January 4, 2011

A friend wrote this to me and asked if I might put it somewhere – something about about not wanting to offend friends and family. I haven’t changed any of it, and I rather like the sentiments, so why don’t you take a minute to reflect on the good ole Christmas spirit?
I have a confession to make: Christmas…really bothers me.
I mean, yes, there are the usual erudite bah-humbug reasons why Christmas is ridiculous: most of us aren’t really practicing Christians, the commercialism and competition surrounding gift-giving, the beautiful ideal that is never quite reached that leaves someone, without fail, weeping at the lack of perfection…I’ll spare us the rest of the rambling list about lies to children and poor translation of customs and symbols that has led to the Disney circus parade of characters that swarm over us in a dizzying tornado for just over a month each year.
What I WILL talk about, the part that bothers me most, is the rottenness of the warm fuzzy core of Christmas. More than Little Baby Jesus, Christmas is supposed to be about family and togetherness. It never really was about Jesus anyway: it’s a celebration after a year’s harvest. It’s a time to kick back amid the bounty of a year’s hard work and indulge in a little excess and catch up with people as the busy earth breathes a sigh after birthing of her muchness and prepares to roll over to sleep for a bit.
We get together to celebrate our successful journey through a year and to fight seasonally affective depression in the darkest part of the year. We remind each other that the growing season will return and we praise the sun for consenting to give us just a little more light every day.
We have lost any of the original relevances of our yearly celebration and most of us don’t miss it because that is not our reality anymore. Fine. But the sickness that plagues us now is that we don’t celebrate a job well done, we celebrate our yearly shortcomings and pray to the gods of plastic items that they will somehow help us assuage the guilt we carry for the sin of being too busy to have meaningful exchanges with people throughout the year. We hope that we can purchase something of value, since we’ve failed to make anything of value ourselves.
Our Christmas, with all its stress and expense and etiquette is a thick and glittery plastic sham that we uphold as a sacred social contract: You don’t call my bluff and I won’t call yours. But that emperor has no clothes, friends! Plastic crap and other novelties given under quasi-duress do not create a meaningful exchange.
My brother and his wife (who doesn’t really like me, I don’t think) dutifully got me a present because I am a box to check on the family list. They do not need to get me a present. I don’t really need anything or merit anything just because it’s Christmas, anyway. And besides, they have a new baby girl and Amber quit her job in November, so I know that the money can go to other things. But they did as we
all do: they wrote the list of all the people they are obliged to get gifts for, searched the corners of their minds for some quirk of mine, and went searching for a deal on something – not too expensive but jazzy enough to pass – that would fulfill the responsibility to get someTHING for all blood relatives, even those that have been off in other countries and on the other side of the state for some years now.
The want that gift to communicate that they ‘know’ me. That ‘knowing’ must then represent a bond and a connection. We still know each other, right? See – I know you like tea and art, so I picked out these TWO Thomas Kincaide mug/tea gifty set thingies! (It must not matter that we only see each other if I happen to talk to my sister on a day that they’ve actually come to town). It was the same with the other side of the family – I got a novelty chocolate-making set that is good for approximately 2 oz of prepared chocolate from my fiance’s sister. God help us.
I do not want to demonize my brother or my sister-in-law- they are fine people just trying to do the best they can at being adults. And I know there is a wealth of criticism reserved for those ingrates who would “look a gift-horse in the mouth.” A gift is a gift, right, and one should accept it graciously – that’s what we’re taught. But I think we’re taught that because gift-giving is so often not just wrong-headed, but wrong-hearted. THAT is the problem I see. Giving gifts just to check off the names on the list, or even giving gifts to make up for a year’s lack of meaningful interaction isn’t really giving at all, is it? It’s more like plastering a bandaid on a finger that isn’t cut or, worse yet, shoving a mug/tea gifty set into the hands of a guy who’s just lost a phlange…or his wife – it’s inappropriate. And while that kind of gift-giving may require some kind of monetary sacrifice it doesn’t actually represent love, thought, craft, work, or celebration of much of anything – at least, to my eye it doesn’t.
You see, I don’t WANT a novelty chocolate kit, even if it is Fair Trade Certified. I despise Thomas Kincaide and the cookies that came with each plastic-wrapped set contained milk whey and I’m lactose-intolerant. And I can forgive the whey and the novelty and be happy that these guys were thinking of me and trying so hard to find a match for me and a thing so I would KNOW they were thinking of me. But the unspoken burning truth on my tongue is that I do not WANT things from the people in my life. I don’t care about manufactured crap – in fact I rail against it constantly. Instead, I would like to spend more TIME with my brother. I want him to know just how much I love him and I wish more than anything that I could help him understand me, make me less of an uncomfortable anomaly to him (and the whole stinkin’ rest of the family, if I had my ‘d’ruthers). I WANT to be able to talk more easily with my sister-in-law…like maybe dig up some of the misunderstandings of our early relationship and settle them instead of pasting over them and pretending everything has always been dandy. I want for her to see that me just being me and living and breathing and having opinions isn’t any kind of judgment on HER. But I’ll likely not ever receive any of those gifts; instead I’ll forever get novelty crap that doesn’t even really suit me.
I say this, and I’m going to follow it with a truth about myself that will seem self-righteous, but bear with me: I do the best I can to make gifts for people at Christmas. I figure if I’m going to participate – and, hey, I have to admit that, for all the reasons it’s bullshit, I still like being with people and sharing good food and catching up – if I’m going to participate, I’ll do it on my terms and in a way that feels deeply satisfying. It helps that I am always hijacked and taken over by my right brain in the autumn.
It wakes me up at night and compels me to create. I meditate on the essences of the important people in my life and create things that I present to them at Christmas gatherings. Granted, I am bothered by twinges of doubt and embarrassment that my gifts won’t be understood, that they’re ugly, that they’ll never be used; my packages always look strange and out-of-place…sometimes they are foods or oddly-shaped, bizarrely-trimmed bundles or just naked products amongst the neat and glitzy packages and bows. But people always seem to like my inexpensive hippie-gifts best, and I think that it’s because my gifts represent a culmination and a connection and a communication – from my essence to theirs. It also demonstrates a sacrifice of time and creative energy that mass-produced landfill grist just doesn’t possess. I received a painting from my mother-in-law that she had done from one of my photographs. I was so – touched?, astounded?, overcome? – that I could hardly speak. In her way, she had used her art to give a nod to mine. THAT is a gift that is thoughtful, loving, meaningful, and, in a true sense, an offering of oneself. I think that’s what Christmas is supposed to be.

