Monday, February 28, 2005

A Perfect Day

August 20, 2004- originally published in The Flagpole (www.flagpole.com)

The Jakarta Post was waiting outside my door when I stumbled half awake at 6 a.m. to retrieve it. A fresh cup of Javan coffee with gritty bits to chew awakened my senses. Brewed ëcowboy styleí in the local tradition, no filtering, just add water, stir and drink up! Guaranteed to jumpstart your day!

One of the headlines ëGovt to Abolish Departure Taxí. Nice, I thought. Currently any foreigner or local business owner working in the country has to pay US$100 equivalent every time they board a plane to leave the country! Itís insane. Especially since a flight to Malaysia, Singapore and other nearby countries can be bought for about the same price as the exit tax! Seems to me to discourage local small business or foreign workers (such as myself) from setting up shop in Indonesia. In a country where US$10 buys my fruits and vegetables for a week, $100 is a small fortune! Good, I thought. Good for them. It certainly wonít hurt the local economy to encourage small business and a little Indonesian entrepreneurial spirit!

Next thing you know I was at work teaching my science classes. My school is an Old Dutch Colonial house converted into classrooms. My science lab is the old kitchen. I teach from someoneís old bedroom.

Over 90% of my students are Indo- Ω Indonesian and Ω foreign blood (usually Aussie, Dutch or American) as opposed to Indonesian ëfull blooded Indonesianí and many are considered ESL (English as a Second Language). It makes my job challenging. I have to try and teach science and math concepts to students that donít fully understand English to begin with. But hey, math and science are their own private languages anyway and letís face it, thereís a lot of Americans that donít really get the specialized lingo. So I do my best. We do a lot of projects, posters, tactile and hands on learning. My kind of fun.

At a school of 84 students and 6 teachers you pretty much have to do everything. My colleague Simon and I share the Middle School/High School duties. I teach math/science and he is the humanities and literature teacher. Twenty three of those 84 students are ours and range from grades 6-11. What that translates to are multi-age, multi-grade and multi-level classrooms and a lot of prep work. At the moment, weíre also a PE instructor short. So on top of our academic teaching responsibilities, we also give PE a shot in the afternoons. It certainly doesnít make me sad to run around and play Ultimate Frisbee with my enthusiastic acolytes, it just means I donítí get to prepare for lessons during that time, which is what I would normally do. And thus, my daily exhaustion explained.

Being a Friday, I made a B-line to the warung to buy a large Bintang beer to enjoy on my new back porch. Ten thousand rupiah (US$1) will get you a large, near-1 liter local brew which ainít half bad. As I walked home with my hard earned refreshment, I passed a guy sitting on the ground eating bakso from a pushcart vendor. He smiled, showed me his bowl and said ëBaksoí. I replied ëYes, enak (delicious). Saya suka (I like it)í. I had tried bakso before from a recommendation from a friend and after reading about it in the Lonely Planet. Itís a delicacy in these parts. Bakso is essentially a noodle soup with a sausage like meatball, no pork. Pretty good, but one of those foods like hot dogs or Spam that you just donít want to talk about the ingredients. I was struck by his kindness and willingness to speak and share his words. I wondered if I had been a Muslim guy walking down the street in small town Georgia if anyone sitting on the side of the road would have been so kind. Maybe, I donít know. I often wonder these things whenever I am the only bule (white foreigner) in a place and all the locals are being so kind to me. I wonder if the roles were reversed how the situation would play itself out.

Shortly after my exchange of pleasantries with the hungry local, I passed the neighborhood Mosque. Fish tail palms, banana trees, and bird nest ferns flapped in the pleasant afternoon breeze. The sweet ethereal sound of the adzan sung by the imam pervaded the air. His heavenly voiced pierced the atmosphere and sent my thoughts soaring. Caught in one of those moments of quiet reflection and imagination, not exactly all here fully rooted in this planet, my feet moved mechanically forward. My spirit had its own agenda. The sight of the Muslim men donning their white body length baju kokoh and the women with their krudung wrapped neatly around their heads brought me back to Earth. I was thankful to have been enraptured, if only briefly.

I donít consider myself to be particularly religious and certainly not Muslim but I cannot help but treasure moments of peaceful reflection and respite. Those times are what help keep me going when things go insane around me.

Again, I couldnít help but wonder why these people who are supposedly so evil and full of terror would allow me to walk by, the only bule in sight, and not molest or harass me. My Fox news and CNN induced fear have greatly subsided now that I have lived outside the reach of their ever pervasive propaganda driven tentacles for a few years. Again I wonder if I had been a Muslim man walking by a church in a small South Georgia town wearing my identifying costume if I would have passed by so uneventfully. I honestly donít know.

I finally made it to my back porch and popped open my liquid refreshment. I packed my pipe with Dutch tobacco and puffed contemplatively reviewing the dayís events in my mind. My wife and I chatted about decorating our house. A flying lizard glided form the top of my 3 meter fence to a place about 2 meters from the ground on an adjacent epiphyte clad tree. An olive backed flower pecker hung upside down probing for sweet nectar in the depths of a drooping, blaze red heliconia flower. Butterflies flitted about. My Bintang went down all too smoothly. AhhÖ. Isnít it great to be alive in this mad, mad world?

From Athens to Indonesia

A Slice of Llife From the Other Side of The World-originally published in The Flagpole (www.flagpole.com)

The day pokes its head in at 7 a.m. I rise, look around and lie back down in silence in my 20-square-meter bed. It's Saturday, too early to get up just yet. A split second later the sounds of Indonesia knock on my ears. Just outside, angkots and bemos speed around clickitty-clack as their worn engines sputter and spit. Introverted light sneaks in through the pink curtains and bounces shyly off the yellow sheets, as if afraid to offend the dawn.
The morning here is soft; it seems to creep in gradually.


Not like what I experienced last summer in Montana. In Montana, the sun makes a bold statement of its arrival. In the big, bluer-than-real-life blue Montana sky light seems to scream, almost shocking you awake. In Bogor, I seem to fade into the day and rouse by degrees. A gentle sort of awakening.

My mouth is dry. I trundle to the water container. Ah, what the heck. I might as well get up even if it is Saturday. I can never sleep once the daylight has made itself known.
My morning java in Java. I love the sound of that. Must be some sort of traveler's sweetness in being able to say that. A badge of honor.

Out & About
My plan is to walk to Kebun Raya for a bit of exploration and birding. Turn left out of Crawford Lodge and you hit another road soon. I did that and came to a crossroads. Next, I turn right and pass by the community soccer fields, a climbing wall, some takraw courts, a jogging track and one of the numerous kampongs. Fumes assault my nose, exhaust haze infiltrates my eyes, the angkots buzz by almost, but not quite ever, hitting me or someone as they swerve erratically through the streets unfettered. The only rule seems to be go fast, real fast. Like schooling fish, they jog back and forth in unison; some esoteric pattern emerges but I can't read it.

"Hello, Mister!" The kids yell, the street vendors yell, everyone yells as I walk by. Cute school girls in white blouses and black skirts giggle and point as I walk by. My rule: grin and nod your head. In doing that, I'm greeted either with a large smile or indifference. I'm not sure how to interpret the indifference. I figure I'm so far outside of their daily reality that I'm inconsequential. I don't know.
It turns out I should have turned left. I walk nearly all the way around the gardens before I hit the Gerbang Utama and am able to enter. I run a gauntlet of guys selling postcards, women proffering cold water and fried tidbits, and folks with wooden carvings. You name it, they've got it. They all greet me, "Hello, Mister!" I politely nod "No," smile and wave my hand downward like a flailing Michael Stipe in concert belting the lyrics to "I Believe." I pay my Rp 5000 (U.S. 60 cents) and stride in.

Suddenly, the city disappears. Peace and quiet inside the sanctuary. A dozen Muslim kids dressed in white sing-scream a song as they dance Ring Around the Rosy-style around a blindfolded classmate. "It's universal." I think to myself and smile. Amazing how kids are alike all the world over.

I tramp around the park, my binoculars whipped out to I.D. a small flock of Javan Munia. I stumble around in a stupor staring up into the trees. My eyes strain, my neck hurts. The problem with the tropics is that the trees are so damn big and bushy way up in the canopy. I can't see the birds I hear calling right up above me. Never mind. A few Spider Hunter-like and Flower Pecker-like birds flit around. They're too erratic. They won't sit still. They all have an olive drab and/or yellow color. I can see the beaks; one is long and curved the other short. But no eyespots, leg colors or other distinguishing characters. Oh well, another day. A flying lizard does push ups on the tree next to me. I laugh at the antics.

Walk a little. I stop on a swinging foot bridge while crossing the river. Now I witness the stereotypical SE Asian scene. A swarm of activity focused in and around the river. My binoculars reveal some guy defecating in the river and cleaning his butt with the water. Less than 25 meters downstream is another guy happily bathing, seemingly oblivious to the e-coli rafting his direction. Recently cleaned clothes are laid out on the bank to dry. A gorgeous little water monitor splashes in just below. And on the next bridge upstream, tired souls find solace in the bridge suspension by sleeping on the shady trusses just beneath the highway.


What A Life!

Ah man, what can I say? I love it. It has a hold on me. I don't want to leave. The grime, the noise, the craziness, the zany weirdness all frame my experience. Anything goes, and does! As my good friend Dustin says "Indonesia is like Malaysia on crack. It's so much more real. Even the dirt is dirtier!"

Then he goes on to relay how he met some folks here who were so proud to have met him they invited him over for dinner. He showed up to share 10 sticks of satay among eight people. So endearing. Closer to life. Closer to something I cannot describe. I well up with emotions. There is no denying it. Southeast Asia is in me. The Mojave Desert is in me. The Big Sky in Montana is in me. The Grand Canyon is in me. The Deep Creek Hot Springs are in me. Athens, Georgia is in me! Hidup itu indah.

