Like a Bad Country Song

October 16, 2010

Life can be cruel. Sometimes the universe hits you when you’re already down, tears something you love away and leaves you gasping for air.

 

Yesterday afternoon I was excited – Fresh off work, pocket full of tip money, full tank of gas, and I’d fallen into some fun – a reunion with good friends, comedy shows on Saturday, and a bit of desperately needed camaraderie. Compared to renovating houses, waiting tables, or getting yelled at by irate mothers of grooms it seemed heavenly. I blew up the 5, played my favorite tunes, made some long distance phone calls, and missed the afternoon traffic jams – not a small feat in Orange county. I even managed to drop by a flower boutique and get a nice bouquet for a friend whose birthday I’d been forced to miss. All told, it was an auspicious start to one of the saddest nights of my life.

 

Of course, it wasn’t all gravy – because I hit no traffic and had gotten off work early, no one was home to let me into Boy’s House, and I spent a good hour nursing a beer on their front porch and fighting the urge to clean the patio – Boys House being what it is, the two-week-old beer pong cups were beginning to get a bit West Nile-y. Still, people came home soon enough, and being among true friends is an experience I treasure. Dinner, catching up, TV, talks; we slip into our old routines so easily, and this was no exception. It wasn’t until about beer 3 that things took a twist for the terrible. My phone rang, it was my youngest brother, and since things have been so awful on the home front of late, I answered expecting something bad. What I got was awful.

 

“K, are you coming home tonight? Spudsie died.”

 

A bit of history is needed here – Spudsie is our old lady dog. She’s been part of the family since I was 8, when we got her from our good friends whose dog had given birth. They were nice enough to save us one of the puppies – A 10 month old dirt-brown ball of sticks and leaves and energy, she captured all of our hearts from the very first days. When we adopted her, all of us boys were adamant we name her Spud, because she was from Idaho, and what the hell else happens in Idaho? Luckily for everyone, my mom put her foot down(-ish). “She’s a girl dog, and she needs a girl’s name. Spud is not ladylike.” Spudsie – much more ladylike! – was the first dog I ever had as puppy, and at only 4 days older than my brother, it was wild seeing his and her different development speeds. Always smart, Spudsie figured out that an infant produces a lot of waste food, and so for the early years of her life she feasted on spilled, dropped, and occasionally stolen food – K3 had a habit of leaving his mouth open a lot when he ate, and Spudsie figured out that she could just clean his mouth out with her tongue, and none would be the wiser! Eventually he passed her by and earned the right to keep his food, but she was always our beloved family pet.

 

When I left home for college, Spudsie waited. For four years, she remembered me, still loved me, still slept in my room – the infrequent visits never made her less loyal, even as she got older. When I left again on my international hijinks, I said goodbye forever – I simply didn’t believe a dog as old as her could hold out until I came home. Stubbornly, Spudsie kept living. Her senses faded, vision, hearing, she couldn’t jump any longer, but still she kept living, kept loving, kept breathing. I came home, and she scarcely recognized me – it took a lot of sniffing before she was convinced I’d come back. Still, at 16 ½ years old, she’s been on her last legs for a while, and we’ve been going through the stages of grief as a family. She’s had a wonderful life with us, and to see her slowly die has been heartbreaking, but at least she’ll die surrounded by a family who loves her, right?

 

This phone call from my brother wasn’t completely unexpected, but it still was a terrible thing – I had wanted to be there, had hoped it would be in her sleep at the foot of my bed where she spent so much time. The one day I was gone… what shit luck. What rotten fucking timing. Why couldn’t I be there? She’d waited so long for me, and I left town the day she died.

 

At least I had that morning fresh in my mind. Spudsie is lying on the floor by my bad, where she’s just fallen to because well – she’s blind and old and shaking herself out near the edge of the bed is a recipe for disaster. I’m two feet away lying on my floor because I do that, so laughing I put my face next to hers and blow air in her nose so she won’t startle when I pick her up. I put her on my chest, lie on my back and pet her slowly, and I can’t believe that she’s still alive – she’s lost so much weight, the weird growths on her head and neck are conquering new territory, she smells like decay, and her skin is so loose I could put another half-dog in it. Still, she’s my puppy, and I don’t know how much longer I have her in my life for, so I lay there and scratch her, and strike up a conversation.
I spoke with my dog about our life together, right there the last time I’d ever see her. We spoke about how much I loved having her in our family as I grew up, about how smart and loyal and loving she’d been. I told her I hoped she wasn’t in pain, and that I couldn’t have ever asked for more in a dog. I asked if she was holding on to life for me, and begged her not to. “You’ve had a full life babe, and there’s no sense in suffering.” I kissed her on the nose, and told her I wouldn’t move away again while she still lived, but that I was going to stay with friends for the weekend and wasn’t sure she would make it until I came back. “I don’t know if I’ll ever see you again, but you’ve been the best dog I’ve ever had, and I’m glad we grew up together.” I hugged her, left her lying in a sunny spot and went to work – that was the last time I ever saw her. If I couldn’t be there in her final moments, at least that’s a decent ending, right? It was finally her time.

 

All this had gone through my head in a few seconds – all the stages of grief, all the thoughts, the deep-seated urge to just lie down and cry, interrupted by the fact that I now have to take charge (via phone) and get something done. My youngest brother hasn’t had to deal with dying animals, and my mom doesn’t handle this sort of thing well – I could hear her sobbing in the background. I started to go over the basics with my brother; she’s old, it will happen to us all, it’s just her time, at least she had a beautiful life with us, etc, etc, but right here he interrupted me.

 

“Spudsie drown in the pool. I was at practice, mom came to pick me up, and while we were all out of the house she fell in and died.”

 

In the pool. A blind, deaf, feeble dog struggling in the darkness, all alone in her final moments. For a dog who spent her entire life in being near us, in loving us, in being a part of our lives, it is the most sick and terrible death I could imagine for her. Nobody to hear her, nobody to help, until she slips below the frigid water and expires. Can you think up a more terrible, unfair way to die?

 

My brother’s voice cracked as he tells me about pulling her body from the water, and my mom is wailing, trying to get the other dog to come look at Spudsie’s body. I tell my brother to wrap her in a towel and put her into a box on my bed – I just figured it was where she would want to be. He’s a great kid, more grown up than I give him credit for, and so he does exactly that, and passes the phone along to my mom.

 

She’s heartbroken – life has not been kind to our family these past years, and something so tragic as Spudsie’s death just feels malicious after all the crap we have to dig through each day. She tells me that she feels guilty about being gone, for abandoning the dog at the end, and I say I feel the same. I offer to come home but she tells me not to, and I agree to come back the next morning. We commiserate, build up each other’s spirits to protect against another day, and then she goes off to help my brother and I’m surrounded by happy friends feeling like I betrayed my dog and family. Why can’t I be happy too?

 

My friends are sympathetic, we make the best of things, but I’ve rarely felt so alone as I did lying there in their living room and trying vainly to sleep. Eventually I drift off, and mercifully I do not dream.

 

This morning I drove home as the radio played everything I needed to hear. The family had gone off to school and work, so the house was quiet, shades drawn. I wandered up to my room steeling myself to say goodbye to my dog, only to find they hadn’t laid her in state on my bed as I’d asked. It took a bit to find her, but outside near the back door I saw a box, and knew exactly what I’d find inside.

 

It’s the meanest thing in the world to see someone you loved once alive and now dead. I don’t care who it is – dog, friend, family, anyone you care about – you never want to see them up close and dead. And yet, I wasn’t there. I missed her death, dammit, and I had to see her. I opened the box, and looking her lying there, still damp, wrapped lovingly in a towel, I could almost trick myself into believing she was just asleep. Only her eyes were open, and everything was so rigid, and I’m not big on deluding myself. I pulled her out of the box – so light, so stiff – saw her eyes and nose still wet, felt the damp fur on her head, and held her, towel and all, as I sat by the pool in another misty morning.

 

That’s life – wake up one morning thinking you’ll have fun for once, and end up the next day holding your beloved dog’s stiff corpse on the edge of the scene of her death.

 

I guess the silver lining of getting hit by so much shit is that we grow resilient. I shed a few tears, put Spudsie back into her box, went inside and made breakfast. She’s a couple yards from me as I write this – we wanted to bury her as a family, and tomorrow is the first day we all have off. We’ll survive, even if life is determinedly cruel to those least deserving. We just have to remember all the good that came of her, all the love Spudsie showed, how she caught rabbits alive by chasing them until they gave up, her speed and her smarts and her daring, that time she took on a bulldog to protect my baby brother, how she grew so entwined with our family, and how she gave her heart to us all. Our family was truly blessed had her with us for so long. Spudsie, I love you, I’m so sorry. You’ll be missed by us all.

