from Lompoc, CA

29 06 2009

I’m mildly alarmed to report that I have gotten so comfortable not showering whilst in the midst of my many-day hiking/driving/hiking/driving jaunts that, at times such as this, when I have the fortune of staying where the water is running and soap is a dime a dozen, I don’t necessarily feel that bathing myself is such a pressing or even interesting concern.  Dirt doesn’t exactly become me, perhaps, but neither is it such a hated hanger-on.  I’m not saying I’m conditioned to enjoy body odor or anything—I seriously doubt anyone I’ve met in this state has had a reservation as to my hygiene—but I do seem to be finding it acceptable to delay showering for considerably longer than in the past.  Again, this doesn’t mean that I’m living in filth.  Not by a longshot.  I used to have to shower before I could comfortably fall asleep, for crying out loud.

One’s sensibilities must invariably change when one puts oneself into a wholly novel situation for a longer term, that’s all.  This is one of those changes, I suppose.  It’s not the most important, either.  My appreciation for dry goods has increased dramatically.  I can eat crackers in many forms for more than one meal per day.  Clothes are not “dirty” after one wearing.  Socks and underwear are, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t wear them a second time if the need arises.  I’ve been traveling and living out of my car and tent and friends’ abodes for nearly 2 months now, and certainly, I’ve changed.

As interesting as the shift in my personal hygiene habit is, it’s most likely not the most important of the affectations that have infected the daily me. I’ve lost the will to shape my diet, it seems.  The novelty or the specialty of regional foods has been reason enough to undo my purposeful eating, at least temporarily.  But if you have a chance to eat the world famous Oki’s Dog, a burrito stuffed with two all-beef hot dogs, chili, pastrami, and some manner of cheese (which I nixed, of course), you don’t turn it down (I wouldn’t get it a second time, to be honest, but the Orange Bang was awesome).  And I would have never forgiven myself if I hadn’t had Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles—which, by the by, was so awesome that I am considering moving to LA just to keep it at the ready.  I’ve also begun to have a hard time writing, which I was really into before I left on this trip.  Maybe the constant scramble of living in anticipation of the next decision, which is ever on the horizon, is more of an obstacle than an interesting subject about which to think and write.  Also, I think I’ve become a bit extreme in my twin desires to be alone and to be around people.  Every morning I awaken fiercely desiring the day to be a 12-hour soiree full of interesting people or a silent island with nothing but a path to walk and a canteen to fill.

Mostly, I get neither, of course, and this is no tragedy.

The strangest difference is that, through a life on the road, being either alone or visiting with people I see very little in general, I feel as though I’m not living a life at all.  It’s more as though I’m observing many lives in brief, and diverting some people’s attentions fleetingly, but just on the surface, and just for a little.  My impacts of light and easily forgotten.  I feel like a ghost in this respect, maybe.  It’s not that I don’t believe that impressions made and left are empty or meaningless, but when you don’t spend any longer with someone with whom you’ve shared time, it doesn’t appear to you as though you’ve made a difference, and with all of the new experiences coming your way, last week seems like a different life, or like a movie you watched.

Additionally, against my judgement, I’ve begun to waste time wondering what my life is going to be like when and if I choose a life, a location, or an occupation—when I take on something with a little more permanence.  I worry about it some.  Maybe because I don’t know that I’ll be satisfied with any of the avenues that will be open when the time comes.  Maybe because it’s more normal to worry about it and a part of me is secretly interested in becoming normal.  Mostly, I try not to worry about it, but I’ve begun to get the feeling that I always am worrying about it, and my brain’s not being upfront with me about it.

Where I am trying always to be totally present, I’m thinking a concealed part of me is plotting some funny mutiny, readying itself to swing the ship back around to someplace safer, better known.  Normal.


Free Will Fatalism

23 06 2009

I was thinking yesterday what an interesting dichotomy I believe my general approach to life has become. On the one hand, I’ve come to believe in a certain measure of fate–not that our paths are chosen for us, but that there is a general bent to our futures that we are meant to face. On the next hand, I feel as though one’s attitude’s an actions are all the only tools one really can use to shape his or her life, and that they’re incredibly powerful tools. Meaning that two people can work the same job, have a similar dwelling, do similar activities, have similar relationships, but that if one starts treating his life as a chore or an undesirable circumstance and the other respects and embraces his lot, in the end, their attitudes will inform the totality of their existences at the end.