About time to head back. Not before I I.D. the Sooty Headed Bulbul with its black cap, white rump and yellow vent. With two new bird species on my list, I turn left. I pass by makeshift barber shops set up on the side of the road. A little board leaned up against the fence of Kebun Raya for shade. They have a chair, a mirror and some scissors. Men selling fruit, cigarettes and bottles of unlabeled liquid litter the sidewalk. A man sits with a funnel and two five-gallon drums of gas - a make shift gas station! Little boys jump off and on of angkots playing toy guitars and homemade drums. Give them Rp 1000 for their serenade and they'll be happy.
I pass by the durian ice cream man and think of my friend Harold and smile.

As I'm walking a profound thought hits me. With my U.S. $250 binoculars, U.S. $500 digital camera and U.S. $200 Eagle Creek backpack, and Rp 100,000 in my pocket, I'm sporting more valuables than many of these people will know in a dozen years. I don't know what to make of it.

Home Ties
I write this from the comfort of the Crawford Lodge, downtown Bogor, Indonesia. I have recently moved here (two weeks ago) to this suburb of Jakarta to teach science at the International School of Bogor. R.E.M.'s Tourfilm plays in the background as I type these words.

For the past three years I have been living and working in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The island of Java, where Jakarta is located, is only a hop, skip and a jump over the Straits of Melaka from Malaysia. It wasn't too much of a stretch to move here from Malaysia, and it's turned out to be one adventure after another. I am not sure I will ever truly be able to communicate how blessed I am to have had these experiences.

I write because a few incidents of late have stirred me into a nostalgic whirl of emotion like the turbid eddies of the Oconee River.

Yesterday, as I walked around town sporting my Blue Sky Coffee shirt, I realized how lucky I am to be here. I wish I could share this with all Americans. I wish I could help them see how our stereotypes about Indonesians and Muslims are so incredibly wrong, so far off base as to be an embarrassment to our sensibilities.

After my brief walk in the park, I stopped in a food stall and ordered up a bit of tempeh and rice. The employees cried out "Hello, Kenny!" exuberantly in "Cheers"-like fashion (Norm!) when I entered. As I ate, memories of The Grit flooded my mind. The Grit is where I first discovered the virtues of tempeh and tofu. Here in Indonesia, those culinary delights have long been known. Add soy milk to the list as another of the treats I find so abundant in SE Asia and learned about as a novice in Athens. Not to mention the incredible coffee found here in Java. I had my first lattÈ in the Espresso Royale Caffe in the mid '90s. I remember it well. Before then, I had only had convenience store coffee or Waffle House coffee. Learning about coffee at an Espresso Royale Caffe seminar was one of the best things I did in college! Now the coffee I drink here is the quintessential experience for a java lover such as me.
Later that day I met a young Indonesian woman at the pool here in Crawford Lodge. I am still uncertain how the topic of Rumi came up, but it did. It turns out she is a fan of the poetry of the 12th Century Sufist. I first learned about Rumi in Athens when my roommate Don Gooch gave me a copy of Birdsong translated by Coleman Barks. He changed my life with that simple act.
She pulled out her book, The Essential Rumi. Sure enough it's a book translated by Coleman Barks. Where she got it or how she ever came to know about it, I will never know. But here I am connected to someone half a world away through a mystical poet I learned about in a town she's never even heard of. I rushed back to my room and pulled out the same copy of Birdsong that Don gave me over 10 years ago. That book has traveled around Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and now Indonesia. It is now signed by Dr. Barks. I met him sometime in 1999 or 2000 in one of those big corporate bookstores you can now find in Athens. He signed my books and wished me luck in Malaysia.

Four years later, I get to traipse around the SE Asian rainforest in my free time. I first studied these ecosystems as an undergraduate biology major at UGA. I learned even more about ecology as a field technician working at the Institute of Ecology and then later as a naturalist at Sandy Creek Nature Center. Since then, I've had close encounters with Orang Utan, reticulated pythons, hornbills, flying lemurs, cobras, barking deer, Tokay and one of the smelliest plants on Earth. I can honestly say I would have never gotten so far if it were not the education I received and more importantly, the people I was lucky enough to meet, learn from and work with.
Every Thai, Malay, Indian, Chinese, Orang Asli and Indonesian I have met here, every Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist I've encountered has been friendly, encouraging and helpful.

The people here are warm, caring and loving just like my friends back home. I am not sure why I have been so fortunate and why I have had so many pleasant encounters. Perhaps it is because that is what I look for. So here's to looking: and even better, to truly seeing.


Not in a New York Minute

Today the air quality in KL was so bad that we had to cancel our PE classes. We went inside and played some esoteric Korean kids game.. 'ring around the rosy' style. Ji Yi led the activity.

Since the gov't doesn't usually release that kind of air quality info and keeps it secret.. well, it must have been pretty damn bad. Probably double bad from what we were told.

Geetha tells me of the bad old days in KL back in the late 90's when the haze was thick as a Frisco fog and you couldn't see the parking deck rails as you drove inside.

Malaysia blames Indonesia for burning Sumatra just 40km away. Indonesia blames Malaysia for something or other.... every village burns their garbage.. open air. Welcome to a developing nation.

A chromium sun sets in the distance. The bilal blazes from the mosque down the hill, astral projections into the ozone. I puff my pipe full of Amphora (my own private haze) and sit satiated on a jug of Carlsberg. Here they call 'em 'jugs' and not pitchers.

By 7:30 I'll chaperone a middle school dance, 3:30 beer buzz fluttered away.

I've got my spine, I've got my Orange Crush (well not really an Orange Crush- here it's called Green Spot- really!).

AJ is on his way to Hiroshima to teach English to a room full of Japanese.

Tomorrow I'll play rugby, Sunday I'll climb the remnants of an ancient coral reef. Monday back to the classroom. Next PE unit, lacrosse.. I've heard the name.

Ahh.. sublime....this is living.

Somehow I wouldn't trade this for a safe and sterile GA suburb in a New York Minute.

-Matt Salleh

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Hiroshima

by AJ-Skald

Have now arrived in Hiroshima... butt-ass cold and grey skies, kind of a harsh change from warm and sunny Thailand. Right now this isnt seeming like such a great idea. But Im a hobopoet and am always ready to move one. Meanwhile Ill be exploring the town and area and making some cash for the next journey.

The worst shock at the moment is sticker shock... holy shit this place is expensive. In Bangkok I paid 5 baht for a liter of water (15 cents or so)... in Japan Im paying over a dollar for a liter of water. Im hungry all the time because I cant afford to eat out much, though Im living in a hotel for free right now. The town itself is fairly nice though insanely orderly compared to Bangkok. Its quite humorous to watch the Japanese patiently wait at the crosswalks.. even when there are no cars... much different than the dash & dodge system in Thailand.

Internet cafes are super expensive too... thus the drop off in posts. Hope to get settled soon and start writing more. Until then....

Im cold, hungry, and lost in Hiroshima.....

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Nobody Knows

by AJ/Skald

This is a plug for a very haunting and beautiful Japanese movie called (in English) "Nobody Knows". Its the story of four children who are abandoned in an apartment by their mother. Somehow, the children manage to fend for themselves for more than a year.... though their situation slowly deteriorates. What makes the movie particularly powerful is the fact that it is based on a true story-- a group of children that were abandoned in Tokyo by their Mom but somehow no one noticed for over a year.

What I love about the movie is that it shows the children's increasingly desperate situation without demeaning their humanity or dignity. If only the American media would take a similar approach to homeless and impoverished people. Instead, they have a pre-conceived storyline that includes welfare cheating, drug addiction, laziness, and lying. They amplify examples that fit this agenda... and ignore the vast majority of stories that do not. Truth be told, the well-washed SUV-driving masses have no interest in poor or homeless people at all.

The media helps assuage any guilt by propogating the lie that homeless people "deserve" their situation. The same goes for "poor" people. Tell enough stories about welfare cheats and other nasty poor people... and the gated-community folks can rest assured that "the poor" are sub-humans who deserve their fate while the well-off are the superior chosen of God.

"Nobody Knows" doesn't fall for that lie. It manages, somehow, to be beautiful, terrible, inspiring, and heart-breaking all at the same time. Much like life. Much like the true stories of homeless people I have known.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Why I Love Teaching

by AJ/Skald

I make most of my income as a freelance teacher. And while I have had some dreadful wage slave experiences as a teacher (in Korea particularly)-- most of my experiences have been fantastic. I hate jobs, but I love teaching English as a Foreign Language!

The truth is, its not the teaching I love- but the learning. Teaching English puts me in touch with the most delightful and interesting people I have ever met. I learn about their cultures. They teach me about their food and their languages. They take me in and befriend me.

My best experience thus far was teaching Latino immigrants in Gainesville, Georgia, USA. What wonderful people. Lanier Tech was paying me good money, but it never felt like "work" at all. I was having a great time.... acting like a fool in front of the class, conversing with my students, learning about their lives. Prior to that job, I'd always focused my interest on Asia. But they brought me food and invited me into their homes and tried (valiantly) to teach me to dance. They invited me to their church. They shared their lives with me. My paltry contribution was to teach them a little bit of English. Yet they loved me for it.

This wasn't a "job" at all... though I did get paid. It was a wonderful shared experience-- a meeting of people and cultures. I'll never forget that experience.

Nor will I ever fail to fight for those folks. Those wonderful people were the same ones that redneck Georgians insulted as "illegal aliens", "wetbacks", and worse. They denied them the right to have drivers licenses. They got rich by paying them crappy wages; then attacked them for "destroying" Georgia culture.

All I can say is that my students had more heart, more compassion, and more grace than every goddam white, right-wing, uptight businessman I've ever met: combined.

I love teaching English because it has opened the world to me... and introduced me to lives far removed from provincial America. I love teaching because it has made me a life long student and a life long traveller.

Monday, February 21, 2005

In Praise of (Some) Americans

by AJ/Skald

I do a lot of America bashing on this site (all deserved) but my visit to the States reminded me of things I love about the country.

Today's news in the Bangkok Post was another reminder: Hunter S. Thompson has killed himself. Thompson was one of the best and brightest of Americans-- a living icon of rebellion, autonomy, and life experimentation. Thompson embodied the (rapidly dying) wild side of America... the last vestiges of frontier spirit. He spit in the face of security. He spit in the face of authority. He defied the right-wing yahoos ferociously.

