31 March 2012 § Leave a comment
This evening I moved out of the apartment Heather and I lived in for two months. I was there for a whole week by myself. What bliss.
The clean-up/packing session was accompanied by cinnamon pancakes and the using-up of the food I didn’t want to keep. Bites of raw onion, glasses of garlic water. Spoonfuls of pineapple jam and mango chutney. Nighttime cups of tea. Peanut butter would have brought it all together nicely, but alas, I had none.
I have three weeks left in Central America. Two in Boquete. It’s like counting down to death – but worse, because I know my next stop is Florida.
Spending my time wisely is like one of those you-have-six-months-to-live scenarios that potential employers and people trying to make an impression on you ask in order to find out what kind of person you are. What do you do with the time remaining?
I filled one out when I arrived in Boquete, before I started Kaytee’s volunteer program. I don’t remember exactly what I wrote, but there was likely a lot of self-indulgence, adrenaline, and transparency involved; things like climbing mountains, jumping from great heights, and making sure my loved ones know who they are.
The idea behind that prompt, as I’m sure you know, is to get you to ask yourself why you’re not living like that already.
Mine seemed like usual responses. I’ve done them all to some extent. But the mountains I’ve climbed apparently were not high enough, the heights I’ve jumped from .. also not high enough, and those I love, well, they should know that already, shouldn’t they? I’ve said ‘I love you’ many times; I wonder how many have been sincere. I have my suspicions that most were more genuine than I allowed myself.
My Spanish is fading; guilt replaces it. I could barely hold on in a basic conversation with a jewelery vendor in the artisan market today, and afterward realized how little more than common phrases I use anymore. I haven’t worked with Guerra and the guys in nearly two weeks, which has been my main source of language practice. More guilt.
I’m holding onto the confidence that I’ve found something satisfying and productive in working on my writing. I know that I’m making the right choice. Spanish, my last pursuit, will always be here; Ed, my mentor and editor – and most importantly, my friend – will not.
Later, I will value these few months with him as I value the greatest and happiest of my lifetimes. My anxiety over shifted priorities is my grieving. If this is indeed the beginning of my writing career, which only Ed has been able to push and inspire me to undertake, my opportunities from here will only multiply. They will slingshot me to learn places and languages and cultures that now I only dream of visiting.
But now I must focus, put the work in, and write in order to make that happen. Guerra and the guys are friends of mine. $15 a day, however, is not worth not doing what I’m doing.
Today I opened up the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo last November. I barely recall the person who wrote it. The tone is surprising to me. Innocent. Charlatan, even. Nevertheless, there’s something about it that I like.
Editing commenced immediately. Perhaps the novel is recoverable. Maybe not publishable, but there are pieces from it I can use – for other stories, slam poetry pieces, or soul-healing.
Or maybe all of them.
31 March 2012 § 2 Comments
On the road without a camera, I must capture movement with words. I have been challenged to make what I do seem accessible to thousands of armchair-travelers, and to other travelers home enough to justify travel magazine subscriptions, or curious enough to peruse Matador’s ‘Top 5’ lists, which make me feel like I needn’t travel in order to travel.
I have stories. Lots of them. They’re exciting and inspire me to keep going. But I am a cliché: when life wasn’t headed where I’d wanted, I left a budding career, a long-term relationship, and – most tragically – my dog, to bound off for Alaska to strike it rich in commercial fishing.
It didn’t work.
The next three years were cratered by long trips abroad and a lack of funds I hadn’t known since childhood. I met wonderful, smart people. Some were beautiful, and I explored bodies as passionately as I have ancient cities, remote mountainscapes, and desert highways.
But I don’t call myself ‘traveler.’ I save that term for those whose stories of Australia, India, and Kazakhstan captivated me. They’d stepped onto a plane and let the wind take them someplace magical. I wanted to be like that, so I went.
Soon, I discovered that travel is not about the places we go, but the people we meet, and what solitude teaches us. Travel yanks us out of our comfort zones – which aren’t limited to hometowns, but are things that we do; to travel, for me, is to be authentic and raw, and to learn with an open heart. It is to seek truth where it has been hidden for centuries.
