Saturday, December 31, 2005
The clouds just broke.... rain tailing off... sun suddenly lights the streets of SF.
New Years Eve, 2005. A new year begins tonight, and once again I find myself in a new city... starting over. Im forever starting over.
While I adjust to this new place, I find that I am most grateful for friends Ive made all over the globe. Im grateful that now, thanks to the internet, email, Skype, etc... I am able to stay in contact with them. They have supported me from afar... helped me to deal with the loneliness and stress that inevitably comes with moviing.
For me, the best part of this technology is the relationships it makes possible... that I can stay connected to dear friends in Thailand, Japan, Malaysia, Europe, and Georgia.
Thanks to all of you.
And Happy New Year!
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Restless night downtown... sounds of drunks and sirens woke me frequently.... yet strangely happy to be among the mess of humanity. The suburban quiet in south of Mission was killing me.
Now Im where I belong, among the homeless, drunks, weirdos, freaks, and lonely souls. And so the city is growing on me. While this is America... there is something different about this place. SF in some ways seems to be its own little city-state-- far, far removed from realities in Georgia. In SF we've got legal pot clubs, and the most diverse population Ive ever seen in the United States.
Is it a coincidence that the Bay Area is a super-charged economic dynamo of innovation? That the cutting edge tech sector calls it home?
I doubt it. Diversity is SF's power source. Strolling its streets, I hear more foreign languages than I hear English. I see more Asian, Latino, and "Black" faces than "white".
At least there is one such place.
Thursday, December 22, 2005
Just wanted to check in with you and let you know I can totally relate to what you're saying. The worthlessness of some of the things people concern themselves with is a big laughing point of western culture to me. It's by no means an American phenomenon though -- it's a generally western one. People in Germany watch game shows and informercials with the same fervour Brits use to read celebrity magazines, so do Norwegians or Australians.
Recently I got a job working for a company which acts as a broker between paparazzi and glossy celebrity magazines you find in your grocery checkout aisle. I work their IT systems and don't concern myself with the nature of the businesses I work for too much. At the end of the day I think of myself as a "digital plumber" and whether it's stock trades or pictures of Kylie Minogues' ass being sent down the wire doesn't matter. It's all the same to me.
But I've done some thinking on the subject, as you do. I believe you can file the whole stupid celebrity phenomenon under the "Bread & Circuses" category. But in some way it pisses me off.
People are getting killed in Iraq and elsewhere, right as you read this. Corporations are taking over the planet. The environment is being destroyed at an alarming rate. Species are going extinct every day and they are never coming back. Billions of people are living in abject poverty and all you can concert yourself with is... how Britney Spear's marriage is going? Aren't there more important things you could be reading about? When I see a person on the bus reading these trash magazines I have to fight a strong urge to slap it out of their hand and yell "Wake up! There are more important things happening in the world right now than this shit!"
But, people are free, and this means free to be as stupid to be as they'd like. They do their thing and I do mine. I consider it
bubblegum for the mind. Whatever...
I dig what you said about stupid posturing. Check the attached video. It's the ultimate example of retarded posing, possibly the best I've ever seen. Do something that's stupid enough to begin with and then fuck it up, only to try to act all cool about it afterwards trying to appear "tough". Especially check the comments near the end of the video.
Skald, for thinking, feeling people like us it's hard to accept we live in a world full of idiots, and even harder to find a niche in it that makes us happy. Please continue to write about how you get on on your quest, as it might give me clues on how to persevere on mine.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
The streets of SF really are mean... at least for the thousands of homeless people who scrape by on the sidewalks. I was almost among them. And that was quite terrifying.
In the past I experimented with what I called voluntary homelessness. The word "voluntary" is extremely important. I chose to live in my vehicle. Thus, I had enough money to buy a vehicle in the first place... and keep it maintained. I also had the time to outfit it for living (blacked out windows, bed and storage containers, extra battery, electric fan, etc.). While difficult at times, in general I enjoyed both of my car/van living experiences.
And thats what I should really call them.. because I was not really "homeless". I had a home-- my vehicle. While tiny, the car/van still gave me privacy, shelter from rain. a place to keep my stuff, and a safe (locked) place to sleep.
Involuntary homeless people, living on the street, have none of these. They are exposed. To the weather. To the whims of the police. To criminals and hustlers. Its a mean existence.... just look into their faces. Most look worn, lined, and desperate.
I was nearly among them. In two weeks I must vacate my friends place.. where Ive been sleeping on a couch (his roommate wants me out). I was (and am) broke... and living in the city with perhaps the highest rent in the world. Over the last two weeks, my apartment search became panicked. I began to contemplate life on the street. Where would I sleep? Would I get hassled?
And how in the world would I keep my job... without a place to shower and keep clean clothes?
Yesterday, thanks to a tip from a student, I found an affordable place. I dodged the bullet and will not become homeless.
But in a strange way I am grateful for the terror.... for it made me much more sensitive to what the hordes of SF homeless are going through. How can they survive in a city where 800 a month is considered dirt cheap (and dont forget the additional 800-1500 required deposit to move in,... plus most places do credit checks)? How do they get by, day to day?
And how in the hell do they dig themselves out of that situation? For thousands and thousands of people here, there simply is no affordable housing. Worse, after a few weeks on the street, homeless people take on a dirty and disheveled appearance... making job hunting nearly impossible.
And so you see them everywhere... usually congregated near upscale shopping areas. They hold out a cup to the city's wealthy. But few give them more than an annoying scowl.
Nor is the city helping... rents just keep climbing and climbing.
I have heard and read many times that SF is at the cutting edge of America... that what starts here often spreads across the country. If true, we can all look forward to an ever widening gulf between the well-off and the impoverished.
Which is kind of ironic. Countries like India and China are growing.... but we are heading towards Indianization-- a small group of very wealthy people (say 40% of the population)... and a large group of ever more desperate strugglers.
The so called "third world" is rising. And we are falling fast.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Im trying to contain my fury... but its not working.
To be blunt-- I dont like America and Im not thrilled about being here. Everyday I ask myself, "why am I back here?". At first I tried to convince myself that it was a good decision. But Im running out of believable positive answers.
What I see is a civilization in its death throes. Some Americans ask, "Why do they hate us?". Im amazed when I ponder, "Why dont they ALL hate us?" Just what the hell do some foreigners admire? In truth... mostly its an image of boundless wealth. In other words, lies and propaganda.
My first impressions are of a sick, infantile society. Americans... and particularly American men... strike me as emotionally and intellectually retarded compared to their Asian peers. My "conversations" with men here have been confined to the following topics:
Dumbass jokes about bodily functions... not unsimilar to the conversations I had when I was 12 years old.
Vile demeaning comments about women.
Idiotic posturing to appear "cool".
Jokes about "fags" or "homos" (which always makes me suspect the teller is repressing something :)
Endless chatter about media virtual-reality (bands, movies, TV shows)... ie. "Did you see Survivor last night. Wow"
That pretty much covers it. I return to my own country... where everyone speaks my native language... and find I have nothing to say to people.... and can't bear to listen to them. I had much better conversations in Thailand and Japan.. with non-native English speakers. They may have struggled for words, but they had ideas. Americans, on the other hand, talk all the time... but say nothing. And so I find myself sitting silently... Occasionally shaking my head and wondering, "How can grown men act like this?"
To escape the awkward silence, the guys will often turn on the TV. Last time, they switched on Comedy Central. For three hours I was bombarded with despicable "jokes" about ethnic stereotypes and insulting comments about women.... this is the American norm for "comedy".
When I walk outside, everywhere I look I see fat people.... overweight, self-indulgent, spoiled, bratty, impatient, cranky.
Within the country, Americans cling to the notion that they live in "the best country in the world". For decades, their immensely powerful media convinced a lot of foreigners of this notion too. But no longer. Americans may still believe the bullshit, but the rest of the world is waking up to the truth. In Europe. In the Middle East. In Latin America. In Asia.
They are seeing what I see. And it aint pretty.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
SF is a great and wretched city. My first nervous impressions: hordes of beggars, bums, and homeless people filtered throughout the downtown area. Compared to their Thai and Japanese peers, these folks seem more beaten... more aggressive... less dignified.
They gather in clusters in the Van Ness/Civic Center area. Some have signs. Some approach you. Many approach you.
They tend to be blunt-- with attitude. In Athens, most beggars either sat quietly, or offered a sad story. Generally, they were polite (now theres a nice Southern trait). But the folks here border on unfriendly. When Ive declined to give, some mutter or grumble under their breath.
Then there are the stories of crime. My good friend was beaten up by a group of guys in the Mission district. A Thai student at my school was robbed, in his apartment, at gunpoint.
After two years in Thailand and Japan... this place FEELS dangerous. I can now imagine how Asian tourists perceive American cities... and why they have the impression that this is a dangerous country (which it is, compared to most Asian countries).
This collection of human misery is in the middle of the upscale core of the city. These folks shuffle along in front of Macy's, The Apple Store, Old Navy, etc.. Wealthy Californians and tourists stroll side by side with the poorest of the poor. Its a sad situation. Hard not to ask, "Cant a little of this wealth be diverted to help these people?" (I suppose we need all the money we can get to keep the Iraqis under our thumbs).