That is something I love about America..... that ferocious defiance in the face of authority. It is a quality that is all but dead.

Another aspect I love is the spirit of Do It Yourself. The DIY subculture is inspiring. Some Americans have the guts to say "Fuck being a wage slave". They freelance. They start their own businesses. They hit the open road. They make and distribute their own films. They publish their own zines. They record their own music, burn their own CDs, and sell their own albums. They publish their own books. They create their outlaw radio stations and alternative news outlets. I love that energy. I love Thoreau's self-reliant spirit. I love Kerouac's giddy restlessness. I love Hunter S. Thompson's radical defiance.

It is this love that powers my rage. I hate what the suits, the corporations, and the American Taliban have done to the country. I hate the Wal-Martinizing of America. I hate the sterility. I hate the fear of risk. I hate the suburbs. I hate the racism.

But I love the diversity. Herein lies America's greatest potential, if only they would embrace it. I love hyphens: African-Americans, Japanese-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Guatemalan-Americans, Chinese-Americans..... Gay-Americans, Straight-Americans, Bisexual-Americans,... Spanish speaking Americans, English speaking Americans...

The white good ole boys are terrified of this. Republican assholes stir up racial fears and homophobia. They encourage the scapegoating of immigrants. They bemoan the use of Spanish. But they are trying to suppress the greatest pool of potential available to the country.

God bless hyphenated Americans. They are the future-- and America's greatest hope!

Sunday, February 20, 2005

American Impressions

by Skald

So all the crazed activity took its toll apparently.... almost missed my flight back to Thailand. Was thinking I was flying on Monday afternoon and happened to look at my ticket on Saturday-- and was shocked to discover that I was flying out of Atlanta on Sunday morning!! After almost two months of hectic activity (thesis/portfolio, presentation, flights, driving, preparing to move to Japan, etc...) it is time for me to take my own advice about DOING NOTHING!

Once again in the Tokyo-Narita airport passing time till the flight to Bangkok. Significantly less enthusiastic after a six day period that included 28 hours from Bangkok to Atlanta, a 10 hour drive to Winchester, Virginia,... a 10 hour drive back to Atlanta (jet lagged, gut churning, exhuasted), and now another 20+ hour odyssey back to Thailand. Looking forward to several days of sleep and complete laziness-- before departing for Hiroshima.

Its a bit difficult to put together coherent thoughts at the moment, but here are some random impressions re: America.

* The first impression, the one that jumps at you right away: America is the fattest nation on the planet. Suddenly it seems like everyone is supersized. I can only imagine the impression this makes on foreigners who are visiting the country for the first time. I know to expect it but still its a rude shock every time I return. I used to be snide about this... so easy to take pot shots and chalk it up to individual weaknesses. But when an entire nation is this overweight and unhealthy-- something is wrong at a much deeper systemic level.

The food is the first culprit, of course. For a year and a half I've eaten mostly unprocessed food (or lightly processed). Most mornings in Thailand I begin the day with half a fresh pineapple. American food is horribly unhealthy. It seemed more like plastic than food. Especially because we were on the road so much, it seemed the only "nutrients" I could get were fat, salt, and sugar. No vitamins other than those that have been injected into otherwise lifeless food. No fiber.

Do Americans prefer this crap? I think that they probably don't... not if they had decent alternatives. But the food industry, like most American business, is all about churning out cheap shit at rock bottom prices in order to reap massive profits. Food in America has been Wal-Martized. The excellent documentary "Super Size Me" was constantly in my head as I waded among a sea of obese people. When you are relatively thin and healthy, its easy to feel snide about this. But its not so funny to me.... I find it sinister. And far more nefarious than cigarette smoking.

Of course, America has the worst healthcare system of any quasi-developed nation... so when the ill effects of all that junk food kick in, people are screwed.

*That was another strong impression-- how medicated many Americans are. In the land of "just say no to drugs" people are popping a fucking pharmacy of pills. Its reflexive. Ive learned to be very careful about complaining about symptoms... because if I mention the slightest discomfort someone will aggressively push pills on me. I mention that my stomach is upset from jet lag, and everyone wants to give me phenergen or pepto bismol or various other concoctions. Sleepy? Take a sleeping pill. When I mention that I'm dehydrated (from the flight) and have a headache... then they are pushing Advil.... or something stronger.

And when I insist that I just need sleep, time to adjust, water, etc... they think Im crazy. "Why let yourself feel bad" they insist... and keep on pushing the pills. Everyone seems to ignore the fact that these things have side effects... and that addressing the root cause (jet lag, dehydration) is much healthier than masking the symptoms.

And yet these same people express horror at the thought of smoking a joint or eating a mushroom. The only good drugs, apparently, are those that enrich pharmeceutical companies.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Anarchist Ownership

I've been trying to avoid the practice of copying and pasting articles from other sites, as it was making me lazy with my own writing. But this is a very interesting article by film critic Roger Ebert... I think it presents a great model for "work" and "ownership" that does not follow the crappy American model-- wherein a few rich assholes loot the rest of the country by grinding down their personal army of wage slaves. Here it is:

The Take
Documentary Tracks Workers Who 'Take' Chance at Revival
by Roger Ebert


As one documentary after another attacks the International Monetary Fund and its pillaging of the Third World, I wish I knew the first thing about global economics. If these films are as correct as they are persuasive, international monetary policy is essentially a scheme to bankrupt smaller nations and cast their populations into poverty, while multinational corporations loot their assets and whisk the money away to safe havens and the pockets of rich corporations and their friends. But that cannot be, can it? Surely the IMF's disastrous record is the result of bad luck, not legalized theft?


Forja workers take time out on the roof of their worker-controlled factory in the made-in-Argentina documentary "The Take."
I am still haunted by "Life and Debt" (2001), a documentary explaining how tax-free zones were established on, but not of, Jamaican soil. Behind their barbed-wire fences, Jamaican law did not apply, workers could not organize or strike, there were no benefits, wages were minimal and factories exported cheap goods without any benefit to the Jamaican economy other than subsistence wages. Meanwhile, Jamaican agriculture was destroyed by IMF requirements that Jamaica import surplus U.S. agricultural products, which were subsidized by U.S price supports and dumped in Jamaica for less than local (or American) farmers could produce them for. That destroyed the local dairy, onion and potato industries. Jamaican bananas, which suffered from the inconvenience of not being grown by Chiquita, were barred from all markets except England. Didn't seem cricket, especially since Jamaican onions were so tasty.

Now here is "The Take," a Canadian documentary by Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein, shot in Argentina, where a prosperous middle-class economy was destroyed during 10 years of IMF policies, as enforced by President Carlos Menem (1989-1999). Factories were closed, their assets were liquidated, and money fled the country, sometimes literally by the truckload. After most of it was gone, Menem closed the banks, causing panic. Today more than half of all Argentineans live in poverty, unemployment is epidemic, and the crime rate is scary.

In the face of this disaster, workers at several closed factories attempted to occupy the factories, reopen them and operate them. Their argument: The factories were subsidized in the first place by public money, so if the owners didn't want to operate them, the workers deserved a chance. The owners saw this differently, calling the occupations theft. Committees of workers monitored the factories to prevent owners from selling off machinery and other assets in defiance of the courts. And many of the factories not only reopened, but were able to turn a profit while producing comparable or superior goods at lower prices.

A success story? Yes, according to the Movement of Recovered Companies. No, according to the owners and the courts. But after Menem wins his way into a runoff election he suddenly drops out of the race, a moderate candidate becomes president, the courts decide in favor of the occupying workers, and the movement gains legitimacy. The film focuses on an auto parts plant and ceramics and garment factories, which are running efficiently under worker management.

Is this sort of thing a threat to capitalism, or a revival of it? The factories are doing what they did before -- manufacturing goods and employing workers -- but they are doing it for the benefit of workers and consumers, instead of as an exercise to send profits flowing to top management. This is classic capitalism as opposed to the management pocket-lining system, which is essentially loot for the bosses, and bread and beans for everybody else. Sounds refreshing to anyone who has followed the recent tales of corporate greed in North America. Is it legal? Well, if the factories are closed, haven't the owners abandoned their moral right to them? Especially if the factories were built with public subsidies in the first place?

I wearily anticipate countless e-mails advising me I am a hopelessly idealistic dreamer, and explaining how when the rich get richer, everybody benefits. I will forward the most inspiring of these messages to minimum-wage workers at Wal-Mart, so they will understand why labor unions would be bad for them, while working unpaid overtime is good for the economy. All I know is that the ladies at the garment factory are turning out good-looking clothes, demand is up for Zanon ceramics, and the auto parts factory is working with a worker-controlled tractor factory to make some good-looking machines. I think we can all agree that's better than just sitting around.

Do Nothing Man of Tao

by AJ/Skald

"The Master does nothing, yet nothing remains undone."
--Lao Tzu

I love this idea of being (in Kerouac's words) a "do nothing man of Tao". American culture, and increasingly, world culture-- is all about doing. People are scurrying around doing, doing, doing. They fill every waking moment with some sort of activity-- be it work, watching TV, reading, exercise, etc. Few people take time to observe, to listen, to contemplate.

Doing nothing is one of my favorite activities and one I frequently indulge in. I love to sit in a coffee shop and just watch the world... tune in to the sounds and conversations... watch the trees sway in the breeze... quiet the mind. Many call this laziness. My response is, "what's wrong with laziness?" Inspired laziness is a spiritual art form.

And besides, all that running around is a form of laziness too. Sogyal Rinpoche called it "active laziness"... keeping oneself busy to avoid the difficult work of contemplation and self-knowledge. A lot of people are scared to fucking death to be alone with their thoughts. They are terrified of quiet, of loneliness, of themselves... though they would never admit it. Better to run in circles than to examine their lives. Is it any wonder that so many are stuck in hateful jobs, boring routines, dead marriages, meaningless activities. Is it any wonder that so many reek of desperation? Is it any wonder that alcoholism is so rampant?

