Dear friends,

 

Happy New Year, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and holidays to you! I hope you are in good health, warm company, and fine spirits as this letter reaches you – if so, you’ve beaten the odds; and if not, I hope this helps.

 

I am well enough; certainly in good health and in the loving company of my family, though as for spirits, I must confess those dive and soar as the waves of life roll past. I know that I haven’t written you in quite some time – I can say this safely because I haven’t written anyone in quite some time: it just hasn’t been a part of my life lately. Nonetheless, there is a certain tradition to the end of each year; a sense of finality and closure, and I’d like to do my bit to convey some of the fading wonder of my 2010 to you.

 

This time last year, I was in Nicaragua – a lovely country with wonderful, but far from home and family. I spent my Christmas with a handful of travelers and expatriates on a remote beach on the Pacific shore, throwing rocks into the ocean out of cell phone range, as far from the modern world as I could manage. For New Years I got disgustingly drunk with people I barely knew, making a complete ass of myself in front of a girl I had been trying to impress, and ended up burning a long list of everything I wished to remove from my life in a bonfire – I distinctly remember both “my ties to the country I was born in” and “the baggage of my past” being on that sheet of paper. Judging from my present position, that worked out amazingly well, and I’ve had no further problems in that area.

 

After the New Year, I hitched rides down to the capital of Nicaragua, rode buses to Panama City, and spent entirely too much time at border crossings in an attempt to meet up with a good friend and ride the same plane as him down to Colombia. Being as he had all the details on where we were going, it was only fitting I never saw him. Instead, I got into a late-night argument with a fabulous girl from New York, and we ended up traveling together and dating. (Let that be a lesson to everyone – if she opens the conversation with “Oh my God, are you still on your fucking phone?!” she is a keeper.)

 

Anyway, Natalie and I had a wonderful time, and after I convinced her to blow off her trip to Peru, we did a tour of some of the more beautiful parts of one of the more ridiculously beautiful countries on the planet. Seriously – find someone who has been to Colombia who will dispute the awesomeness of this country, and you’ve found a complete curmudgeon – congrats. America has Natalie largely to thank for rehabilitating her image in my mind: I guess I figured that if someone as great as her could come out of the country, then it couldn’t be all terrible. She and I spent about 3, 3 ½ weeks together, and then out of nowhere she was gone and I was alone again. Following a terribly overwrought airport goodbye scene and a crazy cokehead-driven bus ride north, what else was there for me to do except check into a mountaintop paragliding school for the next month?

 

I almost died there – not a joke at all – I’m a bad paraglider. I ended up in the bushes a few times, draped a glider over some power lines, and on my very last flight crashed into a tree and fell 40-50 feet to the ground. It’s no small miracle that I’m still here to tell this story. Still, it was a legendary experience, and nothing I’ve ever done before or since can directly compare. At the end of February, I said my goodbyes, packed my bags, and the very next morning took off to the airport. There I undertook one of the weirdest transitions in my life – torrential rain delay, 12 or 15 hours of flights (Colombian Airlines are great by-the-by) and then straight into “Snowpocalypse” – a huge blizzard with sub-zero temperatures. Did I mention I flew to NYC to visit Natalie in lieu of coming home? Yeah, that happened.

 

So there I am; torn jeans, pack of smelly clothes, t-shirt with volcanoes on it, and I’ve invited myself to come live with a girl I’ve known for less time than you’ve known the guy at your local gas station. Crazy, right? Definitely – crazy is a good descriptive word for the life I was leading. I got a cab to Natalie’s apartment, showed up extremely nervous she would just see me and slam the door, and instead was treated to a fabulous time with a lovely lady. She’d even “borrowed” a coat from some guy who had left it at a bar – good thing too, or I would have died of cold for sure! As it was, I invaded her life, she took me in with striking hospitality, and we made the best of the cold and poverty. It was a great time, made better by that strange sense of transience that comes from knowing one of you is going to bail out of town at a moment’s notice – As it was, I left just before her birthday. What can I say? I am a classy man.

 

What ended up happening is that I had placed a posting on Craigslist asking if someone was headed in the general direction of Los Angeles, and would they be so kind as to take a total stranger along with them? It worked better than I could have hoped: five hours after I sent my message, I received one from a man named Matt, who just so happened to be moving to LA. I called him, he sounded exactly like I didn’t expect a serial killer to sound, and that was good enough – the only drawback was leaving Natalie earlier than I wanted to. We had this fabulous goodbye; just like a romance novel really, and then she went off to school, and I went back into to the coffee shop to wait for my ride. Here’s how good this goodbye was – a little old lady came up to me as Natalie faded into the distance and told me that she only saw people part ways like that in the movies!

 

Then Matt called to postpone our departure – he’d found another rider who wanted to pay for gas. I went back to Natalie’s place, killed some time, and managed to delay leaving just long enough to see her coming home from the subway as I went down to the subway to head into the city. It was… the opposite of a romance novel goodbye. We made out on the cold sidewalk for a bit and then I – stupidly! – headed into Manhattan and let her get away again. As it turned out, Matt was running even later, and I was too broke to do most anything. I hung out with my cousin for a bit, and spent a couple more hours casually hiding inside the Apple store drinking cough syrup to keep from freezing and reflecting on how much better my life would be if I’d just stayed at Natalie’s place. Nonetheless, as a legitimate homeless person, I felt that a certain image had to be maintained – I’m sure the real patrons appreciated it.

 

Sometime after midnight Matt and I finally met up and began driving. The other guy – forget his name – and Matt rode up front, and I passed out almost immediately among the strewn books and bags and detrius of a man’s life uprooted. By the time I woke up, we were in Ohio. Illinois? Ohio. With 3 people you can swap drivers from here til next week, and nobody really gets tired of it, so it only took us 16 or 20 hours to get to Nashville, even after detouring to drop off Adam or Steve or Jesus at his family’s home and eat their peanut butter sandwiches. I took a few pictures – the best being a “Florence Y’all” water tower in Florence, and a street sign with Church going one way and Gay the other. Also, Matt pointed out the eye of Sauron on a local high rise. Finally, we found the Music City hostel, and made ourselves at home.

 

Nashville was a treat – country music Mecca, busking musicians everywhere, country dancing, swing bands, and we happened to pull into town right as the biggest college basketball conference tournament I’ve ever personally seen rolled into the city. Every night it was dance parties, every day strange adventures and surprisingly awesome Mexican food. With the foreign travelers and artists and drifters, I felt right at home. Matt and I enjoyed it all so much that we barely made it out of town with money enough for gas!

 

Lacking funds, food, and with my randomly-imposed March 17th deadline fast approaching, we booked it across the country. If you consider the 12 or so hours we spent at the home of the always-hospitable Becky and Seth in Durant as “on pause”, then it took us just under 48 hours to drive from Nashville to Venice Beach, where Matt and I parted ways forever friends. Speaking of friends, one of my best buddies Rad drove wayyy out of his daily life to come pick me up and buy me dinner that first night, and the gratitude I felt I still feel now. A friend will give you ride, but only a true best friend will come pick you up, tell you that you stink so badly that he’s not allowing you to go to a restaurant, and then buy you pizza! I spent the night with Chad and Rad, their respective girlfriends, and the infamous Jake motherfuckin’ Wood, who I’m sure you’ve heard of. If not, you really need to get out there. They took a lovely shot of me passed out about 3-4 hours after my arrival – It was a bit of an adventure!