Finally, a very positive observation. SF is an extremely diverse city. In many ways, its a mix of Asia and American. The Asian population is huge here. Huge! In some neighborhoods its easy to imagine that Im back in Japan or Thailand. In addition to the many Asian-Americans and Asian immigrants, there is also a huge Latino population (mostly concentrated in The Mission, it seems).
Of course there are many African-Americans... and the city is rightfully famous for its large and diverse Gay population.
The diversity, and the international flavor of the place, is why Im here.
SF is the progressive, multi-cultural, leading-edge capital of America. And while the worst of the country's poverty and inequality is on display here.. so too is the promise of a new America... one that finally embraces the potential of its immigrant roots.
Sunday, December 04, 2005
Last week, one of my students gave me a copy of the most recent National Geographic, because it contained an article about giant Mesozoic reptiles in the oceans ("Sea Monsters"). That same issue also had a decent piece on Buddhism, which got me to thinking...
I like a couple of Buddhist precepts, and while I cringe at the thought of labelling myself an anything-ist, I am definitely keen on being aware of my world in the present, of diminishing my attachment to my desires, and I've always thought the idea that "the illusion of separateness is the root of all human suffering" is a pretty apt summation of the way human societies maintain their dysfunctionality. So, suddenly, I've been thinking, maybe I'll try being Buddhist for a while, see what it gets me.
We went to see the new Johnny Cash biopic last night, Walk The Line. Lisa thought it was better than Ray. For my money, they were about on par with one another -- both excellent. We took the Metro home, along with plenty of Saturday night revellers. On the train, I closed my eyes, and I guess you could say I meditated -- or maybe "entered a Zen-like state"? I don't know. People on the DC Metro never look at each other; it's weird. But when my eyes were closed, I no longer had to be preoccupied with the avoidance of other peoples' gaze. Instead, I could explore the rail car, listen in on other people's conversations, and "explore" the car acoustically. It was neat. I felt anchored in that present moment, not thinking about the movie I'd just seen, or the home I was on my way to. Just there -- in the subway, shifting my consciousness from the left to the right, across the aisle, far up towards the end of the car and the emergency exit.
Didn't last long, but it was nice. Reckon I'll give it a shot again sometime.
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
Jet lagged, tinged with lysergic acid,.... stumbling through the Mission District. Dodging drunks and junkies till we reach Delirium... right through the rabbit hole. I sit in rapturous stupor-- perma-grin. A wild Asian girl flirts with me, motions me to dance, tells me Im old, scoffs at me, then flirts again.... I remain silent, motionless, and bewildered throughout the drama.
As we leave, this same girl and her friend get in a hair-pullling, fist-swinging fight with another girl outside the bar. Guys come to the entrance and laugh... egg them on. One yells, "I love this bar".
I dont. The attitude, cockiness, poverty, and violence are too much for me right now.. just off the plane from Asia. I miss the gentler streets of Bangkok & Osaka. I miss the gentler people.
Other than the obscene fatness of folks, what strikes me first about America is the anger and violence. Everyone seems annoyed or pissed off. Theres a kind of strutting attitude. Its there in the self-righteous liberal cyclists... who scream at any car that dares "cut them off". Its there in the aggresive panhandlers... who mumble insults at those who dont give them money.
What is the source of this anger? Materially, these people have far more than the Thais... even more than the Japanese. But maybe thats the point. Americans have invested their lives in THINGS. Not people. Not each other.
Another immediate impression was how lonely and desolate America feels. This is a major US city, but it feels empty to me. There are hardly any people walking on the street. Everyone is sealed up in their cars.. safe from everyone else. Bangkok's streets are full of people. So too Osaka's. And even Hiroshima's. My little Bangkok neighborhood, late at night, had more people walking around than does my friend's SF neighborhood... at peak daytime.
Where are all the people? Why are they so spread out? Why do they hide in their homes and cars?
At first impression, America seems a ghostly place. Spread out. Mechanized. Lonely.
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
One thing about the Hobopoet life.. its rarely dull. Not much routine. These last two years are the closest Ive come to "stability" in quite a while... but they too have been marked by constant change.
And now another big one is on the horizon. While my external circumstances are definitely changing... the biggest near-future challenge for me is an internal one.
Up till now, Ive devoted my energies to escape. Ive successfully escaped full time wage slavery. Ive learned to live simply. Ive DRASTICALLY reduced the need to work... while drastically improving the freedom to work ratio. As a result, each year has been more enjoyable. Im more enthusiastic and energetic than Ive ever been. In short, Im having a great time.
But there's been something missing. Up till now, Ive needed to focus on resistence and escape. But that phase is closing. Ive been successful.... there's no use beating that horse forever.
Now that Ive destroyed the old wage slave life, I can move on to creating something. It is time to create an independent freelance income. It is time to become truly self-reliant. It is time to completely break free from bosses in all their forms.
When I first broke from all semblance of living a "mainstream" life, I was terrified. I admit it. Just prior to my first experience at car living.. I was nervous, afraid, stressed, worried. A million bogie-men filled my thoughts. I imagined failure and humiliation. I imagined misery. I knew I would become undatable and doomed to loneliness. I admire people who face such challenges with bravado and audacity. But Im not one of them. My bravado comes after the fact!
And so, as I face this next big challenge, I am again terrified. I again imagine horrible failure and humiliation. I doubt my ability to earn a freelance income. I worry that I will be hungry. I worry that Ill be forced into fulltime wage slavery and have to eat all my words here on Hobopoet. I can already hear the critics and devil's advocates saying, "I told you so".
Luckily, Ive been here before. At the beginning of an enterprise, I lack bravado and I lack courage. I lack confidence.
But I do have one ally that has continuously seen me through--
Lacking brains, guts, and talent... I know I can always depend on persistence to push me through the doubts.
Saturday, November 05, 2005
Listen to: The Audio
No shore, no arrival. They spend there lives working, to buy things,No arrival. Isnt Rollins right. Isnt that much of our problem.. we keep imagining that we will "arrive". We will arrive at success. We will arrive at "the answer". We will arrive at love... or greatness.. or happiness... or contentment.
to fill in the space.
But we won't. There is no arrival point. As soon as you "get there" you are already moving on. Every experienced traveler knows this... there's no stopping point. If the mystics, psychedelic freaks, out-there physicists, and other crazies are right... death is not even an arrival point.
"Going from, towards"Thats how Thoreau described life. Always and ever moving on. Always and ever traveling. Much of the misery we see around us is caused by resistence to this truth. So many people desperately trying to arrive. So many trying to cling to surety and "security".
In the name of security, they squander their vitality. They close their eyes to their own glorious visions... and they abandon their deepest desires and dreams. They live half-lives.
They imagine that they are secure because they have job-security, a good retirement plan, a paid off mortgage.
Of course they are delusional. They are one accident away from crisis. One layoff. One health crisis. One uncontrollable change.
They will not escape these things. In trying to, they only escape their lives, their dreams,... the mystery and euphoria of chaos, change, growth, challenge, engagement.
Rollins is right, there is no shore.
But there IS a magnificent, glorious, beautiful, terrifying, never-ending dance.........
Thursday, November 03, 2005
Im going for it. I am finally going to build a 100% freelance income. No more wage slavery and no more bosses. Enough bitching about the problem, time to work on the solution.
Over the next few months/years I will chronicle my efforts. The failures. The inevitable difficulties and frustrations. The tactics. The strategies.
I hope to be as specific as possible about my efforts to build an independent income and live an independent life. Thus far, Ive focused on the simplicity side of the equation.. reducing needs.
But Ive taken that as far as I wish to go... Ive found my "enough" level. Its a level that still demands some income. So my efforts now will be on getting that income as a freelancer.
The rough plan:
Freelance Teaching: Long term.. I hope to build a sustainable living income from teaching English to foreigners and immigrants. To maintain and promote my nomadic lifestyle, I plan to build much of this through distance learning.... using the internet, Skype conferences, and other tools to serve students all over the world.
My aim is to build a group of international students... and connect with them from anywhere in the world via high-speed internet. Thus, if I want to move to South America... I just go, get a high speed hookup, and continue as normal.
This will take time to build. Ill chronicle my efforts here. In addition to distance students, I will recruit independent students in whatever city I happen to be living in.
Freelance Teaching Strategy: For Hobopoets, traditional "business" strategies dont make sense. We dont have the cash for mega investment. No one wants to loan us money. We can't afford advertising.
We must be bootstrappers with a capital "B". We must start with absolutely nothing (sometimes this means starting without even a home).
So forget retail shops. Forget restaurants or traditional schools or anything that requires a building with a lease and rent. Forget anything that requires lots of upfront money (and for us, "lots" aint much).
Forget anything with large startup costs. Forget anything that depends on selling large volumes of "stuff".
The Hobopoet way is not BIG... its small. Micro. TINY.
I will focus my teaching efforts on a tiny micro niche (net-savvy subversives and misfits who want to learn English.. people who hate traditional education) These are the folks that traditional schools label "strange", "loners", "difficult", "contrary", "troublemakers", "don't fit in".
I will focus solely on customized courses for these people. That is, I will create a course for each individual student or semi-private group (4 students max). I will not have classrooms... I will teach via the net... or in cafes.. or in homes (ideally over a cup of coffe or a beer).
I have no need to compete with mega schools or programs... By offering hyper-customized courses... by being human, personal, and real... by using methods completely at odds with traditional education... by seeking the students they fear... and by having low financial needs... I eliminate the ability of these schools to compete with me. Indeed, they have no need or desire to do so.