Robert Frost Can Suck It

August 5, 2010

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

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

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

Loving them both, but I only get one.

What choice is there really

when you’re unhappy either way?

Forever chase my dreamed life

or be loved and live longing.

Untouched skylines, unseen worlds.

A love I’ve dreamed of all my life.

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

Robert Frost can suck it.

I Still Love You

January 3, 2010

In moments of weakness,
the moments like these –
I find
that you’re still in my heart.

I miss you beside me,
and wish you were here –
Kid myself
that you still feel the same.

I haven’t the will now
to banish these thoughts,
Give it all
to be with you again.

There’s a rip in my soul
from where I tore you out.
No patchwork
can fill that hole in.

What wouldn’t I give?
for a taste of your lips –
Nose to nose.
Eyes to eyes. Chin to chin.

To lie here forever,
Share eternity with you.
To be happy,
content in every way.

Then I remember –
how bitterly we fought!
And I know
that we’ll never see the day.

Raul

November 7, 2009

His name was Raul, and he was once an illegal immigrant to the United States.  He came into California, worked picking crops, taught himself English.  He fell in love, married, had 2 daughters.  He moved from picking crops to chasing traffic accidents and recommending ambulance-chaser attorneys to the victims – an extra-legal profession, to borrow Joe Klein’s Orwellian Newspeak.  Eventually Raul got on the wrong side of a cop, and was deported.  His wife and daughters remain to this day in the US, and Raul has not seen them since he left.  He rebuilt his life, began to work at a textile factory in Honduras, but that shut down when the owners decided it was easier to move operations abroad then to pay their workers $240/month.  He’s been unable to find work since, unsurprising in a country that suffers 30% unemployment and whose economy is driven primarily by remittances from the 1,000,000 Hondurans living in the US, and after that by textile manufacturing, banana, and coffee production.  An export economy to the West suffers deeply when the US and Europe aren’t buying, and to complicate matters, ever since the military-led Coup this summer, tourism has been flat-on-its-face dead, leaving this writer to conclude that 2009 will go down as the year Honduras got brutally beaten, shaken down, and left for the vultures on the side of the road, a not-occasional-enough event in this part of the world.