 

However, all adventures end, and this one came to a pretty abrupt close just as soon as I made it back home. Little aside here – by this point, I have had a quite respectable epic adventure. I’ve crossed nations, I’ve changed continents, I’ve flown, I’ve crash-landed, I’ve met a girl, fallen in love, and moved in with her, I’ve made a handful of lifetime friends, I’ve been threatened with arrest and thrown out of very nice establishments. These first 3 months of 2010 have set an incredibly high bar for the rest of the year, no? Well, as it turns out, this is where the whole mood changes, and 2010 becomes the hardest year of my life.

 

If you didn’t already know, my younger brother is Schizophrenic. He’s not only schizophrenic – it isn’t a definition – but it’s certainly something you ought to know about the guy before you meet him, because once you do meet him, you’re going to want that sort of an explanation! Otherwise, depending on his mood and medication level, he’s going to strike you as anything from “slightly eccentric” to “Holy shit.”

 

When I first saw Ken after nearly 15 months away, I wasn’t prepared. At the time, he wasn’t diagnosed, wasn’t medicated, and while my mother had sent me many emails about his declining condition and her worries about him, there just isn’t any way to prepare for something like seeing your brother after his descent into madness. He was a wreck – not at first, when he came to pick me up and drive me home, but 3 hours later, when he began vividly arguing and gesticulating with someone imaginary in the hallway, it became very clear that something was horribly wrong.

 

The whole time I was gone, I had this snapshot of my family just as I had left them. In in, we’re all happy, smiling; I’m trying to shove the dog’s head in my mouth – we’re a normal, happy, family even if Dad takes blood pressure pills and Kyle had seizures as a kid. All of a sudden, we weren’t normal. That snapshot was bullshit. I had just been fooling myself all along. I walked into my family home and it was like a whole other family had inhabited the bodies of my parents and brothers. They were automatons going through the motions and each individually seeking to escape the terrible situation thrust upon them, and to come into that as I did, hopeful, ecstatic, energized to take on the world and beat it – well, it took the life right out of me.

 

To be fair, I was forewarned – my entire homecoming had been orchestrated in response to a series of emails received from Ken, mom, and a trusted friend while I was still in Panama. Actually, that moment I met Natalie – “Are you still on your fucking phone?!” – I was reading a lengthy email from Ken about how the parents didn’t understand him and were conspiring to lock him up in prison. It’s not so much I didn’t know, but really that I couldn’t see the situation accurately from afar – I didn’t want to, I wasn’t able to, I didn’t.

 

I abandoned pretty much all my plans upon coming home – Becky has warned me as we left her house that family problems tend to suck everyone in, and I’d sworn up and down that I would never, ever, for any reason, let that happen to me – driving across Arizona I’d sworn it to myself a dozen times. Yet within 48 hours of coming home I surrendered to the task at hand and started rebuilding. I put away all my photos – I’ve never shown traveling pictures to anyone, ever. Most of them never made it out of my camera except to be copied to my hard drives. My pack is still mostly packed, sitting in a corner of my closet, full of memories and trinkets. I swallowed my stories, let the fire in my eyes ember, and went into damage control – and what damage there was.

 

Mostly, I went into a tailspin. Transitioning from travel to home is difficult in the best circumstances, but going from full-on transience to sedentary life, trading hitchhiking for a desk job, and giving up writing, music, singing, and dancing all at once? That’s just a recipe for disaster. I fell apart, got a data-entry job for the Census, and the next few months are a blur of a job I hated, a home life I hated, and brief gems of home – letters from friends out in the world, free rock climbing with an old friend, and occasional escape to my sanctuary with Chad-Rad-Jake at the new “Boy’s House.”

 

I don’t mean to sound as if I wasn’t happy to see my family – I’m sure that comes across, but isn’t true – I was perfectly ecstatic to see them again, but to see them like this hurt like a sword through the chest. You never want to see your loved ones doubting their own existence, blaming themselves for genetics, or squirreling themselves away to hide from the failing family dynamic. Nobody who hasn’t been through a complete family meltdown can quite grasp how it undermines everything else in your life – we were all spending our days just trying to get up, work, eat, and get back to sleep again, and any day where all that happened without something else breaking was a good day. Looking back from right now, in a slightly brighter but still grim present, I have no clue how everyone pulled through that.

 

Slowly, it did get better. Ken got a diagnosis, new medication, birthdays passed, I got a job waiting tables, Dad graduated the police academy (3rd time through, those fucking bastards) and on the whole, things looked like they might be recovering. Also, some long-time friends got married, and celebration always helps to bring up the spirits. I mean, Ken did cold-cock me in the eye at one of the weddings after going cold turkey off his pills, and I started my new job with a fantastically swollen black eye, but we got through all that, and it’s been a gradual upslope ever since.

 

Yes, except for Dad losing his job, and my hours being cut so that I had to take a job washing dishes at minimum wage, and Ken’s recovery hitting a plateau, and Kyle’s grades, and Mom’s mental health, and the stolen trailer, and the broken pool motor, and the money trouble, and the arguments, and the silent malaise overshadowing every instant of our lives, it’s been a steady rise to the present. One might even say we’re quite lucky really – most people can’t take another crisis, whereas we’re so used to them that it’s all taken in stride. “Oh look,” one of us will yawn, “While we weren’t home tonight, the peaceful dottering old dog we all love and cherish fell into the icy pool and drown because she was too blind and weak to get out. How perfectly appropriate.” Don’t you wish I was making that up.

 

I think we’ve been cursed perhaps, or maybe pissed off Apollo or some of those Norse gods – not enough sacrificing, or insufficient lamentation. Perhaps life on the shit end of the stick was just too good for us, so we’ve been downgraded to the shit itself. I don’t really know the answer, but I can tell you that ever since I came home, it has been a struggle simply to wake up each morning and not sob myself back to sleep. What kind of person abandons his family to run off and have fabulous, unbelievable adventures while the people he adores fall apart? Who does that, and then, when it’s his turn to suffer along with them, spends every spare moment dreaming of running away again? Pray you don’t have to wrestle those demons.

 

And yet… I can’t bring myself to really believe that leaving wasn’t the best thing that could have happened to me. When I came back home, I was a strong enough person to deal with all the hardship and misery that this year has thrown my way, and still have inner strength to support my family. The old me, the one who never had to live on coffee for a week, the one who never had to fight parasites or crash paragliders or hitch rides from drunk drivers would never have been able to do what I have. Further, if I hadn’t been out of the picture, what’s to say I wouldn’t have just sunk down into the muck with everything else? As it turned out, my re-entry forced a lot of jolting and adjustment within the family – If I had been around the whole time, that unfamiliarity, that different view, would never have been what small help it was to swing things around for the better. Vagabonding forged me to survive, and it has been a welcome source of strength in these trying times.

 

Now, as the year and this letter come to a close, let me share a few future hopes and plans with you, so that we can perhaps end upon a much happier note. The holidays have been fabulous for us – we took a family ski trip in lieu of material gifts, and the change of scenery certainly helped to level out our mood swings. Tahoe is a very gorgeous area, we managed to visit between the massive storms, and the snowboarding, sledding, and horseplay were all therapy to us. Afterward we drove down to Grandpa’s house, did the family Christmas celebration, and managed to get home before family togetherness got the better of anyone. From there, I headed up to Santa Barbara to visit friends, wear a suit, and ring in the new year like a classy individual. It kind of worked – I spent the entire 31st sick in (someone else’s) bed, but managed to rally before midnight, got dressed, and between surprise visitors and good company, it was a great time.