I aim to serve what my friend Shiori calls "Blue Ogres"... the weird, the independent, the deviants, the creative, the odd, the sensitive (ie. people like me).
I aim only to provide remarkable courses to remarkable people.
Ill leave mediocre students to the mediocre schools.
Thats the freelance teaching strategy in a nutshell.
The first trick, of course, is finding these students. The second trick is attracting a few to give me a try. The third is to kick ass and win them over.
Meanwhile, I have to eat. So in addition to this noble sounding plan... I will be bartering, finding odd jobs, taking Part time work, donating sperm :), writing freelance articles... and scrounging income any way I can.
To be continued......
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
[Yes, read with tongue in cheek ;) ]
I find myself, finally, a fulltime freelancing Hobopoet. Seems my toleration for traditional employment (wage slavery) has nearly bottomed out. Just can't do that shit anymore. Bowing and scraping. Ducking from the boss. Filling out forms.
Kerouac summed it up best: "The problem with work is that you are always doing someone else's".
Amen St. Jack!
Not that this situation doesn't contain a large dose of humor. I can't help but laugh when I think of the speed with which I've shifted from disreputable van living Hobopoet, to "respectable" university instructor, to dangerous thought criminal, to, once again, disreputable Hobopoet & freelancer. What a ride!
And the fun continues. Im now locked on starting my own English teaching program... to become, finally, a freelancer and only a freelancer.
Building that will take time,... but I find Im in no mood to chase yet another rat-race job. Instead, Ill do this startup the Hobopoet way... by living in my vehicle and making supplementary income until the English program takes off.
My supplementary income will come from two primary sources. One- I will write freelance. This'll provide a few paltry dollars, but not much.
Which is why Ive decided on part time "job" number two: professional masturbator. Yep, seems you can make a reasonable income from masturbating. I've found a few clinics that are offering $65 a pop for sperm donations... and they want twice a week donations with a one year commitment. I normally dont like contracts, but I think this is a responsibility I can handle. After all, Ive maintained that rate of activity for free for years and years.
This week, Ive been doing research on sperm count... how to increase it. If Im going to be a professional, Ive got to do this right. Ill be laying off the caffeine, exercising regularly, and supplementing my diet with zinc, vitamins, and certain amino acids. I hope to "work" for at least two clinics... thus generating $260 dollars a week. To do that, Ive got to stay in good shape!
The great thing is, I can easily live off that amount of money by become a car dweller once again. I've got a friend who is willing to let me park at his place and use his shower (the two biggest hassles of my last experience). I've got a laptop.... with access to free wifi. Ill get a cell phone as soon as I arrive in town. All the essentials, in other words.
Maybe I should get a business card made... just in case I come across other clinicians that need my services.
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
Tim Leary, in typical pithy fashion, wrote that there are always two societies in any country or culture: the "cop outs" and the "drop outs". He also called these two the overworld and the underworld.
The cop outs are the established "game system". They make rules and are always in search of order, control, and stability. The cop outs dont like change. Most upstanding good citizens fall into this category. This group, according to Leary, has always existed in human society and probably always will.
The drop outs are the deviants, the rebels, the malcontents, the "fast mutators", the mystics, the innovators. Drop outs subvert, change, and or break the rules. They search for freedom, chaos, growth, and evolution. They are constantly trying to push the bigger system to another level. According to Leary, this group has likewise existed throughout human history, and probably always will.
Clearly, Leary was a drop out. But what I love is his recognition that both groups are necessary for the wider ecological human system. Im a drop out too... but I can appreciate that a bit of stability is necessary. Most humans simply cannot handle non-stop change. They need a breather. They need some islands in the storm. Even drop outs need this, though considerably less than the cop outs.
On the other hand, the conformist society absolutely needs the drop outs too. Drop outs drive the evolution of the species. The fast mutators keep all of us fit and adaptable. Drop outs push us onward, destroy disfunctioning systems, and make life a lot more fun.
Its good to accept this dynamic. Its easy for deviants to get snared by uncontrolled anger. They rail against the system... and descend into bitterness when change does not happen fast enough (or at all). Ive known a few people like this and they are a sad sight.
I think Leary presents a much healthier model for drop outs. To his death (indeed, including the process of his dying), Leary continued to challenge the system. He was bold, audacious, and irreverant. But he always maintained a sense of humor. When he said, "screw you" to the system,... he always did so with a wink and a grin. Leary radiated happiness, compassion, and humor (The guy even developed a quasi friendship with G. Gordan Liddy for goddsake)!!
As I move on from my own brush with the "cop outs"... I try to remember Leary and hope I can maintain his same sense of optimism and compassion.
Thammasat University's BAS program has gone Orwellian on me. My students are emailing me in droves. They tell me the departments administration has forbidden them to read my teaching blog, or email me, or have any contact with me whatsoever. Apparently, they were also told that my blog(s) would be "removed" (presumably access would be blocked on Thammasat U. computers).
In addition, they are now monitoring my students' blogs.
Wow! What started as just another brush with bureaucracy has become some kind of weird censorship campaign... the thought police are on the move!
While I obviously dont condone their actions, I cant help but be bemused. Because the more they do these kind of things, the more they draw attention to the blog, and the more people (including students) are coming to read it.
And these people are writing me (the dept. will have a tough time preventing that, I imagine). My inbox is filling rapidly... emails coming in faster than I can read them.
So here we have it... the classic authoritative, command and control response: attempt to silence those you do not like. If that cannot be done, attempt to intimidate the less bold.
And here, also, we have a lesson in the way the game has changed...
"Command and control", meet the world wide web!
Sunday, October 16, 2005
I have this addiction to chaos. I love it when Im a bit anxious. Its a sickness, okay. But it works for me. And the older I get, the more I need what upsets me, shocks me, makes me squirm, or get angry. The older I get, the more I value what forces me to take a second look. The more I respect people who dont automatically respect me.-- Dan Wieden
Chaos does this amazing thing that order can't: it engages you. It gets right in your face and with freakish breath issues a challenge. It asks stuff of you, order never will. And it shows you stuff, all the weird shit, that order tries to hide. Chaos is the only thing that honestly wants you to grow. The only friend who really helps you be creative. Demands that you be creative.
I have the same addiction. After a short "what have I done?" moment... I find that the chaos and uncertainty of my situation is incredibly motivating and inspiring.
Im free. Free! Free with all the euphoria and fear that state brings. Euphoric to be master of my own fate again. Scared shitless because now I actually have to DO something.. not just talk and complain.
This is as it should be. For far too long Ive cast myself in a resistence role... embedded in one lumbering bureaucratic system after another-- raging at the machine. Ive learned plenty from these experiences but its easy to take shots at these organizations. And in the end, it accomplishes little.
While opposition, subversion, destruction, and unlearning may be the first steps- eventually youve got to create something.
Professional critics, after all, are loathesome creatures. They are usually people who are too timid to write their own book, make their own movie, or create their own program (ouch, guilty as charged!).
For a while, Ive been one of them. I copped out... settled into the critics role of "I know better than them". That may be true, but who cares?
The question that matters is, "Can I DO better than them?"
And that remains to be seen.
Well, Im back on the trail again. Ive been fired/quit from Thammasat-- seems I had considerably less autonomy than I first thought (is anyone surprised by this)! While there were a few issues, the kicker was that the "TU authorities" found my teaching blog... and then presumably found their way to Hobopoet via my profile.
Well, I cant say Im too surprised. Nor can I claim to be upset. Ive known for a long time that a conservative bureaucracy was no place for me... and while the illusion of semi-autonomy was nice for a while.... reality was bound to intrude.
Its time to put my money (ie. making an income) where my mouth is... finally. Time to take that scary leap into freelancing... build my own means of making income.... without bosses. I claim to know better than the bureaucrats-- well, at long last its time to put that assertion to the test.
Ive also been fond of telling my students "Do something great!!" (telling, instead of doing... in classic teacher form). Well, its now time to see if I can follow that advice.
In the short term there will be lean days ahead..... ramen noodles, PT jobs for food income... perhaps another stint of van living.
But its preferable to wage slavery and compromising my life.
As Ive warned many times.. once you taste freedom and autonomy- there's no going back.
Saturday, October 08, 2005
Im wired.... have been in an unstoppable manic phase for quite a while... with most of the energy channeled into teaching & my teaching blog. With my mind and body buzzing on these topics, Ive found it difficult to write much about travel & other Hobopoet themes (thus the scarce posts).
Ive also been far too wired to machines. I need a break from ringing cell phones and email and blogging and websites. These are great tools, but all things in moderation.
I finally have a break so I have decided to take to the road (or sky) for a few weeks. Head out, by myself, unplugged. Cell phone off. No computers or internet.
Ill be back in a couple of weeks, and will hopefully be inspired to write more for Hobopoet at that time.
Wednesday, October 05, 2005
I found a very cool web service called Talkr
Talker automatically converts all of your blog posts to audio.... and will add an audiolink at the bottom of all written posts. Very very cool!
Especially for the teaching blog. I now have a way of providing students, simultaneously, with reading and listening material. And I don't have to do any extra work. As my students are "English as a Foreign Language" learners, this is a very useful and supercool service.
Those of you wanting a lazy way to enter the world of podcasting... check out Talkr.