I will give props to my friend Joel in this regard, a friend from high school with whom I’m staying in Los Angeles. He’s working in the television industry, working a job that he doesn’t love, doesn’t have a lot of the trappings that others his age have at this point in his life, but is in no way bothered by it. I hesitate to say that it’s a faith that keeps his spirits high, although he certainly feels as though his hard work and perseverence is destined to pay off for him.

It’s an attitude that it doesn’t matter if he gets what he “wants,” because he’s taken full responsibility for being the person that he wants to be, is the person he wants to be, and is happy to be working towards what he wants every step of the way. He mentioned becoming a success in the industry as a goal, but when I pointed out that I thought he was quite a success already just for taking his life by the reigns and doing what he wanted with a smile on his face and kindness in his heart, he was quick to agree. He’s not going to be crushed if a traditional fortune doesn’t find him. Every day he is living how he wishes, diligently working towards his goals with no expectation or entitlement, and he is a happy person every moment because of it.

As far as reconciling my belief in one’s ability to steer one’s life with my belief that our destinies unroll before us, maybe it’s okay to say that the future is always scribbling away, and the possibilities one will face tomorrow are informed by the work that we do today. Where, a year ago, I was working a desk job and thinking about how to change my life, deciding that it was the wrong way to live and quitting drastically changed the possibilities for discovery in my future, and the more my mind has opened, the more I am able to relax and let the lessons come to me.

This week, I am a happy walker of the earth. Now, I believe in a mutable fate that is always ready to present me with what I need (and am prepared) to see. Then, I am a person who fears nothing, who loves everything, whose heart is a river, who can always take responsibility for the day but is always happy to be resigned to what comes.

marriage is my right

15 06 2009

i’m bored.  so…  i want to get married!  only i don’t want to know the person i’m marrying—it will only spoil it.  knowing someone is the first step towards disliking, or even resenting them!  i want to careen carelessly into commitment with someone of like mind.  the way i see it, the only thing we’ll have in common is that we’ll want to find a way to cohabitate with a brand new person.  there will be no baggage.  no fight from two christmases ago.  no “i said i liked your sister but really i think she’s a tart and gets what she deserves” hardening the bonding surface before the big occasion.  this way, we’re already married, and when i meet your whorish sister, i’ll tell you i think she’s a whore, but it doesn’t matter because our commitment had nothing to do with that.

i simply think it’s best to enter into this partnership with a level head, and the only way to do it is to have nothing mucking up the exchange beforehand.  should i consider marrying someone who wants a green card?  maybe!  the probable language barrier will make it even harder to find something to fight about!  did we come somewhere to eat that doesn’t suit you?  how would i have known?  oh well!  no reason for either of us to be upset at the other.

it’s just, and forgive me if this doesn’t meet your romantic expectations, you daft prick, but it’s just that, as long as you’re not gay, you can marry any person you would like at pretty much any time, and this is a right that i’m sick of not utilizing.  sorry, my gay friends, if you live in a difficult state.  i suppose that cost is the only prohibitive factor in doing the deed, and frankly i don’t know how prohibitive it is, but it’s probably not that bad if you go the justice of the peace route.  i think i’d prefer to be married by a captain at sea, though.

so, if you’re fed up with expecting something for which you should know better than to hope, are able to sign your name, and don’t get sea sick, please give me a call!  we probably won’t have a “great” life together, but at the very least, disappointment won’t be a problem, because we’ll at least have a few zany adventures carry over from the wild excitement of gettin’ hitched to a stranger or near-stranger, and that’s more than either of us has right now.

then, we can have more brand-new life adventures together.  maybe one day we could divorce even!

trophy wives in sedona

15 06 2009

i spent my saturday in sedona, arizona where the yups like to go for an aspen-spa-equivalent of a summer “outdoorsy” vacation.  it is quite a beautiful area, i’ll give it that.  red rocks, towering cliffs, nifty desert shrubbery.  i was returning from a 4.2 mile hike, nothing special, when a group of upper-middle-class soccer whore moms got out of an acura suv and walked in bedazzled flip flops to the edge of the gorge through which i’d just come.  “oh, girls!” cried one.  “i’m so proud of us just for coming out here!!”  another chimed in “it’s gorge!  if we’re going to walk any further, i’m going to get my tennis shoes.”  and another answered “it’s really dirty out here.  dirt poofs up every time we step.”  this really captured my attention.