 

My next step (which I’ve actually started already, since I’ve been slacking on writing this letter) is to take a leave from my job, fly to New York City to see Natalie again, then hitchhike to Oklahoma to live with Becky and Seth and write a book of my adventures. I’m looking forward to the coming year – with the family slowly recovering, I feel comfortable enough to leave again, and I’m looking at a job teaching English abroad. Travel and adventure seem to be my calling, so I’ll be doing as much of that as I can while I’m still able. I will have to work hard – I don’t have much money – but I’m confident that I can find what I’m looking for if I keep searching. For now it is enough to be back on the road, living out of a bag, and unsure of what tomorrow will bring. I hope that you all are living the lives you desire, surrounded by loving people, and happy with your present. If not, it is never too late to change your reality, and I hope that you do not settle for a life that does not fulfill your dreams.

 

I would love to hear from you, so if you ever have the chance, call me, email me, write me, skype me, facebook me, instant message me, (that’s still a thing, right?) send me a carrier pigeon, or send me a smoke signal. We live in the future – it has never been easier to contact each other!

 

Until next we cross paths, -k

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Mark Twain

December 2, 2010

There’s a famous Mark Twain quote about the purpose of traveling being not to see the foreign world, but to return home and see your own country as a foreigner would. Now, Mark Twain himself was a pseudonym – a shadow of a real man – and there’s every possibility in the world that this is just a pseudo-quote being mis-attributed to someone famous: perhaps I’m just showing off my own ignorance by leading with the possibly fake words of a fake person. Regardless, in my experience there’s a lot of truth in that sentiment, and so I’d like to write a bit about the strangeness of America from the point of view of one who lived outside her boundaries long enough to notice.

 

It’s a hard subject to broach, because Americans are VERY touchy about our country – it’s as if we feel we must defend her like a kid sister whose honor is at risk. I don’t quite understand that, so I won’t pull many punches, but the ones I’m leaving out are the ones that I know will offend just about everyone without adding much to the discussion.

 

Outside the US, Americans have a near-universal reputation for being fat-assed, fat-headed, boorish, uneducated slobs. Several times out on the road I was complimented in this sort of fashion: “Wow, you sure are smart(well-educated/well-read/polite/in shape/etc) for an American. That little sting at the end lets you know that you’re different, that you’re exceeding expectations or something. It gets under your skin a bit, but not nearly so much as the average American abroad does. They’re just so goddamn blatant, so obvious and in-your-face… It’s like a game of “Where’s Waldo?” except with a 40′ neon sign floating over his head reading “RIGHT HERE MOTHERFUCKER!!!” Once I was out for six months, the average American stuck out in my mental radar only slightly less than the average Israeli, and believe me, that’s not a compliment at all.

 

It got to the point where I avoided Americans out of hand, not just because they didn’t have much worth talking about, but also because I didn’t want that guilt-by-association that comes with hanging out around the loudest, most obvious attention whore in the room. You all know the guy – he’s making a shitshow of himself, doesn’t even realize it, and in the process offending half the people around him while the other half search for a polite exit. I’ve even BEEN that guy once, arguing loudly with an Israeli in a crowded hostel. Ruined family dinner for a dozen people, made a complete ass of myself in front of some friends, and for what? Some pissing contest about Palestinian genocide and the right of all humans to live without a gun barrel down the throat. After that, I learned to keep my opinions under wraps a bit better.

 

Problem was, not many American travelers took the same tack, and I can think of enough instances of American tourists ruining the show for everyone that it makes me uncomfortable to associate myself with group at all. Whether it was racist jokes in English-speaking Belize, mocking half-Spanish in Antigua, or the every American in the entire nation of Costa Rica; the Americans I met who didn’t offend and annoy were so far outnumbered that I – like most adventurers – wrote off the whole damn nation.

 

What’s that they say about stereotypes? I’ve always heard that stereotypes are what they are because they’ve enough gems of truth in them that they become self-reinforcing. You see enough dumb fat Americans throwing money around and it just writes the narrative all by itself. There are some notable exceptions – I mean, I ended up falling in love with an American girl and we’re fast approaching a year together (if living on opposite coasts can be be considered “together”) and there are some truly fantastic Americans I met, befriended, and will forever be indebted to, like S&B out in OK. Still, I digress: my point is that Americans have an absolutely abysmal reputation abroad, and it’s mostly deserved. As a country, we don’t know dick about foreign politics, history, or the effects of our military on the rest of the world; we don’t speak foreign languages very well; we’re richer than anyone, and flaunt material wealth worse than most any other culture; and what particularly irks me is that we have this terrible habit of pushing ourselves – our culture, our language, our customs, values, and worldview – onto the world around us almost unconsciously, and as a result create bubbles – little USAs – in which we live our lives.

 

With all this negative reinforcing, I dreaded returning home. Even with my family suffering, with my friends waiting, with my entire old life calling out to me, I stalled, bobbed, weaved my way home because I knew I wouldn’t like much of what I saw. Colombia ended up saving me in that regard, not only because I found one American who went against every conception I’d been building, but also because that country is pretty damn modern – the difference between Bucaramanga and NYC is one of scale, not type. Sure, I went from mountaintop paragliding school to concrete jungle, but I was flying about a 600,000 person city daily and dancing in the clubes most nights. Certainly the transition from rural Honduras to the USA would have been more jarring. As it was, I’m really lucky to have had those intermediate steps into the country, because without them, without her, without the crazy half-cocked roadtrip across the country, I wouldn’t have seen anything I liked in this place.

 

Here’s what I remember of my first days back in the US – it was freezing cold, I had no worthwhile clothes, and I spent all my time hiding indoors. Coffee shops, mainly, with 25 or 40 other young people, all in nice new clothes, all with brand-new laptops, iWhatever, designer bag. Guys with chic purses infinitely less useful than my ratty old bag casually hitting on girls with designer shades worth more than everything I own, all while sipping $5 lattes. I have lived in entire towns with thousands of people and less overall technology than a cafe with 25 people in it. I remember blowing 2 days living expenses on a single meal for two, knowing it was the best (cheapest) I could get, and feeling guilt for being poor – I never felt that traveling, not once! I befriended taxi drivers, bodega owners, and waiters – anyone who would speak Spanish with me – because my English was strangely accented and halting. It took a few days to find the right words consistently. I remember stepping into Whole Foods for the first time, seeing an entire floor of fruits and vegetables, and almost falling down – I still can’t do supermarkets. The abundance of food is so scary, so viscerally uncomfortable, that I end up running into these places, grabbing whatever I think I need, and fleeing as soon as I can.

 

Abundance in general is unappetizing. I’m unable to make decisions between thirty brands of soda or 200 toothpastes. When I’m with others I manage to force it down, but alone I just stare – how the fuck does anyone decide what to buy? How can there be so much of so little? These things are so trivial, and there are so many people starving in the world… I do not understand what made it OK to stock so much food that it goes bad and must be thrown away, while a thousand miles south there are kids huffing glue living in alleys and stealing to survive. It does not compute, and much as people try – patiently, then exasperatedly – to explain to me how it’s all fair, and how everyone would do it if they had the chance, I simply do not understand. I hope I never do.

 

We all own cars, even those of us who scarcely drive. If not for work being 15 miles away, I would never drive my car, and realistically I could just hitchhike, or take a bus. I’m simply being lazy because I can. There’s shit for mass transit out here, but that’s mostly because there’s no demand – my 16 year old brother bought a car before he even got a license, and he’s not in the minority. If I was a space alien, and I came to California knowing nothing about the culture or the planet at all, I would assume cars are the dominant species and human beings their prisoners. Think about it – from above, the whole place is a grid of roads and giant highways connecting the parking lots of the world. Driving home from LA the very first time after getting back, I remember counting 16 lanes across the freeway – 16 fucking lanes! – Holy hell man… That’s so damn incredible that I cannot believe it just passes for normal among the hundreds of thousands of people who drive it every single day.

