Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Lighthouse

She wanted to take me somewhere special this time. It was a surprise. I sat at a corner bookstore in downtown Rio for a good 20 minutes before she appeared on the back of a motorcycle. Under normal circumstances, I might have been annoyed with the tardiness, but this was the girl of my dreams. I’d wait an eternity for her to show up. I pulled out from behind my back a single orange orchid, a gift a friend recommended that I put around her ear. She pulled her hair back and closed her eyes as I wrapped the stem around her right lobe. I could have lived in that moment forever.

She wanted to go to Paqueta, one of her favorite spots that she only shared with a few people. As we waited to cross the water, she told me about a time where she wandered in her curiosity and missed the last return ferry home. She found a couple to take her in that night. She traded live songs on the guitar for a one-night stay in their guesthouse. The way she recounted that memory, the look she had in her eyes, told me that she still believed in the goodness of people, that stories like this kept hope alive. 

I tried to come up with an equally touching story in return, but the best I could do was ask her if she had ever seen snow. She hadn’t, but always wanted to. I told her that I’ve lived in cold climates my entire life, and that I knew it almost too well, but one day, if we ever found ourselves in a place that permitted, I’d pack together a snowball and throw it directly in her face. The way she reacted still comes to me in my dreams. That surprise, that smile, that gentle nudge against my abdomen – it is everything I miss about her.

We arrived later than anticipated. By then just about everything was closed. We flirted with the idea of going into the park after hours, but she thought about the guards on night patrol and how our intrusion would have made their job that much more difficult. Instead, we found an old lighthouse and climbed up its rickety ladder, aided by a flashlight from my cellphone. We sat up there, not really knowing what to do or say. Or at least I had no idea what to do or say. I ran through the list of conversations in my head, went through the likely responses and how I might weave that into a discussion about my feelings. I’m actually pretty good at that - predicting how people think - but with her, everything was different. I was perpetually surprised by just about everything she ever said or did. There was no strategy with this one. After about 10mins of silence, I finally blurted out the best thing I could come up with.

“I’m about to tell you something really intense,” I said. “But if you don’t want to hear it, I’ll understand.”

“You don’t have to be afraid to tell me anything,” she said, looking me straight in the eye. “I like intense things.”  

“I think I’ve been waiting my whole life to meet you,” I spouted. 

Right there, at that very moment, I was ready to devote my entire life to her. No questions, no second thoughts, just instinct. I then realized that I barely knew this person and was saying this the third time we had gone out together. But I meant every word, at that moment as I do today. I sat there waiting for her to pack her things up and leave.

She didn’t respond. She just sat there and nodded her head. She then rested her head on my shoulder and the relief was one of the the best feeling I have felt in my life.

Night fell and it quickly grew colder atop the tower. I had foolishly worn a thin tank top, and she wrapped me up in an extra long-sleeve shirt she had brought along. After a few more minutes of staring out into the sea, I think she took pity on my constant shivering and suggested we catch the ferry home. I’ll never forget when we climbed back down the ladder. She didn’t want the flashlight. She said she wanted to know what it was like to go down into a path where she couldn’t see too far ahead. She said I could use the light if I wanted, but to wait until she was all the way at the bottom. I climbed down right behind her in the darkness, using only the feelings in my limbs, and the sounds of the one ahead to guide me.

We ordered a spinach and mushroom pizza when we got back into town, split it into four pieces and sat next to each other waiting for the last ferry home. We talked about our parents, and the shortcomings of their marriages. Her parents divorced when she was still young. Mine are still together, but not without their issues. There was a tinge of fear in both of our voices. I don’t know if she thought this, but I thought about the futility of us even dating. More than likely, we’d end up a statistic of a failed couple, but there also comes a point where we need to believe there are relationships that exist outside of what we witness growing up. 

We finished the rest of the pizza on the ferry. I made a quick jab at her appetite. She called me a hypocrite. Our shoulders pushed up against one another, her hand slipped into mine and she laid her head against my shoulder once again. I put my chin on the top of her head. We weren’t going to make it in the end, but we were going to take a chance. That’s really the best you can do in the end. Be brave enough to try.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get back with Flora. I don’t even know if I’ll see her again in this lifetime. But I’ll always have the Lighthouse. That one is mine to keep.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

A poem for Amparo

When I lived in Nicaragua
I stayed with a man named Henry.
Henry took in anyone
and everyone.

One time there were
five of us
all sleeping on his
California King.

Me, Henry, his boyfriend,
and his best friend, Amparo
who brought her one-year old son, 
sick from a fever.