If you'd like a taste of what it does, see the teaching blog at:
Sunday, October 02, 2005
I have to agree with what you wrote on your blog. The motivation in dependant employment is much worse than if you are doing something for yourself. Back when I was 16, I wrote a full-blown application to facilitate exploiting certain loopholes in telephone switching systems at the time. (Basically, it was a hacking app you could use to make free phone calls.) Complete with documentation, custom user interface, sound i/o, phone book, snazzy design.. a major major project, tens of thousands of lines of code. I cranked out most of it in a space of weeks, working from 9pm until 6am and sleeping until whenever I would wake up, collaborating with other peeps as needed.
Now, after a few years working in "professional" IT, I can tell you something like this would have taken a bunch of guys who are *employed* to create it at least a year. Five of them too. Why? Because they just do their job, their heart's not in it. They will no enough to not look too lazy to collect their paycheck.
It holds true for a lot of areas, not only teaching english.
Thinking about it now, that Friday night [see previous post] had a whole angle to it which I didn't mention in my past e-mail but I think you might be interested in.. It was my encounter with a coked-up Scottish DJ.
So, having just re-loaded on K I'm looking for a nice comfy chair to sink into and ride my trip. I find one, next to a sofa, close my eyes and just ride the waves of my psychedelic experience. Ketamine, if taken in the correct dose, gives you a nice birds-eye view of your life and your current situation, a bit like Google Earth for the mind. So I sit there contemplating, eyes closed at times, enjoying myself.
Eventually, I open my eyes again and there is the Scottish DJ on the sofa next to me with his Hoez(tm). He's coked up as hell and proceeds to chew my fucking ear off, along the lines of: "Yeah, I'm so great, I make so much money, I just spend mad dough on coke and champagne, I'm so intense, blah blah blah."
I smile at him politely and think: What a wanker you are. Get the fuck over yourself. In the great scheme of things, you don't amount to shit if you are always looking for people to placate your fragile ego. For a second I consider enlightening him about the concept of voluntary simplicity, about being happy with less instead of ever chasing for more, about dissolving your fucking Ego instead of taking a drug that blows it up to gargantuan proportions.. But I decided not to waste my time, leaned back in my chair smiling, closed my eyes and enjoyed my visuals..
It takes all strokes to move the world..
Thursday, September 29, 2005
Last night I was lucky enough to enjoy an ecstatic dance experience that is rare enough to enjoy. I went down to B-ton to attend a dance party thrown by the Psychedelic Dream Temple crew which I had been looking forward to for weeks. The place was divided into two areas -- the primary dance floor, which had two DJ's from Denmark-based Iboga Records on the bill, and a second, alternative floor which played mainly groovy ambient.
This is were it all came together for me. After refusing ecstasy that was being offered to me earlier in the night and watching in awe as the bouncers ejected some guys queueing for the bathroom for holding a rolled up £10 note in their hand, my hopes of getting my hands on something that would just facilitate enough of a psychedelic state to throw myself in the music was on the wane. In the end I plomped down on a sofa right next to a lovely couple who were bugging out on some Ketamine --a disassociative hallucinogen reasonably mild yet powerful drug if taken in measured doses with a very short halflife. [Mega doses have an ego-destroying, out of body, super-psychedelic effect... also worth a try. --AJ] Out of kindness they agreed to let me borrow their packet and I loaded up on a dose.
Over the next hour I had an amazing conversation with the two of them while riding the very rim of what's possible without going into a fully immersive k-hole. We reflected on the nature of London and how it is such an amazing nexus -- a super collider for people, of all sorts, of all origins.. and how the city in itself has psychedelic properties. Sound weird to you? Well, "psychedelic" means "mind-manifesting". London has a way bringing to light whatever is on your conscious or subconscious mind and presenting you with whatever experiences you need to be having based on what's going on inside you. If you come here to party, you can party. If you come here to work, you will find a job. If you don't know what you came for, things will happen to you will reveal the reasons why you came, and the nature of your personality if you take the time to reflect on your experiences.. it is unparalleded in this regard.
Following this logic, I suppose I had a definite need to rinse and flush out my system and get out there and I was about to get what I was looking for.. With the K waning but still very present in my system, I passed the ambient floor and got completely sucked into the music. It wasn't a conscious act of dancing, about contemplating how you will move which part of your body, at all. It was more like surrendering and letting the music take over. All in all this is by far my favourite kind of dancing.
I rode the grooves like a surfer rides the waves, for a good while, breaking a good sweat before the lights came on and the party wound down at 6am. Big smiles all around as all the like minded people who live for moments like this congregated to the music of the DJ. When it was all over introductions were made, backs slapped and good energies exchanged between the dancers before everybody bundles their sweaty limbs back into their warm jumpers and went back out into the London cold for a gorgeous early morning ride home on the 133 bus.
As I sat on the top deck of the big red bus contemplating, the music and experiences of the night still ringing in my ears, I felt glad to be a part of this. The tradition of the underground speakeasy, where you can drink and dance and partake in mind-altering substances without fear of any major reprecussions. (Besides, of course, being booted out of the club if you are too overtly partaking.) The bus crossed the bridge over the Thames and I was rewarded with a great view of Tower Bridge at sunrise, the orange clouds reflecting in the perfectly still waters of the river. Time to go back to my hostel and tuck into bed, with my faith in humankind refreshed again, just enough to answer the question of why we are putting outselves through this..
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
A great quote from a great essay by Paul Graham:
I think the big obstacle preventing us from seeing the future of business is the assumption that people working for you have to be employees. But think about what's going on underneath: the company has some money, and they pay it to the employee in the hope that he'll make something worth more than they paid him. Well, there are other ways to arrange that relationship. Instead of paying the guy money as a salary, why not give it to him as investment? Then instead of coming to your office to work on your projects, he can work wherever he wants on projects of his own.
Because few of us know any alternative, we have no idea how much better we could do than the traditional employer-employee relationship. Such customs evolve with glacial slowness. Our employer-employee relationship still retains a big chunk of master-servant DNA.
I dislike being on either end of it. I'll work my ass off for a customer, but I resent being told what to do by a boss. And being a boss is also horribly frustrating; half the time it's easier just to do stuff yourself than to get someone else to do it for you. I'd rather do almost anything than give or receive a performance review.
My thoughts exactly. Ive been a peon wage slave many many times. Ive also been a "manager" and a "director". They both suck (though being a peon sucks more for sure).
And the reason is dead obvious to any but the most brainwashed Republican corporate drone: "Our employer-employee relationship still retains a big chunk of master-servant DNA".
A fucking HUGE chunk, in fact. The boss-employee relationship is one of part-time slavery and nothing more. The interesting thing is that while "workers" have instinctively known this forever... some forward thinking business types are finally realizing it too.
They are finally cluing in that resentful slaves are not very "productive". And slave organizations are incredibly wasteful.
The bulk of Graham's essay is a discussion of blogging and open source. He correctly points out that amateur bloggers, working passionately, for their own joy, for free, are kicking the shit out of large "professional" publications.
He's dead on. Ill use my own field, teaching English, as an example. The "professional" publications in my field are dry, boring and utterly useless. They look slick. But they are lifeless. Ive never read one and gotten a good idea.. much less an earth-shattering one.
But Ive now collected a set of amazingly interesting blogs dedicated to my field. They are routinely filled with provocative and stimulating ideas. Ive revamped my entire approach after reading some of these blogs... and this has happened several times in the space of one semester.
Stylistically they are also superior. The writing is lively, clear, and concise. No longwinded academic bullshit.. and no use of the accursed passive voice.
And so we see that people who own their work, who are free and autonomous, who can indulge their enthusiasms however they choose... are also far more innovative and "productive".
This is no surprise to me... but its nice to see a few folks in the business world finally catching on.
Friday, September 23, 2005
"There are so many hammocks to catch you if you fall, so many laws to keep you from experience. All these cities I have been in the last few weeks make me fully understand the cozy, stifling state in which most people pass through life. I don't want to pass through life like a smooth plane ride. All you do is get to breathe and copulate and finally die. I don't want to go with the smooth skin and the calm brow. I hope I end up a blithering idiot cursing the sun -
hallucinating, screaming, giving obscene and inane lectures on street corners and public parks.
People will walk by and say, "Look at that drooling idiot. What a basket case." I will turn and say to them "It is you who are the basket case. For every moment you hated your job, cursed your wife and sold yourself to a dream that you didn't even conceive. For the times your soul screamed yes and you said no. For
all of that. For your self-torture, I see the glowing eyes of the sun! The air talks to me! I am at all times!" And maybe, the passers by will drop a coin into my cup."
So many laws to keep you from experience....
Laws against using certain substances (ganga, LSD, ketemin, mushrooms, etc...). Laws against certain types of sexual experiences. Laws against certain kinds of thought. And these are just the written down government laws. The most stifling laws are unwritten: societal "norms" enforced through intimidation, brainwashing, and reproach.
Ours is a society that equates learning with memorizing words written by other people. Most people who claim to be experts have very little first hand knowledge of their field. How many psychiatrists have experienced ego-dissolution, "disassociation", "hallucinations", visions, and the like? How many white-bread "Middle East experts" have actually lived there, among the local people, for an extended period of time? How many religion experts (ministers, priests) have experienced the spiritual or divine ("the godhead") directly?
Most of what we call education is nothing but a game of trivia pursuit. Its a quoting match-- Professor A says, "I know what so-and-so said about this subject", and Professor B replies, "Well such-and-such said this!". Back and forth they go, arguing about what other experience-deprived "experts" have written about a phenomenon-- none of them with a clue about the actual experience.