 

I guess everything becomes normal once you see it often enough, but it’s just like that bastard arrow in the FedEx logo – once you see it, it can’t be unseen. After seeing the world outside, I can’t unsee the spectacle of America. All this wealth, all this abundance, and yet… what’s missing? Why isn’t anyone smiling? We’re certainly not dying – just looking at all the fat people around, I know that we aren’t starving. There’s nobody forcing guns in our faces, the corruption in our society is manifested by bankers fucking over the entire economy, not politically connected mobsters running over kids in the road and getting off scott free. The problems of our corner of the world, while definitely serious, are so much more subdued than in – for example – Central America. So why aren’t we happy?

 

Is the veneer slipping? Have people started to see the emptiness at the core of this way of life? I wish that was the case, but truly, I think the answer is so much simpler: we have everything we’re taught to want, but can’t pretend we have what we need.

 

Abundance robs us of truly appreciating anything – this is true of the psychological and the emotional just as much as the material. I can’t begin to express how it felt to watch Avatar in 3D in Spanish after not watching a movie in 9 months. It was like being transported into the future and dumped off there for a few hours, and I’ve never before or since been so wrapped up in someone else’s fantasy. I’ve since seen the movie in English, and a hundred other flicks besides, and never come close to that same experience. Right now there’s a movie on in the background – a pretty decent one too – and I can’t give a rat’s ass about it. I’ve watched three movies this week. I have constant Internet access. I see my family every day. I can reach out to my left, pick up my phone, and call damn near anyone I know or have ever known, jump on Facebook, Skype Australia, or take a picture of my goddamn nuts and post it as a landscape of Iraq, and yet I can’t appreciate any of it! It’s always available – food, drink, fun, family, contact, all of it – there’s never a shortage, there’s never a danger of it not being around. Without shortage, there is no way to know what you have.

 

It’s not just me – the difference between me and most Americans is simply that I’ve seen the other side, and I refuse to take all this extravagance for granted. I think that if people could see how rare this abundance is, they might be a hell of a lot happier with their lives. I mean, if you understood just how much effort, how many resources, how much energy and work went into that new laptop or those fancy new shoes, you would love them as I do my 8 year old sneakers or my little netbook here. The lack of what we find most dear is precisely what makes it enjoyable when we do have it. In this land of instant gratification, material overload, and wild consumption, it’s just not possible to love things as you would nearly anywhere else.

 

I don’t mean to preach – I’m not some fucking saint. I can feel all the love being sapped out of me the longer I’m here. I can’t sit and eat 2 eggs and savor the bites like I once could, because a dozen eggs is less than the average table tips me at work. The first night I came home and slept in my bed, I almost died – this is incredibly comfortable! I have sheets with a thread-count, a pile of quilts and pillows that I once felt were necessary. I remember one night in El Salvador sharing this same size bed with three people: right now I’m lying sideways on it and my feet are still off the ground. The thing is, I don’t even think about it at all unless I force myself to. It’s just my bed, you know? Never mind that the Cerrato family sleeps four to this same size mattress every night, never mind that most people on this planet will never ever sleep on anything so nice – it’s always here, and so it’s just my bed.

 

It’s the same for most everything. Earlier today I snapped at my mom because she interrupted my computer game and train of thought. I routinely get irritated because my family members are invading my space, because they dare to force their way into my idle time. What the fuck is that, right? A year ago, right about now, I’m at a little beach hostel in El Salvador, sitting and smoking joints and just wishing I could see my parents, terrified I’m losing their faces. I actually freaked out for a while because I hadn’t spoken to either of my brothers in months. I tracked down Sim cards in ever country I visited, spent precious finite dollars on credits to call them long distance, and drank up every word they said. Skyping home was so rare I only got to do it a handful of times, and several times I was crying after ending the call – not sadness, but just because I was so happy to see that the people I loved were still alive and remembered me. Yet here I am a year later being short with my mother because she dares to come spend time with me. It’s almost like we can’t appreciate anything until it becomes an ordeal to have it.
Perhaps that’s part of the reason I see so much mindless consumption all around me here – people trading out clothes by season, always focused on the new phone, the next gadget or outfit or gizmo. We all are afflicted – unable to truly understand what we have – and when you combine that with the barrage of “YOU AREN’T HAPPY” ads in every possible medium, it’s the recipe for a dissatisfied people constantly searching for the next high. That’s the best metaphor I can write for it – we’re a nation of addicts, chasing that moment of pure satisfaction when we finally have it, with “it” so loosely defined that psychowarfare advertisers are able to bend us to this or that or the other product. Consumption is accomplishment, buying is succeeding, acquisition is the end goal. The problem is that once you have it, there’s no fun any more, and so we drive onward to the next high – that’s addiction at the very core mate, no joke.

 

With all this stuff, all these toys and goodies, Americans are still unhappy – I judge this based off the same index I use everywhere I go – are people smiling? Are strangers laughing or frowning? Take Honduras, for example: while I was there the country had a coup, and the interim government suspended the constitution. Like an idiot I crossed the whole country that day – the people I saw were all frowns, worry-etched brows, inward-turned souls. I managed to hitchhike into Nicaragua that day, slept overnight, and woke up to smiles, shouting, laughter – night and day from the other side of the border. Happy people show it in the same ways everywhere I’ve ever been, and if that holds true, people here aren’t happy. I think it’s safe to say that simply having (goods, close ties to family and friends, a secure life free of want) is not the key to being happy.

 

No; having isn’t enough. Having and appreciating – that’s the ticket. Without perspective, lacking the realization of just how fortunate we are to be in this place, with all these unspeakable luxuries, it all turns to ash. Think about it – how many kings, how many emperors, ever could call across the world? How many noblemen ever had electric lights or refrigeration, enjoyed tropical fruit after their French dinner, then listened to their Aussie friend’s band streaming across the Internet? Goddamn none of them did! Do you think it’s possible to appreciate modern medicine enough? We bitch about healthcare, but a hundred and fifty years ago they would have bled you out to treat that fever, or stuck leeches on your face to cure that nasty cut. And when is the last time someone invaded your home, burnt it to the ground, and claimed the land as their own? We are in the lap of luxury never before seen on this earth, and we’re either too stupid or too complacent to realize it. Perhaps that’s a big part of why so many people here aren’t happy. I hope so, because then the fix is easy – just go somewhere else, volunteer for the unfortunate, then come back home and bam – situation resolved.

 

And yet…

 

And yet…

 

That’s not all of it.

 

There’s another issue here entirely – the issue of what we’ve lost in chasing all this abundance. Community is gone, that’s for starters. One thing I never realized before leaving the US is that community is not a place (or a shitty TV show!) – community is a group of people who know and support each other. Some of the communities I’ve been around, I was lucky enough to become a part of, and that feeling makes up for so much hardship in life. The feeling when you go from the open market to the corner store to the central park and then the bank and meet no fewer than 20 people who know you and want to know about you is indescribable – I haven’t been able to find it here, and trust me: I’m trying. I guess the closest feeling is from my coworkers at the restaurant, but even that is more superficial and detached. Case in point: the other day I realized one of the other waitresses was unhappy and hiding it, and so I tried to get her to open up. The look I got… it was as if I’d slapped her, but all I’d really done is pry past the comfortable surface. In America, we put up barricades between ourselves and the rest of society, and rationalize it a thousand ways. At the end of it all, what we’ve lost is a network of allies and friends and loving relations so deep and wide that nothing we’ve possibly gained could make up for it. That’s a big part of why people feel so unhappy and alone.