One day I was talking
about the people who helped me
along the way.
At the end of it she sighed and said something
that stuck with me

"In every place it is the same;
there are few people 
who are bad."

This is did not come from
a place of privilege
where seeing the world with an amber hue
comes easy.

This came from someone
poor and struggling
living in Nicaragua
as a woman.

Someone who left home
because her drunken husband
starting beating her

Sometimes I am still
lucky enough
to hear her words
when I find myself 

Sunday, March 20, 2016

An important midnight conversation

One night when Flora and I were laying in bed, she caressed my back in a way that told me that all my childhood fears were liars, that everything in the world would be okay as long as I believed in us. I felt every morsel of my body melting. She then said something that has never left me.

"Do you feel that you love me?" she asked. 

"Yes," I said. 

"Do you feel that I love you?"


And she wasn't using the word "feel" to describe the way we felt for one another. She was referring to a "feeling", as in another presence in the room.

"I feel that you love me too. I also feel that I love you. I think this is important."

She then took a pause to recollect the moment and said with a stern adaptation: 

"This is very important." 

I agree. It was important.

It is important. 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

A sudden revelation

I am not sure what direction in which this thought is headed, but I realize that I am in love with the way that Flora and I fell in love. I am enamored with the story, almost so much that is beyond any of the actually feelings that I may still have for her. It's almost as if it is not her that I am afraid of losing, but the memory of her. The way in which we met. It is our origin. I am terrified at the thought of losing that origin, because without knowing where we came from, we are nothing. We are sadly and utterly, lost. 

Sunday, March 6, 2016

One morning before dawn

I woke up on my own at 4:45. No alarm. We must have slept through it. She was supposed to wake up a half-hour earlier to make it to the bus station. She was going to Ilhe Grande, bought the non-refundable one-way ticket the day before, and it was her first time going despite being a Brazilian native. She talked about it incessantly in the weeks previous, said that she wanted to dedicate the next year to traveling the world, and exploring her own country was the first step. I couldn't go on account of an interview being rescheduled, one of the few times I chose being responsible over being infatuated. 

I nudged her upon realizing the time, and she instinctually yawned, then put her arms around me. Hugged me like I was home. If I was selfish, I would have left it at that. I would have gone back to sleep and had a day with her all to myself, but in my attempts to be a better person, I nudged her again. 

"You need to get up," I whispered.

"What time is it?"



"We slept through the alarm." 

She blinked the sleep out of her eyes and paused for a moment.

"Wait, how did you wake up?" she asked.

I sort of shrugged and gave half-conscious smile. I can honestly say it was one of the only times where she looked thoroughly impressed with me. She then sort of slumped her shoulders, saying it was too late. Again, if I was selfish, I would have taken that and convinced her to sleep a few more hours.

"No c'mon. How long does it take to get to the bus terminal?"

"Now? At this time? I dunno. 10mins?"

"And what time is your bus?"


"Ok. So then you'll still have 5 minutes to buy food for your trip."

We traded sly grins and I'd like to think that in that moment, she found out a bit more on what I was about. Truth be told, I found out a bit more on what I was about. I threw on my pants, and told her I'd join her in flagging down a cab. In a last remanent of doubt, she hesitated, cataloguing all the reasons why she wouldn't make it. In response, I placed my palm at the base of her chin, looked straight in her eyes and said:

"Look, you've been talking about this trip for weeks. Do you want to go?"

She nodded.

"Then take the chance and go. If you miss the bus, just come back. I'll be here."

She smiled and it warmed my entire body.

We dashed out into the dark and ran a good quarter-mile before finally locating an off-duty taxi sitting on the roadside, eating either breakfast or a late-night snack. At first he told us he was done for the night, but after explaining the situation, he was convinced to take the job. She threw her bag across the backseat and climbed in. I kissed her through the window and grabbed her hand like the world was in the midst of collapse. 

"I love you." I said. 

All I got in return was a glance, an acknowledgment that what I said was a true statement from the heart. And then, she vanished. 

I went back to my apartment and stared out the window above my desk, half-way hoping she made her bus, half-way hoping she’d show up back at my door an hour later. I think that conflict lasted throughout the rest of our relationship, and I strangely feel it once again as I am writing this now.

Monday, February 29, 2016

An apology

For those that I may have hurt, offended or ignored in this past year, I am sorry. I'm not sure how much that really means since the deeds have already been done, but know that they did not pass without considerate self-reflection, or without the appropriate suffering that came as a consequence. What I've come to realize is that I was, and still very much am, in love with someone who no longer loves me. I'm not sure if any of you know that place, but it can at times be an excruciating existence. 