Tremendous things can be accomplished by those who follow their bliss-- but the prerequisite for that is first FINDING it. Joseph Campbell believed that every adult should take 3-5 years to loaf and wander. He wandered out to California, lived in a cabin, and read books. Thoreau likewise retreated to a cabin. Many embark on grand journeys of discovery. The point is that you must leave the comfort of routine... the conditioning of society and parents... and strike out on your own: take a few years to just ask questions: "What is my purpose?". "What is the nature of life and existence?". "What brings me bliss?"... "What is my particular genius?".... "What do I want my legacy to be?".

"Who & what, exactly, am 'I'?"

These are vital questions... deep questions. Shouldn't we take a few years of our lives to engage them? Shouldn't we attempt to find our own answers for them... before we swallow the cliches provided by "society"?

Great things can be accomplished by those following their bliss. Yes! But the first step is to do nothing.

Friday, February 18, 2005

On the Move

by AJ/Skald

Survived the flight to Tokyo, 9 hours in Narita airport, the 11 hour flight to Atlanta, the 10 hour drive to Winchester, Va.... made the presentation-- which went great, then jumped in the car and drove another 10 hours back to Georgia: and then crashed and slept with the dead.

Just woke up, head still buzzing. Have a few days here in Georgia and then its back to Bangkok...and then on to Hiroshima.

My first impression of the States was courtesy of Delta airlines. I flew Thai airways from Bangkok to Tokyo and Delta from Tokyo to Atlanta. What a difference! A few examples:

Thai:
Offered newspapers in English, Japanese, and Thai.

Delta:
Offered newspapers in English, Spanish, & Portugese?!?! (No Japanese papers on a flight originating from Tokyo. Did they run out? Are hordes of Brazilians flying from Tokyo to Atlanta... I didn't notice any).

Thai:
A man is having trouble stowing his carry on bag. Two flight attendants rush to help him.

Delta:
Im sitting in the exit row. The guy next to me has a laptop at his feet. Flight attendant comes by and says with annoyed voice, "You're going to have to stow that sir". He starts to reply, "Yes, but..." She cuts him off, "You must stow that sir".
"But there's no room in the overhead bin", he says. She huffs, "Just put it under a chair in the row in the next section!" .... "Uh, OK", he stutters.

Thai:
General demeanor of flight attendants: sweet, smiling, eager.

Delta:
General demeanor of flight attendants: hurried, gruff, bored.

Thai:
Flight attendant walks to my seat, kneels beside me, and says, "Excuse me sir, did you order a vegetarian meal."

Delta:
Flight attendant stands in front of my row and belts out, "Did someone here order a vegetarian meal?".

And finally, the worst Delta experience... and the one that pisses me off as a language teacher and expat:
A Japanese man is boarding. He is confused about his seat assignment and is standing in the galley, looking befuddled. A Delta attendant follows him and says, "Sir, where is your ticket?". He just stares at her and looks confused. "Sir, where is your ticket", she huffs. He obviously doesn't understand English and just stands there. She grabs the ticket from his hand and grumbles, "No, not the ticket to Lima... where is your ticket!"

He is now getting embarassed and tries to walk away. She pursues him and almost shouts, "Sir, I need to see your ticket".

I'm squirming at this point thinking, "Goddam it, he doesn't understand English!"

These people are working a Tokyo based flight. Is it that difficult to learn a few (airplane related) words in Japanese? Even I know "Doko" (where) and (ticket) "kippu". Barring that, couldn't she at least try to mime, or draw, or write what she was saying? Why not call a Japanese speaking flight attendant?

Delta is a billion dollar plus company, can't they afford to teach their flight attendants a few words in Japanese? Or at least teach them how to play charades?

What cultural arrogance. What incompetence.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Cool Connections

by AJ/Skald

Ok-- this wireless internet thing is supercool. I'm a minimalist at heart but this appeals to the nomad in me. Here I am in Tokyo-Narita airport with a 9 hour layover and instead of suffering through abject boredom I can post to the blog and email friends. Which goes to show that recent technological innovations are adding a new wrinkle to the nomadic life.... opening up new possibilities. Its possible to be nomadic and "plugged in" at the same time.... possible for a freelance writer to live anywhere in the world and instantly submit articles to publications anywhere else in the world. Its possible for computer geeks to freelance their skills from anywhere on the globe as well (anywhere with internet access... and that's alot of places these days).

And its not just freelancers anymore. My sister works for IBM-- from her home. She chooses to live in Indiana near our family but she could live in any location. With a laptop, internet connection, and phone line she's set. If she gets tired of Indy she can leave. No more office prisons. Some people seem scared by all this mobility and volatility but I think its great! Grand new worlds are opening. There have always been those admirable folks who lived edgy hobopoet lives. True hoboes riding the rails, for example. But many (most) prefer a bit more comfort and connection and there's nothing wrong with that either. The nomadic freelancing life is open to all lifestyles. I prefer a "student" lifestyle usually: a tiny apartment, and enough money for coffee shops, books, restaurants and travel.... or at times its nice to live out of a bookbag or a van-- stay on the move.

But that's just one approach. Sunwalker wants to ditch money completely and walk around the US/Canada. Fantastic! The Cyberhobo (see link on sidebar) is a computer programmer with a nice income and an incurable case of wanderlust. Stefan bought an ambulance and lived in it for a while. Great! What binds them is the love of new experiences and a determination to be free... to live life on their own terms. Not locked in an office. Not lorded over by some petty dictator "boss". Not bound by rigid schedules. Not locked into a soul sucking bureaucracy.

Look at my own example: I live in Bangkok, Thailand; write articles for magazines based in New York, South Carolina, and Georgia; edit a blog read by people in America, Canada, & the UK (mostly); and am finishing a Masters degree through a University based in Virginia. Through email I stay in weekly contact with friends based in Japan, Malaysia, the UK, and the States. My friends are equally connected to diverse points around the globe.

Some prefer security and a sedentary life. But for the rest of us,... the world is open.

Pointing Fingers

by AJ/Skald

The problem with pointing your finger at people is that it has a bad habit of curling back towards you. I'm quite fond of railing against the sterile ugliness of schools and offices; and rightly so. But I just loaded Hobopoet and it struck me that, damn, this blog is butt ugly. And sterile. And muted. Really doesn't seem to fit.

So I suppose I should take my own advice and inject some mojo into the site. At first I thought of trying to figure this out myself but Im hopeless when it comes to graphic arts. So the better option is to find some artsy & websavvy folks to help me. This will have to wait for a couple of months, however-- until I get to Hiroshima and get settled. Once there I hope to barter for someone's services... some help with Hobopoet's graphics in exchange for a couple of articles or some free English lessons.

With this in mind, I am certainly open to suggestions as to what sort of graphics would best fit the Hobopoet content.

Kerouac's Rules for Living

Below are Jack Kerouac's "Rules for Living" (actually titled "Rules for Spontaneous Prose", but I prefer the the first title). I posted these before, but like to re-publish them now and then as a reminder:

1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
2. Submissive to everything, open, listening
3. Try never get drunk outside yr own house
4. Be in love with yr life
5. Something that you feel will find its own form
6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
7. Blow as deep as you want to blow
8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
9. The unspeakable visions of the individual
10. No time for poetry but exactly what is
11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest
12. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time
15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog
16. The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
17. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
18. Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
19. Accept loss forever
20. Believe in the holy contour of life
21. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
22. Dont think of words when you stop but to see picture better
23. Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning
24. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
25. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
26. Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form
27. In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
28. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
29. You're a Genius all the time
30. Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven

--Amen!!

Why I Hate Work, Part 26

by AJ/Skald

One summer break, during my undergrad days at UGA, I worked as an intern for IBM. I'd worked for them before and grew to dread the company. But my dad urged me to take the job. He's a lifetime IBMer and corporate exec-- I suppose he was hoping I could still be salvaged... might still turn out to be a responsible businessman.

He assured me I would have a good experience because I would be working in a "creative department": IBM's in-house video production unit. They had a state of the art studio. I thought, "this might be cool". How wrong I was.

I knew right away... the second I walked in the door: tan carpet, off-white walls, acoustic ceiling tile, fluorescent lights. . Desks were arranged in cubicles (chest high)... which were grey. The furniture was standard office supply: fake wood. They gave me a tour. Each cubicle was the same-- a picture of the wife or husband, a calendar, stacks of paper. The only windows in the room ran along one wall-- and were monopolized by the offices of managers and "senior staff". Everyone wore a suit and tie. Everyone wore black shoes.

Next they took me to the studios. I felt a twinge of excitement-- then a quick let down. Walls: Flat grey. Floor: Tan tile. Equipment: black or grey.

The videos they made were just as grey: announcements for "exciting" new products-- an actor in a suit (of course) stood and read from a teleprompter.... full face shot... Occasional computer graphic.

The staff, too, were grey. Empty husks. They were all white. They were all drab. They all had that look of resignation. One guy tried to be different. He chuckled and backslapped but it came across like a robot running a routine ("execute networking routine: Big smile. Slap back. Tell corny joke. Tilt head 20 degrees. Look person in eye. Move on to next person.").

I was a caged animal. I came in as late as possible, and left as early as possible. Eventually it got so bad that I went stir crazy... couldn't pretend anymore.

I made a ball out of duct tape. Everyday I took it to a studio and played "handball"... just to burn some energy. Sometimes I paced in circles, like the tigers at the zoo.

It was agony.

Terrors of the American Taliban

In Thailand, homosexuality is very open and very tolerated. Perhaps its the Buddhist perspective of live and let live. Perhaps its the laid back nature of the Thais. I don't know. But as a result, there are a huge number of out-of-the-closet gay men in Bangkok. On occasion, one will hit on me.

I respond, "Sorry, I'm straight".

They say something like, "Oh, I'm sorry"..... or maybe joke with me.

I say, "No problem".

And that's it. That's the big fucking terror that has Americans and rabid Christians in such hysteria? How many times have I heard some macho idiot say something like, "If one of those queers hits on me, I'll fucking kill him".

The Christian Taliban argument goes something like this: If we tolerate gays, morality will collapse and a 1000 year reign of Satan will commence (or something like that). Yet Thailand is as "moral" (and "immoral") as any other country I've visited. Nothing has collapsed. Even the most macho of Thai men deals with gay guys with a shrug or a laugh.