She was my old lady dog.
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Reality and Perception

September 30, 2010


When it comes down to it, at the end of your days, no religion, no ideology, no faith or government or science or technology will save you from your own shortcomings. There is no heaven, no hell, no Gods, no afterlife, nothing NOTHING no one who can truthfully claim any power over you – you are your own master, you must own the consequences of your actions and the path of your life.

By you of course I mean me, because I can’t write your circumstances but must instead come from my own perspective on reality. There are people born into near-slavery, there are those whose lives are forever marred by some external variable, (be it circumstances of birth, a masked gunman firing wildly into a crowd, or any sort of unpreventable tragedy) many who can’t claim full responsibility for their positions in life. Even they, for all that the world throws at them, still most accept that their lives are their own property. I am not arguing that victims must find fault in themselves for their terrors suffered at the hands of others – nor am I arguing at all really – I am trying to simply state a problem that has been bothering me for some time. This problem lies in our human tendency to take positive aspects of life as our own while discarding our bad bits as the fault of some other – it isn’t true, and if we were to be honest with ourselves (honesty being a desirable attribute in its own regard) then we would remove some part of the blinders we each wear as we face the world every day.

On the one hand this is terrifying, because almost every one of us is lying about some aspect of ourself. We take certain bad things we have done or harsh consequences we have suffered and pin them upon some “other” in order to assuage some of our guilt and bad feelings. The hurt was due to another’s actions, the failure resulting of sabotage. Responsibility is painful and forces the mind inward, toward flaws and misdeeds and failings – far easier, far more acceptable, to find something else to take that hurt, and salvage what we may.

The problem with this is that it is simply untrue – unless someone came into your life and forced you under pain of death not to succeed, then your failure can only honestly be taken upon yourself, worn as a mantle – not carried as a cross – for only then can we hope to learn from our actions. How can one possibly hope to see her own life truly if constantly veiled by misconceptions of her own history? How can a country for that matter? How can a people?

The small lies magnify, go cancerous as they become the foundation for our own realities. “I lost the job because my boss is a lying asshole” covers up any personal fault, and in doing so primes a person to commit the same mistakes, large or small, that led to the first lost job. Worse, we have to commit to these lies, else we risk cognitive dissonance, and so each bit of evidence falling outside our narrowing field of acceptability must be discarded, rejected with force, and in doing so our vision clouds all the more. Build upon false foundations long enough and all you will have created is shit – rotten through with lies and misconceptions, based on willful ignorance and false perception.

The same is true of accepting responsibility for that which does not truthfully belong to you. The boss who steals the work of a talented underling, the owner who skims the labor off her workers while paying them a fraction of their value, the skillful liar who corrupts those around to serve his ends – these people rise both in society and within their own minds. This dishonestly is no less cancerous, no less disastrously destructive to the individual as that which externalizes blame for misdeeds. No, no, a thousand times NO – we cannot hope to survive without absolute honesty of self to self, for to lie to the mind is to construct a false reality which blinds and binds, rots and decays until there is nothing left but ashes of a once-great spirit.

We run a terrific risk in lying to ourselves, one I have mentioned twice before now, namely the risk of falsifying reality in the name of self-protection. It is not uncommon – perhaps it is our greatest shared human characteristic after breathing, shitting, fucking, fighting, and all those biological functions. We all lie to ourselves, we all judge our actions on a plane of perception that does not coincide with the basic reality of our situation. It’s a terrible trait, perhaps evolved for self-protection from the inevitable and constant clash between action and ideal – simply put, if we never force ourselves to justify actions that cross our beliefs, then there’s no need to doubt our own beliefs or question our actions – quite handy for building confidence in one’s own rightness and superiority. The problem of course is that we’re building facades of shit bricks on poor land, and the whole thing is blocking our view of the beautiful world just beyond. As the walls rise higher, as the mask gets thicker, we lose everything we once valued by simply not admitting doubt or truth into our minds. What a terrible price!

Of course, it’s only terrible if you value truth, and once the veil has completely obscured all that we once valued, it is only a matter of time before we forget what was ever there before. The boss really was an asshole, those Mexicans are stealing our jobs, Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons and supported Al-Queda. It’s so easy to lie to those who lie to themselves, because they want to believe – believe you, believe anything, so long as they don’t have to examine their own faults, or question their own lives. Believing becomes a defense mechanism, and by then the person has lost his mind; not lost forever, but lost beyond his willingness to get it back – belief has become so much less costly than introspection, and the pain of knowing he has based his life on false conceptions keeps him afraid of ever trying. He might as well be a zombie, because once you’re that far down the line you’re hardly ever coming back. Certainly he can’t be a productive member of society, can’t question the things he is told, can’t critically weigh the merits and shortcomings of anything around him, because he sees the world through a filter of what he wishes to be true. Not just him, mind you – we all do it to some degree or another.

How can we stop this destructive process? Certainly we must start early for it to be less painful, but if you wish to open your own mind now, then every day will be easier than the next. I ought mention now that we are incapable of opening any mind except our own – we may guide those around us, we might teach methods and strategies to others, but in the end this is a door that locks from inside, and we may not, for any effort, banging, or screaming, successfully force another mind to perceive reality honestly. Think of times when someone has been so SURE of a point, so dedicated to convincing you of the rightness and truth of it that you find yourself turning off your mind to that person – conviction is a double-edged blade, and without careful use it will cut you just so surely as your target.

No, what must be done is not more evangelizing; prosthelytizing will (at best) gain you followers, and what we need is free spirits. We must aim to be more as Socrates and less as Plato, less dedicated to our views, more self-doubting, less self-confident – for what is it to be self-confident but to have more self-respect than you deserve? We must meditate on our lives, on the good moments and the bad, and question everything we come across. If our entire life’s perceptions are based on dishonest interpretations of self, then let us tear down those facades, accepting as we do the pain, the racking doubts, the anguish and loss of belonging – what are these things except illusions? Is not reality worth hurting for? These growing pains of the mind will pass with time, and what is left behind is nothing less than a stronger, more real, and truer view of the world. The universe is more beautiful, happier, sadder, more alive than any tale we could tell ourselves as comfort. There is no need to cover that beauty – you are strong enough to bear it, and your fears of what may come from tearing off your mask are overwrought – all pain numbs with time, and the rewards are bountiful: a trueness of self, an honest view of what it is to be, to live, to die. What else could possibly be so precious as reality itself?

I don’t know if I’m convincing you, or even myself – I struggle as we all do to keep my own inadequacies from blinding me on a constant basis. Still, by spending some time each day to reflect, to write, to think, or sing, I draw myself inward, examine who and what I am, and come out a sliver more able, a thimble less full of lies and contradictions. Perhaps with an entire lifetime of this I might become worthy of knowing this beautiful reality all around me. What do you use to shatter your own illusions? How do you cope with the hypocrisy of actions and values that do not meet, that run in opposite directions at times? I do not claim to have answers, but I am trying to stumble through this life on my own terms, and I will take what solace there is in that – at least I am not simply swallowing what I am told. Small comfort, but in a society built upon the same lies I seek to rid myself of, what other course can I possibly take?

Writing with Letters

March 9, 2010

All of this was written over the course of 22 February, 2010 – 9 March, 2010, the vast majority on 23 Feb while I was sitting in airports all day.  Most of it is true.  Some of it is hyperbole.  I’m unrepentant on that last bit.  Enjoy!

I almost died today – came within a few feet of high voltage lines, crashed into a tree, fell 30-45 feet at high-speed, and crashed unceremoniously to the ground in a tangle of paraglider and branches.  It wasn’t the first time, either.  Today’s collision marks my 4th tree landing in 2 weeks of paragliding school, and while it wasn’t my worst, it was my last flight of the program, and the reason I won’t be getting certified to fly solo from this school.

It got me thinking as I climbed trees, machete in hand, to cut my wing down once again – about all sorts of things, but really how there are so many things I need to communicate to people in my life, and how I’m absolute shit at doing that unless really hard-pressed.  I mean, if I die now, there’s a solid forty percent, sixty, ALL of the story that won’t ever be told, a lot of hard-earned lessons and truths wrestled free for no real purpose except my own erudition.  I’ve been ok with that for a while, but… Well, today also marks the final day of a year-long traveling circus, and that I suppose means that it is now time to process a bit of this madness, chew it up and spit it out and suck it up again until the whole mess is somehow more digestible.  Since I dodged that oh-so-tragic-but-woefully-appropriate death on the final day of a grand adventure, I can’t think of any better way to tell another bit of the story than to write out a series of letters to those who have touched my life these past weeks and months, some short, some long, some meaningful, some silly, and to try to tell the story that way.  Now just isn’t the sort of time for traditional narrative, though I must ask – was there ever one?

