The Adventurer

When he left the city, he thought it would be loyal.

So he set off across the plains, over the mountains, and tumbled through the treacherous seas.

He thought the city would wait for him – that the people would keep celebrating his memory, that the dusty streets and buildings would stay as they were, pointed in the same direction, casting a familiar shadow.

He thought the old hill that led to the places of his great fears and torment, and place from which his story began, would stay the same.

And he treasured the city in his mind, for its loyalty and faith.  In his mind, the city never changed, it was always the same, with the same cast of characters, the same friends, and shopkeeps, and little children playing in the streets.

In his memory, it was home.

When he returned across the plains, the mountains, and the treacherous seas, he found that the city had completely changed.  He found no familiar faces, and new contraptions filled the streets.

A city doesn’t wait.

In confusion he walked to where the old hill had been, which was covered completely in large buildings of terrifying height, formidable now in strangeness, and asked a kid where his old home had been.  He described it as he remembered it.

The kid shrugged and ran away, smiling.  An old woman tottering by looked at him, squinting.

There was a building that you speak of, she said.  It stood where you now stand.

It was strange, the feeling he now felt.  Untethered, like he no longer had a home.

The Retired Warrior

He is sitting in the park.

The memories of shells and mortar explosions, firefights in the mud, blown-off fingers, ugly faces of abject terror in the face of the angels of death – these are all gone now.

He liked taking walks in this park, looking up at the gently undulating buildings, looking at their mix of easy, geometric shapes.

Nothing flew in the air.  He liked it that way.  The sky was always the same color of blue.

He liked it that way.

He spent hours following the outlines of the buildings, which were spaced apart at predictable intervals, and there were no alleyways or long shadows where assassins might be hiding.  The park burst with colors.  He liked it here.  On sunny days, it gave him hope.

They called it sterile.  And he liked that.

But, sometimes, just sometimes, he would get an itch.  Just once, he thought, he’d like to go berserk again, to be dropped in that frenzy of primary fear and violence, the attenuated consciousness of just his breath and pounding heart the only thing he could sense as he unleashed on those around him.

No, he told himself, no.  I like this.  I like this park, he told himself.

Young in LA (Part II)

Mia: Maybe I’m not good enough!

Sebastian: Yes, you are.

Mia: Maybe I’m not!  It’s like a pipe dream.

Sebastian: This is the dream!  It’s conflict and it’s compromise and it’s very, very exciting!

La La Land

During the days, you’ll strive and sweat and cry.  During the nights, you’ll look out the window of your apartment or car and see the indigo darkness draped over the hills, the street lamps glowing in adagio.  They’ll look like souls huddled in fervent prayer.  Your dreams.

But here’s the thing.  The dreams dreamed in the City of Dreams, are tricky.  The City of Dreams is an illusion, a mirage in the desert.

What you dreamed of at 22, will come true.

And having what you once wanted, you’ll look back, your youth spent.  You’ll think back on the City of Dreams, the feeling of being young and hungry, and every so often a desert wind will evoke false memories of bittersweet paths taken if not for a single gesture, word, or action, and you’ll wonder where the time went. 

And you’ll wonder if what you got, was what you really wanted.

Or if you’d be happier young, having nothing but dreams again.

Cemetery

Rest in the shade of my boughs, and look out over the hill.  In the distance, a calming sea, an ocean breeze.  Once there was nothing here.

The first fishermen arrived.  They grew in number, they built huts, and the habitations grew in size.  Feasts were had.

When they were laid to rest, the most powerful among them sought the shade of my boughs.

Then the invaders came, wearing fierce expressions and loud explosions.  Overcoming the natives, they took from the land, extracting from it what they could.  They grew fat and jolly, they schemed in devious ways and built stone mansions, imported, from the spoils of their trade.

And yet – they all met the same fate, and now seek the shade of my boughs.

The next invaders were not of the overpowering, physical sort.  They came, full of ideas about how the world should be arranged and rearranged.  They are gentler, not given so much to violence, yet they do fight – and fight – over pieces of paper and the acceptance of ideas, about how best to arrange the resources amongst them.

And those who grow fat among them still grow smug, and satisfied, in their concept of wealth.

And yet – when they meet their ends they find solace in the shade of my boughs.

They are alike, all of them.  They laugh and cry, and they strive.  They do not stop striving, and in this they are alike and equal.

They don’t know that the rains wash their remains away to the foothills where everyone else is buried, where their bones mix with those of the sparrows and hogs and fish, to mix and form the loam in which my roots clench deep, to strengthen the trunks and branches for the shade – the shade of my boughs.