Really – when there’s no money, no work, your children are starving, and there are a very small group of incredibly rich owners in your midst, what would you do?  If you answered “turn to crime” then you’re spot on – the poor in Honduras have been driven inch by agonizing inch into the sort of activities that would get one labeled a terrorist and possibly French back in the US of A.  Everything from massive surges in gang and drug-related violence, kidnapping, smuggling, roadblocks, hijacking, bus and taxi robbery, pickpocketing, underage prostitution, child and female slavery, damn near everything you’d want to limit if your goal was societal stability is rising, and rapidly too.  Not only in Honduras, mind you – every place in Central America is seeing the same problems, the same trends, as the global economy sags like a 70-something social butterfly who fell behind on her Botox shots.  As the bigshots protect their own asses and their friends’ Wall Street investment firms, the people further down the line take the hit all the harder, and this part of the world is pretty near the bottom of the totem pole.  No one has credit, liquidity, savings to fall back on – most don’t have an extra tortilla or cup of coffee to spare, let alone money.
The rich will survive this – even if they have to sell the extra Mercedes and the lake house, they will make it through, keep sending their kids to the right schools, showing up at the right events.  The middle class (in the US sense) will live as well, though not without having to cut out the Starbucks a few times a week, perhaps put off the new TV or those cute jeans for a bit.  It won’t be easy – many people will lose their mortgages, cars, declare bankruptcy, but you’ll eat at least.  The poor, the real poor, the billion people who live on less then $1 a day – that sixth of the world is, to put it politely, fucked. Just like the last time, just like the next time, the poor take it on the chin whenever the Capitalist system over-invests in tulip bulbs.
Ok, so what does this have to do with Raul?  It seems a good enough time to reintroduce our protagonist.  When I met Raul, I was in Choluteca, Honduras, hitchhiking north to friendly faces and a roof.  He was lying in the street near the market, facedown with an arm stretched dangerously close to the choking line of buses, trucks, taxis slogging through the narrow dirty streets.  In his hand, a small bottle of Catrachito, cheap gut-rot liquor, hinted at the cause.  I didn’t intend to meet him, I just wanted to move his arm out of the road, but as I did so he sat up with a start, scaring the hell out of me and coughing booze-scented pleghm on his dirty clothes.  I convinced him to move with me, and we sat in the shade of a nearby shop and shared a cigarette.
“Why,” I asked him after he told me his awful tale, “why are you doing this to yourself?  What about your family?”
He spat in the dirt. “My wife does not receive my calls.  She told me that she is sorry, but she needs a man who can support the children.”  He put his head in his hands, wracked by sorrow but still too proud to cry openly.
“Raul, why drink?  Surely there is something better, no?”  I asked so many variations of this, brought in God when I had to, but nothing penetrated his dark clouded eyes.  There was one phrase he kept repeating that hurts me still – I’ll try to translate it as best I can.
“I have worked like a slave my entire life.  All my life.  What good is there?”
He stared at me, and I could only shake my head – I don’t know.
I don’t know anything – I came down here looking for reality and truth, and I’ve found bucketloads, but none that penetrates quite like the poverty, the hopeless, lifelong, humanity-draining poverty.  It isn’t just Raul, it’s nearly everyone – coming from the US I had studied the victims of our economic policies, but I wasn’t prepared for the sights I’d see, the people I’d meet, the guilt and helplessness I would feel confronted with it all.  The mind rages – there must be a better way!  We’re not trying to help these people – how could we when we don’t even know they exist?  The poor, starving, dying, have no value in a system that cares only for productivity, shaving costs, trimming staff – maximizing profits has replaced human decency, and we all lose.
And yet… I’m no better.  After our talk, cigarette, and a few mouthfuls of water, I bid farewell to Raul, mouthed “I’m sorry” to his pleading eyes and outstretched hand, turned and walked away.  I had a bus to catch, a friend to meet, a hot meal and a shower waiting for me on the other end.  There are a billion Rauls, a billion humans like you and me out there trying and crying and dying to live.  There’s a way to help them, the means exist, but the will – that’s where we fall flat.  There isn’t any profit in keeping the poor alive, at least not one comparable to corporate piracy and waging aggressive war, and so until we change this fucked up system we live in, the Rauls of the world have to die – the bottom line demands it.

-k

A Letter to Veronique

October 11, 2009

Veronique,

I hope this letter finds you well and safe in New York – none too cold with your lack of cold-weather clothes, or out in the streets without a home either.  I’m sure you’re fine, because honestly, it’s New York City.  It’s expensive as fuck and impersonal, but a really easy place to survive in if you’re a gorgeous Flemish girl with good English.  Did you ever meet up with your ex?  If you did, I only hope things didn’t turn weird or awkward, because frankly that shit sucks, and I’d rather you didn’t have to deal with that sort of dramarama.  If you get a break from having a fine time and living it up in the big apple, I’d love a trip update.