 

We’ve also lost an appreciation for the free and open things in life. Think about it – how many people do you know that regularly explore their world? I’m talking long walks, climbing a hill, going into a part of town they have no purpose in being in and just wandering. I count myself among the very few who do, and even with a focus on it, I still rarely manage to get out and ramble – really, deeply ramble – more than once a week if I’m lucky. That’s such a huge loss! We have beautiful parks, wonderful beaches, gorgeous open spaces, but they’re all so unused – the people are gone, stuck to screens and TVs and jesus, it’s 3am and I’m red-eyed staring at a computer screen! We’ve gotten so caught up in the society we’ve built that it’s dangerously close to a prison for the mind. If we don’t get past that, turn off Angry Birds, cut out the TV reruns, and just get outside into this beautiful world, then we’re just going to pass that horrible practice on to our own kids, and then what? This world can’t afford another generation of self-focused in-lookers.

 

Alright, last point, but this one is a doozy – it builds on this last point, about looking outward. My biggest problem with Americans is that they don’t ever look outside their borders to see the effects of their actions on the rest of the world and it’s peoples. Those shiny cell phones and SUVs, those beautiful new clothes and that fantastic meal all came from somewhere, and increasingly that somewhere is far away and dirt-poor. If you’re upgrading your phone every two years, eating meat every meal, driving a block because you don’t want to walk, and then leaving your AC on instead of cracking the window, then I’m sorry to tell you, but your grandkids will grow up to spit every time they say your name. The resource abuse of this nation is sickening, absolutely revolting, and it’s driven by this blindered ignorance of cause and effect.

 

Here’s a quick one – cell phones require rare minerals to function. Those minerals come predominantly from areas like the Democratic Republic of Congo, a war-torn nation where rape is used to control populations, AIDS is endemic, and child soldiers are the norm. These resources, largely taken through companies and organizations controlled by US corporations and the US government, are removed in a manner that leaves almost nothing to the people who rightfully own the minerals being extracted. They are then shipped to China, refined in terribly toxic processes, and shipped to another factory that forms the components, which are themselves assembled by people who work 15 hour days and make less in a month than you would in a couple days at minimum wage. After all this, we ship the phones across the entire planet on container ships that could politely be called the most environmentally damaging vehicles ever created, at which point they’re driven all over the country and sold to you, the consumer, only to be abandoned a year or two down the line. At this point they’re bundled up and sold to India, where 5 and 6 year old children burn them is giant piles to extract the same precious metals that got all those Congolese women raped. Oh, and the kicker? These Indian kids use their family’s cooking ware to burn the phones because they can’t possibly afford another set of pots.

 

All this, so that we in the US can replace our perfectly good phones with the newest, hippest model. Rape, violence, environmental destruction, slave labor, more environmental destruction, off-shoring of US manufacturing, depletion of very rare and precious resources, and the deterioration of unknown numbers of lives, so that you can have the newest phone. Be honest – when you replaced your last phone, was it broken, or did you just want a new one? It’s not like we couldn’t extract US rare earth minerals, manufacture the phones here in-country, and design them to be modular and upgradeable from the ground up. No, it’s simply cheaper to do it abroad, and because we’re all willfully ignorant of the costs of our toys, we aren’t willing to pay more to do things the right (by which I mean humane) way. We’d all benefit! That’s the terrible tragedy of it – we’d all be better off if we simply did all this here in the US and didn’t export the damaging bits to countries that can’t fight back against economic imperialism. Ignorant, uncaring people will be the death of us all.

 

It’s not just phones – where do you think oil comes from? Why do you think gas is cheaper here than nearly anywhere else? Do you think those Arab states are democratically deciding to give us all their resources out of the goodness of their hearts? No – we prop up terrible dictators who oppress their people so that our nation can have their finite resources without the population getting their just share. Why do you think we’re in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan and Yemen and giving weapons to Israel and selling them to Saudi Arabia and Egypt and bribing Turkey and fighting economic warfare against Iran, anyway? It’s so that American politicians don’t have to raise gas prices or explain to the American people that oil is a finite resources and we’re already past the peak extraction rates – in short, we’re risking world war so that Americans don’t have to conform to reality. We have the military and political power to do that still, so rather than face the bitter truths of this world, we simply steal, cajole, extort more than our fair share of the dwindling pile, and cross our fingers for the future. It’s the problem of the commons, taken global. I’m not saying we’re the only ones doing this, but as citizens of the imperial power, we’re certainly the (current) biggest beneficiaries.

 

Everything has a price, and someone must pay for everything we get in life beyond basic needs. If you’re on top of the pile, as we are right now, then you can make someone else foot the bill for a time. However, our nation is broke, our military is overstretched and losing an unwinnable conflict, and our leadership is bought and paid for by the same people who thought dismantling our entire manufacturing capacity for a quick buck was a great idea. This way of life is completely unsustainable, and one day it will come crashing down on our heads. Or really, on your children’s heads, because we’ve probably enough steam to ensure that we get ours before it all falls down.

 

In the end, I have my own delusion – I like to pretend that the prevalent unhappiness and discontent I see all around me is the start of a mass revolt against the emptiness of modern America. I prefer to hope that we can turn this sinking ship around and still make it back to shore. It’s not true – we should have started in Carter’s era – but you know what? I need this. I need to hope that this country won’t keep fighting in 75 countries, won’t keep consuming 25% of the world’s yearly resources for 4% of the population, won’t keep conforming to all the same terrible stereotypes that the rest of the world mocks us for. It’s not true, but it keeps me from abandoning my family and friends and moving off to New Zealand to be a shepherd for a little longer.

 

I’ll stop here – there’s no real point in going on about the uselessness of our politics, or the echo chamber we call news, because nobody here wants to hear it. If you agreed with what I’ve already written, then you’ll keep agreeing to the other bits too, and if you don’t, then you’ve already gone off to do something else. Just know that you’re being lied to constantly by every channel, by every magazine, by every billboard and sign spinner. You Don’t Need Anything More Than You Need To Survive. The sooner you get that into your head, the better off you’ll be in this life – but then again, that’s just this foreigner’s opinion.

 

Rebuttal to Myself

November 6, 2010

So if you haven’t read the last post, I’ve been having a rough day in a bad string of days in a shit week… really it’s been a long, bad time for me for quite a while now. I really needed a night like tonight, one where I’m on, where I’m kicking ass instead of getting kicked.

 

I hadn’t hardly clicked post on the previous entry when I’m in my car and speeding off to work. 4:40 or thereabout, work at 5, and I’m late. It’s a 25 minute drive to work on a good day, and right now I’m stuck at the train crossing – it’s a great train, passes by the house precisely at the time when I’m guaranteed to get stuck behind it if I’m running late. There’s one chance though – I slam into reverse, cut into the non-turning lanes, hit the green and go. The train is on my left, our paths cross in about a mile, and I’m gambling that I hit enough green lights to cut her off at the pass. There’s 4 crossings, and at the first she’s right next to me. Second, she’s just behind me, we’re almost there, no, red light. Third I’m speeding, she’s stopping at the college, but it’s almost red again, and I’m sweating – hit the light, play speed racer, and it’s probably orange – no cops – clear sailing now, I’m through the crossing and already life feels better. Small victories.

 

I make it into work a couple minutes late, feeling instantly better when I see another coworker coming in late also – we’re both covering shifts, and at least we’re in good company. Almost all my favorite people are working today – the regular Friday crowd, plus some good substitutions. Bullshitting, setting up tables, and getting ready for the rush, I slip into work and let my mind go free. I’m really lucky to have this job – with all the stingy, angry restauranteers in the world, it has great ownership, a family feel, and a sense of camaraderie to it that is too rare in this industry. We’re an up-and-coming place, 4 months old today, and so the night starts out slow. We all horse around, trash talk, make friends with the guests. I think it says a lot about a business when the employees go out of their way to befriend customers, and take on duties outside their own. We all really want this place to succeed.