Vish – this starts and ends with you, my friend.  Your crazy idea, crashing my party in Guatemala to spread ideas of flying as eagles is what spurred my rush south, turned plans of hitchhiking Mexico on their head, inspired me to dream bigger, wilder, more recklessly than before.  Of course, since neither of us had flown before it wasn’t like we could have known that without having come down here and tried it! On the one hand, I must thank you for setting this all into motion, while on the other I want to crack you upside the head for being so damn similar to me!  Running off, chasing beautiful women, doing what makes you happy and fulfills you – it sounds so pleasant, and from where I’m sitting it definitely is.  I’m sorry we never got to meet back up after Salvador really – those one and three night stops in the same hostels just weren’t enough, not even close!  We’ll have to cross paths again soon, just as surely as I’ll have to come back to writing you.  First though, here are a lot of letters to everyone else!

Natalie – Remember first meeting?  There I am, wild hair, 40 or 50 hours into a wild travel marathon across 3 countries, stinking of road, bone-weary, patience worn too weak to be fucked with.  Finally, a wifi connection, I can find out about the declining homefront situation, say the goodbyes I dodged in leaving Leon so quickly, catch up on life.  Just then, a voice – “Oh my God, are you still on your fucking phone?” – it was so brash, annoyed without reason, confident crossed with familiarity, served up by a redhead with sexy librarian glasses and red hair pulled back.  You sounded American, and I wrote you off then, telling myself that you weren’t worth it, that I was too tired to be bothered talking to another dumb judgmental hostel girl.  And a gringa, to boot…  Quite a strange first introduction, which we smoothly turned into a very friendly bitter argument over psychiatry, politics, mental services, healthcare… my image of you as dumb bimbo dropped, to be replaced grudgingly with admiration – your story, your battle, is the sort that deserves respect.  I don’t know how, but by the end of the night we were promising to share a plane to Colombia, friends of some sort.

The world’s worst pancakes, rings in freezers, and we’re just way too comfortable – Why did we ever let each other so close, so quickly, so fully?  It worked out well, but it might well have been disaster the way we threw everything to the universe.  Speaking of disasters, the story almost ended itself right away, when my “don’t bother with reservations, just walk onto the plane” strategy left me watching helpless as you walked away – it wasn’t as bad as the second time in Bogota, but something about the way I felt told me that to let you walk away would be one of the bigger mistakes in a life full of them.  I bummed and cajoled my way through the ranks of ticket sellers, baggage handlers, and computer jockeys and found a flight a few hours later to Cartagena, one way, cash, just me and my bag of machete, lighter fluid, knives, and the like.  I needed it all, so I just shoved everything controversial into my backpack, had it wrapped in about 2000 layers of green plastic, and checked the lot with crossed fingers.

Security didn’t know how to deal with me – the guy about had a stroke when I emptied my pockets!  “What is this?” he hissed at me, holding up a new blue ballpoint.  “A pen” I told him, trying not to laugh.  “You can’t have this – it’s a weapon,” and there went my writing utensil.  Well, one of them anyway, since the carry-on bag has twelve or twenty more.  Belt, shoes, and that special little wand led detective dipshit to my heinous crime – a dollar’s worth of change in my hip pocket – and I was off the hook.  Considering I’d been in Central America for a year, the airport felt like commercialism’s bastard assbaby, and after a couple hours uncomfortable wandering, I made it into the plane and almost airborne before passing out.  I almost missed seeing Cartagena from the air!  As it was, I changed money, freaked at how expensive everything was, took a taxi to the hostel you said you would be at and didn’t find you, and just bummed around the rest of the afternoon feeling foolish.  What if I was wasting my time trying to find you?  Wouldn’t you just find me excessively creepy and stalkertastic?  I gave up trying to find you before long, and just crashed out at the Hostel Holiday, in those glory days before the staff didn’t actively dislike us.

I shouldn’t have worried – we went together like really big people and tiny coats, sex and chocolate, rain and dancing outside, rich kid parties and poor college students – fantastically.  It still amuses me how quickly we became an item, became inseparable, and broke all of our plans and promises in order to spend more time traveling together.  Equador probably would have been great, but you couldn’t be bothered to leave, and paragliding never even crossed my mind for a few weeks.  Instead, we bounced around, lived like our lives depended on it, and had exactly one pissed-off flip-out say things you don’t mean argument.  That aside, it was so wonderful, so real, genuine, and fun that I couldn’t believe when it ended.

Another airport, another city, not our primary language, the same scene – we’re late, you’re leaving, and I don’t have a ticket.  Once more I had to stand there and feel helpless hopeless as you walked through the gate and out of sight.  I’ve been developing a strong dislike for airports, I might mention at this point, and not only because here I still sit in one, six hours after arriving, three weeks after we split ways, and still a few thousand miles away from ever seeing you again.  These concrete duty free jungles – they’re enough to kill a guy’s soul without him even realizing it, like the hole in my pocket that eats change quietly over the course of the day, it’s a cancer.  At least it lets me play Socrates a bit more, wandering the market and taking solace in all that I don’t need.

Oh, and I’ll just write it here – I’m broke in a way that rarely exists outside of bad car accidents or political systems in Banana Republics, and that’s what makes my idea of coming to visit you in New York City, the belly of the beast, the gaping maw of Global Capitalism (for another few years, perhaps) all the funnier, right?  What could be a better decision than to run out of money and then come to one of the most expensive places on Earth?  Perhaps doing the same thing, except in the middle of winter, without bringing anything warmer than jeans full of holes, a ratty leather jacket, and gloves I cut the fingers off of.   Shit, I must be some sort of genius.

Distraction – there seems to be a theme here in the airport today of running quickly past with a worried look on your face – so far I’ve seen a couple stewardesses, a heap of passengers, a couple assorted uniformed peoples, and just now a guy in full military dress with a xbox gripped tightly under one arm.  Weird stuff, right?  I guess so long as it isn’t everyone running in the same direction at once I’ll be ok.

Anyway, it took me about 40 seconds after kissing you goodbye to realize that was a mistake, but another week to do something to remedy it.  I’m basically making my life as hard as possible (recurring theme?) in order to prolong the magic, if I may steal an album title.  I’m reasonably sure NYC is further from home than Colombia, a fact I’ve asserted into existence without anything, not even a casual glance at a map, to back me up.  Let’s pretend it’s true anyway.  Point is simple – you’re worth it, even if this blows up in my face, it’ll be worth the scar tissue just to see your face again, to kiss your lips and hear you telling me to cut the drama.  Scar tissue?  Fuck, it’s not working!  I really can’t wait to see you again, even if this airport, the weather, this universe, my meager finances, and the entire Harlem Globetrotters are set  up against me!  I must go now, though I’ve much more to say, because there are more letters to write.  I’ll talk to you in person soon.

Aside – This is going to be ugly, slapdash, pegged together, and double disjointed like all you freaks! (Hi Alex) I keep moving around, different waiting areas, hallways, tile floors, these godawful divided benches you can’t sleep on, stinking carpet chairs, all the threadbare faux class of air travel – a million people, a thousand bad perfumes, a gorgeous Colombian woman every twenty-eight seconds – this stuff distracts, confuses, draws the mind and hands and eyes away from their careful collusion, and I’m starting to dislike the letter-writing limitations I’ve placed arbitrarily upon myself.  Even scarier – the Internet works mockingly slowly, so I’ve nothing else to do  but pump the music and let the fingers do their magic tricks.  Besides, we’re pages in already, and I’m hardly one to back out of commitment because it’s going down brutally in flames.

Becky & Seth (Seth & Becky) – I feel like now, six or so months after we split ways in a flash on a  San Salvador street corner, I finally understand where you were then – what you were feeling, the doubts and fears, the sense of nothing worthwhile accomplished, the glee and guilt and gut-rocking uncertainty.  It’s not easy being here on the razor’s edge between lives, arms windmilling and body arched, trying desperately to hold onto one reality yet unable to resist looking back, down, over your shoulder at the What Might Be below.  Becky – I still have something you wrote, the Day after Thanksgiving in Honduras piece you gave me a copy of.  I read it still, share it with friends when I want to give them a little mouthful of another life.  Your words are so vivid, sharp yet warm, and they take me back to a time before I spent my time crash landing into and out of everyone else’ lives.  Not a bad time, not my sort of time, but that doesn’t mean I can’t miss it, right?