Nightmare

I used to have this recurring nightmare that haunted me ever since I can remember.

First, a normal dream, its web of sights and feelings with no logical storyline.  Usually bright, carefree.

Then I would feel it coming, a creeping terror.  A slow, syrupy feeling of suffocation, ringing in my ears, something locking down my limbs.  Darkness invading the edges of my vision, a nameless horror.

By flailing and thrashing for my life, I could eventually wake up.

But the waking was agonizingly slow.  By the time I did, I was covered in sweat, panting, my sleep wrecked for the night.

The worst part is that I could feel it starting, but be powerless to stop it.  The darkness would wrap up my limbs, make me unable to move, and I would be powerless in its grasp unless I flailed in a soundless scream.

At some point, I had enough.  Maybe I was around 10.

I knew it was a dream, after all.  Perhaps I could face the fear.  And so I tried.  When the darkness started to cloud my vision, I relaxed.  But its grasp grew tighter.  And when I waited, the creature began to appear.  A dark, demon-like dwarf.  I never saw its face.  I only saw its heathen movements at the edges of my vision, moving faster than a child, a little beast.

When it began to appear, I kicked and punched violently, even as I felt the pins and needles in my arms and legs and stomach.  As I felt like I was being gored by the darkness itself.  Without any reason or logic or name.

As I grew older, in my teens, I decided to try something different.  When the dwarf came, I decided to fight it.  Only I didn’t really fight it.  I picked it up and heaved it as hard as I could, as you would pick up and heave a cockroach, resolve accompanied by a full-body scream that blocked out any sensation of actually touching the little demon.

First it was here, now it was there.  Then I ran.  Straight into the wall of dark, nameless, fathomless syrup that I would have to kick and thrash against in order to wake up, knowing all the while that the dwarf would be coming back.

I never found out where this nameless, faceless terror came from.  And why.

As I entered my teenage years, exhausted with this particular nightmare, I decided to try something different.

I knew it was a nightmare after all.  And so instead of flailing and thrashing for my life, what if I just saw where it took me?  Instead of fighting it, what if I did nothing?

It worked.  When the darkness came, after a momentary tightness, it faded, as smoke would.  Expecting a fight, and getting none, it was as if the darkness just decided something wasn’t worth it.  Although I would never know why; of course, the darkness was without rhyme or reason.

And it continued to work.  When the dreams came, I just paid it no attention.

During these years, something else was happening; I became disinterested.  This transition to adulthood, and young adulthood, was accompanied by a lot of realizations about my limits.  I gave up on certain dreams.

Maybe in shutting down parts of myself, the bright, clear edges of youth faded.  And with that, maybe the vivid, crystal-clear and fathomless, reasonless darkness, also faded too.

And when I entered college, that’s when the dreams almost stopped altogether.  There were isolated moments of terror, here and there, but I didn’t even have to fight it, or even give up, anymore.

The terror came, and my mind’s eye looked at it, grew disinterested, and looked away.  Although I could feel the creature there too, beyond the darkness.

The last time I felt the creature, it felt almost sad.  Like it was waiting for me, but I refused to come.

The dreams faded altogether once I started my first job.  Because when I started working, I didn’t have time for anything else.  For recollection, for deep reflection.  I worked.  I started traveling for work, all around the globe.  I woke up in hotel rooms and sometimes had a moment of terror – but because I didn’t know where I was.  I was fully conscious.

I went back to sleep with a smile on my face because I knew I was free of the demon dwarf and the smothering darkness.  I had left them behind.  I traveled everywhere, for nearly a decade.  To Bali, to Dubai, to London, Beijing, Seoul, Shanghai.  To Tokyo, Merida, to Panama.  I met with clients.  I left my previous life behind.  I lived out of hotel rooms, I became deep friends with other career itinerants from a home base in Hong Kong.

But one day I grew tired.  Endless traveling is a great career perk in your 20s.  Less when you’re thinking of starting a family.  I began a period of reflection, perhaps for the first time in a very, very long time.

What dreams had I left behind?  Who had I become?  I hadn’t kept any journals, and I had completed purged my emails and letters multiple times, mostly for heartbreak-related reasons, so it was hard to find a compass.

I began spending some time in cafes and restaurants, eating by myself.  Reflecting.  Thinking.

And then I saw it, in a dark corner of a vegetarian restaurant right around closing time.  This vegetarian shop, on the 2nd floor on Henderson Road, was staffed entirely by deaf workers.  It was a completely silent shop, except for the sounds of other diners, clattering dishware and the beep-beep of credit and Octopus cards making payment.