 

Success means hard work, and once the place fills up, you’re slammed. We all help each other out, and so I’m covering a bus shift for one of the younger guys. It’s physical work, far more so than waiting – lots of lifting, carrying tubs of plates, garbage, glasses, ice – interspersed with waiter work – taking drink and appetizer orders, serving plates, schmoozing to kill time while some overworked waitress is taking another table’s food out – and then you’ve got to keep bathrooms clean, clear tables, sweep up messes, wipe up spills… At the end of the day, the bus is the guy keeping the chaos of a full restaurant from turning into a shitshow. You make minimum wage, but all the servers tip you out, and if you’re lucky you’ll double your pay like that – it behooves you to make everything run properly. Plus, you never know when the right conversation with a customer will make her night and convince her to bring the whole golf team over to try lunch next week. Since we all love the place, and want to see it work, the whole staff is pretty going full-out the entire time we have customers – no bathroom break, no cigarette, nothing while the rush is going on.

 

What this means is that we make up games as we go along – If you don’t have a break, you’d better be enjoying the work itself, and this crowd loves to talk shit. The kitchen staff bags on me, calls me “google” and asks me obscure questions I’m supposed to know the answers to. They rip into the dishwasher, each other, hit on the waitresses and hostess. Everyone plays along, the girls threaten to beat up the boys: even the cook plays a thug ass gangsta on TV. There’s no room for dwelling on problems when you’re busy, and this job is a full mind-and-body workout. No thinking… that’s a nice change. Moreover, every in this group is on their A-game all night long, and aside from one table that came in complaining, we sail smoothly through the entire evening. I even got to change a few kegs out and play with a couple of dogs. Taken all together, it was a good night’s work.

 

When the crowd dies, the waitresses do their tallies, clean their station and after a victory cigarette go home. The cooks spend an hour on preparation, cleaning, washing and scrubbing and hosing down everything. This is a fantastically clean place for how much food goes through it – our chef has the boys tear the whole room down to pieces and put back together every single night. Meanwhile, as bus I’m cleaning, sweeping, mopping, sanitizing the front end – the whole eating area, the patio, the entryway, the lunch counter, and then there are bathrooms to restock, silverware, napkins, the bus tubs and cart to clean. Plus, like every other Friday night there’s that one table that snuck in at 8:45 and is still hanging out drinking wine and having a great time, which would be great if we hadn’t closed an hour ago! The cooks start to head home, the table finally goes, and we hose down the floors and patio. Finally, 10:15, I’m off the clock. I say my goodbyes, head out into the world, and I realize how much I don’t want to go home just yet.

 

Luckily a couple of other guys are down to party – we have a prop 19 pity party, a round of beers, and a great conversation. I get to speak Spanish, we tell dirty jokes, and well, laughter really is the best medicine. That’s it really – I drive home listening to jazz, end up running into my mom on her way back from dancing, and follow her home. Glorious shower – I will never stop appreciating hot water – stop to soap, Parov Stelar playing spygames, say goodnights all around, and lay down to type this night out. I needed a victory, however small, and I’m glad to have it. Until the next day; goodnight world.

 

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?

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.

A Quiet World Cup

July 13, 2010

Once upon a time I lived in Santa Barbara, California. People tell me it was wonderful – I certainly gained a lot of life friends out there, but I can’t really say because most of the best moments are gone to me now – not forever, just in my sober self – and unless I get reminiscent-drunk I can never pull out the best stories. Also, they’re incriminating as fuck, and I like my friends. All of this makes it very difficult to tell anyone about our wild adventures unless I don’t know you at all, and this being the Internet, I know you all too well to expect anything to stay secret.

Still, this is a fun story because it doesn’t have to be secret – nothing too bad happened, nobody stole any street signs, nothing too heinous was ingested or baked into a turkey dinner. No, it’s just a little snippet of our old lives, played out by older (and not much wiser) selves in the old stomping grounds. There is drama, men dancing in high heels, wine, a carousel, and some British folk in this tale – here’s what I remember of the World Cup weekend.

Nobody cares about Soccer here.  Example – I sat in a little restaurant in town for the Germany-Spain game, desperate to not simply watch the game alone like usual, and instead of camaraderie I listened to two old men debating American Football teams past and present. Nobody else even glanced at the TV except my brother and I and the Russian owner’s daughter. No, if you’re in the USA any time a World Cup is going down, I feel sorry for you – there’s nothing even close to the parties that the rest of civilization throws for this sport. I remember being in a bar in Honduras packed 400 deep, men drinking themselves to sleep, people shouting repeats of the announcer’s cries to keep the unseeing back of the crowd satisfied – that was just a qualifying game! Another qualifier I watched with 50 or so others on an old TV, rabbit ears fine-tuned by the silent artist-owner, in rapt silence or screaming ridiculousness depending on the on-screen action. One night as we sat above Tegucigalpa and watched the fireworks as the parties raged, I realized how much Futbol is the world’s religion, and perhaps the biggest shared human experience around. No other sporting event I’ve ever seen can compare with the love, anger, happiness, lust that come out of kicking a goddamn ball around a field for 90 minutes – what a fantastic thing! Still, in the USA, nobody cares about the World Cup… except my crazy friends.

They’re way bigger fans than I am – they got up for the 4am games after working late, kept me updated via Twitter on the games I missed, yelled a lot more, made brackets, learned the players’ names – all the crazy fanatic stuff that I miss out on since I’m satisfied to simply turn the TV on and watch the best futbol matches I’ll see for 4 years without any of the background. When the girls decided to throw a Cup party at their house, I knew I had to come – too many years gone, too many parties and birthdays and holidays missed – and in case I didn’t know it the girls basically did their sad puppy eyes and reminded me that I’d soon be off again and wasn’t I a bad person if I didn’t show up? Yes, but that’s not the point – I never had a choice about going up to this game, in this town, with these people. It’s like destiny, if destiny used social media to plan a World Cup party.

“It’s going to be mellow.” I distinctly remember those words, and even more remember Chad’s protests as the weekend progressed. “I thought you said it would be mellow!” he yelled more than a few times – “it was supposed to be” the only response necessary. Our gatherings have this amazing way of turning into parties, and our parties take on a life of their own. In this case, however, we really outdid ourselves, which is why I’m writing in the first place.

I joined the festivities Friday after carpooling up with Chad and Muey – we pulled into the house late, expecting greetings and maybe a drink or three before bed. Instead we went straight for tequila and before anyone could get going the girls were asleep at midnight on the couches and Jen, Chad, and I were nursing cigarettes and unconscionably strong Margaritas. I think everyone was in bed by 1 or 1:30, which brings me to another fun aspect of our little tribe – we’re barely kids any longer, our old bones get tired, and some nights we just strike out. Friday was pretty weak, but don’t worry, we make up for it later.

By later I mean Saturday – we’re all up early-ish for the Germany-Uruguay game, Chad and I make breakfast because that’s the proper place for a man (in the kitchen cooking) and besides, who lets girls around fire? We solve the riddle of “do you think it’s possible to make blueberry pancakes with too many blueberries?” – it absolutely is by the way; they won’t even be pancakes any longer, just mushy blueberries in a light batter-sauce. Somehow we fix that dilemma and then it’s time to watch the game. It’s a great one, nobody diving too hard, none of the poor sportsmanship of the entire rest of the cup, back-and-forth with plenty of action. Really, that’s because it was for third place, and “who gives a fuck, they’re playing for third loser.” Jenn is our best sports fan – her twitter @hoorayjenn was pretty much my lifeline the entire time I was bouncing around and needed to know game scores and how Wayne Rooney is sexy. (I don’t know either!) She’ll probably end up with some Indian guy and have 6 daughters.