This is not an excuse; merely what I've come to determine over time. And though there are those who may think such a reason is justified, I could have shown better form. 

For that, I apologize.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

An interview with Nick Wong

*I'm not really good or famous enough to be legitimately interviewed, and I would never actually interview myself, but IF I did, it would probably look something like this: 

So, let's start at the beginning. How did you start writing?

Well, I don't even think it was a conscious decision, more that people kept telling me that I had potential at something and I always thought it a shame to waste potential. I have three real memories about people encouraging me to write. First was my English teacher during my senior year of high school, Ms. Hess, who made me promise her that I'd take a writing course in college. Then when I got into college, my second girlfriend sort of begrudgingly told me I had talent as a writer. She didn't even say it as encouragement, more like she was pissed that I was better than her at something. That's when I knew she meant it (laughs). On that note, the last person was my 10th grade teacher, Ms. Kinnear, who pulled me aside one day and told me that I just wasn't a very good writer. I don't really know why she did that; I never was really a "problem" student, never disrupted class or anything, but I used it as sort of a motivation. Not at first, of course, I was about 14 at the time? But later in life it taught me a lot, mostly that you shouldn't stop doing something you enjoy because one person tells you to stop, even if that person is a supposed authority figure. I always thought about dedicating my first book to either Ms. Hess or Ms. Kinnear I guess it depends on whether I want to be a grateful student or a vindictive asshole (laughs). I'll probably dedicate it to both of them.

Why write about boxing? What was the appeal?

Everything. I think it's a microcosm of our existence. The characters, the business, the loyalties, the betrayals, the cyclical story of fighters is the tragedy and triumph of life, basically. But mainly the oxymoron of it is what drew me in. People have all these opinions on a sport where athletes train themselves to render an opponent unconscious, but they never bothered to step into a boxing gym. It's so much more complex than that. I mean just hearing the stories about where these fighters come from, why they fight, what they have to overcome in order to show up and participate in such an excruciating sport is downright inspiring. I guess I really fell in love with the whole attitude that's in boxing, which is pretty much that you don't sit around making excuses and feel sorry for yourself - you work and train your ass off to get out of a tough spot. But it's not that you do it alone either. The boxing community is one of the most caring communities I've ever been part of. It sort of nurtures you to be independent, but also teaches you to ask for help when you need it. I guess I thought that was worth writing about.

Have you ever boxed yourself?

Oh yeah definitely. I actually started boxing completely separate from writing. Truthfully, I went in because I was stuck in this emotionally abusive co-dependent relationship, and I needed to break the cycle somehow. There was just something about the routine that I loved; the repetition, the discipline, the focus. I trained seriously for about 2 years, then traveled and boxed around Latin America, off and on, for about three years after that.

Did you ever think about fighting professionally?

I thought about it for maybe six months out of the two years I trained seriously, but then I saw how difficult it was. I mean I trained SERIOUSLY for those two years. I was in the gym maybe five, six days a week, woke up at 5AM every morning to run. Rain, snow, it didn't matter. And the diet. That's probably one of the hardest parts of the sport. Cutting weight. Oh god. I don't really want to get into that too much, but it's absolutely fucking insane what fighters do to make weight. I fought maybe 20lbs under my normal weight, but probably cut only maybe 6-7 pounds from my "in-shape" weight. It was still fucking hell. I swear I was possessed by a demon (laughs). 

But after doing all these stories on fighters and somewhat doing the same myself, I drew the conclusion that nobody should ever become a professional fighter. If you're even remotely good at anything else, do that. But you know, the funny thing is that people say the same thing about writing and it wasn't until I started getting deeper into the craft that I understood what they were saying. I mean, the two are actually really similar. We're both in this really unstable and unpredictable industry, you will often be unpaid and unacknowledged for the good chunk of your efforts, and you spend an incredible amount of time alone. Only a really, really small portion of those involved make it, and a lot of times it has nothing to do with the objective skill in the craft. It's a really unfair business, both of them. My writer-friend Doug Merlino once told me as sort of advice, "Don't do it. It's a stupid job." I mean he said it somewhat in jest, obviously, because we still do it, but it certainly isn't a glamorous occupation as some people make it out to be. Fighters and writers, artists in general, are like these wildly stupid and brilliant creatures.