Non-professors play the same game... sometimes quoting the professors.
I love books. I love reading. I love that I have access to the thoughts of great thinkers like Thoreau, or Guatama Buddha, or Aldous Huxley, etc.
But though I am an avid reader & a language teacher, I contend that books and language are overrated. Without direct experience, they are nothing. Only the experienced can interpret their messages.
Rather than subject 18 year olds to four more years of drudgery in University, we should give them that money and tell them to travel the world: "Here is your $25,000 student grant/loan... if you don't return to this country for at least 2 years, you don't have to pay it back."
That would be a worthy use of education dollars.
Thursday, September 22, 2005
"Life is full of choices, if you have the guts to go for it. That's why I get immediately bored with anyone's complaining about how boring their life is, or how bad their town is. Fucking leave and go somewhere else. Or don't."
Stefan recently sent me an email full of Henry Rollins quotes. All are brilliant, so Ill be posting them one by one. The one above is perhaps the simplest and most direct. Really cuts to the chase, doesnt it.
Leave and go somewhere else... or don't. For all of us stuck in crappy jobs (Ive been there MANY times), or crummy redneck towns (been there), or hopeless relationships (yep), or mental ruts-- the solution really is quite simple. Not necessarily EASY, but certainly simple.
Just leave. There are no good excuses, for the excuses are nothing but your own fears and doubts. I wrangled with excuses for YEARS. I fretted about what other people would think (all the while claiming I didnt care). I fretted about money. I cursed my fate.
And then, one day, I just decided. I bought a ticket to India.
Once I tasted freedom, I could never again be satisfied with a half life.
It really does come down to one moment-- one unequivocal decision.
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
You can't compare yourself with others: if Nature has made you a bat you shouldn't try to be an ostrich. You consider yourself odd at times, you accuse yourself of taking a road different from most people. You have to unlearn that. Gaze into the fire, into the clouds, and as soon as the inner voices begin to speak, surrender to them, don't ask first whether its permitted or would please your teachers or father, or some god. You will ruin yourself if you do that.
Id say thats right on the money. A true diagnosis of the problem. Most people ruin themselves by constantly worrying about what is permitted. They worry what their teachers will think. They worry what their parents and family will think. They worry what their boss will think... and what their friends will think. Some worry what their minister, priest, or "god" will think.
Through this process they destroy their dreams... and lose their bliss. They become dry husks. They descend into monotony. Some acquire a measure of comfort from the security of monotony. But the more sensitive (ie. most reading this blog) tend to be tortured by what they have given up.
Always it gnaws at them-- that sense of living the wrong life.
Ill put it as straight as I can- to live a blissful life, you've got to piss some people off... or worry them... or disappoint them. It is impossible to be true to yourself while dutifully obeying others. Some relationships have to be sacrificed. You must let go of anyone who cannot accept you as you truly are or want to be.
The flip side of this... I have found that most people in my life accept me as I am. I imagined far more judgement and disapproval than I actually got. And Ive gotten a lot of unexpected respect and admiration for doing such things as living voluntarily "homeless".
But I can't promise it will always be that way. It doesnt matter. Hesse is right. A hard choice must always be made by those who would follow their bliss: will they serve themselves or will they serve convention and public opinion?
You cannot serve both.
Monday, September 19, 2005
Ive had a pretty charmed life, in terms of material and economic factors go. Ive never (involutarily) gone hungry, or gone without decent shelter. Ive had all the education I needed (far more than I needed, in fact).
I know many people like myself. But I dont understand many of them. Many who have had similarly charmed lives are filled with hatred and contempt. They accept their good fortune as a sign from "God" that they are superior. They sneer at those with less money, fewer opportunities, the wrong color skin, the wrong accent.
Why? My guess is fear. First, they fear losing all those trinkets and cash that they have, in fact, done very little to deserve. They are terrified of poverty, homelessness, unemployment, and the like. That fears makes them hateful and mean. They turn that hate on that which they fear: the homeless, the impoverished,.....
Another deeper fear, for some, is that know they dont really deserve their superior position.. they sense, deep inside, that they are lucky. And they are terrified that luck might run out.
These people need to suffer. Its the best answer. Preferably, they should suffer voluntarily. Experience, direct contact, and suffering often breed compassion. Its easy to dismiss fearful boogie-men when all you do is read about them or scurry past them (ie. homeless people). But if you've actually lived homeless for a while, talked to homeless people, had direct contact with the difficulties of that experience..... you tend to be less afraid, and more compassionate.
Living semi-homeless (in my car, and later, a van) was one of the best experiences of my life. And one of the most genuinely spiritual. Most people consider reading a fucking book and going to a building once a week as "religion". But to my mind, genuine religion (spirituality) must involve an expansion of awareness and compassion.
That does not come from an overly translated, obtuse book. It only comes from experience.
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
Strange days indeed. I am in the very unusual position of doing something I love and getting paid for it. What a novel experience this is. Im having a fantastic time teaching. I go to "work" everyday full of energy and enthusiasm. Im always brainstorming new ideas for teaching. I have superb students. I have the autonomy to do what I want in the classroom.
It doesnt feel like a "job" at all. So it is possible to be passionately engaged in an activity and make an income (though not easy).
Once again, what strikes me as so ironic is how much my "employers" are benefitting from leaving me alone... and giving me a good schedule. By not bugging me or wearing me out, and by not controlling me.. they have inherited a maniac. Im going bananas with innovative ideas. Ive got incredible energy during class. Im having a fantastic time and thus doing so much more for my students. Im not a drone or a clock puncher.
So why the fuck do most organizations do the opposite? Is it that they only care about the quick buck... exploit the workers and drain 'em for everything they have.. then move on to the next one? Is it that they have fragile egos and get off on the petty power trip of being "the boss"? Is it that they are horribly insecure and dread being "found out"... and so they disguise this fear with bully behavior?
Truth be told, I dont care why they do it. Im sick to death of working for and with egomaniacs, insecure assholes, control-freaks, drones, cynics, bureaucrats, and toadies. Living "homeless" was far superior to most of my job experiences.
And so Im particularly euphoric right now... doing something I love... something I would quickly volunteer to do... and getting paid for it.
My take home message from this (and you know I always have to find a take home message): Be mercenary. Never stay at a shit job longer than necessary. Never hesitate to leave a job for a better one. Keep moving around till you have the autonomy, income, and enjoyment you desire.
Freelancing and Free Agency are the only way to go!
Tuesday, September 06, 2005
Its the same almost everywhere.... its not enough that people who are homeless must struggle with the basic difficulties of their situation. No, on top of hunger, the stress of sleeping in public, the elements, etc... homeless people the world over are subjected to brutal harassment.
Its no different in Bangkok. This week, a large group of homeless people were "evacuated" from Sanam Luang... a large public field that adjoins the Grand Palace. By "evacuate" I mean they were rounded up by police armed with clubs, bullet proof vests, and guns... and drug away. What was their "crime": Sleeping? Being dirty and ugly? Making tourists and the wealthy feel uneasy?
Number three is the true answer. The smug and well off are not content to live in their McMansions, drive their obscene vehicles, dine in upscale restaurants. They arent content to drive down wages and bust unions and create unemployment. Nope.Not only do they insist on being smug, safe, comfortable, and pampered... they cant bear to be reminded of the suffering of other people.
The homeless people's crime was existing. Rich people dont like to be reminded that they exist. And they certainly dont want to come in contact with these nasty people. And so the order goes out, the "scum" are rounded up... and shipped off to a warehouse or slum somewhere. Ahhhh... the rich rest easy. Tourists are spared inconvenience. Everyone pretends this is the correct and sensible thing to do.
Disgusting. Criminal. Downright evil. Thats what it is.
The truth is, most countries have now criminalized homelessness. If you are homeless, you cannot exist without being a criminal. If you piss or shit, you are breaking the law ("public urination"). If you sleep, you are breaking the law ("trespassing"). If you rest in one place, you are breaking the law ("loitering"). If you ask for help, you are breaking the law ("soliciting"). If you have sex, you are breaking the law ("public indecency").
What this means in practice is that the police have a license to harrass a homeless person at will. They can interrupt their sleep, prevent them from sitting on a bench, forcibly relocate them. Since every basic human function of a homeless person is illegal... they are automatically criminals. When I lived in my car.. I broke the law everytime I went to sleep at night. Only my clean white face and neat clothes saved me from suspicion and harassment.
This is the ugly truth: The well off, the suburbanites, the "responsible and employed" detest poor people... especially homeless people. And there is no real difference between the latte-liberals and the rabid right-wingers. Both detest the poor. The conservatives would be happy if they could all be gassed in chambers or drowned in the Mississippi (though they'll never admit this openly)... while the liberals want them warehoused and benignly imprisoned out of sight (ie. put in to shelters). The liberals then congratulate themselves for being so generous and high-minded.
Which is why Ive always known that the only hope homeless people have is themselves. Thats why Dignity Village is important.... because its a place where homeless people are taking care of themselves.
Why not a homeless people's union?
Tuesday, August 30, 2005
This is a version of a post I recently added to the teaching blog:
Coercion is dead. Over. The days of the drone are numbered.