Game over, we get around to showers, cleaning up, and shaking out the old bones. In the olden days this would be the point where we all started binge drinking in preparation of the 5 o’clock nap collapse, but we’re responsible and socially active now, so we spend 3.5 years and a decent amount of whiskey getting ready, smuggling beers into purses, coordinating our small tribe for battle. The goal is Pride, a big concert, BBQ, gathering, excuse to drink socially celebrating how awesome it is to be LGBT(q?) – from what I’ve heard, it’s pretty great. Cars packed, teeth brushed, Devon prank called, we’re off to downtown and adventure.

After dead-heading the cars at Devon’s Dr. Seuss house – named for the fantastic floors sloping whichever way they choose to – it’s time for a taxi and a ride cross town. After a few minutes we’re at the beach, which I never actually see because right now we cross the street and head into Chase Palm Park. If I recall, our conversation at this point consists of a lot of yelling “Chase Palm Park!” over and over and pointing out the amenities of the kiddie playground because we never really grow up, and we’re embracing that now.

Pride is pretty awesome, aside from some ex-girlfriend sightings and horrendously expensive beers – we get around to the side of the stage right as the musical acts start, and so we’re in prime position to watch this hilarious procession of scantily clad lip-syncing beauties of sometimes-ambiguous gender. The Aussie pop diva who keeps yelling “Woooo San Diego!” is pretty fabulous, as are the men dancing in bootheels and stilettos – they’re seriously talented, those things are huge! Jenn and I wait forever for a man in jeans, blazer, checkered hat to do something with his umbrella, but once he sings “I’m only happy when it rains” there really isn’t anything left to do – free haircuts booth was closed, photo booth on the fritz, it’s time to mosey. We gather our growing herd, now 9, and make our way out of the park after a short detour to the carousel.

That’s right, carousel. According to some plaque on the wall, the guy who invented the carousel built this one, which sounds pretty cool but basically it was just a carousel – nobody rides them except little kids and well… us. We pile on, get our horses, and proceed to yell like idiots and pose for our cameraman. The poor kid there with her mother and grandmother must have thought we were all mental cases. Anyway, $2 well-spend, and we’re off again for the next stop, which is of course wine-tasting, a word that doesn’t really describe the activity very well, because after 17 samples of wine you’re really not tasting anything. Oh yeah, and we are just shooting these because half of them taste weird and the lady with her dog have lost their novelty, and it’s now we’re just slugging back wine, the employee is drinking with us, the dog is passed around hot-potato, and we’re done suddenly, standing up, thanking everyone, piling back out into the streets.

Another short walk brings us to Sharkeez, a personal nemesis where people who should know better serve huge buckets of sugar water heaped full of booze and plastic sharks to other people who should also know better than to get involved in this sort of nonsense. I vaguely remember once throwing up ALL OVER the hallway in front of the bathrooms here, just zero to proj.vom in nothing flat. Still, if you’re looking to get drunk(er) cheaply and eat a ton of chips and salsa, this is the place to be, especially since it’s still barely 7pm and we’ve been going strong for hours. A bucket of blue goes down pretty smoothly, and we’re smoking on the porch when a few local homeless/drifters roll up and start chatting with us. One of them, a dread-locked guy named Adam tells a few off-color jokes, someone gives him a cigarette, and since he seems alright I drunkly start talking with his companions, Luz, or Luce or something, Derek, and I-don’t-know-because-he-didn’t-talk. They’re bumming around, coming north from San Diego, and since hitching and bumming around are things I’m pretty into we start up a nice conversation.

Now, off to my left there’s a storm brewing – Adam’s joke train has taken a turn into gay-bashing misogyny, and that doesn’t go well with Lauren, who starts into him. He goes off, gets offended, they’re bickering, and meanwhile I’m telling the others about how Craigslist is a brilliant asset for any would-be hitchhiker in the US and they’re telling me how you can apparently catch freight trains south of Santa Barbara if you’re careful. It’s a really fascinating talk, but now we’re leaving and people are angry, and there’s the “WTF are you doing?!” split for an instant – I keep forgetting that the part of me who thinks bums are awesome doesn’t exist in pretty much anyone else at all. I shake a few hands, give Luce a buck and Derek my cigarette, then head in for some more salsa, grease, and salt – it’s like building a crash pad for future alcohol.

Anyway, another bar, another situation – this time with giant syringes full of vodka and Jello. Being upstanding citizens we all just slam these into our mouths and go on with our business, which gets the attention of a couple sitting nearby, and as luck would have it they’re Brits! All of a sudden I’m giving them shit for coming to America during the Cup finals, and they’re introducing us to the other 2 travelers with them and we’re talking futbol and I’m spilling gin out of nowhere and now it’s vodka redbulls and the dance party heats up, and oh look, there’s Nick finally showed up, and everyone is friends and it’s fantastic.

Thinking about it, I’m at my absolute drunkest right here – the colors blur, I spoke Spanish with someone, the music blares and I’m just glowing with good energy and friends all around. It’s perfect, and it probably would have led to me slumped in a corner somewhere if not for one thing – Chad scared the shit out of me.

I’m standing, focusing deeply on not looking like I’m focusing deeply on just standing, when BAM hand on the shoulder! I jump, spin, gin on my shoe, and it’s Chad looking as bad as I imagine myself to. “We’re getting out of here man, call a cab.” Fuck, I’m in charge of something. I hate being in charge of somethings. It’s ok though, because I prepared for this moment sometime after Jello shots by writing the taxi driver’s number in pen all up my arm. It worked great for remembering, but I realize belatedly that everyone assumed some drunk girl or guy had claimed me with the huge phone number tag. Ah well. I call the taxi, slur something close to “9 of us at Sandbar” and hang up. “Dude, we’re 13 now!” Devon yells at me from a foot and a half away.

“What?!”

“We’re 13 now – someone invited the Brits!”

The night got underway after that. On the way out the door, giggling at our good fortune, I run straight into my partner in crime – Jake! “Jakeeeee!” I yell into some poor girl’s face, and then we’re hugging past these random strangers whose only misfortune was to be between us. “We’re coming in man!” “We’re leaving! Party at the girls! British people!” We’re off again.

I end up in the car with Jake and his sister and his sister’s friend and also Devon, so we go to drop Devon off at home for work in 4 hours and go about our merry way. That’s all that happened at Devon’s house. Hugs and we’re off – last ones to the girls’ house, we walk into what might be best described as our natural element – beer pong, dancing people, a lot of yelling – a real Santa Barbara house party, I might just cry.

No tears – instead it’s cigarettes and margaritas on the porch – someone told me that for best results you just have to mix every type of hard booze, beer, and a ton of wines together, so I guess we were trying that. I don’t know, except that Jake and I kicked ass at beer pong, and Micah was there – holy shit, haven’t seen him in years Micah! More yelling and jumping, I cut in on Jake and Aurora dancing, we do a fantastic drunken two-step or something. Point is it was fun. People coming and going, Beer pong, beer pong, beer pong, beer pong – oh shit, we lost… Girls talking shit, people are passing out, but there are least Chris and Eloise still awake and so we fight on – no way are some dirty foreigners going to out-party us! They’re hilarious too, getting us too say “wankers” and “bollocks” then putting on their best American accents to say “fucking a man,” and toss out some surfer slang. We keep going, the sun comes up, Jake and I finally prevail at the beer pong table, and then it’s Jake and Lauren with a beautiful sing-a-long, and I’m on the couch humming to myself and nodding off. Hell of a party.

