either an anger-quit after a bad day or a mid-life suicide or a late-life stress induced cancer, or perhaps in the very end, as your life fades and you realize you’ve succeeded in denying yourself everything that truly mattered in life, and now you’re alone and a failure.

There is no life when you deny yourself everything important to you – it matters not if your ideal life is far from the mainstream, well outside the “normal” of fake society. If you aren’t doing what makes you happy, fulfills you, propels you into tomorrow, then you are wasting your life, and that is the greatest crime. I know this because I’m doing exactly that, and once I was doing exactly what I wanted. The difference is immense, gigantic beyond words – it is all that truly matters to be happy, and yet I am not doing that. I am actively working against my aims, submitting inch by hard-fought inch into a life that is so pointless, so empty, so stupid and destructive that I question continuing every day. Why do I spend my precious life supporting a society I am fundamentally at odds with?!

I don’t have an answer for that. Perhaps I am simply too stubborn to die, too angry, too determined to be validated by the universe. Perhaps I still hope that I can find my answers, and know that to give up searching is the only thing I cannot do. I know what I need, what I want, what I cannot live without, but I do not know how to get it. That is, at the most basic level, what I lack – not motive, not drive, not goal, but connection between here and there – the ligaments and connective tissues of my life aren’t holding, and I don’t know what my next step is.

I can’t stop wandering – if I am certain of anything it is this. San Diego is mild, pretty, warm, full of beautiful people and wonderful weather. I will always love to visit. I cannot stand to live here any longer. Everyone I loved before I began wandering plans to stay in this part of the world, and I know that I am forever anchored by memory, by family, by love and friendship, to this place. I just wish that I could enjoy it more. Perhaps the secret is just to stay mobile enough that I can enjoy every visit without feeling trapped into the hyper-expensive, shallow, vapid, overtly and covertly elitist, racist, prejudiced society of southern California. I won’t miss this place when I go – only the people here who make it worth staying in.

God I need to hit the open road soon. Another few months and I think I’ll really go nuts. That’s the problem with thinking – it takes you places you’re actively trying to avoid. Maybe that’s why most people don’t do it.

Robert Frost Can Suck It

August 5, 2010

A rock and a hard place – the concept’s not hard

A life that I love, but can’t live with the girl.

A girl that I’d die for who won’t live on the run.

Loving them both, but I only get one.

What choice is there really

when you’re unhappy either way?

Forever chase my dreamed life

or be loved and live longing.

Untouched skylines, unseen worlds.

A love I’ve dreamed of all my life.

There’s two roads here, and I want both –

Robert Frost can suck it.

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