‘Keep going,’ they whisper in my ear.
28 March 2012 § Leave a comment
A couple of months ago I went to Panama City with Heather and Victoria, the axis-shiftingly beautiful 18-year-old we’d had a foursome with a couple of nights before. Jennifer, the other girl from the rum-party, didn’t feel much like the long bus trip and three days in the hot city.
I needed new shoes, better shoes than the two-sizes-too-small skate shoes I bought in San Jose. The salesman, Richard, a pushy but friendly cat from Limón, flirted with my friend Eli while I tried on shoes. I wasn’t jealous though, because we both got ourselves into stupid situations in order to practice our Spanish skills, and anyway she’d be leaving the mall with me. I learned that from the glint in her sad mahogany eyes when she nudged her ‘I’m-married-but-if-I-weren’t…’ elbow into my ribs.
Heather and I used those three days in the city to shop and to ‘work on our relationship.’ She was doing more working than I was. She’s like that. We ate ice cream and good food, of course, because one does not eat inferior food whilst with Heather, and our kind host Gabriel, for whom I still have not provided a couchsurfing reference, showed us around town, carted us around shopping (where I eventually got my shoes), showed us the Canal (which likely makes more money off tourists than passing ships), and even let us join him on a drug deal. Talk about a cultural experience!
From his 13th story apartment, high above the dark city with streets full of roaring diablos rojos – red devils – school buses painted with fantastic, colorful designs, souped up to ridiculous horsepower with charming chrome, that squeal brakes for whomever might want a ride, pavos (turkeys, the guys who take your bus fare and tell the driver where to go) hanging out the doors to whistle at potential fares – I leaned over the railing and didn’t reach very far back into my head for the part of me that told me to jump. When Gabriel came out with my drink, he said jokingly that I shouldn’t. I took the rum and smiled.
Panama City reminded me of what I liked about Miami, which wasn’t much. Gabriel liked to drive and smoke his marlboro reds, windows open to the hot highway wind, so we did a lot of that. He was a great guy, to show us around like that.
In Miami, circa 2005, I rode around with my friend Jason at the helm of his once-beloved Acura RSX while he smoked his marlboro reds, summer heat and black metal filling our souls with whatever more they could carry, which then didn’t seem like much.
In retrospect, most of what I liked about South Florida ceased to exist once I got out of his car, bound for the train headed back to West Palm, and black metal and two a.m. NPR couldn’t save me there.
Life got better when I figured out that the more me I was, the more others were them. It was not a one-time lesson: even on wordpress, the more honest and open I am, the more hits the site gets. Isn’t that a strange coincidence? Only a couple of times has it worked against me, and only once have I received a phone call from a friend in tears concerned for my mental state, or for a sordid history I’d laid out. I wasn’t sure which, but the call was a positive one.
I’d rather not get much of a response at all, to be honest, but it feels good when it happens. For example – today as I sat in Ed’s office procrastinating so I didn’t have to write the 300-word travel story for some big-name competition (deadline: three days, entry fee: way too much), a Canadian gentleman walked in and introduced himself. For a while he and Gish talked about unimportant things, and I ignored them.
Later on, as the man with the Canadian accent justified his career in the Alberta Oil Tar Sands to me, perhaps because Ed seemed interested in telling him stories I’d heard before and I wanted to change the subject, I let a video of Buddy Wakefield’s poetry silence the rest of the room, as the short bald man’s work usually does. I take a perverse pleasure in riling up Gish’s emotions: to see him angry amuses me, and to see him moved to tears reminds me to hold a little more hope for the world: even sharks cry. It doesn’t take much to push his buttons.
I needed to go to yoga, so I got up to leave, and the man whose name I’m a little sorry I don’t remember (I was ignoring you for my work, sir) offered to give me a lift to town. We talked obligation for masks on the three-and-a-half minute drive, and as I got out to run to yoga, I shook his hand goodbye, was a pleasure meeting you, etc., and he didn’t let it go.