So what is the big deal? Where does all that hatred come from? What exactly are they afraid of in America? My hunch is that they fear themselves... that they might harbor some "gay feelings" or "gay inclinations". Or that their friends or family members might. Rather than confront these issues within themselves, they prefer to spew venom upon that which they fear.

Its sad. Sad and pathetic. Whatever happened to "live and let live"? How do we get these vermin to crawl back into their holes and leave us alone? I'm open to suggestions!

Hobopoets Don't Retire

by AJ/Skald

Every time I describe my hobopoet lifestyle to someone in the "mainstream".... they inevitably bring up the topic of retirement. "But what will you do when you want to retire"?, they ask... usually with an expression of fear mixed with horror and contempt.

I never know how to answer that question. My most flippant response is, "I'm already retired". By which I mean, I'm already doing exactly what I want to do. I already feel free. I already have plenty of leisure and contemplation time.

Another answer that pops to mind is, in fact, the opposite, "I will never retire". Did Alan Ginsberg "retire" from writing poetry? Did Stanley Kubrick retire from making films? Hell, has Arnold Palmer "retired" from playing golf? When you are following your bliss there is no reason to retire. What would you retire to? Think of Timothy Leary. His bliss was to blow people's minds and turn people on and question consensus reality. Did he retire from that? Hell no. Not even on his deathbed. He turned his death into a final glorious piece of art.... his last challenge to the status quo (Read his book "Design for Dying".. written while he was dying).

Retirement is a hoax designed to help people endure a lifetime of degradation and monotony. Like "paradise" or "heaven", the poor drudging worker bees are assured a happy time of freedom at the end of their "careers". But if you spend 40-50 years doing drudgery, you become lobotomized. What do most retirees do? Play golf. Watch TV. Yipee, what a reward.

Hobopoets don't have careers. Their life is their career and they live it to the last breath. Retirement is for people who have wasted their lives doing other people's work... neglecting their own work... neglecting their genius.... neglecting their bliss.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Baraka

by AJ/Skald

Went to a fantastic spot last night-- the Bagdad Cafe hooka bar. Its a cramped place, maybe six feet wide and thirty feet long, lined with small wooden tables. The walls are decorated with various pieces of junk... tattered pictures of Turkey & Iraq, dusty tapestries,.. that sort of thing.

Santana jammed from the overhead speakers. We all sat and scanned the "menu": a list of flavored tobaccos and a few drinks. Tip and I chose strawberry and Todd chose cherry. We each received a tall glass waterpipe... black glass decorated with intricate gold wiggles and topped with a bowl covered by tin foil. Atop the foil were three chunks of smoldering charcoal. A long tube led from the waterpipe to the mouthpiece.

We took turns sucking the mild smoke.... savored the hint of strawberry, then blew it out slowly.

The whole place had a languid, decadent feel. It was impossible not to lounge. I kicked back with pipe in hand, puffed slowly, took in the scene. The place was jammed... not a seat free, chairs squeezed between tables, the staff hustling pipes to and fro. A cloud of haze filled the top layers of the room. People talked in hushed tones. While only tobacco was being smoked, a hint of criminality hung in the air-- the centuries old association between sheesha pipes and hashish.

This was a place with baraka (grace)... or soul.

It lies on Samsen road, about a twenty minute walk from Khao San Road.

Freelance Hobopoet

by AJ/Skald

Kristin's boyfriend, Wat, is from southern Thailand. He grew up in a "poor" family. He got a HS education but hated school and didn't do well in it. After school, he spent several years loafing. He joined a motorcycle "gang"-- the Black Angels-Easy Riders.

For the next several years he went to biker festivals and met tons of people. He also met a jeweler and learned the basics of silversmithing. A biker friend invited him to Phuket... where he continued to perfect his craft. He put a blanket on a street corner and sold jewelry to tourists. At this time he inexplicably developed an interest in Native American art, jewelry, and culture.

After a few years he grew tired of Phuket. Another friend was building a resort on a remote island and asked Wat to help. So for another three years he lived there, helped build the resort, loafed some more, and continued perfecting his jewelry craft. He started to mix "biker fashion" with "native American fashion".

Finally, the resort was finished and he was bored on the island. Yet another friend invited him to Bangkok... where he once more set out a blanket and sold jewelry. By this point, however, he had mastered the craft. His stuff sold like crazy. He couldn't handle all the work and so brought his brother to Bangkok and taught him the craft.

The jewelry kept selling. Soon some of the big jewelry stores noticed his work. They placed large wholesale orders through him. So Wat brought in several more friends to help.... he puts them up in a house for free-- and the house doubles as their workshop.

The most recent wrinkle is that his girlfriend is moving to Japan next month. Wat is going to go as well... mostly because he wants to be with her and travel. But he also realized that many of his most enthusiastic customers were Japanese tourists. It turns out he has a few friends in Japan (biker buddies who married Japanese girls). He called them and they are eager to help him get started.

So now he wants to start an import/export business to Japan. He will probably start, yet again, with a blanket and a sidewalk. His brother and friends will keep the Bangkok operation going. Wat has done all this without business training. He doesn't call it a "business".. he calls it "my art". He doesn't have "employees"... he has friends & collaborating artists. He doesn't "network"... he just has tons of friends. He has no "marketing strategy", he is just an extremely likable guy who has mastered his craft.

Wat will never be a millionaire. But he is living life on his own terms and doing quite well. He's an inspiring example of a freelancing hobopoet whose "work" and "art" are one in the same thing.

Inward & Outward Travel

by Skald

So its time at last. Time for another journey... the fear and doubts slip away. Now there is just the great unknown... the dance with ambiguity. I look forward to the airport, the airplanes, the drugged and befuddled state of mind.

How I love travel!!! How I love the hum of an airport and the thousands of people scurrying all over the globe. I love the energy of the place. I love the potential... a place pregnant with possibilities; filled with people embarking on journeys. Magnificent journeys. What strange magic will they discover? What gruesome challenges will block their way? Some of them will sleep through the experience-- but MANY will be transformed.

Transformation. That's what travel is about. "All travel is inner travel", indeed. Yes, that's it. What excites me is the possibility that what I KNOW will be challenged.... the illusion of surety will be ripped away and I'll be forced once again to redefine myself and my worldview. Travel is a catalyst for evolution. And not just "gradual evolution"... radical evolution. "Evolutionary leaps" (to use Fritjof Capra's term).

If we are to strive for anything, isnt that it: "evolutionary leaps". Leaps in consciousness. Leaps in knowledge. Leaps in understanding. Leaps in loving. As individuals, as groups, as a species.

And what facilitates these leaps? According to physicists & evolutionary biologists the leaps occur.... evolution occurs... when we are operating "far from equilibrium". In laymen's terms, we evolve when we are not "fat and happy". To be far from equilibrium is to be agitated. It is to be challenged. It is to have your sacred cows slaughtered and your confidence undermined and your brain buzzed with overwhelming stimuli. Face the weird and wonderful. Destroy the ego. Destroy all you know. "Cease to cherish opinions" as the Zen masters say,... or at least don't take them seriously.

This is the Shiva dance of creation/destruction: all of existence winking in and out of annhilation. Ultimately its not about the destination. Its not about the organization. Its not about society. Its not about them. Its about us.

I travel because more than any other pursuit, travel kicks the supports out from under my beliefs. Everytime I think Ive got it figured out... Im confronted with something that defies my understanding. That, inevitably, leads to bizaare texts and strange encounters. Mel Ash calls this, "Shaving the Inside of Your Skull".

Isn't that the true sign of a monk... of a revolutionary... of a hobopoet? Its not the hair ON the head that needs to go... its the equally hairy beliefs INSIDE the skull that must be eliminated.

Banzai!!

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Hard Week Ahead

by AJ/Skald

There may be a 1-2 week pause in Hobopoet posts as I embark on a travel marathon till the end of February. I'll be flying from Bangkok to Atlanta, then driving from Atlanta to DC, the back again to Atlanta.... then Atlanta to Bangkok. I'll spend a few more days in Thailand and then fly to Osaka Japan... and then finally take the bullet train from Osaka to Hiroshima. So I've got two weeks of jet lag and cramped seats to look forward to. Remind me again why I love travel?

I am looking forward to one interesting aspect of this trip. It will be a unique opportunity to compare people and cultures- going from Thailand to America to Thailand to Japan should present some interesting contrasts. Along these lines, I would like to take an extended around the world trip one day. I usually prefer to spend lots of time in one country/place but it would be fascinating to move from Africa to Europe to the Islam belt to India.... etc, all in one trip.. especially to do so while practicing "sacred drift": no guidebooks, no itinerary, no plan. Just go where whim, intuition, or circumstance takes you.

Increasingly this is my preferred mode of travel. Ive mostly done away with guidebooks. Not that Im a snotty purists. Guidebooks have their place. They were a great comfort to me during my first few trips.. I probably would have been too scared to make that initial trip to India, for example, without the trusty Lonely Planet to guide me. But now they are a hindrance and a limitation. Im no longer scared.

I prefer Hakim Bey's notion of sacred drift. One of my favorite activities is to take off in a particular direction and follow my whim. If something captures my eye-- I pursue it. If I get a whiff of something interesting.. I try to find it. This process quickly leads off the beaten path- to chance encounters and interesting surprises.

Give it a try sometime... even in your hometown. Most people move in fairly small circles and would be surprised at the weird and wonderful things that exist in their own home.

Friday, February 11, 2005

The Tao of AJ

by AJ/Skald

I highly recommend a movie called "The Tao of Steve". Its a wonderful indy-budget film... should be easy to find on video. Basically its about an overweight Buddhist-Taoist slacker and his incredibly successful strategy for getting women, which he calls "The Tao of Steve".

"Steve" refers to movie/TV cool guys like STEVE McQueen, STEVE Austin (The 6 Million Dollar Man), and STEVE Garret (Hawaii Five-O).