Well, not exactly. There are still plenty of drone jobs (lots). Im not a businessman or scientist but I read about these topics to keep up to date... and everything I read suggests that the factory-soldier work mentality is collapsing.. while organic, autonomous, decentralized, project/team oriented organizations are on the rise. This may not be true in every field... but is at least (and especially) true among the emerging industries that will employ the bulk of our college-educated students: technology, creative services, design,.. and other fast-changing, sectors of the economy.
Thus the imperative to radically redesign "education". Is it easier (for the teacher) to just tell students what to do.. and punish them if they dont? Its certainly simpler. But more effective? No way.
Many teachers balk at this statement. Its nothing Im not used to. I encountered the same doubt as a social worker. As Clinical Coordinator for Stephens House (in SC)... I was constantly told (by my boss, by doctors, by nurses, by other social workers, by damn near every self-appointed expert in the field) that I must "be strict with the clients"... "you must be the parent because they have the mentality of children".... "lay down the law"... "make them take responsibility" (an oxymoron if ever I heard one)... "they wouldnt be where they are if they could make good decisions".
Who were "they". They were homeless, HIV positive, substance addicted individuals.... most of them minorities (gay, African-American,...). In other words, they were prime candidates for the title "bottom of the socio-economic ladder".
The people above them on the ladder were convinced that these people must be coerced and controlled "for their own good".
I disagreed and for the first time of my "career", I decided to throw caution to the wind and completely defy my boss. I surrendered control to the clients (residents of a transitional shelter). I gave them control of the house (upkeep, decoration, etc.). I gave them control of creating and enforcing "house rules". I put them in charge of transportation (getting clients to doctors appointments). I put them in charge of social activities. Im put them damn near in charge of everything.
And contrary to all the naysayers... they kicked ass. The more power they got, the more "responsible" they became. When they took over upkeep of the house... it improved dramatically (repairs made promptly, new paint on the walls, yard sales to fund decorations and social activities, everything cleaned regularly, etc.).
The most dramatic improvement was in the area of drug use. When I took my position, the house was in crisis. Clients were regularly using drugs in the house. They were inviting drug using friends into the house.. and having them spend the night in their rooms. Drug use on premises was the number one reason for ejection from the program.. and it happened alot.
The "experts" told me to get tough: Institute random drug testing, spy on them, encourage them to snitch, randomly search their rooms, etc.
Instead, I talked to two of the residents who were die-hard members of AA and NA. They attended meetings all the time. I asked them to talk to the other residents and find a way to solve the drug problem.
Here's what they did:
*They decided to host an NA (Narcotics Anonymous) weekly meeting in the house.
*They arranged for sponsors for all clients with substance abuse problems.
*They relentlessly encouraged, supported, badgered, and ass-whooped each other to prevent relapses.. or nip them in the bud.
*They instituted a volunteer mentor program.. volunteers from the community were paired with clients.
*They requested semi-regular private meetings with me.
*THEY requested drug testing "to help us maintain our recovery".
*THEY strictly enforced the "no overnight guests" rule.
Drug use plummeted. Ejections for drug use plummeted. The reputation of the house improved dramatically.
And I didnt do a damn thing.
For this I was eventually fired by my "treat them as children" boss. It was the proudest moment of my social work career.
Friday, August 26, 2005
Your posting reminded me of a poem I wrote.. maybe 10 years ago now. I am convinced that I have met many Masters in my life but have been too ignorant to recognize it. They certainly aren't the evangelists that get on TV and proclaim their expertise and inside connection to the divine and then call for assassinations.
I saw Hephaestus today.
Hes grown tired of building castles for the gods.
He collects trash for the University. Picks up cigarette butts
from the ground and smokes em. He finishes.
Snobbish girls dont bother him. They can’t see him.
He hobbles around with one bad leg and a toothless
smile. Vodkos, that great god of fermented potato peels,
has a hold on him. He’s a hard one to wrestle. He fights.
Wants to sell his boat and buy a truck, second hand.
Sometimes he forgets who he is and where hes from, as all
gods do from time to time. I help. I know who he is.
The Little Prince is one of those books Ive heard about for years but never got around to reading. I finally borrowed it from a student and read it today. Its a very nice little book.
I suppose the take-home message has to do with love. We love when we accept someone exactly as they are and when we also accept responsibility to care for them... and help them realize their dreams and full potential.
What "The Little Prince" hinted at... but didnt say strongly enough.. is that its not necessarily easy. Its easy to SAY "Accept and love someone as they are". But what that means, in practice, is that we accept the things we dont agree with, dont understand, or just dont like!
It also means we dont try to change them to be more like we want them to be. Rather, we encourage them to be their best.. to do that which brings them bliss.. even if it takes them away from us... or makes our life more difficult.
Hmmm. Ive been accused of being a romantic and I suppose I am. But I also find great fault with most romantic movies and books. They emphasize the initial attraction... the game of "winning" each other over. But they never show what comes after that.
To my mind, love does not really begin until after that... after the "game".. after the posturing. Ive never been too fond of the game stage and never have been very good at it.
For I believe its the sublime, difficult, intriguing, mysterious, ambiguous, maddening, inspiring, heart-breaking, awesome process that comes later that is most important. Love is about what happens AFTER the movie ends.
Writing seems to bring out the strongest and most extreme opinions. Its a strange phenomenon.
I constantly find that what I write is much stronger than what I say,... while I usually qualify my spoken beliefs, I rarely do when writing.
On one hand, this is good. Qualified or ambiguous writing tends to be weak. Better to state the case directly and without hesitation.
But its a dangerous thing. Without the benefit of facial gestures, tone of voice, and other clues... its easy to misinterpret writing. Hell, its easy enough to misinterpret spoken language.
Thus... I constantly find that I "contradict" myself. The truth is, I often hold two opposing views on a subject at the same time. I can accept them both as, simultaneously, true and false, right and wrong... both and neither.
The world, in truth, is extremely complex. The Western notion of dividing everything into dualities... of firm "right" and "wrong"... "black" and "white"... is childish and immature and at complete odds with the infinitely complext reality we live in.
What makes fundamentalists so dangerous... be they Christian, Jewish, or Muslim... is that they radically oversimplify the world. They insist on an extremely narrow worldview and simply ignore or attack facts that contradict it.
The most frustrating and dangerous thing of all is that you cannot reason with these people. Most people prefer to live and let live. Most would like to practice toleration and let the fundamentalists live as they choose.
But the problem is, they turn our tolerance against us. They do not give us the same consideration... rather, they attempt to attack, regulate, harass, and bully us. They pass laws to try to force us, at police gunpoint, to live as they do (or profess to :) They seek to restrict what we can read, see, listen to, and injest.
And so they put us in a dilemma. Though we prefer to live and let live, they will not let us. The trick, then, is to defend ourselves while maintaining our values. In other words, we must be able to fight these people without becoming like them... without becoming equally angry, rigid, and dogmatic.
Its not an easy thing to do. Its not easy to practice grace under pressure. Or to be compassionate in the face of harassment. Or to smile at those who insult you.
Yet that is the best way.... in the end we need strength, tolerance, AND compassion... the are ALL necessary.
Thursday, August 25, 2005
Today I observed a zen master in action. He wasnt a monk. Nor was he a martial artist. Rather, he makes coffee at Thammasat's Dome Snack bar. He is a master.
Its a sublime pleasure to watch someone like this do their stuff. His movements, his eyes, his posture... all communicate a deep absorption in what he is doing. He doesnt go through the motions like the "baristas" at Starbucks.
This man considers coffee making his art and he has indeed raised it to an art. The end product is fabulous... the best "ice latte" Ive ever tasted... a perfect blend of espresso, milk, and condensed milk.
In fact, before serving the drink, he always samples the mix with a small spoon.. to make sure the taste is perfect. Ive never had anyone do that at any other coffee shop (and Ive been to many).
But its not only the end result.. its the swift, unhesitating, confident way he moves.... he's fast but doesnt seem to rush. He never looks distracted... while he's making the drink that is all he is focused on.
Ive encountered this kind of mastery only one other time... in a Post Office in Seoul, Korea (Yangjae-Dong). They had a man who would pack things for shipping. You brought him a box, or a pile of books, or clothes, or whatever... and he packed it up.
But the WAY he did it... wow!
First of all, he custom made every box from large sheets of cardboard. The boxes were ALWAYS exactly the right size when he finished. Hed measure the contents with a stick.. then, in a blur of focused activity.. set to work on the cardboard: bending, cutting, folding.... then zip, zip, zip with the packing material and tape.
As with my Thammasat coffee maker... he was incredibly fast and capable but never seemed to rush. Likewise, his concentration never wavered.. he never had a bad day, or got distracted, or screwed up.
Whatever you were shipping, you had 100% confidence that he would take care of it.. you knew hed pack it perfectly and it would arrive unharmed (it always did).
The Zen Masters of old are right... there is a strange and mysterious power in doing simple things with complete absorption and attention.
Some good-meaning, lefty, PC folks at home occaisionally make cracks about "Asian women". They think Asia is a terrible haven of male dominance and that Asian women are meek slaves who obey without complaint. Few of these Americans have actually been to Asia- but since when has lack of direct experience prevented us from proclaiming ourselves as "experts" :)
I do have direct experience... in Korea, Japan, India, and Thailand... and I state unequivocably- the Americans are wrong!
Women are the future of Asia. One look around my classes gives me a crystal ball into the future: 70% women... 80% women.. in some, as high as 95% women. Asian women are the future. They are smart, they are creative, and they are getting educated at MUCH higer rates than Asian men.