A few weeks on the road with his parents through the American West taught him what he needed to know about life, and I was glad the lesson had come so easily for him. Personally, I walk around with a chalkboard to take notes, and erase it when something useful comes up. But he held my grip, and I held his, and he tried with his Canadian might to convince me that sometimes it’s better to lay low, to stay off facebook and to not smile so much, because people ridicule and scream and cry about the guy who smiles all the time. I think he saw that as the end of the line.
I held fast to my idealism, let him believe that I believed I was a poet too, even after watching Buddy, and told him without much context to be more who he was, that others would be better for it. I shook his hand off of mine to set him free.
Not that it mattered. I’d been talking to myself.
28 March 2012 § Leave a comment
I walked up & up toward Alto Jaramillo yesterday, decidedly out (south) of the Boquete crater, simultaneously walking and reading (a dangerous endeavour on narrow, curvy roads such as those) Generation X by Douglas Coupland, whose novel Life After God I feel a great debt to, and so purchase whenever I see in on a shelf, and give away when I find someone who might glean something from it.
Someone did that for me once – with the I, Ching. Two years after the man on the plane to Alaska showed me how to use the book (and having left the ‘believing’ part in my hands), I finally opened it, and gathered some coins.
I continue the tradition in his honor.
Coupland was born the same year as my mother, 1963. He broadly defines ‘Generation X’ as those born from the late 1950’s through the 60’s – the quiet generation who never started a revolution, perhaps because their energy contributed rather to the popularity of 80’s pop and hair metal. Eventually, they gathered a sense of messiness and allowed the likes of Alice in Chains and formulaic action films out of their heads and on to the scene.
The tone of the book, of the author’s voice, carries over today – disdaining the upper class for brazilification (“the widening gulf between the rich and the poor and the accompanying disappearance of the middle classes)”, and subconsciously denying their own successophobia (“the fear that if one is successful, then one’s personal needs will be forgotten and one will no longer have one’s childish needs catered to”).
There are hundred of terms and definitions like that, scattered through a story of three twentysomethings who moved to Palm Springs to escape material wealth and financial success working in “veal-fattening pens” (we – that is, My Generation, the next letter of the alphabet but I prefer it spelled out: Generation Why (question mark implied) – know these as cubicles, and their symbolism hasn’t changed much) for actual happiness.
The only problem is that they’re still figuring out what this happiness thing is, and how to go about finding it. It’s fleeting out in the desert, but at least there’s nothing to get in the way out there. If it’s twenty miles off, at least it’ll be easier to spot, as opposed to if one lived in, say, Portland. I sense their age in how the characters speak and their lack of cell phones and internet – “He owns the marketing rights to the star and box buttons on push-button phones. Can you bear it?” – and remember how when I was a kid of seven or eight, the people I liked best were Josephine and her friends, all in high school, and then college. They talked about important things and did crazy things, like kiss their fiancée’s new ring and then roll their car off the highway because their love was so distracting.
Even now, here in Boquete, there are the twins, who are so much of that kin it makes me nostalgic when I’m with them, wanting to soak up that cool older-than-me energy, to hear stories of the 90’s, back when the world was just a little more good.
I wish I was a part of that generation, but nevertheless am an accidental product of it; my first lessons were my parents’ university courses, deep down in the desert of the Southwest. When I ask them about that time (separately, of course, because they haven’t been in the same galaxy for nearly fifteen years), they become more reserved than usual, and talk in the same quiet voice about it. It conjures up guilt in me – for coming too early, for being the reason they stayed together when it was so obvious even then that they shouldn’t (I’m taking some liberty on that one, because I don’t really remember their college days) – that I’m still not sure how to apologize for. I never had to wonder why neither, from their respective corners of my universe, pushed me into university, though. Perhaps they thought I would make the same mistake. Perhaps I would have.