The three tenents of The Tao of Steve are:
1. Be desireless
2. Be excellent
3. Be gone

I'm more of an idealist-romantic than womanizer... so I don't recommend the strategy for dating. However, I do think its an excellent strategy for work.. for those regretable times when we must resort to employment-- whether job searching or actually working.

So step one is to be desireless. That means you eliminate your Craving & Need for the job. Sure, you may want it. Perhaps you want to save for a trip or live more luxuriously. Fine. But NEED must be eliminated. The best way to do that is to drastically simplify your life to the point that you can get by without the job. Another key strategy is to save money as fast as possible (again by living very simply)... until you have enough to survive at least 6 months of unemployment.

There is also a psychological component to this.. perhaps the most important component. This means conquering your fear of being fired... and your fear of unemployment. I did both at the same time.. just prior to moving to Japan for the first time. I was working for a non-profit agency that served homeless HIV clients and I had very serious philisophical disagreements with the Director. Rather than kiss ass or buckle.... I decided it was time to experiment with car living. I got rid of most of my stuff and built a bunk in my Nissan Sentra. I also saved money like crazy.

Very quickly I amassed enough to live off of for many months. My car was also ready to go. All fear vanished. I pursued a radical agenda at work.... abandoning as much of my power and responsibility as possible to my HIV-Homeless clients. I wanted the agency to stop treating them like children and start encouraging them to build autonomy and self-reliance... I encouarged them to take over management of the shelter. It worked great but provoked the wrath of my boss.

Having gone this far, I decided it was time to face the fear of being fired. Id never been fired before.... and thought it was a badge of honor I needed. So I kept provoking my boss and acting on my principles. Eventually she & I had a meeting and decided we couldn't work together. It was sort of a simultaneous quitting-firing... but I'll claim it as being fired.

Step Two: Be excellent. The second aspect of this is that while you are stuck at the fucking job... excel. By this I do NOT mean kiss ass or follow rules. Being excellent usually requires you to break the rules and defy the boss. I did an excellent job at that agency (though my boss would disagree). I turned the program around and helped to empower my clients-- the ethical responsibility of every social worker.

As a teacher I also strive for excellence. In this case, it helps that I love teaching English as a foreign language... love the students... love learning from them.. love learning about their cultures... love being an idiotic ham in front of the classroom. But here too, excellence requires defiance. Some schools are run by moronic money grubbing bastards who insist upon ineffective teaching techniques. They must be defied and ignored!

Finally, there is step 3-- Be gone. The Tao of Steve explains it this way, "We pursue that which retreats". When you are both desireless and excellent-- you don't have to stick around long. Let it be known that you are ready and willing to bolt at any moment. Investigate other opportunities all the time. Always be "job searching"... even when you've just started a new job. If you find something better.... an easier/freer job with more money-- leave. [In fact I was hired away from Greenville Hospital by the Homeless-HIV agency... cause I'd been sending out resumes and meeting agency directors the entire time I was at the hospital].

If you follow the Tao of Steve (or in this case, the Tao of AJ) you will eventually find that you are no longer pursuing employers... they are pursuing you. The more desireless and excellent you are... and the more you retreat; the more they will run after you. This turns the table on your bosses... its undercuts their power and authority. It also boosts your power and authority and thus makes those wage-slavery stints much more bearable.

For those hobopoets who are not a) independently wealthy or b) fulltime hoboes... I recommend the Tao of Steve as an excellent job strategy. And see the movie.

The Sound of Silence

by AJ/Skald

Try this. Buy a good set of foam earplugs. Go home and unplug all appliances, especially the refrigerator. Turn off the air/heat. Then find the quietest room and close all windows and doors to it. Turn off the lights. Then put in the earplugs. Be sure to follow the directions exactly: roll the plugs into tight cylinders and insert them into the ear canal. Then hold them in place for at least 30 seconds... this is very important as it allows time for the foam to expand and seal the ear canal.

If all goes well, you should be in complete silence. Lie down. Breath slowly and deeply. Calm your mind. Close your eyes.

Then listen. Listen very carefully. You will notice that the "silence" is not in fact silent. There is always a hum or vibration-- the "sound of silence". Listen for a long time. Focus your entire awareness upon it.

What is this hum? Is it the natural vibration of the eardrum, ear canal, or body? Do deaf people "hear" it? If so, what are they "hearing"? What are we hearing?

Is this the hum of the mind? Or is it the hum of the Universe itself? The hum of Tao. Is this the "Om" of Hinduism... the base vibration of existence?

Test this. Try it in different locations. Test different strategies for creating complete silence (hold your breath, soundproof the room, etc.).

I have found that no matter what I do, the "silence" is always pregnant with energy and vibration.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Quivering on the Edge

by Skald

How I love the anticipation that precedes a journey: the fear and wonder... the giddy state of apprehension-- not knowing what comes next-- what surprise will pop out of the box. Its almost better than the journey itself. This is where magic is born- where routines break down,... where certainty crumbles.

The foul edifice of opinion, surety, and belief cracks and a host of glorious terrors rush in. Doubts loom everywhere. Fear is everywhere. The fear of failure. The fear of loneliness. The fear that I won't rise to the challenge. I don't fight them anymore-- the thing to do is to stare 'em down-- embrace them. In my book, fear is preferable to boredom. And so I welcome fear and have grown to trust it as a sign that I'm on the right track-- pushing into the unknown.

After the doubt comes a crazed madness: manic energy. For two weeks I can't rest more than four hours a night. My brain hums from waking to sleep-- my hand is cramped from frenzied journal writing ('wild notebooks for yr. own joy' -Kerouac). I'm simultaneously reading about psychedelic drugs (re-reading McKenna), a business blog (Tom Peters), medeival Japanese poetry (Basho's Narrow Road to the Far North), language acquisition theory (Krashen, Brown, Asher), the nature of epidemics (The Turning Point), and the crazed philosophy of sufi-anarchism (the glorious Hakim Bey).

It no longer feels like I'm going on a journey-- it feels like the journey has grabbed me by the throat and is pulling me to it. Im not in control anymore.

At night I dream of Vikings on storm tossed seas... of lonely poets on deserted roads... of simmering star-shine over barren peaks.

By day flashes of past journeys bubble and spill forth: the "pop" of burning bodies on the Ganges shore, the Himalayan moonscape, Bangkok's Chao Praya River under a burning sun, four days in an Indian hospital strapped to IV bottles, vomit and agony in Rishikesh, an encounter with the thundering ketemin void in Pokhara, Nepal.

I hear my name whispered in crowds. I hear the voices of poets and saints.

"Onward, onward", they cry, "Onto the open road. Into the open sky."

Guns, Guts, & Glory in the Classroom

by AJ/Skald

Here's an idea for an English lesson: Guns! Big firearms. Instead of meeting in a stale classroom.. bring the whole class on a field trip to a gun store and shooting range. I'd let the owner give a talk and a demo on technique and safety (in English of course). I'd assist and paraphrase when necessary, to keep the language comprehensible for the students.

I guarantee they'd start speaking and asking questions... even the "shy" ones. I'd let 'em handle the guns if they wanted to... and shoot them. As they did this I'd keep up a running narration: describe what was happening, etc as a level appropriate to their English ability.

If I didn't have access to a store or range (ie. teaching in Japan) we'd read articles from the NRA, Soldier of Fortune, etc.. Also advertisements from firearms stores. I'd show vignettes (or full movies) such as Falling Down and Bowling for Columbine. I'd use the interactive reading technique (see Effortless Acquisition) to make the articles comprehensible. And would use the focal skills movie technique with the movies (basically: pause often and paraphrase).

I'd finish with an article about the Japanese student who was killed by a paranoid Louisiana gunowner a few years ago. Then I'd form the class into groups to devise "solutions" to what happened: how to prevent a similar tragedy.

Of course all of this is a setup because I know the topic will scare and horrify most Japanese-- who simply can't fathom the American fascination with guns. Im actually an anarchist/libertarian on the issue but who cares.

The point is to create a topic so absorbing that the students forget that everything is taking place in English. That's my definition of a successfull lesson: one in which the students forget that its being conducted in a foreign language.

This is what we should be doing as language teachers. Our central mission is to create powerful, shocking, wondrous experiences in the target language. Or to borrow a phrase from Tom Peters: "Wow experiences". That's what a language school (any school) should be-- a series of Wow experiences in comprehensible Engish (or whatever the target language): Stories. Field trips. Plays. Projects. Movies. Social events. The teachers duty- craft these projects and keep the input 90%+ understandable for the class. Not an easy job but certainly more interesting than what passes for teaching in most schools.

This field needs radical change. Why? Because "95% of students who begin study of a foreign language fail to achieve functional fluency" (Asher). We all know this. Most of us took the required French/Spanish/German courses in HS/College and most of us cannot manage even the simplest conversation (after 2,3,4+ years of study!).

In Japan, students begin mandatory English study in Middle School (many start earlier)... take three years in MS and another three years in HS.... and many take yet another 2-3 years in University. Yet most still cannot manage a basic conversation. Japanese chalk this up to the fact that "English is impossible". But neither English nor the students are to blame. Its the classes, stupid. (Where else but language education is a 95% failure rate tolerated?).

At the end of 6-8 years of study Japanese students are confused; and terrified of English. They've spent that entire time microanalyzing grammar points that stump even professional linguists. A few years ago, a student once asked me "How do you know when to use the past progressive?"

"Uh,.. what's the past progressive", I said, playing dumb.
He was horrified. He couldn't believe I didn't know (its the tense used to express continuous action that occurred in the past at a specific time (basically): "At 5pm yesterday I was watching a movie".

"How do you know when to use it if you don't know what it is?", he asked.

"I just know what sounds right", I said.

And of course, that's exactly what native speakers do: they choose language based on a feeling for correctness (Krashen's term). Students don't need to memorize these obtuse rules, they just need to develop a feeling for correctness.

In other words: Zen. Wu wei. Quiet the analytical mind and let the process unfold on its own. This is the essence of effortless acquisition. This is the teacher's challenge.

"Under the right circumstances, language acquisition is as natural and unconscious as digestion. Not only is it unconscious, it is involuntary. Like it or not, when students are exposed to comprehensible input in a no-anxiety environment, they acquire language" (Krashen).