Seth, I’m sorry we never got a business off the ground in Honduras – I’m pretty rubbish at the business angle of anything, but your ideas weren’t bad.  When I get back home I have a couple things I want to run past you, import/export sort of ideas, bringing in goods that are too scarce to places like Colombia, Guatemala, Panama, where there is still a big markup on gadgets but not a huge competition in tech luxury goods.  We probably could have made it work in Santa Rosa, but you’ve far more important things going on, and I just couldn’t sit still long enough, patiently enough, to build up the market and customer base and oh god just writing those words brings me back, drags me into this place – this drab, gunky airport, it’s Panama now, but it could be anywhere.  Where do you think airports get their carpet?  Who decided “art deco kitsch” and all the classical muzak you’d ever have nightmares about was going to be the go-to mode of every international terminal?  If we hypothetically found that person, who’d be down to give him a good old-fashioned chain-gang beating with me?

I never thought I could get so OVER Western culture, but I did – that happened somewhere, sometime, and now it’s too far gone for my own good.  Four minutes off the plane, I’m getting pushed by fat, stupid, rude Americans in their rush to go into Subway and insult some locals.  Fuck, I hate these people – it’s not everyone – there are a lot of good, normal, smart Americans in the world, and you meet them all the time while traveling.  The problem is that the greasy porkfuckers that the entire world (really, the entire world!) associates with Americans are so obnoxious, toxic, caustic, so easily hateable that they act as a sort of force-multiplier effect unto themselves.  One of them quickly becomes the loudest, most obvious, mostly cellulose, cultural and genetic embarrassment in the entire time zone, and from then on there’s no way to avoid or ignore their presence!

“Hey, girl!” one gargles at the overworked fast food slave, “Gimme oneuh dem sammiches, whatchacallit, polo.  No, no, not that one, jesus, lissename!  Polo, you know, chikkin!” Cue arm flapping.

No joke – this happened.  I saw it.  Everyone saw it.  Some thirty people stopped and watched the American doing the chicken dance and butchering Spanish while she muttered about how incompetent the poor Panamanian girl on the other side of the counter is.  What in the fuck is that!?  Who comes to Central America with no Spanish, then openly starts insulting everyone who can’t communicate with them?  Why does nearly everyone I see doing this sort of shit have to be from the same place as me?  I’m sick of telling people where I come from and getting reactions from “oh.” to “ugh, I’m sorry,” to my favorite, the abrupt turn around and walk away.  I didn’t choose to be from the place that rapes the world’s poor!

Anyway, I was going somewhere else with this, and it was mainly in the direction of not realizing just how heavy, all-consuming, terrifying yet liberating it is to be on the very cusp of going back home.  I know it won’t be easy, that I’ll do a spiral dive into the ground most likely, that adjusting and accepting and compromising will suck the life out, but I also know that you both have done it, gone there and come back, and I think you’re still yourselves, holding out for what you love, doing what you think is important.  Right guys?  Right?!  Please let me be right…  It’s a pretty fairy tale I use to keep myself sane, so even if it isn’t, don’t tell me Santa Claus doesn’t exist just yet – I couldn’t take it just now.

What I want to tell you both is that I love you so much, you were my friends when very few people were, you played a huge part of my safety net through the hard times, let me tag along as I was finding my feet, and when it came time to stumble off and survive on my own in these strange lands, you were there to cheer and make every day we had together the more beautiful.  I treasure our times together, living in your funky house, cooking, climbing that crazy mountain, hitching all over the West, the way you just smiled when Sjoerd and I took off for months and left you holding all of our things.  Talks over tea, pastels, crepes, TS Elliot, the way you let me drag you down into sin and crazy stupid games and never stopped laughing, Seth’s crazy-genius inventions, Becky’s paintings, that hammock-slinging game where you hit your body on the wall on purpose, yoga, and sleeping sick as a dog on your Ninja Turtle sheets – you two have been some of the best friends I could ever ask for.  I never meant to drift so far out of touch, still don’t want to, and I guess this is partly my way of reaching back out to you both.  Perhaps it’ll be easier to communicate once I’m back home, probably it won’t, but I’ll make the effort if you’ll do the same!  Much love, and I’m sure we’ll meet again soon.

Sjoerd – Hatford Doma (Godverdomme) buddy!  Where have you been all my life?  I think as long as I’m handing out blame for the situation I’m in, you have to get a lot of the credit.  It was you, after all, who said “Hey, lets hitchhike to San Jose, Costa Rica” when we were blind drunk after the Rivera wedding, and overnight changed our path from Guatemala, Belize, Mexico to 180* south and the best times of my life.  Without that one crazy night who knows where we would be?  Well, you would probably be right back where you are now, to be fair, but I might be dead in a ditch in Mexico, long-since home, or still living in Honduras, or… well it doesn’t matter where I might be, because right now I’m here, that airport thing I keep talking about, surrounded by well-dressed travelers with scowls and too many bags, and I can’t stop laughing inside and smiling outside as I think of how well things worked out.

I will say this one thing – you should have brought the trumpet!  That two-day trip, dance party and wedding, turned into one of the best adventures of my entire life, and without you I could never have done it.  We have this great personality overlap, where one of us says something godawful stupid, like “hey, let’s go see if we can live on an abandoned prison island” and then the other says “yeah, that sounds great,” and then we’re stuck in a creepy building that smells like batshit and ghosts and oh-dear-jesus-why-is-that-doll-nailed-over-the-doorway?!  We made a fabulous traveling team, just as we made a great kitchen-bar-drinking team.  I still wish Dan had come with us for some of the fun bits – poor guy only got the hard work and missed out on most of the really great stuff!  Still, three is a crowd for hitching, so perhaps it worked out for the best – I don’t know, never do, but what I am sure of is that you helped set me onto this crazy path of adventurous wild living and I owe you the world for it!

We really need to stop chasing the same women though, especially if we end up traveling together again, which we definitely ought to.  The drive-across-Africa plan was a good one, even if we dreamt it up over rum and karaoke in Leon – oh man, I wish you’d been in Leon some of the later times I stayed there!  There were such good crowds, entire schools of Norwegians that somehow we didn’t meet the first times, Dutch people everywhere, a live music scene, dancing and parties and friendships we barely scratched the surface of.  Come back sometime, and tell me when you do, so we can get out there and live wild again.  I didn’t think I could make such a lifetime friend in so little time, over such awful jobs and such poverty as we chose to live in!  The Casa Kiwi – I’ll have to work hard to find a worse job than that – remember the day we both quit and Chaz started chasing cows and hitting them with sticks because she was so angry at us?  That’s a whole other crazy saga I need to write up, and perhaps now that I’m not living an adventure a day I’ll have time to do just that.  Until we next meet, this Black Label is for you my friend!

X – Yeah, I guess I’ve stuck with the single letter motif too long to use any of your seventeen given names, but I think you like it better this way.  When I think about it, you were my first friend after I left – thought Randy was, but the whole trying to punch me in the face thing cured me of that – and I owe you a lot from our short time together.  I wasn’t prepared for life in Honduras, didn’t have the language, nearly none of the skills, and I came into that program with nothing comparable – no international travel, no exposure to other cultures, nothing at all – straight from spoiled US life (and to think, I used to believe I had it rough!) right into the Cerrato family homestead.  I would have freaked out a good deal more if I hadn’t had you to give the whole thing a sheen of relative normalcy.  Seven people in three-ish rooms?  Tortillas with mantequilla for breakfast? Bucket baths?  Nothing too difficult when I’ve a friend who seems to be better than me at absolutely everything, and not only that, enjoys it too.

Small wonder I was so enamored of you in the early months, and even smaller wonder you weren’t exactly about to return the same feelings.  I only feel bad that things got weird after I was thrown out and had to fend for myself.  I never asked you to interject yourself between the WatSan team’s politics and my own situation, but like a true friend you did anyway, even as it hurt you.  Thank you for trying, even if there wasn’t much hope of my salvation or return to the cool kids’ club!  When did it begin to feel like you were taking care of me?  Probably well before it began to show through – you’re strong, moreso every time I see you, which, incidentally might not be for a while, considering my current airborne status, an hour out from NYC and freezing to death.

A hundred thank yous, X, for the small kindnesses, home cooked meals, letting me sleep on your floor, the open arms and doors, for allowing me to help out with small projects and make a fool of myself from time to time.  You’ve really a knack for governance and management, which simultaneously makes me jealous and want to run far away to places where there isn’t much of either… Ah well, I wouldn’t be me without it.  I love your stories, our dancing, even the completely arrogant domineering part of your personality started to grow on me by the end!  I’ll never forget that when the entire Peace Corps took a shit on my head, you risked your status within the program, your career and reputation and all those supposedly valuable things, just to sit with me and grieve a bit.  Thanks friend – I owe you a dozen.  I’ll be seeing you around, I expect, since our worlds do overlap just a tiny bit, and for all the dumbshit things I do, losing track of true friends isn’t one of them!  Take care of yourself down there, and let’s keep in better touch.