I’d left my mother’s house because she was getting married again, and because the guy got mad at me for flipping him off. He was an adolescent psych counselor, and I was sixteen. His lack of personal control amused me so much that I decided to leave when he had a six-foot-tall, five-hundred kilo safe delivered to my computer den. If I wasn’t a sucker for symbolism before that, he made me a believer. I read more Hawthorne immediately – on the plane to my dad’s house, effectively on the opposite end of American culture and landscape: I moved from Alaska to Kansas in the middle of summer. It would be my fourth high school, and not the last.
Six months later, on very different grounds, I left again to live with Josephine, who’d finished college and was still awfully smart and whose attitude toward life I wanted to adopt. She was still cool, and so was her boyfriend. I needed cool.
I’m not sure where generations start, and where they end. It’s pretty obvious that the kids who don’t remember the world without the internet are the “next” generation, Z, implying that theirs will either last forever, or be the end of humanity (but what limits the English language has!).
Some of my friends here were born around the time I started high school, which is a little disheartening because now they’re starting high school (is it more appropriate to say “friends’ kids” because of our age difference? I am friends with their parents also, but they are individuals who I am fond of, so may I not simply be friends with them? Society has such stupid rules), and last night as we sat in the living room waiting for something to happen, they, 15 and 12, were on skype and an iphone respectively, socializing in secret.
Thirty minutes later, were we reading books. Real books, with paper and everything. It made me smile, and think that generations are perhaps not as isolated form one another as we may think: Instead of I am this and want something else, it can be I am this and this and that also.
27 March 2012 § Leave a comment
“…but really I can’t wait to leave.”
Did I just say that?
Earlier, to a casual friend I may or may not see again, my left ear pending infection. Both had been bothering me all day.
We gathered in the humble home of many a post-yoga potlucks, one of the many events this expat community uses to support itself; it was a goodbye-party for a Canadian couple and their six-month-old, who looks at me often and pointedly, as if I were a prophet, or a frog, depending on how much spit is on her lips, or which direction her hair is storming at the time.
I’d spent the day once again listening to stories of old Hollywood from Ed Gish, who says over and over again that he has no problems with privacy, what with being 83 and all, and having been around at the dawn of privacy statements (and television, for that matter), he sees no reason to heed them more now than before. “They can’t do anything to me,” he tells me, 20th Century Fire in his eyes still burning, “so fuck ’em.”
We talk writing. A lot. He’s always got suggestions for me. I get defensive when someone challenges what I’ve written, and that’s how I know they’re helpful. He gets defensive when I offer mine.
He goes with the flow. Always has. Mine I must create, or there is none. There are purposes within us which will never satiate us, so we must please them. It is in Our Best Interest to keep them happy, lest they sweep forth the mop of doom to start us once again, all the way back at the beginning. “In my next life, I want to be a…”
I’m supposed to be working on things. On pieces toward completion. For consideration. For submission. Pieces I’m not sure I’ll be able to write after I leave. They won’t be valid anymore.
Today I was told that I’ll be homeless in a few days. To be fair, I’ll just be without the place I have now. I like this place. Being told that I have to move before the 1st made me want to pick up and go somewhere else. Somewhere else far away. The world is at my feet. Central America is at my fingertips. I am overwhelmed by the feeling that I have no place to go.
Correction: …that I have no place to Go.
I’m learning about energy. I doubt I’ll ever stop.
Sometimes I wish I was born a century earlier, or seven. Other times not at all. Right now I think I dropped in exactly when I should have. I like it here and now.
But we’ve got work to do.
25 March 2012 § 1 Comment
Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York City, has banned the donation of food to homeless shelters in his city.
He’s enacted the anti-food policy because he, his food task force, and the NYC Department of Health (together dubbed the ‘food police’) want to keep better track of the nutritional needs of homeless in New York. The Department of Health Commissioner Seth Diamond insists that the ban is consistent with a government effort to improve everyone’s health.
The donations are to be turned away because the salt, fat, and fiber contents in them cannot be verified, which defies new regulations which require of all food now served in government-run shelters. The good deeds of local bakers, restaurateurs, and shops who have donated food to the homeless for years, even decades, are now being rejected. Diamond says that the food they donate really isn’t needed.