I was the last diner in the shop when I saw that little bastard.  The demon dwarf, who had terrorized my dreams and childhood.  I couldn’t believe it.  Would you?

In a dark corner, next to where the shop had stacked extra chairs, it was sitting there calmly, eating a meal.  By now I was over my fear of it.  I was more curious, for various reasons.

It was a memory of my past, my past that I’d been trying to find.

Maybe it meant something that the creature would come find me.  I had never allowed it to get close to me.  I had never said anything to it.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been so afraid, maybe it was trying to tell me something.  Or remind me of something.

After finishing my sweet and sour fried mushrooms, I approached it.  It didn’t have a face.  It had a top of the head, in a shape, that was its whole head.  It was more of a pitch dark shape in reality.  A shadow.

“Why were you always chasing me.”

It got up.

“Well now you’ll have to chase me now, m*****f****r!”  It bolted, scurrying away into the space under the chairs.

I ducked, looking for it.  But it was gone.

The Banker

You learned to speak in tongues, call something what it isn’t, argued with yourself, and every day worked to reverse your natural frown.  Every second your soul rebelled, and every second you told yourself magnificent stories about what would become:

What has become is now you drink from a golden cup with a golden wrist and dine alone in the towers of a minor kingdom.  You laugh, and your servants smile.  You hold forth, they nod.  What you don’t see are their second glances and mysterious expressions.

All of these possessions are yours.  They are yours and yours alone, the pristine waters where you swim, surrounded by marble, and the cavernous halls you’ve built echo with your footsteps, which are yours and yours alone.

Was it worth it?

Waves of Indifference

Manhattan Beach

This was a while ago during a year of heartbreak.

During that year, I spent a lot of time in the water.  I took a board out and sat in the middle of the sea, watching waves and getting battered by them in all sorts of conditions.

I went when it was completely flat and would bob on the water, and I went when it was choppy and would fall off every few seconds, and I went in early morning and at dusk and in 40 degree water until my fingers turned into claws, and I surfed with the dolphins and sea lions and red tide and the jellyfish.

I would sit there and look into the horizon for the one who was far away – who had gone away, and sometimes the sun would come out and break into a million pieces on the water, like an emerald hacienda, and sometimes the fog would be so thick that you couldn’t see the waves coming in except as darker fog in the distance, and you couldn’t tell where the water started and the sky began, and it felt like you were somewhere high in the clouds and angels were around you, as the water lapped gently at your board.

Sometimes it was bright, and the waves crested with white plumes, and other times when it was cloudy the waves when they opened up looked like giant maws full of death and destruction, and they closed on your head like thundering bombs.

Being heartbroken made me susceptible to faulty logic, and I reasoned that the more of these impossible waves I caught, the more worthy I was, and I would stay even during choppy conditions until I had satisfied my quota, and then would walk back in thinking I had passed a test.

I would surf in the messiest and unrelenting of conditions, waves coming in bruised and sickening colors, crashing and surging, white plumes cresting above them as they peaked, before thundering with complete and utter indifference.

Sometimes I would get caught by a rogue wave that unfurled above and smashed me into the sand, and withdrew with such force I was sucked into the water again.  Flailing in the freezing water, so cold my breath was drawn out, in these times I could think of only one thing, which was that there was no malice in the water, nothing that cared enough to hate.  The only feeling that the water was a force of nature, above and beyond anything in human experience and in the face of which we are just a speck of dust.  Only by its endless grace are we allowed to enter it, fish it, surf it.

I was looking for answers out there, but there were none.  The waves were apathetic.  And I didn’t solve any problems.  They were just made insignificant.

Caveman Manifesto

Our Recent Past

They were the days when men lived by the laws of simple love and anger, when they lived in simple fear of the divine, when their hearts coursed blood so thick it drowned out the meek wisdom of their minds,

when they charged gladly into catastrophes for a simple song and slender line; before reason, and language’s casuistries, when they danced freely in the tundra and washed their hair with tar, felling mighty oaks and seeding fields with single phallic strokes!

They grabbed lions by their balls and swam freely with the sharks, and grizzlies fled at the whiff of man’s approaching musk, and for months they debated the origin of a single blade of grass – it was the wind, it was God, no, the leaf does not exist – because their minds could not comprehend two different ideas at the same time!

And then they clubbed and killed each other until only one idea existed.

Then they saw woman, swaying gracefully with floral scent, lithe, a brighter use of space, and they looked into the sky (and eagles fell from it), and there was the world, larger than they had known; there was love and anger, but also death and time, and looking into woman’s eyes, they fathered babes who would live by the laws of simple love and anger, and fear of the divine.

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