Sunday starts rough, being as the day doesn’t start until after you’ve slept and we went to bed at 5:30 or 6 – hangovers all over the place, Lauren and I debate the merits of her driving the Brits back downtown to check out of their hostel, and just before I’ve convinced her that they’re well and truly passed out and we’re going to invite them to our World Cup party, Chris is at the door and Lauren drives them downtown. I meander outside, drink a lot of water, stretch. It’s like 9:30am, and I’m still heinously drunk. Everyone is though, so we’re alright. World Cup is considerably more low key than Germany-Spain, partly because the teams are playing rough and mean, but also because we’re all tuckered out. Food, showers, nap time, and it’s like 6 before we’ve done anything more meaningful than go to In-n-Out. Except Devon – he worked all morning then came back to hang out. We say our fond goodbyes, smooches and hugs are given, and then it’s back on the road to our masked identities, the people we play on TV when we’re not being a bunch of lunatics.

I promised Jake a ride home so after a stop in Orange we’re off to Pasadena and I’m spending another night on another couch in another home that isn’t mine but feels right anyway. I love that feeling – utter exhaustion and inner peace. 7:30 Monday I set out for home, and everything is just as it was when I left it – what a strange world. Next World Cup, let’s all go to Brasil! Honduras! Antarctica! Anywhere that actually parties for the biggest game on Earth!

We're awesome


Apology

June 2, 2010

Every parent has such high hopes for their newborn child. I think they want to give birth to, raise, nurture a prodigy – the baby Einstein or Curie, Mozart’s second coming, maybe Jesus himself with bless the family with his triumphant return – all trumpets, skyfire, and angels. Look at her lying there, drooling and babbling softly… The child is brilliant, beautiful, perfect in every way, full of talent and promise – an embodiment of all that is good, hopeful, and possible in the world. What potential! And what a burden also, for that little bundle of flesh.

Woe to those who do not live to realize the dreams of their parents. Bad is failing in the attempt – being simply too dull, too plain, too mediocre to summit the lofty peaks of their imagination, stretching, failing, falling to lie in the dirt, never to climb higher. At least there is comfort there among the masses trying and failing at the same. Company, even in failure, makes loss more bearable. Worse than failing, far worse, is to give up – to abandon the dreams of the father, mother, family, and chase goals wholly one’s own – in this one commits the greatest sin, the harshest injustice against the family unit. To rip oneself from the whole, to set out alone and seek individual happiness, fulfillment on one’s private terms is to forever set self against family – the love may still be there, but the solidarity is fractured, belied by the precedence of the personal.

What makes this second choice so painful is not the confrontation, the arguing, the tears. The initial reactions cannot possibly hurt so badly as those of years later, when you aren’t a doctor and don’t live in a fancy mansion, when you don’t want to write for newspapers or whore yourself to pay the rent, but still want to be a part of your family. It’s the way mom can’t hide the disappointment flashing in her eyes as an old girlfriend marries someone richer, more handsome. It’s the catch in dad’s voice as you tell him how good it was to see your old friends – “those bums” he doesn’t say, but you can feel it just the slightest. When you could have been anything, perfect, the prodigal son and instead spend your life chasing happiness on your own terms, the rift is near bottomless if nigh invisible. Nobody speaks of it. Nobody dares mention how great you were in school, how everyone thought you’d be rich and successful, a power player in the groups that run the world. It’s all too painful, so we keep silent, keep living.

It’s that silence that hurts worst, eats us from within, divides, conquers each from behind the facade until we’re just shells wandering through the same spaces in different worlds. Perhaps that is at the heart of what drove my brother to the brink and then beyond – certainly he has fallen harder than I, harder than he deserves. Deserve… as if life truly was that just, simple, or fair. I think the dream of heaven is couched in the reality of life – utopia must be like life, but without the bad bits in it – a beautiful vision, but I can’t imagine the reality of it being anything except frightfully dull and devoid of purpose. What would be the point of existence without struggle? Why survive if not to raise a fist, throw a manic grin to the universe, and shout the words “I’m still here goddammit!” upon reaching another summit? I can’t imagine one, but then I’m not going to heaven anyhow. Neither are you, but this is getting muddy – I meant to talk about parents.

About disappointing parents.

About apologizing.

I’m not much for apologies, perhaps because I’m a self-centered, arrogant, and full of shit, or perhaps because I’m usually right enough in any apology-spawning stance I take that reconciliation would have to be mutual and the whole rest of the world is too self-centered, arrogant, and full of shit to realize the truth in that. Then again, I could just be overlooking the fact that the ease of any apology is inversely correlated with the passion and conviction that drove the fight. When I run into someone unexpectedly, elbow you in the side by sheer accident, don’t pay attention, to apologize is simple – a matter of course and culture. When I get into a screaming, lamp-throwing, passionate argument, to apologize then becomes a mountain of sand I must climb, force myself up until the end result is gasped – exhausted – from the mental peak.

It never comes out right.

I’m a product of my family and also of my world, but neither of those are particularly forgiving or submissive. We’re hardheaded, spirited fighters; play hard and fight dirty with equal zeal. We’re all right, unless someone beats wrong into us. When I feel I’m in the right, I’ll never apologize. I’ll try and console you , to find some satisfactory compromise perhaps, but the fact is this – if I’m right, that overrules your hurt feelings, and simply being angry doesn’t earn you an apology. When it comes to how I ought lead my life, I’m right – I know what is best for me, and what I’m willing to do to get there. You might have experience, education, opinion, a lifetime of learning to back you up, but the course of life comes in the end to only oneself. I know best when it comes to myself, about what I ought to be doing with my life just as you with yours. Not that they aren’t right in their own ways. I probably would have been a hell of a doctor. Will be – med school is another 8 or 10 or 14 years, and my alternate-universe self had better love obscenely long hours, bureaucracy, and school. I don’t, that’s why I’m not surrounding myself with those things!

We must make certain decisions for ourselves in life – at those key junctures, yes, but every day we make the choices that form our path. There have been so many opportunities to take myself another direction yet here I am in this place, going this way, and nothing explains my existence here more thoroughly than my own actions, thoughts, wants, choices. I choose to live as I do, not as my parents would have wanted – even as it hurts them and me both. “Hurts” is so damn relative. It makes them sad, makes them feel like failures and bad human beings. However, I like this life, have enjoyed some parts of it to the utmost, have struggled and fought, won my existence – that I still continue to act as I do speaks to my stubbornness perhaps, or my love of this lifestyle. Both, likely.

I disappointed my family when I grew up wild, impulsive, loving chaos over structure, desiring not stability but adventure. They will deny it of course, but there is that glimmer in the eyes, stutter in the voice – the telltales of any pride-hurt benefactor facing the fallen protégé – that hurts so much more than I can express. I crave the road and travel for this reason among many. I do not enjoy facing those whom I love, who love me in return, and knowing that my way of life causes them unhappiness. Weak as it seems, I would rather be a world away and know the same, just not deal with it, not face it day to day. I am glad to be here with them, but this place is not home any longer – it is but another stop in a journey without end. I cannot wait to leave here, but I must not without doing the things required of me. I will always love my family, for their imperfections and foibles more than in spite of them. I just find that I do my loving better from afar, as far as they are concerned.

All my parents ask of me now is that I don’t live so far away they won’t be able to see me.

All I want to do is travel far and wide, see the corners of the spinning sphere, and get lost in the glory of life.

I’m a disappointment to my family, and I don’t see that changing. It hurts. I can’t apologize for who I am.

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