Alex – You’re the new kid on this list, and perhaps the only reason I kept at paragliding after a straight disaster of a first week – I nearly killed myself battling high voltage lines that first morning when you showed up, and was just sick of it all, from the technically unforgiving fly site to the people to damn near everything, and then all out of nowhere you’re there, excited and ready to learn.  I couldn’t stomach the thought of quitting and complaining about danger and possible death right in front of someone who hadn’t had a fair shake at it yet, and as it turned out those next 48 hours or so were when the whole thing clicked for me and I finally felt more like a pilot than a guy on the verge of falling out of the sky.  Lucky break too, because unless I’ve sorely misread you, I’m pretty sure we made real friends real fast – something about being stuck in bunk beds and having the same lame sense of humor?

That might be part of it, but we both know it isn’t the real reason – we came together at a time when we were at the same point, the final days of year-long trips, and together forced ourselves through the “freak out and dread it” part of going home by reminiscing, telling stories, talking about our lives, and just reminding each other that life does go on, that we are more than the situations we’re in, the places we live.  We want similar things, to do something we find value in, to control our own path, to surround ourselves with the sort of people we relate to, and have the freedom to pursue what we love.  At least, that’s my read, but since you put up with my shit for as long as you did, I don’t think I’m far off!  I think you’ve a good shot at it too – you have your passions pretty well sorted, know the people you need to break into the industry you want to work in, and you seem pretty well motivated – add in some pretty ridiculous dance moves and rockstar hair and you might well be writing your own paychecks.

Here’s where I’m scared though, for you and me both but I’ll write it to you.  It’s really easy to get trapped by the way you live your life, from the job you work to the company you keep, and while I haven’t any indicators that you hang out with the wrong sort of folks (I’ll excuse you paling around with me since you were forced to) but you’ve been working primarily in exactly the sort of industry that grabs you by the ears, slaps you around, and eventually bends you over and makes you its bitch.  Maybe you’re into that, but I’m pretty sure no, since escaping your job and the reality surrounding it was a big motive in leaving.  It wasn’t healthy, the work consumes every aspect of your self, and in the end you’re basically tarnishing your soul bit by bit in order to feed yourself – it’s no way to live, and if you aren’t careful it is the sort of work that will turn living into surviving, into dying day by day until you look into the mirror one morning and can’t remember the last time you felt truly alive.

You made the right decision once, in getting out and living for yourself a bit, but it seems as if you’re poised to go right back into the same under a different guise – closer to what you want in terms of proximity, perhaps, but I just don’t see how working in finance, even if it is finance for the industry you love, is going to get you even one step closer to doing the real work that you want, helping people and not entities.  It’s a dangerous game, because as you know better than I, once you’re in that job is your life, just like everyone else who gets in.  You work and everything else comes secondary – something that this last year ought have shown you the futility of, if nothing else!  I’m worried for you, because I see how truly happy you are now – I called you a beautiful person because that’s the best way I can put it – and I can’t bear the thought of seeing you lose that spark and get muddied up in the gears of unfeeling corporatism again.

Ask yourself, perhaps – what best serves your goals, the ones you spoke with me about?  How can you most directly help the people who you care about, the artists and bands as opposed to the industry that holds them back and profits from their art?  Surely there’s a better way to do that than finance!  If your goal is to get more profit to the bands, why not use your same skills to help bands negotiate better contracts, or find sponsorship for events, or organize indy labels to work together and get the big dinosaurs out of the picture altogether?  If that isn’t what you’re looking for, there are a thousand ways to help bands promote, organize, and share their talents that don’t require big labels, and if you’re serious about giving power back to the musicians, that power is going to have to be wrestled away from the labels.  You can’t make that sort of difference working from the inside, because the entire thing, the structure of the modern music industry is built around the necessity of big corporate labels – reality doesn’t require them, but they’ve made a nice niche that sure does!  If you want to make positive difference, that probably means doing something big, something authentically yours, and something radical – that won’t happen from inside the finance department at Universal.

That’s all I’ll say there, perhaps too much already, but I’m writing as much to me as to you.  We’re in similar ships, and I hope that neither of us is forced to compromise our loves, or lives, or our values for mere survival once we get back into the fake world.  I’ll be rooting for you, and waiting for that book too!  Maybe if I keep bugging you for updates it will motivate me to do something myself…  Don’t hold your breath.  Again – fantastic meeting you, we had a ridiculous time, and seriously – practice the PLF.  That is not a beginner’s paragliding site, not even close, and it just might save your life someday.  Trust yourself and you’ll go anywhere you desire.

Russell – Here’s the thing man – you’re serious all the time, like 99.999% pure business, pure business time, and I’m out to make everything into a big jumble of bad jokes and chaos.  We get along like styrofoam and gasoline, to be honest, in that when we’re together we stick to everything and burn.  That’s an awful analogy, please wipe it from your memory.  What I mean is that we’ve personalities that don’t mesh all that well, and that came out especially during paragliding training.

It’s a hard sport, and people might die if they don’t pay attention and learn quickly, but much as you drill that into us, there are some gaps in your program that pretty directly affect us, the hapless students who wander up to the flying school based off friends’ recommendations and Lonely Planet.  It’s great that you get us doing practical training within minutes, that we’re kiting and flying the wings, practicing takeoffs on the very first day.  I much enjoy getting into the grit of the sport early, learning by doing (badly), and making my mistakes – it makes me feel much more involved than I would otherwise, gives me a real show of where I need to improve.  That said, your program has a couple bits where I think you need to change, or you’re likely to lose a student sooner or later.

I’ll start with the most direct – you need to learn how to constructively criticize, because from your instructor position you are very much the person we most depend on in the early days and weeks, and if you’re not someone we can trust, respect, listen to, then you’re going to end up with students who don’t take you seriously, who don’t want to listen because they’re sick of hearing your voice!  I’m serious – it gets to the point where you can actually shut your students down – not just me mind you, but all of us – because you’re relentless in your critiques, and you get pissed off at people who have been Paragliding for a matter of hours.  It shows in your voice when we don’t get the takeoff routine perfectly down after maybe 15 attempts, when we set the wing down too hard, when we’re not correcting quickly enough.  I know it’s frustrating to see the same mistakes over and over out of hundreds of people, but you must remember that while these things are second nature to you, we are still thinking the entire process out – center, lines, accelerate, push up, keep running, head out, long strides, arms back, superman, correct, pendulum, keep running, check lines, forward, correct… It’s a lot to process, and when the guy yelling commands over the radio can’t keep the frustration out of his voice, it’s about the most demoralizing thing in the world.

We react to it in different way – some of the students outwardly shut down, get frustrated themselves, start to make mistakes, and eventually have to take a break.  Me, I found myself wrestling with my own brain to just listen to you!  That’s dangerous man, really dangerous – I would just start to tune you out whenever you started lecturing, not because you were wrong, but because you deliver these scathing critiques in a tone of voice that says “you’re worthless, you’re an idiot, you’re wasting my time.”  Never mind the words, your tone and body language are those of the expert pilot but of the frustrated teacher who doesn’t want to be doing this.  Don’t think I don’t understand the dangers of the sport – as your most infamous treehugging pilot I know them better than most, but I found myself on your shit-list early on, and by the day it because harder and harder to listen to your words.  How could I, when you’re basically telling me to fuck off in your commands?

I’ll never forget that last flight, with me heading into power lines and fighting not to hit Richie’s house, and your dripping, contemptuous “what the fuck are you doing?” over the radio.  Not helpful, not professional.  If I hadn’t cleared those lines by half a meter, that could have been the last thing anyone ever said to me.  The same theme played out a few other times, when I wasn’t doing what you asked – first contempt, then abandonment.  I know you think that you know what is best for me, but really, if a pilot isn’t obeying you despite obviously hearing what you have to say, is it possible that you don’t have the whole picture?  Ordering me through the landing routine when I’m 40 or more meters up, then groaning that I never listen isn’t helpful or necessary.  A lot of times we only have seconds to react out there, and small mistakes can lead to death or serious injury – at no point should you, the professional, be letting you, the angry person, take control.  We depend on you to keep us alive up there, and excess radio chatter doesn’t help, especially when it’s insulting.