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Chinese New Year

by AJ/Skald

Last night we went to Chinatown for Chinese New Year: a crushing assault on the senses. Music, pumped from amplifiers, pounded my eardrums,... a thousand smells from a thousand food vendors forced their way into my nostrils,..... hordes of people everywhere: stepping on my feet, poking me in the back, pushing, sweating, yelling, eating, breathing. Everywhere a sea of red.... red banners, red shirts, red lanterns, red signs.

And contrary to expectations, nothing "happened". There was no central event such as fireworks... not the sort of focused thing you'd expect in the West. Rather, it was a continuous primordial process-- something organic and alive.... an entity created by the crowd itself. An entity that swallowed individuals.

I've experienced this phenomenon in India as well... the sensory input is so strong and so varied that it overpowers the rational-language based mind. Language-thought stops--- leaving only a pulsing vibration of sensations. Ego dissolves. Awareness expands. The barrier between individual (I, I, I; me, me, me) and the larger entity (crowd, group, event) breaks down or dissolves completely. For a while, you are the sensations and they are you and no ego-thought penetrates to disturb the unity.

So it was last night. But then we wandered to the main street... started chatting again... and once more resumed our lives as atomized, ego-dominated individuals.


Tom Peters: Mutant Businessman

by AJ/Skald

In the spirit of seeking input from strange and even hostile sources, I've been reading Tom Peters blog lately. Peters is a corporate management guru... sort of my "evil twin" (or perhaps I'm the evil one). He's a raving, passionate, crazed maniac for "revolution", innovation, and passion (his words).... in the corporate business world'?!?!

I must admit to a sort of twisted fascination with him. I mean, damn, he almost makes business sound meaningful and fun. He, quite obviously, is having a great time. In him I sense a passionate and fierce soul... the sort of person Im usually lauding as a "hobopoet" or "freedom fighter".

But. But all of this is done in the context of the corporate business environment. And try as I might (I did try, honestly) I just can't imagine how anyone can get excited about working for GE, or Microsoft, or Wal-Mart for goddsake. I have yet to encounter a drug that could facilitate such a thing; and there's no way I could do it sober.

So once again I face the riddle: "Are there people who are not only happy working for a corporation... but are actually passionately enthused about doing so?" "What makes these people tick?" I mean, why does a crazed mutant like Tom Peters focus his energies on business? (I don't sense that its about the money). Shouldn't he be writing Kerouac-esque tales of travel and adventure? Or blowing minds ala Timothy Leary? I'm afraid I'll never understand... just as most "responsible" people cannot and will not understand the job-hating freaks who read this blog.

But.

He still has great things to say.... if you take them out of the context of business and apply them to the neo-nomad path. Here is a sample:

Mimic Lord Nelson!
1. Simple scheme
2. Noble purpose
3. Engage others
4. Find great talent, let it soar!
5. Lead by love!
6. Trust your gut: seize the moment!
7. Vigor.
8. Master your craft.
9. Start a passion epidemic!
10. Change the rules, create your own game.
11. Shake off the pain, get off the ground, the timing may well be right tomorrow!
12. Quash your fear of failure. Savor your quirkiness and participate fully in the fray!


Good advice for the Hobopoet path, I think. Simplicity, Noble purpose, passion, making your own rules, shaking off pain, and quashing the fear of failure. Absolutely. But instead of doing these things in service to a soulless entity like a corporation, how about doing them in service to yourself and your highest aspirations?

If you want to be free and travel the world and write poetry.. do it for goddsake. Do it now. There is no failure. No one will be giving out report cards... and most people in life simply won't care what you do. So whatever the big dream is,... do it. Want to make movies? Save up, buy a digital video camera and a laptop, and get to it. Want to motorcycle across the States? What's stopping you? Or sail around the world in a catamaran? Or paint in Italy? Or work for yourself?

Do it. And the key,... or one of the keys.... to doing it lies in Peters' point number one: simplicity. Simplicity helps make the others possible-- especially the quashing of fear. The more I've simplified my life, the more fearless I have become. I lived in a vehicle twice... once in a Nissan Sentra and once in a van. For much of the time in the van I was broke and even hungry. It wasn't necessarily fun all the time but it was OK. So now, unemployment and poverty and even homelessness are not scary to me. Im more inclined to do what I want because I have little to lose (especially in a material sense).

Along these lines, Kris recently reminded me of two great quotes from Fight Club:
1. The things you own end up owning you.
2. Stop trying to control things and just let go.

I'm also reminded of the quote from Troy: "You don't control Achilles, you unleash him". That's getting at the heart of it... cultivating the spirit of a warrior; not trying to control the world or your life-- just unleashing yourself upon it. I mean, a glorious failure (like Todd & Lewis' RV project) is worth more than a thousand mediocre "sucesses".

This is one reason a vegetarian, Buddhist, bleeding heart like me holds the vikings in high regard. I cannot help but romanticize those bloodthirsty bastards: defiant, free, and joyous in the face of terrible odds and likely death.

In the words of Led Zeppelin:
The hammer of the Gods,
Will drive our ships to new lands,
To fight the horde; sing and cry:
'Valhalla I am Coming'

If there is a "mission statement" for hobopoets, that's it.... letting ourselves be driven to new lands... facing the unknown and our own fears with defiance and ferocity.

That's what unites us, I think... whether we be cyberhoboes earning six figures or penniless vagabonds walking the back roads.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Not "To Be"

by AJ/Skald

E-Prime appears as a permutation of English in which the verb "to be" is eliminated (very hard to do; I couldn't even manage it in the first sentence). The point of this is to create a form of English more open to ambiguity and fluidity. Standard English, and especially the verb "to be", divides the world into false dichotomies and rigid categories. "John is an asshole" appears as a very sweeping statement; a rigid categorization. However, "John behaves like an asshole when at work" removes the black/white rigidity.

The following is (there it is again, dammit.... I feel like the knights who say "ni" from Monty Python) a short and more skillful explanation of E-prime by Robert Anton Wilson:

E-PRIME, abolishing all forms of the verb "to be," has its roots in the field of general semantics, as presented by Alfred Korzybski. Korzybski pointed out the pitfalls associated with, and produced by, two usages of "to be": identity and predication. Even linguistically sensitive people do not seem able to avoid identity and predication uses of "to be". Bourland pioneered in demonstrating that one can indeed write and speak without using any form of "to be," calling this subset of the English language "E-Prime."

It seems likely that the principal software used in the human brain consists of words, metaphors, disguised metaphors, and linguistic structures in general. The Sapir-Whorf-Korzybski Hypothesis, in anthropology, holds that a change in language can alter our perception of the cosmos. A revision of language structure, in particular, can alter the brain as dramatically as a psychedelic. In our metaphor, if we change the software, the computer operates in a new way.

Consider the following paired sets of propositions, in which Standard English alternates with English-Prime (E-Prime):

lA. The electron is a wave.
lB. The electron appears as a wave when measured with instrument-l.

2A. The electron is a particle.
2B. The electron appears as a particle when measured with instrument-2.

3A. John is lethargic and unhappy.
3B. John appears lethargic and unhappy in the office.

4A. John is bright and cheerful.
4B. John appears bright and cheerful on holiday at the beach.

The "A"-type statements (Standard English) all implicitly or explicitly assume the medieval view called "Aristotelian essentialism" or "naive realism." In other words, they assume a world made up of block-like entities with indwelling "essences" or spooks- "ghosts in the machine." The "B"-type statements (E-Prime) recast these sentences into a form isomorphic to modern science by first abolishing the "is" of Aristotelian essence and then reformulating each observation in terms of signals received and interpreted by a body (or instrument) moving in space-time.

Relativity, quantum mechanics, large sections of general physics, perception psychology, sociology, linguistics, modern math, anthropology, ethology, and several other sciences make perfect sense when put into the software of E-Prime. Each of these sciences generates paradoxes, some bordering on "nonsense" or "gibberish," if you try to translate them back into the software of Standard English.

Concretely, "The electron is a wave" employs the Aristotelian "is" and thereby introduces us to the false-to-experience notion that we can know the indwelling "essence" of the electron. "The electron appears as a wave when measured by instrument-1" reports what actually occurred in space-time, namely that the electron when constrained by a certain instrument behaved in a certain way.

Looking at our next pair, "John is lethargic and unhappy" vs. "John is bright and cheerful,' we see again how medieval software creates metaphysical puzzles and totally imaginary contradictions. Operationalizing the statements, as physicists since Bohr have learned to operationalize, we find that the E-Prime translations do not contain any contradiction, and even give us a clue as to causes of John's changing moods.

The reader may employ his or her own ingenuity in analyzing how "is-ness" creates false-to-facts reality-tunnels in the remaining examples, and how E-Prime brings us back to the scientific, the operational, the existential, the phenomenological--to what humans and their instruments actually do in space-time as they create observations, perceptions, thoughts, deductions, and General Theories.

I have found repeatedly that when baffled by a problem in science, in "philosophy," or in daily life, I gain immediate insight by writing down what I know about the enigma in strict E-Prime. Often, solutions appear immediately-just as happens when you throw out the "wrong" software and put the "right" software into your PC. In other cases, I at least get an insight into why the problem remains intractable and where and how future science might go about finding an answer.

Intentional Travel

by Hakim Bey

Christianity once included a few orders of wandering mendicants (in fact St. Francis organised one after meeting with dervishes in the Holy Land, who may have bestowed upon him a ´cloak of initiationª - the famous patchwork robe he was wearing when he returned to Italy) - but Islam spawned dozens, perhaps hundreds of such orders.

As Sufism crystallised from the loose spontaneity of early days to an institution with rules and grades, ´travel for knowledgeª was also regularised and organised. Elaborate handbooks of duties for dervishes were produced which included methods for turning travel into a very specific form of meditation. The whole Sufi ´pathª itself was symbolised in terms of intentional travel.