Naturally, those who donate the food, such as Glenn Richter and his wife Lenore, of Ohab Zedek, a synagogue on the Upper West Side, and those who eat the donated food, such as Jeff Stier, senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research, disagree.
It’s not difficult to understand the aesthetic, well-intentioned nature of such policies. If the true motive is for the homeless to be healthier, there is nobility in the actions of Bloomberg’s so-called Food Police.
Given that New York City is in the United States, however, where people were once free to eat, pray, and love as they pleased, governmental micromanagement to this extent is intolerable, and unacceptable.
Just down the road, in Philadelphia, feedings to the homeless were banned in city parks, supposedly to protect homeless from “foodborne illness.” Family picnics and gatherings around food are still allowed in city parks.
In February, Alaska Rep. Bill Stoltze refused to call a hearing to discuss Senate Bill 3, which would provide 15 cents to lunches and .35 to breakfasts in Alaska public schools. Stoltze’s argument? He wanted to use that money on another bill that would improve the health of the state’s children by providing Alaska-grown and caught foods.
A local Anchorage activist, Kokayi Nosakhere, sat outside the representative’s office in Juneau, on a month-long food strike, trying to get Stoltze to call a hearing on Senate Bill 3. The politician never budged. Neither did his other proposed bill.
These events are not isolated or coincidental, just as the same-day crackdown on Occupy protests across the U.S. last October was not an accidental act of desperation by the threatened Powers That Be.
Now, it’s personal. It’s about food – that most basic resource that we all require, regardless of politics or social standing. If governments control the food supply (i.e. restrict resources) more than they already do, they control the people’s ability to act – to protest, to speak up, to rally, to say that No, We Won’t Have This.
Two months ago, SOPA and PIPA, acts that would have effectively shut down the internet, came dangerously close to being passed. Only what began as a grassroots movement against the bills kept them from passing. For every one law that people stand up against, twenty are passed under the radar.
Notice how the food policies are not beginning in the House of Representatives or the Senate. Just as film production companies screen ‘risky’ films in selected, representative locations (does the line “‘Love Story’ opens in NY and LA August 4th, everywhere August 15th” ring a bell?), the mayoral puppets of Government are trying out these tactics in smaller waves to see how people react to them.
If we don’t say anything, what will come next? If the Egyptian protesters in Tahrir Square went home after then-president Mubarak told them to, where would have gone the Arab Spring? Libyans had to declare war on their dictator Muammar Gaddafi before he paid any attention to them. How far will America have to go?
The U.S. Constitution is a tourist trap, and means less now than it ever has. Corporations have been considered people for a hundred years. Our presidents are elected not based on their worth or potential, but how much money they pour into advertising. Peaceful protests are made violent by those sworn to protect and serve Us.
Now regional governments are limiting food supplies to children and the homeless, who are instead to be provided by institutional vendors serving genetically modified food that Americans have said with their silence that they didn’t care to have marked as such.
As a result of that silence, kids are hitting puberty earlier than ever, having been raised on hormone-injected meat from animals who grew fat without ever gaining the strength or dexterity to stand. Multinational corporations that control food sources have been in bed with government for years.
Make no mistake: the Democrats and Republicans, no longer a unified America, have created those hormone-injected animals out of the American people, unable (but perhaps not unwilling) to stand and speak against the political atrocities made against them.
The generations who wield control say that it’s too late to change things – that we’re in a downward spiral, and no one’s got the will to throw us out of it. Understand this: that’s what the Powers are counting on. They want submission; they feed off silence like a bad relationship, and direct us in whatever direction they wish.
Control best operates on three basic concepts: fear, greed, and laziness. All are childish virtues to hold, and yet the world’s powers use them in the face of even the largest protests and strikes.
We are capable of moving past them, of taking back our most basic resources. Of protecting and serving ourselves when those ‘sworn’ to battle us. We are capable of feeding our children.
We are the children of the internet. We are supposed to be the Y Generation, the insatiable children who ask Why? Why? Why?