In a similar vein, I don’t think you should be training beginners to fly at Ritoque, period.  I don’t see it as any surprise that every student seems to hit the ground too hard a few times there, because as any pilot who comes there will tell you, it’s a very technically challenging site.  Why did whatserface break an arm?  Why did people end up in the hospital daily my first 3 days in town?  Why do all the visiting pilots have close calls in their first few flights?  It could be all chalked to pilot error, and to be honest, every single incident can be charted to that as a direct cause, but that just brings the question one level higher – why are there so many pilot errors?  Ask the pilots, and really, think about it yourself – that is a very dynamic, very technical site, and there are a huge amount of variables – from ground moisture to wind direction to cloud formation – that utterly transform the whole area.  It’s the equivalent of punk ethos – the only rule it conforms to is constant nonconformity.  When the conditions change so much, so rapidly, it forces pilots to adapt quickly and correctly, which isn’t so bad except that many of us have never, outside of the book we read at your school and the brief videos, seen, heard of, or experienced anything quite like what we now have to deal with!  It makes better pilots of us to learn this way, but it also puts people in a huge amount of danger with only their wits and a radio line to you guys on the ground to help us.

If I knew before I started what I know now having completed the course, there is not a chance that I would have come to Ritoque to learn, not as a beginner.  That is an intermediate-advanced site, and you’re sending complete novices off into the air and hoping that conditions don’t get too hairy.  When nothing changes too rapidly, we usually end up ok, but what happens when we’re landing in a 45 degree crosswind on our third flight, or sinking out rapidly into that awesome ditch before the landing zone?  People without experience in the air are being asked to make decisions and judgments that we don’t have any business making, and worse, are doing so without proper warning.

I dug my own grave – before I headed up to fly with you guys, I was thoroughly warned.  Vish told me it was a P3 site, I saw Steve in the hospital, translated for him even!  The guys told me a few stories, and I was still dumb, young, and brash enough to head up there to see for myself.  What about the others?  I warned Alex a bit, but the new students?  Why aren’t you teaching the PLF, making us practice deploying reserve chutes, talking about uncollapsing wings, getting out of stalls and spirals, making us focus on safety and our own health before throwing us into the sky?  How about an honest lecture on the dangers before we start flying?  Are you worried that students will get scared and leave?  You owe everyone who comes up there the truth – you need to tell them about the accidents and mistakes and dangerous spots before we make them ourselves.  Not doing so conveys a sink or swim attitude, which is great except when things literally translate to die or fly.  If you’re not more careful, if you don’t teach us the basic survival skills, then some student is going to be me but a bit less lucky, and is going to end up in the power lines or crashing to earth and not getting back up.  You’re going to have a student die if you don’t teach emergency skills.

All of that aside I had a fantastic time, which sounds ludicrous after all this but is the absolute truth.  I’m glad I did the course, near-deaths and all.  I just wish I could have had some advance warning on the terrain, on the dangers, on the possibilities and problems.  I’m a better pilot than the people who learned on the bunny slope, I wager.  I’ve had more experience in more conditions, better flights, and had to think and react on the fly much more than anyone who just had to fly down the bunny slope a couple of dozen times.  I only worry that someone else will come down a bit differently, fly a bit lower over the power lines, hit the ground a tiny bit harder.  We’re very fragile, human beings, and while a certain level of risk is inherent to this sport, your students deserve a little more warning before being thrown off the cliff, as it were.  Thanks for putting up with me, I guess – it seemed like you really didn’t want to after a while.  I’m not bitter, but you really know how to make a guy feel unwelcome.  That’s ok though, because I’m gone, and you won’t have to deal with me again.  Take care of yourself man, don’t believe everything on Prison Planet, and smile once or twice.  Life is good!

Sofia – When I first met you all I really knew was that you were the Swedish girl, blonde and blue, who had made friends of all the local paragliders in Bucaramanga.  You spoke a whole lot of Spanish with a Colombia accent, knew just about everyone in that community, and had a level of confidence I found simultaneously intimidating, alluring, and confusing – combined with the fact that we never quite spoke beyond trading jokes for days in passing, it left me quite ready to write you off as another pretty face I’d never meet again, honestly.  I’ve never been one to go to ridiculous distances to meet people unless I know it’s worthwhile, but as it turned out we had a great intermediary in the Jake the crazy Alaskan.  Without him, I don’t think I’d have anything to write you about, or to thank you for.

Remember Jake?  How could you not?  The guy is a one-man party, a dancing machine, the sort of fool who could drink and dance and be the life of the whole party until dawn if only you let him, then do it again the next night, and the next…  Once he was medically forbidden to fly, (possibly due to the effects of eating a two-pound hamburger in a matter of minutes, but that is a story for another day) Jake quickly tired of life on a mountainside, and started going to more and wilder lengths to amuse himself.  He found you and your friends, got accepted into the paragliding cool kids club, and eventually dragged me in as well.

It was my great fortune, because you guys really know how to have a good time.  Your birthday party was ridiculous – from the little tienda where everyone comes together and drink, to Club Tiger, to the shenanigans at that $5 all-you-can-drink nightclub, it was a wild time.  Who knew that losing all my money playing drinking games and getting molested by drunk fifteen year olds could be so fun?  I mean, it certainly didn’t help my paragliding career, but I can’t complain – fun times and good memories are worth so much more than sound health in old age.  Tapadas, Tapados? – that game was so good at parting me from all my money – lowest number buys the round seemed to translate to “K buys every round he plays, unless Sofia is there to pick even worse” and it seems like the hands-down best way to make friends with the locals.

Actually, that’s what I need to write about here – you’ve gotten in so well with the community, become a part of their lives, that I was both jealous and inspired.  You speak like them, use the same expressions and gestures, live with them and cross lives with everyone.  You’ve become part of the family because you don’t hold back, don’t hide from the new and foreign, and open yourself up to the world.  I admire that so much in you – it has been one of the hardest things for me to learn this past year, how to leave myself vulnerable and open to strangers – but you seem to have done so completely with this group.

You were honest with me as well, even when that meant you weren’t making friends – even when that meant a disdainful comment on my lack of flying savvy or a goofy face when you caught me staring.  I appreciate it precisely because I know how difficult it is to be truthful with others, and have struggled to do the same for so long.  I’ve gotten better at it, but you’re leaps and bounds ahead of me.  Thank you for that.

Still, I don’t know if you realize it, but there is something you’re hiding from yourself.  I’ve seen only the outlines of it, the smallest glimpse, but I think there’s something I ought tell you – you’ve lost the magic of paragliding, the love is replaced by fear and bad memories, and it might never come back.  Not that I blame you – had I taken the same fall that you did, come so close to the face of death, I don’t think I would have ever stepped foot onto that launch site again.  Still, you’re so caught into the paraglider family, with all of your friends being pilots or girlfriends/boyfriends of pilots, that I worry somewhat you might get pulled back into it without really wanting to take part.  There’s no shame in staying far away from a sport once the fun of it is gone, no matter how much everyone around you wants to you back in the fold.  I don’t know if they’re pressuring you now, but I imagine they will be before long – it’s in the nature of boys, bold pilots, and Latin men, and when they’re all three… Well, you’ll see it soon enough, if you haven’t already.  I guess I’m just encouraging you to do what you want, not what makes your friends happy.  Peer pressure is a wicked thing sometimes, especially when it comes to throwing yourself into an activity that demands such concentration and precision of you.

Aside all that, it was a pleasure and an honor making friends with you.  That one night, when Alex and you were inventing sex positions on all the bunkbeds, was priceless, really ridiculously fun, and without you I couldn’t have gotten into the same group of friends as I did.  Sorry for not coming out to play futbol or volleyball, and for not supporting the “lets do things that don’t involve binge drinking” movement – frankly I would have, if not for it being my last night!  If you ever come up to the US, you’re welcome wherever I am.  I owe you a place to stay at the very least, after being my link to such good people and good times!  Here’s hoping we cross paths again someday.

Dale – This one is for you, crazy Canadian!  Don’t fret that sometimes you’re wrong – we all are, just let it slide.  You’re a great guy, but I felt like half the time we were tip-toeing around you to avoid pointless arguments, and the other half stringing you along to get a cheap laugh.  There’s no shame in just smiling and taking a seat when the whole world is against you and seems to be right!

That said, you did say something that stuck with me – “the first thing,” as you put it, “the first decision you must make, is whether or not you’re going to take off.  From that decision come all of the other choices.”  That stuck with me, especially after I took a wicked crash on a flight I didn’t want to take in the first place!  At least you warned me…

My family – Sitting here in a chilly Brooklyn cafe, with this fantastic trip winding now to a close, I’m staring reality in the face and preparing myself to re-enter the once-familiar and now terrifying life back home.  Most likely I’m going to be miserable, just down in the gutter, when I first get home, and I want you to know that isn’t your fault.  It never was, never will be, but you’re going to have to deal with my unhappiness most directly, and for that I am sorry.  It isn’t fair to you, in the face of such love and support, but honestly I mean you no harm, and wish you didn’t have to see that side of me.  For what it’s worth, I’ll hide the worst from you, keep it to myself because to show you, to see the hurt in your faces, is more painful than any of the regrets and frustrations I might vent.