it was like watching aliens from a swamp planet marvel at dry dust.  they were all staring at their feet while marching slowly in place, taking wide, exaggerated steps, and carefully watching for what would happen when their shoes made first contact on the foreign, possibly toxic surface.  after a few astonishing minutes of utter bewilderment, the thrill wore off, and they decided to get back to the car.  they murmured notes of mild appreciation to the driver for the adventure, and just before they were all back safely within the confines of the leather seats, one summed up their excursion for the annals of their lives’ travels:  “really pretty.  so dirty though.”

a book report of sorts

13 06 2009

on Tales of a Shaman’s Apprentice by Mark J. Plotkin, Ph.D.

i’m reading a particularly outstanding book by an ethnobotanist who has written of his time in the rainforests of Suriname and Brazil with a dwindling population of Tirio natives. his aim was to spend as much time with their shamans and others with knowledge of the plants of the forest so he could learn all he could about the usages of these plants in their traditional context. aside from his being a terrific writer, he is a keen judge of the importance of the speed and thoroughness of his work as western culture invades and destroys their world. we know it well, don’t we? technology is too damn sexy.

the unspoiled Tirio villages he describes are spectacular, and their cultural realities make so much sense that my eyes cross involuntarily when i consider how we handle the same situations in western civilization. the people don’t discuss philosophies. they live them as they sense what is best for their people and their environment, from which they have no sense of separation. if someone is noticed to be admiring something of yours, you give it to them. they do seem to harbor a little jealousy with their spouses, but material goods, even though they mean something to them, don’t mean as much as brotherhood. if you are hungry and have no food but you’re near another’s garden, you take their food. you just have to tell them about it. every kind of character is appreciated for what they are and what they bring to the environment.

a custom spoken about, and which we’ve heard before, is the rule that you should take a gift when it is offered to you. we saw this in indiana jones and the temple of doom, even, when the Indian villagers gave Indy and Short Round and Willie the food they didn’t find palatable, but Indiana knew that it would be considered an insult not to accept it and eat it happily. anyway, i was thinking about how this practice must invisibly foster a sense of community in these villages. if this is practiced by everyone, and it is, then everyone will come to trust one another implicitly, because you could just as easily give or receive another a tasty dish as a poisoned one, and if everyone’s accepting, then everyone has to learn to trust one another with their lives. everyone thusly learns to trust others with their happiness and well-being. maybe this has been obvious to you. i just realized it.

anyway, the natives work hard, but take such joy in everything they do, that the question of “easy living” through greater technology or the ability to extend life expectancy through advanced pharmacological knowledge begins to pale in comparison. who wouldn’t rather live a life in which they were given the opportunity to become masters of many skills and employ their ingenuity and creativity every single day? they are always laughing, joking, telling stories, and going about their activities with absolute gusto.

their mastery of the knowledge they pass down and the skills they use to live, which are not insignificant by any stretch, is so alluring to someone who comes from a society that prides itself on its members not having to know how to do very much. our interdependence, you might think, would foster a stronger community as well, but it doesn’t. we don’t even know the people who perform the services for which we lack ability.

of course, the heartbreaking aspect of this book is in witnessing the alarming rate at which these communities are destroyed when the west comes knocking. their culture is immediately divided between those who do and those who don’t have the foresight to be concerned with the appeal of the gadgetry and glitz of “rich” nations. after spending time in two Tirio villages in Suriname, he visits one in Brazil, where there are missionaries teaching them about the Christian God and Brazilian soldiers living amongst them. Here shall I excerpt:

“The most unsettling sight to me, though, was the Indians. All wore secondhand Western-style clothes, and it seemdd that just the act of putting on the shabby clothes had sucked the vitality out of them—they appeared slow, solemn, and downcast. The comparison with my friends in Suriname could not have been more striking: in traditional loincloths, the Indians were the lords of the jungle, but in their hand-me-downs, they looked like urban poor.”