And you can forget the meek stereotype too... thats a 1950s notion. The Thai and Japanese women I know are fed up with the good-old-boy system and arent shy about saying so. In their work choices, their dating choices, their educational choices... they are asserting themselves in huge numbers.
American feminists and "liberals" often look down their nose at these women because they arent as combative and ill-tempered as they are. They mistake loudness with power. To be sure, Asian women dont practice the in-your-face approach advocated in the West... but they are nevertheless kicking ass and taking charge.
These things dont happen overnight. Sure, the governments are still controlled by men (just as they are in America and Europe). Sure, the CEOs are mostly men (as in the US). But a massive shift is taking place.
Watch out. For in the words of Tom Peters... "Tomorrow belongs to [Asian] women".
Wednesday, August 24, 2005
I cant resist joining the fray against that bastard Pat Robertson. Here it is folks... the smiling face of fundamentalist Christianity-- all those good church going folks who are such ardent supporters of George Bush, The War on Muslims, etc.
Well, now Robertson has added Venezuela's Chavez to the list of official infidels.. saying, "If he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think we really ought to go ahead and do it," and also that Chavez was turning his oil-rich South American country into "a launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism all over the continent."
Apparently Chavez is going to convert the 98% Catholic population to Islam... though I was unaware that HE had in fact converted.
The great thing about Robertson is that he puts it out there for us all to see. Many Christians have similar views... they love war, they're all for assassination, the hate "peace lovers", they hate muslims, they hate gays/lesbians, they hate athiests, they hate Buddhists, they hate liberals... and Democrats... and Greens... and Hindus....on and on and on.
But many are more clever than Robertson. To your face they will speak of "loving the sinner but not the sin". But thats just code for "persecute the homos".
In the end, I prefer Robertson. He's a moron. He's a bigot and racist. He's a hypocrit of the lowest order. But at least he's straight up about it. He puts it out there plain... and lets us all see the true nature of "Compassionate Conservative Christianity".
Ill take that over double-talk and innuendo anyday.
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
Here's another important technique for deconditioning... "cease to cherish opinions". Thats an old zen saying and a damn good one.
For a long time, I interpreted that statement as "cease to have opinions". While that sounded very zen and transcendent... it also seemed like an impossible task. After all, having no opinions comes pretty close to having no thoughts. And as any good Buddhist will tell you... the brain makes thoughts the way eyes make tears or bone marrow makes blood. Its automatic... the very nature of the organ.
But lately Ive focused on the word "cherish" and find the admonishment now seems far more doable. We will have opinions... the trick is not to cherish them... not to hold onto them too strongly... not too wrap our identity in them.
I struggle, mightily, to do just this. Im full of strong opinions but have learned at least one valuable lesson- I dont trust them. Too many times Ive been burned. What seemed like wisdom, looked at a year later, is revealed as obvious bullshit.
Sometimes the wisdom-to-bullshit cycle is as short as one day. My solution: state my opinions as clearly and powerfully as possible and then let them go....
Im not afraid to contradict myself. And Ive come to value the phrases, "I dont know" and "I was wrong".
When it comes to breaking free of conditioned chains.. those two phrases are perhaps the most valuable tools of all.
Thursday, August 18, 2005
Many folks email and ask me how to get information about working and living abroad. My first recommendation is always Transitions Abroad (and not just because Ive written articles for them :)
The T.Ab. website is packed full of info-laden articles for all regions of the world. They cover living, working, studying, and volunteering abroad. Its a fantastic site and should be your first stop if you're contemplating a move overseas.
Recently they added a new feature to their site: a travel writers forum. This is a place to share writing ideas and also to shamelessly plug your website or blog. .
Anyway, if you're starting to feel the pull of travel but have questions about the "how"..... start with them.
Wednesday, August 17, 2005
Im now hitting Bangkok's roads during rush hour..... and holy shit... what chaos. Its quite a baptism by fire for a new motorcycle rider. No one stays in their lanes, so buses are constantly swerving across my path. Drivers cut me off. Others rocket past me.
Then there is the fact that in Bangkok, motorcycles ride BETWEEN cars. The big advantage- we cruise right through the traffic jams. But this can be a hair raising experience. The space between vehicles is often tight. Ive already clipped my side mirrors twice. And sometimes I wonder, as I slip between two huge buses... "do they know Im here".
All of this could produce disastrous or wonderful results. Disastrous if I am pancaked between two trucks. Wonderful if I survive. Cause Im certainly learning to drive defensively and to be constantly aware. I scan the front, sides, and back of the bike incessantly. Im always looking for the stray dogs who dart into the road, the pedestrians who dash across, the guys going the wrong way on one way streets (happens all the time)......
Some people say Im crazy. But eventually, you just have to leap into the fray. You prepare (I spent quite a while weaving around chairs and riding on back streets)... but sooner or later you've got to throw yourself into the whole catastrophe... and hope to survive.
Id say thats true of many things in life.
Monday, August 15, 2005
Laptop, ipod, wireless internet, cell phone.... who the fuck needs to stay in one place anymore? Who needs a McMansion?
Its now possible to run a million dollar business out of your goddam van! (If thats your thing). The chains are cut... its no longer necessary to be a penniless wanderer (a noble tradition)- the Hobopoet life is open to all.
There's simply no excuse anymore. Whatever your inclinations,... whatever the level of comfort and income you need... if you are a wandering freedom seeker by nature, the opportunities are there.
Learn the skills you need to learn. Take the steps you need to take. Never has it been easier!
Saturday, August 13, 2005
Ive been thinking of Orwell's Animal Farm recently. What makes it particularly depressing and powerful is its dead-on accuracy. It not only describes a totalitarian communist state.. it mirrors our own American brave new world.
Napolean and the other pigs, like George Bush & the republicans, are masters of manipulation and fear. They slowly erode the newfound freedoms of the animals through the creation and exaggeration of external threats. First, there is a real threat... other human farmers attack Animal Farm. This sews the seeds of fear which the pigs skillfully exploit. They remind the other animals of this attack again and again and again.
They keep the threat of attack hanging over the befuddled animals as they dismantle their freedoms one by one. When Snowball challenges them, they drive him off. He is then puffed up into a threatening icon... the pigs tell the animals that the agents of Snowball are everywhere. Everywhere they are hiding... plotting and ready to strike (sounds like Al-Qaida, eh).
And so the animals gradually submit to control, drudgery, and... finally.. brutal oppression. Some do so mindlessly (the sheep), some do so through "loyalty" (the horse), some through cynicism and passivity (the donkey), some through fear (most of the others).
All submit except one: the cat. Throughout the entire story... from revolution to totalitarian dominance, the cat remains aloof. He ignores all efforts to "reform". He does not concern himself with the games and dramas of the other animals. He cares only for his own life and remains true to his own nature. He cannot be ruled or controlled because he remains outside the system... he never acknowledges the right of other animals to tell him what to do. And so he is the only animal that remains free and the only one who seems to smoothly ride out every event.
There's much to be learned there.
Thursday, August 11, 2005
I've said it before and I'll say it again... I love my work!
Teaching these kids is a dream... they're almost always happy and cheerful, they enjoy learning and they're polite and friendly as can be! No one brings guns to school!
Unlike the McMerican public schools where I've taught.. the students/parents don't have the 'somebody owes me something' attitude, their parents aren't dodging responsibility and blaming anyone and everyone (especially teachers for some reason)....instead of emabarking on a little introspection regarding the issues they face personally and with their kids... and by and large THE STUDENTS DO THEIR HOMEWORK!
Another interesting thing.. our kids are healthy! They eat reasonable meals (rice, meat and vegetables.... not ALL deep fried! How could that be?) and our lunch room sells damn good food! I never ate in a lunchroom at a public school where I worked back home! A quick read of 'Fast Food Nation' or viewing of 'Supersize Me!' will remind you why.
It might sound like Utopia... and, of course, it's not... but it's as close as I've found to Shang Ri La in a job and a work place yet!
So why is it that the 'richest' and most 'powerful nation' on Earth can't figure out how to educate it's public? Maybe it's in the way we define 'rich' and 'powerful'....
Hmmmm.... the land of the free.. and well fed and angry! GO MERICA!
Bartlett had a secretary, staff, an important-sounding job and the paycheck to go with it. But, like many workers, he found himself underemployed and bored out of his mind.--from The Washington Post
"There is a reason why prison is considered punishment," Bartlett said, comparing it to his former job. "You may be in a gilded cage, but if you're just forced to sit there for eight hours all day long, staring at the wall, it can be excruciating."
That's an excerpt from a Washinton Post article that David Smallwood sent me. As I read it, I had sudden flashbacks to IBM and several other office jobs Ive had. Of course, the Washington Post put a pro-work spin on the article... stating that "overwook is less stressful than boredom". Thats hardly the take home message Ive gotten from most jobs.
Most jobs, whether they require a lot of work or hardly any-- are monotonous, degrading, freedom robbing, ethics bending, exercises in humiliation. That goes as much for an executive position at GE as it does for a minimum wage job at Wal Mart.
We all know this. Even my Dad... a lifelong corporate executive... now admits that most of the work is pointless, boring, and meaningless. This is NOT just a phenomenon experienced by anarchist hobopoets.