We are the freest, most globalized organization of rebels history has ever known. Our ambition matches those of the corporations and governments who seek to no end our loyalty. So ask yourself, why else is our loyalty so important to them?
It’s not just about money. It’s about something bigger and more drastic than paper currency made by a private company that is employed by a government that we have the power, by our most basic rights, to redesign from the inside, out.
Initiating change takes the will to step outside ignorance, to learn about what’s happening – events that penetrate deep into our lives and homes – and to do something about them. It takes the willingness to stand on anothers’ shoulders to make the mountain less daunting, and the presence of mind to hold our ground when we are threatened. We have been tested before, and have succeeded. It’s time to stand again.
Spread the word: share this, send it to your friends, reblog it, repost it. If you know of a publication which might put it up, please let me know.
24 March 2012 § 2 Comments
except when there are no clouds.
Boquete is as lovely as ever, the high noon sun smashing into the little mountain paradise, as if to punish us for the lack of northerlies coming in off the mountains. Or just as a reminder of what it’s like Outside. Down South, twenty-two miles and a sweltering summer away.
For the last few days I’ve been in silent mourning. Heather left on exactly one day’s notice – she bounded back to the States, to San Francisco, to pursue something she loves – further training in EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), something I know enough about from her explanations but lack the sincerity it deserves to properly describe.
She left, but not without the blessing of the community we’ve become family with over the past couple of months. They love any reason to get together for a few laughs and hugs, and one of us leaving was more than occasion to gather on a restaurant patio and be themselves for a while. Then there came the question “So Sean, what are you doing now?” and it just keeps coming. I’m living, guys. We’re all doing what we love. At least, we should be.
So she’s off doing her thing while I do mine, which is the small task of taking my writing more seriously. Or rather, hoping that others will take it seriously enough to pay me for it.
“If you don’t say it, no one’s going to – it’s your shit, man.” So says Ed Gish, old school Hollywood writer and the closest I’ve had to a male mentor, ever. We’re both staring at screens right now, making what’s in our heads realities to be shared. I’m using his ironing board as a computer desk.
I knew there would be an adjustment period. I knew that I’d revert to silence, that I would shed the extrovert me that comes out so easily around her. Am I so affected by those immediately around me that when we part ways, I go back to being me, and they go back to being them? It’s like, ‘thanks for being a part of this, thanks for growing with me – time to start again now, from the rough draft, written ages ago.’
If I have any addiction, it would be to how I seem to affect the people around me. Much of the time, I am in camouflage, and blend into the scenery like the empty rocking loveseat in the back of an outdoor café. Now and then, when I’m hungry enough for conversation or connection, I reach out, and sometimes magic happens. It doesn’t seem like a bad thing to be addicted to, but it cuts down on the number of casual acquaintances I can have. If my definition of friendship is more intense and personal than most, which has been my experience, and the amount of emotional investment I tend to require – but not always provide! – is higher than mere acquaintanceship offers, then I am willing and able to go without when need be.
Recently I’ve taken to playing bongos at the open mic night at the local expat hangout, which puts me on stage, but there’s a reason I don’t play guitar, the instrument I’ve had a complicated, sometimes-passionate-but-mostly-tenuous relationship with for ten years, or turn the usually-musical open mic into a performance poetry venue. I keep telling myself ‘they’re just not the right crowd for slam poetry.’ Not that I’ve tried. No, that would be scary, and I would be alone up there, in the spotlight and out of context, serving up dishes of hard questions and fear and loathing and other things that make life interesting. Why would I want to do that?
Maybe I’m in the thick of things right now. After eight months in Central America, I have three weeks until I return to the States, and that associated anxiety hides behind every corner I walk up to, flashing dirty, scumbag grins at me before running off to hide in the jungle. I don’t want to leave Panama; I don’t want to return to the U.S.
Whoever said that all good things must end had a stick up their ass. A very uncomfortable one. Maybe I’m just being stubborn and defiant. Anyway, there’s work to do, and I don’t want this blog to seem like a chore more than it has recently, so I’m going to go work. good evening.