i feel like continuing talking about it, partially because i don’t want to end on a sad note, so here i go. i’ll give you a couple of interesting facts! one is that, as you likely know, the written word is still foreign to many “unwesternized” natives in the world, and the Tirio are no exception. they continue, where their ways are not interrupted, to storytell from generation to generation to pass the history of the tribe forward. well, several Tirio still tell stories about their ancestors passing through a land that was so cold and frozen that they had to wear the skins of animals to survive. obviously, they don’t wear much in the jungles, where they’ve been for so long that they have no idea what a snowflake looks like falling from the sky. it seems likely this story has been passed down since their ancestors crossed the Bering Strait during the last ice age, which means it has been told from generation to generation for around 20,000 years.

another fact: the Tirio, and other near-equatorial peoples, for that matter, are often amazed to see how the white man sweats. it seems as though those of us who have european ancestry developed a higher basic metabolism to keep us warmer in the colder climates, whereas those who have been in the rainforest for so many years have adapted by not sweating, which would be a fairly pointless act in the near-100-percent humidity conditions in which they typically live. the sweat would evaporate so slowly that it’s a terribly inefficient way to cool off.

and. that. is. why i like Mark Plotkin.

our brains are time machines

11 06 2009

don’t give yourself to anyone.  you’re going to want yourself back one day, and they’re not going to like it.

don’t let anyone give themselves to you.  the time may come that you realize that another’s happiness should never have been your responsibility to begin.

you can be a part of others’ worlds, nothing more.

what’s your passion?  are you sure it’s not your compulsion?

if something drives you, maybe it’s just as okay to not know where you’re going.  drifting is like this without drive.  planning is seeking a control that doesn’t exist.

i guess i’m a fatalist at heart.  but i also believe your action and intent determine the bent of your future.

i don’t believe in the best of all possible worlds.  i just see a bunch of schmucks frantically trying to make order out of chaos.  none of us seems to know how to accept that it’s not our chaos.  it’s not ours to order.

our brains are time machines.  we can’t use them because we’re still unable to be trusted.

visitation rights

9 06 2009

As I travel, I’m reminded of two things: one, that I oftentimes prefer the travel itself to the destination or its activities, and two, that when I’m somewhere novel, I appreciate less the “things to do and see” and more the being there, experiencing it as it is. I think maybe I like the actual travel because the goal is clear when you’re on the road and heading someplace, whereas when you arrive, you have to start making decisions on how to spend your time and are compelled, therefore, to concern yourself with something not so important.

With precious few exceptions, though, I’ve found that I prefer meeting the people of an area to touring the area. There are some amazing sights to see, to be sure, but for the most part, landmarks, museums, certain events, and the like really don’t excite me. It’s not their fault that they fail to deliver. They’re just things, sitting and waiting for gawkers, it seems. Some people seem to really get off on seeing these things. I remember telling my traveling partner in NYC once that I didn’t really care if we went over to Ellis Island to stand at the feet of the large green person likeness, and she was shocked. That’s fine if you can attach that kind of emotion to such things. I can’t.

I so much prefer to merely exist in a place. To see what the people who live there do. How they talk. How they react to strangers staring creepily at them from behind a book. I hesitate to say that I like to be there and try to feel the “soul” of a spot because it sounds so lame, but that’s what I prefer. Walking amongst the locals, visiting their haunts, or even simply sitting in a park for a couple of hours doing whatever, you can quickly catch onto the energy of a place, and for whatever reason, that excites me far more than pretty much any sight I’ve seen.

I struggle to word this idea well, but it’s okay, I brought a quote with me. Dr. Mark J. Plotkin, ethnobotanist extraordinaire, wrote of his time in Suriname: “In… that moment… it became totally clear to me that different people, cultures, and places can have their own realities; that just as one can learn the spoken language of a foreign land, one can absorb its spirit—even if that spirit and its wisdom differ radically from those of one’s culture.”

Obviously my experiences in the continental US are far less dramatic, but I think the effect isn’t dissimilar. Every one of us looks at life at least a little differently, and different communities tend to have different takes on life, whether it be because of the landscape, the history of the area, or indeed just the character of the people who live there. There’s nothing like sampling, which teaches you so much about yourself and your world that it’s a thrill all by itself.