Speaking of which, here’s what I’m up to these days – currently I’m sitting in a little restaurant in San Juan del Sur, Jerry’s I think, drinking coffee and leeching wifi.  Not on facebook though, so I’m doing good by you.  Only had 5 cigs the past 3 days, all when I was out drinking, most when I saw pretty girls smoking and wanted an in – isn’t that an awful thing to admit? I’m only poisoning myself when I want to meet girls and can’t think of a wittier or better way to talk to them.  Ah well, I’ve done worse.  You’d better be sticking to your 7 a day, or I’ll kick your ass for it.  Come to think of it, when I come visit Belgium, I’ll kick your ass anyway if you’re still smoking, don’t think I won’t.  I don’t care how sexy you make it look, it’s a filthy habit, and you’ll look like a saggy old crone by 30 and your boobs will be saggy, and we all know you’ll never get boys to like you if you look like that.  I’m really glad I took you up on your advice to come to San Juan, because this place is really tranquilo, chill, and just a hell of a lot of fun.  I got here Friday night, checked into la Casa Feliz, and proceeded to get embarrassingly drunk until I couldn’t feel feelings any longer.  I danced a while, smoked, met weird and wild people I’ll never see again, and generally tried to get my mind off the sad part that wanted to go to New York.  It more or less worked, I crashed out at 4am or so, I think – not having a watch and all, I’m guessing.  Yesterday was spent in lounging, talking, storytelling, smoking a bit with some English friends I made, and reading.  Angela’s Ashes was superb – I just finished it today, so thank you for that.  Sad life, but that guy probably grew up with the best-grounded worldview.  I’ve spent a lot of time resting, relaxing between wild nights, and I think tomorrow morning early I head off to Tina’s – still haven’t met anyone to bring with me, but perhaps that’s a good thing, no?  I could use more practice at being alone anyhow, since I’m pretty bad at it.

I really like your letter in my journal – I’ve read it through a few times now, and it never fails to bring a smile to my face – you’re welcome, a thousand times – it was my pleasure really, all of it – chasing after you in Leon was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life.  The last part, the dutch, I’m going to give you my best shot at the translating, and while you are allowed to laugh and make fun of me, I don’t want to know about it!  It says something like – The beauty of travel is in meeting – meeting other people, other cultures, the nature – make voecal with jezey.  I’m not sure on the last part at all, but it’s along the lines of “shout it from the rooftops” or “enjoy the fuck out of it” – Google translator helped on a few words, and it turns out I spell for shit in Dutch, but I like the message anyway.  I found this bit of song in Angela’s Ashes and liked it, so here it is:

Are you lonesome tonight?
Do you miss me tonight?
Are you sorry we drifted apart?
Does your memory stray
to that bright summer’s day
When I kissed you
and called you sweetheart?

It doesn’t fit us, isn’t supposed to and we’re not Irish enough, but I like the question, mainly because I’ve been missing you ever since we split ways – a whole 3 days, I know, but it feels like they’ve been dragged out forever.  It sounds stupid – it is stupid – but I just want to find someone to sit around with, thinking, talking, laughing, telling stories, smoking, smiling, and being happy.  San Juan del Sur is a great town, but I just can’t seem to find that sort of person – a shame, because I could use one about now – haven’t been the happiest lately, but you already figured that out.  Not that anyone would know if they didn’t know me – I smile, laugh, entertain strangers, keep up my act.  I’m not going to bullshit you though – I’ve been down in the dumps ever since you left, and I’ll be for a while still.  I didn’t realize just how much I enjoyed having you as part of my life until now, because ever since we met you’ve either been a part of it, or i’ve been planning to meet you again.  It’s only now, after the end, the split, that I can honestly feel how much you mean to me – the pain in my chest says you’re pretty special.  So thank you, really, for taking the crazy guy with the dirty clothes up on his offer to run off to “paradise” – it was a wonderful trip we’ve had, and I’d do it all over again if I had the chance.  Wouldn’t change a thing, but I’d kiss you at the airport if we did that over – that makes the story better.

Anyway, I should get out of here – stealing wifi at this restaurant isn’t making me any friends among the staff, and I’m out of laptop battery.  You said keep in touch, so here’s me doing that – you’d better write back friend!  Miss you loads, but you’re off having a fantastic adventure, and I’m happy for you.  Best of luck with the rest of your trip, and we’ll meet again one day – I’m sure of it, because if we don’t meet up again naturally I’ll show up on your doorstep one day.  Don’t think I’m joking!

totdat we elkaar weer hier is de kus kan ik niet geven,

-k

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