What makes hobopoets different is that we don't surrender to the situation. We dont consider it "normal" or "realistic". We dont say things like, "well, life is work".... or "that's what being an adult is all about". We dont consider our highest aspiration to be "cover your ass"... or "bring home the bacon".
In my experience, most people are as bored and angry with their jobs as the average hobopoet. But most people bow their head and surrender. Most get trapped by huge commitments such as a mortgage, expensive crap, a spouse, and a family. Most are very very concerned what other people will think of them. Most are trapped by ideas of respectability and responsibility (to others, not themselves).
What makes hobopoets different is not their discontent with wage slavery... its the actions they take to live freer and more autonomous lives.... its the fact that they take responsibility for themselves, their lives, and their own happiness first and foremost.
That is what defines us and separates us from the smiling but quietly desparate.
Tuesday, August 09, 2005
Im guilty of romanticizing the Hobopoet life... for I do, in fact, find it romantic. But I should add a caution for those considering a leap into this sort of life: there will be a price.
The price is different for everyone. For some it is loneliness. For some it is poverty. For some it is a loss of status and "respectability". For some it is a loss of comfort. For some it may be all of the above.
Some people hesitate when they realize this. Their illusion of non-stop thrilling adventures and perfect happiness is shattered. Doubt creeps in. Some give up. Some never try to work through the challenges.
But most worthy things have a price. Often, the worth comes from paying that price and accepting it.
And sometimes, by doing so, the challenge is transcended or overcome. And sometimes it is not. As Gandhi said, the reward is in the effort made- not the result.
Monday, August 08, 2005
An email from a friend reminded me that Im often fast and loose with my language (part of the pleasure of blog writing, to be honest). But there is a danger.
One danger is that some readers may misinterpret what I mean by "Hobopoet"... may think of it as a fashion, or cool image, or a set of rules. Others may feel the need to define what makes someone a "real Hobopoet".
But thats all missing the point. Here's the point (as stated by Joseph Campbell): Follow Your Bliss!
Thats it. Everything else is method and technique. I advocate simplicity because simplicity expands freedom and freedom makes it easier to pursue your bliss. I attack wage slavery because most wage slaves jobs are anything but blissful.
I encourage self-examination, psychedelic shamanism, and travel because those things often lead to greater learning, freedom, and bliss.
But all those things, in the end, are just trappings. If working at IBM fires your passion, bathes you in ecstacy, and fills you with purpose and meaning... then by all means work for IBM.
I have nothing to write to such folks because Im wired differently than they are. I can only speak to the restless, wandering, creative, change-craving freaks who, like myself, find bliss in learning, exploration, and travel.
How did I ever live without Som Tam (Spicy Papaya Salad)?
There's no more sublime pleasure than gulping down a plate of lip burning, tongue scorching, mouth watering Som Tam. Its a beautiful blend of pleasure and pain: an addictive combination of sour, sweet, and salty spices.... fresh green papaya... and red hot chilis.
I gulp a spoonful and coo in delight. Two minutes later Im chugging water and ice to quench the burn.... which I chase with forkfuls of khao niaw (sticky rice). Of course, it never works. Im in pain... but the delectable dish calls... so I suck an ice cube to numb my tongue for the few seconds it takes to spoon in another bite.
For a moment, there is only the magical blend of papaya and spices... then the tongue warms and ignites... glorious pain.
To think I was once a meat and potatoes guy!
Sunday, August 07, 2005
Today I finally uploaded video from my camera to the computer.... video shot during my two month stay in Hiroshima. Of course, Hiroshima is in the news because of the 60th anniversary of the A-bomb.
So the city is on my mind. My primary feeling is one of gratitude for the place and the people I met. They were some of the most delightful people I have ever encountered. I remain impressed by the kindness, sweetness, and gentleness of most people I met.
Watching the video, I was also reminded how quiet and beautiful the city is. For a town its size, its very green. And, of course, I remember well how bicycle friendly Hiroshima is... bike paths everywhere, bicycle parking decks, wide sidewalks.
My greatest disappointment is that working in Japan is so difficult. The work culture tends towards workaholism. I was working insane hours and didnt have two days off in a row. Despite loving the city and its people.. despite making wonderful friends... I just couldnt endure the job.
This is a source of great frustration to me. Id love to live an extended time in Japan.. but I dont think I can stomach working there and its far too expensive to live there without a job. Perhaps one day I will luck into a relaxed job in Japan- and be able to spend a longer time getting to know the people and culture.
Until then, I wish the people of Hiroshima peace and happiness.... and thank you for the kindness you showed me during my two months in the city.
Saturday, August 06, 2005
Muslims have now joined gays/lesbians as a pariah group that can be freely harassed. We are all careful and so "PC" when it comes to African-Americans, Latinos, etc.... but it is now acceptable in American culture to openly attack two groups: Gays and Muslims. Of these two, muslims are particularly vulnerable.
What a farce. A few Muslims fly into a building.. or explode some bombs... and suddenly MILLIONS of people worldwide are labelled as sub-human "terrorists". These people are cajoled to "control", "condemn", and "moderate" their "fellow radical muslims".
So why is it that the Christian Taliban are not given the same treatment. Christian Taliban have gunned down abortion doctors and others they disagree with. Good white Christian males blew up the federal building in Oklahoma. Good Christians are currently murdering Iraqi civilians in huge numbers. Good Christians are imprisoning and torturing muslims-- without charge or trial.
Why don't "moderate Christians" "control", "condemn", and "moderate" these fanatics? Why do we never read about the radicalization of Christianity?
This isnt about Islam. Its about whipping up fear and creating a government sanctioned scapegoat. Forget about the aggressive invasion of Iraq. Forget about the invasion of Afhganistan. Forget about the escalating aggression against Iran. Forget about America's suppport of Colombian death squads. Forget about the shaky economy and corporate control of virtually every aspect of American government and society...
All our problems are the fault of scary brown Muslims. They irrationally "hate our freedom". They are psychotic shizophrenic maniacs needlessly attacking our virtuous and innocent corporate-Christian empire.
Its all so simple. Black and white. The Muslim infidels are "evil"... the corporate Christians are "good".
Trust the government and the Republicans. Keep an eye out for suspicious brown people.
And thank God that you live in the "freest, richest, most perfect country that has ever existed".
Now get back to working and shopping.
Thursday, August 04, 2005
Uh oh... there's no going back. Im already addicted to my motorcyle. The experience of riding it is so much more immediate than driving a car. No windshield or doors between me and the world (nor between me and other cars). Without doubt, its more dangerous than a car-- another factor which sharpens the senses when I drive it.
This is especially true in Bangkok... where there are few (observed) traffic laws. No one stays in lanes-- and motorcycles freely zip between rows of cars... making motorcyles the best traffic beating choice in this city.... and the most demanding form of transportation as well.
Another advantage of having the bike: Im no longer dependent on taxis. Thus, I have greater access to the city. I can ride anywhere... explore back streets.. commute to friends houses. This is one thing Ive missed about the American car culture... its nice to have transportation autonomy... especially in a city with public transportation as crappy as Bangkok's.
Wednesday, August 03, 2005
If all the Negroes and left-wing college students in the world had Cadillacs and full control of society, they would still be involved in an anthill social system unless they opened themselves up first.--Tim Leary
Amen Dr. Leary! Mahatma Gandhi said much the same thing... as did Thoreau. Social activism is pointless without internal transformation first. Likewise, external travel (backpacking, wandering the world) accomplishes little unless accompanied before, during, or after by deep internal travel.
Whether through introspection, meditation, yoga, psychedelic shamanism.... or a combination of them all- the internal journey is absolutely vital. It takes primacy over our external travels and travails. What is the point, after all, if you return home the same uptight, egocentric, narrow minded idiot you were before you left?
The central truth of the matter is that travel is just another means of shifting (widening) consciousness. The traveler is generally more open, more sensually alive, more sensitive, more impressionable, and more aware. Thats the kick of travel- its a spiritual experience.... a transformative experience.
By recognizing this we can focus on it and increase the power of that transformation. That, to my mind, is the point of "intentional travel".
Saturday, July 30, 2005
It's always been that way, and it will always be that way. There are two societies, two symbiotic cultures uneasily sharing this planet, two intertwined human structures, mirror-imaged like root and branch. The overground and the underground. The drop-outs and the cop-outs.--Tim Leary
What I love about this quote is that it points to the universality of this dynamic. Its nothing new. Today, its anarchists and corporate servants. In the 60s it was hippies and the establishment..... in the 50s, the Beats and the squares.
This is the dance of evolution. The novelty seeking fast mutators (us) push the envelope.... the stability seeking slow mutators seek to impose order and control. Leary encouraged us not to bemoan this state... for it mirrors many natural processes.
What this says is that it has always been difficult to be a fast-mutating evolver. The overground.. the mainstream... the cops and employees and priests and politicians ALWAYS resist. No use whining about it. Accept it. (In fact, Id argue that we now live in a time period that is particularly friendly to fast mutators).
Psychedelic drugs are illegal. The anti-work philosophy is considered dangerous and disrespectable. Wandering travelers are viewed as unstable. The government is thoroughly corrupt. Most people in the mainstream are corporate servants and mindless consumers.
None of that absolves us of responsibility for our own lives. Our lives, our happiness, our evolution as human beings... are still our responsibility and no one else's. There is no choice but to accept the entire catastrophe and keep going.
Forget protest... evolve.
"Accept that you are a criminal and be prepared to act like one" --Hakim Bey