In some cases itineraries were fixed (e.g.,the Hajj); other involved waiting for ´signsª to appear, coincidences, intuitions, ´adventuresª such as those which inspired the travels of the Arthurian knights. Some orders limited the time spent in any one place to 40 days; others made a rule of never sleeping twice in the same place. The strict orders, such as the Naqshbandis, turned travel into a kind of fulltime choreography, in which every movement was pre≠ordained and designed to enhance consciousness.

By contrast, the more heterodox orders (such as the Qalandars) adopted a ´ruleª of total spontaneity and abandon -´permanent unemploymentª as one of them called it - an insouciance of bohemian proportions - a ´dropping≠outª at once both scandalous and completely traditional. Colorfully dressed, carrying their begging bowls, axes, and standards, addicted to music and dance, carefree and cheerful (sometimes to the point of ´blameworthinessª!), orders such as the Nematollahis of 19th century Persia grew to proportions that alarmed both sultans and theologians - many dervishes were executed for ´heresyª. Today the true Qalandars survive mostly in India, where their lapses from orthodoxy include a fondness for hemp and a sincere hatred of work. Some are charlatans, some are simply bums - but a suprizing number of them seem to be people of attainment .... how can I put it? .... people of self≠realization, marked by a distinct aura of grace, or baraka.

All the different types of sub travel we've described are united by certain shared vital structural forces. One such force might be called a ´magicalª worldview, a sense of life that rejects the ´merelyª random for a reality of signs and wonders, of meaningful coincidences and ´unveilingsª. As anyone who's ever tried it will testify, intentional travel immediately opens one up to this ´magicalª influence.

A psychologist might explain this phenomenon (either with awe or with reductionist disdain) as ´subjectiveª ; while the pious believer would take it quite literally. From the sufi point of view neither interpretation rules out the other, nor suffices in itself, to explain away the marvels of the Path. In sufism, the ´objectiveª and the ´subjectiveª are not considered opposites, but complements. From the point of view of the two-dimensional thinker (whether scientific or religious) such paradoxology smacks of the forbidden.

The dervish travels, so to speak, both in the material world and in the ´World of Imaginationª simultaneously. But for the eye of the heart these worlds interpenetrate at certain points. One might say that they mutually reveal or ´unveilª each other. Ultimately, they are ´oneª-and only our state of tranced inattention, our mundane consciousness, prevents us from experiencing this ´deepª identity at every moment. The purpose of intentional travel, with its ´adventuresª and its uprooting of habits, is to shake loose the dervish from all the trance≠effects of ordinariness. Travel, in other words, is meant to induce a certain state of consciousness or ´spiritual stateª - that of Expansion.

For the wanderer, each person one meets might act as an ´angelª, each shrine one visits may unlock some initiatic dream, each experience of Nature may vibrate with the presence of some ´spirit of placeª. Indeed, even the mundane and ordinary may suddenly be seen as numinous (as in the great travel haiku of the Japanese Zen poet Basho) - a face in the crowd at a railway station, crows on telephone wires, sunlight in a puddle....

Obviously one doesn't need to travel to experience this state. But travel can be used - that is, an art of travel can be acquired - to maximise the chances for attaining such a state. It is a moving meditation, like the Taoist martial arts.

I confess I'm hopelessly romantic about the form of the dervish life, to the extent that for a while I turned my back on the mundane world and followed it myself. Because of course, it hasn't really disappeared. Decadent yes - but not gone forever. What little I know about travel I learned in those few years - I owe a debt to ´medieval accretionsª I can never pay - and I'll never regret my ´escapismª for a single moment. BUT - I don't consider the form of dervishism to be the answer to the ´problem of tourism.ª The form has lost most of its efficacy. There's no point in trying to ´preserveª it (as if it were a pickle, or a lab specimen)-there's nothing quite so pathetic as mere ´survivalª.

But: beneath the charming outer forms of dervishism lies the conceptual matrix, so to speak, which we've called intentional travel. On this point we should suffer no embarrassment about ´nostalgiaª. We have asked ourselves whether or not we desire a means to discover the art of travel, whether we want and will to overcome ´the inner touristª, the false consciousness which screens us from the experience of the Wide World's waymarks. The way of the dervish (or of the Taoist, the Franciscan, etc.) interests us - finally - only to the extent that it can provide us with a key - not THE Key, perhaps - but . . . . a key. And of course - it does.

One fundamental key to success in Travel is of course attentiveness. We call it ´paying attentionª in English & ´prÍter attentionª in French (in Arabic, however, one gives attention) suggesting that we're as stingy with our attentiveness as we are with our money. Quite often it seems that no one is ´paying attentionª, that everyone is hoarding their consciousness - what? saving it for a rainy day?-and damping down the fires of awareness lest all available fuel be consumed in a single holocaust of unbearable knowing.

This model of consciousness seems suspiciously ´Capitalistª however - as if indeed our attention were a limited resource, once spent forever irrecoverable. A usury of perception now appears: - we demand interest on our payment≠ of≠ attention, as if it were a loan rather than an expense. Or as if our consciousness were threatened by an entropic ´heat≠ deathª, against which the best defense must consist of a dull mediocre trance≠state of grudging half≠ attention - a miserliness of psychic resources - a refusal to notice the unexpected or to savour the miraculousness of the ordinary - a lack of generosity.

But what if we treated our perceptions as gifts rather than payments? What if we gave our attention instead of paying it? According to the law of reciprocity, the gift is returned with a gift - there is no expenditure, no scarcity, no debt against Capital, no penury, no punishment for giving our attention away, and no end to the potentiality of attentiveness.

In any case, the fact remains that unless we learn to cultivate such states, travel will never amount to more than tourism. And for those of us who are not already adepts at the Zen of travel, the cultivation of these states does indeed demand an initial expenditure of energy. We have inhibitions to repress, hesitations to conquer, habits of introversion or bookishness to break, anxieties to sublimate. Our third ≠rate stay≠ at ≠home consciousness seems safe and cozy compared to the dangers and discomforts of the Road with its eternal novelty, its constant demands on our attention. ´Fear of freedomª poisons our unconscious, despite our conscious desire for freedom in travel. The art we're seeking seldom occurs as a natural talent. It must be cultivated ≠ practised ≠ perfected. We must summon up the will for intentional travel.

A Spectacular Failure

by AJ/Skald

Engine parts were scattered around the cockpit-- on chairs, the dashboard, the floor, and the table of the RV. I tiptoed to avoid the mess and leaned over to look at the engine. Todd was banging on a wrench- trying to loosen a bolt. "Do you know how to put this back together?", I asked.

"Sure, its easy", he said. I scrunched my nose and brow but said nothing. But I thought to myself, "There's no way in hell this thing will ever run".

Everyday Todd and Lewis worked on the RV-- an old hunk from the 70s that Lewis' family had sold to them for a rockbottom price (eager to get rid of the thing). One day Todd finished the engine. "Time for a test drive", he said. I jumped in and joined him in the cockpit. The engine sputtered and then roared-- it gave a loud "clank" as he put it into drive-- and then we hunkered forward. I felt like a 10 year old with his first bike. We shot each other a thumbs up as the brown monster rolled down the driveway. Todd turned right out of the drive and then right again onto Augusta Road.

"It seems to be doing great", I said, but a shuddering vibration shook the vehicle and drowned out my words. "Hmmmm", Todd glanced at the dashboard guages. I sniffed and caught the smell of smoke. Todd did too. The temperature guage shot towards the red zone. "Fuck", we said in unison.

Todd managed to get her back to the driveway. He cursed and kicked-- then set back to work on the engine. We broke the bad news to Lewis in the evening. So it went for the entire summer. Trial after trial and always failure.

Finally, Lewis and Todd gave up. They took the beast to an RV mechanic and paid for an engine overhaul. Three weeks and $600 dollars later the RV returned to the drive with a humming engine. We celebrated and mapped our grandiose plans.

Todd and Lewis had a big dream. They wanted to drive the RV from South Carolina, across the United States, and then down to South America. In the beginning they planned to live off of savings. When those ran out the plan was to make a living by selling their stained glass art. They set up a mobile workshop in the back.

I was living in my Toyota van already. They urged me to follow along with them-- a rolling caravan of neo-nomads. I was non-commital and secretly had my doubts about the RV-- but I admired their vision and audacity.

In August, they named the RV "Champagne" and decided to test a maiden voyage. We entered a disc golf tournament in Athens, GA (1.5 hours away). Todd, Lewis, and Kristin set off in the RV while I followed in the van with Athena (my dog). All of us were giddy. Champagne pulled smoothly out of the driveway, cruised down Augusta Road, and slipped onto I-85.

We sped through South Carolina and crossed the GA border-- me following the RV about 4 car lengths behind. We called each other on our cell phones-- kids playing walkie-talkie.

But 20 minutes past the border, Champagne slowed. "What's going on?", I said to Athena. The speedometer dropped to 40 mph and suddenly thick black smoke belched from the RV's exhaust. The vehicle careened to the right, onto the shoulder of the road-- and sputtered to a stop. I pulled behind them and ran to see what was happening. Todd and Lewis were inside, desperately trying to restart the engine. Kristin was shaking her head.

For the next hour they examined the motor, looked under the vehicle, turned the key, cursed, and kicked the tires... until they grew despondent and gave up. "What do you want to do?", I asked. "Fuck it. Lets leave it here and go to the tournament. We'll get it on the way back."

And so they grabbed their discs and clothes and we piled into my van and headed for Athens. The tournament was fantastic fun (on the best course we've ever seen).. but the RVs fate weighed on Todd and Lewis.

On the way back they checked the monster and tried again to start her but it was no use. Eventually they had her towed back to the mechanic. He worked on the RV for another few weeks.

Champagne did run eventually. She made it to Gainesville, GA-- Todd and Lewis lived in it for a time. In the winter they headed down to Florida. But mechanical problems continued to mount-- rapidly draining their savings.

Finally, they gave up for good. Lewis drove the beast back to his parents house. Todd got a job in Florida. I stayed in Gainesville and continued my van living experiment.

The RV was, in the end, a glorious failure. But for a time it inspired us all. We've all since moved on to other adventures. Todd, Kristin, and I moved to Thailand. Lewis moved to San Francisco.

But we are all still determined to get to South America-- one day.