The reality is that I really don’t like living in the US, and not just because I found life so much more enjoyable, challenging, authentic, REAL in Central America.  Things are just so much more convoluted, unnecessarily complicated and frustrating at home.  It runs from the mundane – expensive living, ID checks, security cameras, rules, to the really fundamental – I can’t stomach my actions, efforts, brainpower, and labor going to support a nation that does such terrible things around the world.  When I left I swore that I wouldn’t ever again aid a terror state or benefit from my status as an American, and yet here I am retreating tail between my legs, coming right back home, crashing into my old life, old room, my own past.  I’m doing exactly what I don’t want to in coming home, but believe it or not that has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with you guys.  It’s the sense of failure, of betraying my values that I hate so much, not you guys, not my flesh and blood!

And yet…  Regardless of what I do, I know there is no way I can convince you not to live in the US, or to internalize the feelings I’m going to have to vent from time to time.  I can’t hide my disdain for this system, not so long as it keeps crossing my path, keeps popping up into my life.  I’m probably going to be a negative, angry piece of shit for a while, at least until I can start planning to get out, run away again.  I just wish I could get you guys to come with me, to leave this failing empire and live somewhere that isn’t trying to start wars or rule the world.  Still, mom and dad, I know we’ve had this argument and I can’t win – there isn’t any way I’m going to convince you I’m not some sort of liberal or terrorist lover because I don’t love the nation, and there’s no way you’re going to convince me that the US is where I ought to spend my life, so perhaps we ought drop it entirely – the arguments lead nowhere except tears, and when it comes down to it, I’m absolutely ecstatic to see you all again.

I’m amazed that it has been a year since I saw you all, that I’ve missed an entire round of birthdays, holidays, and family gatherings.  It slipped by unnoticed!  I never thought I could get so disconnected, so easily, from all of your lives – the guilt tastes bitter, leaves me feeling unsatisfied whenever I’ve thought of it, and so for the most part I’ve hidden it deep inside.  Isn’t that terrible?  Burying thoughts of family, or those people I love most, feeling guilty because I keep hiding from them, and allowing that guilt to bury things still further.  I’ve been a miserable son lately, hiding out in far-off lands while you’re all having such a hard time at home, but just knowing that has driven me further into seclusion, made me hide further and deeper in my own life, in the day-to-day mundanities.  I owe you all an apology, because you’ve been nothing buy good to me, and I’ve been so disconnected and ungrateful.

It will be a great day when I can finally see you all again.  There will be tears and laughter and dad will probably give himself a hernia trying to pick up the whole family – I love you guys so much that just thinking about it brings a smile to my face.  It will be a great reunion, moreso because I keep delaying, keep pushing it back with side trips and detours and road trips with strangers.  I’m sorry for being the son who can’t stay put, can’t stop moving, can’t keep close to the family.  I know it hurts every day we’re all apart, because it hurts me too, but I just can’t sit still!  There’s this wild bug in me that cries out “do more crazy things, have more fun, get out there and give it your all, because this is all you have, this one life, these few brief moments alive.”  I can’t deny myself any more than you can, and so I know that as I laugh into the wind with sheer extasy of living, you’re all sitting patiently and waiting for me to come home.  I’m a selfish bum, but I swear I’ll make it up to you when I get back home.  I love you all so much, and I’ll see you soon.

Natalie again – Thank you again for NYC, for Colombia, for stealing me that jacket from Steve, for the laughs and the criticism and the doubts and for being real – thank you for everything.  You’re a beautiful person, and I’ll write you a worthy story as soon as I’m able.  Keep in touch, keep in touch, for fuck’s sake don’t drop off the face of the planet!  You know everything I want to tell you already, I think, so I’ll leave it here.   Until the next time, friend, there is a scavenger hunt in your room – I got bored.

Vish again – Here we are again friend, back at you, reaching the end.  I hope there’s some sort of narrative appearing here, in all of the letters, in all of the stories half-written, sketched out.  I owe you a dozen letters by now, and miss our long drawn-out conversations every time I’m sitting down alone – which, these days, is a whole hell of a lot.  I’m in NYC now, Brooklyn usually, Manhattan when I feel like taking the subway, and I’m too poor to spend much time outside.  Instead, when I’ve done enough walking around and people-watching and sitting in parks, once the fingers start going numb and the teeth chatter, I head back to the 2nd Stop Cafe, this legit little worn out coffee shop, and write until my eyes hurt or the endless cups of strong brew get to me.  It’s a life, I guess, but it doesn’t compare too favorably to what we were doing in Central America, what you might still be doing, and what I wish I was doing today.  It’s just so unfriendly, so isolated in the crowds that I want to start doing handstands in the street, and might except I can’t do handstands too well, and I’d get run over by a taxi.

I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining too much – I’ve had some great times here with Natalie, with this crazy Aussie pair named Steve and Steve, with my cousin as well.  It’s just that life can’t be the same here as it was there, and I truly like life there better.  I know you’re thinking about heading back home, and I think you probably ought to go see your family and new nephew, but I encourage you to take the same advice I gave to Alex above – don’t forget what you know now, don’t let this life fade and pale in the London fogs and life at home.  I’m fighting it now, right now, today, because I can already see that I won’t be able to live as I did on the road once I get home, settle, and replant myself there.  I’m scared, no terrified, of the prospect.  Part of me thinks that is just silly – how could I possibly forget what I’ve learned, felt, experienced?  Yet at the same time I can feel myself losing the language, losing the memories – it all has gone so damn fuzzy, so heartbreakingly vague, and it might as well just be a dream.  Without my torn clothes, scars, and care lines, I could so easily discount it.  How easy it would be to lose it all!

We spoke about not tying ourselves to the past or defining ourselves but what we have done, been, or seen, and I have tried to live as we counseled each other, not letting my ties to this present moment be overwhelmed by what has already been.  However, I wonder now what to do when the past was so good, so positive, so formative.  Is it possible, do you think, to keep the lessons and experiences without letting them guide me into some specific future?  I want to keep it all, but I know that if I do it will become impossible to approach the present openly – in essence, I would be trading a future of limitless possibilities for one narrowed by my actions.  It might not be bad, but what am I losing?  There’s that great unknown that comes with facing the world innocently, and I fear giving it up willingly.  No matter how good I feel about this adventurous life, it seems quite possible that I’m missing something far better and won’t even recognize it if I’m not careful.  The present challenge as I transition into a new life is to keep the values and lessons, friendships, loves, adventures, and memories from disappearing while also keeping them from completely dominating my present and thus future.

I wager that you are going to be facing the same soon, if you aren’t already – all good things must end in due time, and you seemed ready at our last meeting to cut your travels for a bit and see how the settled life suits you.  I admire that courage – I’m going in kicking and screaming now, with reality essentially dragging me by the toes into a sedentary life.  I wish you only the best my friend, and never forget that we still have a book to write!  We should talk soon, or at least keep an email exchange going.  I have to much to ask you – about Katarina, about your travels since we last parted, about your family and ideas and  paragliding, and other topics that will spring naturally out of our conversations.  I apologize for taking so long to write – it has been a busy month, in a busy life, but that is no excuse for going so long without conversing!  I hope you are well, and I’m sure that we will speak soon.  Take care friend, and keep your beautiful spirit alive!

It comes now to this – a coffee shop, an adventure ending, lovers parting, and the world spinning serenely onward.  I’m not sure what the future holds, or even where I’ll be tomorrow, but I am sure that it will be fantastic, wonderful, spendid, adjective-ful – how could it not, when the world is such a wild and magical place?  The transition back to the USA hasn’t killed me, and tonight I leave on a cross-country drive with someone, or someones, that I haven’t yet met.  I need to pack, I need to shave, I have no money, my hair is sticking up like a lunatic’s.  I probably stink, but that won’t stop me either.  I’m a sucker for this life – I’m mad about it, head over heels, and there is nothing I have ever seen or done or loved or touched upon that could make me give it up.  I’ll figure out how to keep going, how to keep drinking the ambrosia, until the day I die.  How I know this I don’t know, but that not knowing hasn’t stopped me before, won’t stop me this time either.  It’s just a feeling I guess, one that permeates my soul and body, mind and spirit.  This is perhaps the only truth I know – I am happy when I live the way I do.  I don’t regret what I’ve done, and just hope I can share some small bit of it with you all before I go.  Go where?  No where – it’s the action that is important, not the destination.  Until the next time! -k

I Wrote This For You

December 23, 2009

I write this not for you, though there is a chance that you will understand what I write, that it will help you in some way. I do not write it because I want you to do anything, to help me in any way, to respond, or even to read it. I write it because it makes me happy to write, and well, what is more important then to spend life doing those things which make you happy?

I hope that you still have your open mind, for what I write here is strange, alien, uncomfortable to many. What I have here is an idea, a song, and the most rebellious suggestion in the world, perhaps. You might already have had it – I hope dearly that you have – because this is the sort of idea that betters everything it touches. I get ahead of myself – let me start where I really started, where my fingers began:

I worry that now, when torture and murder, aggressive world war, have become commonplace, accepted actions of the country I grew up in, that there isn’t a place there left for me. I’m scared, because I refuse to compromise my values just to live in a geographical region, and yet most of the people I love are right there. I wonder – what can I do, if they won’t leave, and I won’t come back, to ever see my family and friends again?

What scares me most of all is that they don’t even see the problems, so busy are they with the trivialities of each day. They just know I’m off “having a good time” in another world, “being young,” in the “time of my life,” before I settle down to “real life.” I am having fun, and that is good, but to them it is impermanent, irresponsible, and one day must be ended for me to live as a “normal” person – to live as they do.

It isn’t like that – this isn’t a vacation, this is a series of actions taken toward a goal of escaping the crushing, consuming prison of modern American life. I want out, need it, because everything I see outside is alive, and when I was in, all I saw was death – it almost killed me too. I broke out of that life and of that place, and in that I was transformed. I am not who I was, I cannot ever be that me again. I cannot come back.

This isn’t to say I won’t come visit – there are people there that I can help, dying slowly among the already dead – waking zombies, lifeless breathers, the ones too far gone. People too tired, too sick, too beaten and scared to cry out for it, but craving life still. I was one of those, and I can help those still in need. I may return to that place, but I cannot ever return to that life. If I do return, it will be as a free man, and it will not be to stay.

Still – pulling people out of a killing world isn’t good enough – no one should have to live like domesticated animals, like tools. No one should spend their life’s blood, energy, time in unhappiness, in pursuit of goals not their own. No one should, yet almost everyone does, and I can’t save them, because no one can save anyone else – they might be happier, but the problem is just transferred – now they would serve my goal.

I hope you understand what I write here, but I know that mostly you won’t. How could you? Words are an imperfect means of communication, and communication is a dream – we can only hope to spread what makes sense to us, and let everyone else interpret it as they may. I will say only this – modern life, with its obligations, debts, necessities, is not as joyous, or as fulfilling, or as happy, as it could be, and that is our fault. We are slaves by choice before we are slaves out of necessity.

It could be better, happier, richer for all if we simply let it, if we said “no” when we meant it, if we refused completely to be used by others for their ends, if we each did what made us happy. We aren’t required to accept a certain level of misery to live – we can change that through a simple refusal to work, live, or exist in any way that we do not enjoy.

Your goals are all attainable, if you would only stop sabotaging them. “Well that sounds good for other people,” goes the standard reply, “but I have an x and a y and a z, and so I can’t be irresponsible and run off like you.” Irresponsible! Obligations! You build those for yourself, then use them as the reasons for you imprisonment.

Yes, you do have to take care of certain things, you cannot drop your baby on the street and run off to India, but look around you, at the supposed restrictions on your life – who put them there? Whose choices led to their existence? We all create our own reality. You create yours. Those chains which hold you back from your dreams are of your own making, and came from your own choices and actions.

This is a good thing. A joyous thing. For if you created your own chains, then surely you have the power to break them as well. It does not matter how deeply you are indebted, how consumed you are by your job or unhappiness or obligations – all is removable if you desire. If you desire it! – this is key. Freedom is not license, but choice. It is not a belief system, only a simple question – “Am I happy?” – fueled by a raging desire for joy.

It’s true! People the world over have learned this, figured out what I write here of their own accord, and resolved to pursue their own ends forever more. I meet them, we cross paths every day, share stories, lives, hot meals, beds. I know who they are because they are the only happy people I see, the only happy people in the world. It is indisguisable, if you know what to look for. I can tell you what to look for, if you like.

These people are the ones doing nothing, drawing, painting, kissing strangers and running in the rain. They are the ones with holes in their shoes, with beautiful poetry at their lips. They laugh at God, because they have become God. If they discuss politics, theology, philosophy, they do even that joyously, turn handstands in the park, paint on the walls without permission. They are the ones who make living their art.

Make no mistake friend, there is a better way to live your life then the way you live it. There is a more joyous way for me to exist, for him with the guitar, for her with the curly hair and the frown. That better way is whatever makes you happier, allows you to feel and spread more love through the universe. If you want it, it is possible. If you seek it, you will find it all around you.

Courage is needed, great strength of will, an unquenchable lust for life and joy and love. Those things exist inside us all, untapped by most, unknown by many, but there nonetheless, ready to explode outward if and when we call upon them. You do not have to trust me, you certainly don’t have to thank me – this is not my idea, I simply found it lying in the road one day, picked it up, and found it fit me. We can share it – it will grow to accommodate us both, and more beside.

Really, it affects me not at all if you are happy, if you are enjoying your life to the fullest. It shouldn’t hurt me to see you so unhappy, and so unaware of your unhappiness. It is your life to live, but I love you, and I can’t bear to see you hurt as you do. I will help if you want, or leave you be if not, I just felt I had to try. I release you – go free, be who you wish, go fuck, go fight, go sing and dance, go learn, go teach, go travel, go do what you have always desired. Just go.

I love you always. Yours in freedom -k

A short letter to Seth

November 21, 2009

I wrote this to my friend Seth in response to an email he sent weeks and weeks ago – cleaning out the ole’ inbox, and that sort of jazz.  Anyway, what it comes down to is that there’s a bit in the middle that I think people ought read.  Sounds pretty arrogant, but hey, wouldn’t be me without it.

Hey dude!
Man oh man, it’s good to hear from you! I’ve been pretty friendless for a while now, since we all split ways.  Not completely – I spent a few weeks with Veronique, met some great people in Leon, but it’s just not the same as the amazing time I had living with you guys.  Having real, true friends is a precious thing.
I’ve had a terrific and terrible time lately – just got evicted 2 days ago at gunpoint, and things have been crazy.  I’ve gone from having my bar, house, cafe, theater to suddenly being homeless and drifting.  I think tomorrow we head north to Tikal, then to El Sal, then Nicaragua, then Panama, then Columbia to learn Paragliding.  I’ve no idea really.
Anyway, I think that politics and the system are unbeatable, but they are avoidable – you can figure out a way to have that whole world influence you as little as possible, and be perfectly happy living as such, but if you devote your life to fighting against the system instead of fighting for your own goals, then you will become an empty shell, as corrupt and poisonous as the very things you’ve been meaning to destroy.  The trick is to drop out – stop playing their games, stop selling your life, and find out how you need to live to be happy and whole on your own terms, in your own world.  We all create our own realities, and to focus your reality  around beating “them” won’t work because they don’t exist – we’re all victims of capitalism, from the guy at the top feeling empty and hopeless because his money doesn’t  buy happiness to the guy at the bottom starving in the streets.  We’re all victims, and to try to turn society against one portion of it is their means, their methods.  The ultimate act of rebellion is just to work together, to love everyone, to refuse to hate. If you can do that – and it will be difficult – then you will truly be free in this world.
I’d check out crime thinc dot com if I were you, but all together-like.  Miss you bud, and I love you, as you already know.  I’d love to do business things, but frankly, I can’t right now because I’m too transitory, too gaseous and ill-defined to be of any use – I’d be in the middle of setting up some deal and just jet off to Brazil or some shit like that.  I will of course have to work at that, have to work at something eventually, but for now I’d rather live as a drifter off what little I have, and just run – run – run as far as I can from American society.  I’m happier like this.
I really hope you and Beck are well – sounds like work and life aren’t too easy right now, but I know you guys, and you’ll make it work.  If you have to stay in the states it might be more difficult, but for now, I think you deserve to be near friends and family and loved ones.  Just remember – if you’re not happy with your life, you ought change it, because nothing is more precious then our short time here on earth, and to waste even a second of that is to insult and degrade yourself.  Burn it all up, every ounce of your life and self, so that when death and the Devil come to collect their due, there will be nothing left for them, and all your love and energy will be spread across the world, scattered to the winds.  That’s how I try to live, anyway.  Like I said, miss you, love you, and we’ll talk soon my friend.  -k
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