What sort of advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Don't do it. Didn't you hear what I just said?! (Laughs) But in all seriousness, I don't know. I'm still figuring it all out myself. I don't think there's a day that goes by where I don't think about quitting. I think about how much easier life would be if I had a "safe" job that paid well, like being a doctor or a lawyer. Then I realize how much of an asshole I'm being because those professions are insanely difficult, and I'd probably be worse off because I'd be failing at something I don't have a passion for. I think something that I've come to terms with is that any profession is going to have parts of it that suck, and no matter what you do, you're going to have to work hard and sacrifice to be any sort of good. The fruits just have to be worth it. It has to mean something to you, and at least in my opinion, that something has to touch a part of you that is completely outside the conventional measures of success. You can't do it for superficial means, otherwise your work comes off superficial. Don't get me wrong, I'm not one of those "follow your passion" types. I think that sort of thinking gets people into crippling debt and can severely handicap their life. Money is a necessary means to the greater end. I'd say people make the mistake of making money the goal, but other people make the mistake of thinking you don't need to learn about it in order to get there. It's all part of the job. I guess the most important piece of advice I'd give is know why you're doing your work, then make the necessary adjustments to make it happen. You'll find out how much you really believe in what you tell yourself by how much you sacrifice along the way.

So are you saying that writing isn't about passion?

Well, I mean it is, but if you want to take it as a serious pursuit, you have to learn how to balance between passion and practicality. Too much practicality makes you stale and uninteresting, but the whole, "Do what you love and forget everything else" is kind of the baseline ethos behind those self-development programs that make a living on scamming people. You gotta learn how to exist between the two worlds, which is why so few people actually become writers.

You don't think that everyone could be a writer?

Yes and no. Everyone has the right to write, they have to right to express themselves through the written words, absolutely. But is everyone a "writer"? No way. Probably one of the funniest and most annoying things that I hear from people is that they want to write a book about their life. First is that most people think that their story is interesting enough to go through the arduous process of being written, edited, published and distributed. That is a shit ton of work for a lot of different people. You really have to ask yourself why you're writing it in the first place and if you can't find that story anywhere else. Don't get me wrong, I think there are certainly stories that need to be written, but I think people also need to ask themselves these questions more often. Second is that people assume they can write. They don't bother learning about grammar, rhythm, sentence structure, or any of the mundane mechanical elements in writing because that stuff is boring and mind-numbing. It's not like you have to write grammatically perfect or anything, but it shows when someone knows it. Basically, I think people are more in love with the idea of being a writer than actually being a writer.

So then what kind of practical advice do you have for writers? Like about the actual writing process?

Be clear and be concise, every word should have a purpose to moving the story along. Don't use big words for the sake of using big words. At the end of the day, writing is just a service of translation so that the public can understand and form an opinion on a topic that you have been paid to investigate. That is really the purpose of a writer, to communicate and translate stories so we understand more about each other. This is what I've come up with from my experience at least, I mean I don't want to limit the definition of a writer because the job description can be so varied. There are those that write these obscure pieces, chalked full of ridiculously complex language and it's masterful. Genius. I just think there's fewer out there than the people that attempt to write that way.

Who are some...

Oh and deadlines! If you write for publications, do not miss your deadlines. I know that it may "feel" like a piece never ends and can always be edited, but being a professional is first and foremost. I had a friend who was an actor and I remember him telling me that actors with mediocre talent got further in their careers than those with abundant amounts of natural talent, simply because they were professional and easy to work with. I think the same holds true for writers. 

I'm sorry, I cut you off...

I was just going to ask about your favorite writers.

Bukowski. Next question.

Really? That's it?

(Laughs) No, not really. I always just say it that way to be dramatic. But he is someone I admire as a writer. He pretty much managed to capture life in a simple way. No frills, no crazyass elaborate wordage, just straight forward telling it like it is. And he was honest. I mean he lived his life in this semi-destructive way - boozing, whoring, gambling - but that kept him humble, like he was never judgmental from this elitist, holier-than-thou sort of way; he was judgmental from being a whoring drunkard. That's not necessarily being a hypocrite, per se, more that if he said something critical, there was something to it because he had known life from the bottom and the top.

So then who are the other writers?

Well for boxing, Thomas Hauser, both his research ability and reporting style are standards I try to reach. But the best essay I've ever read on boxing was by Katherine Dunn, who is like this 70-year-old white woman from Portland. She's probably one of the last people you'd expect to write about boxing, but she does it masterfully. Then Octavia Butler. Jesus Christ. When I first saw a picture of her I thought, "This is what a writer looks like." And she was incredibly smart, like wickedly intelligent. The amount of knowledge required to tell her stories would take a lifetime to research, and she wrote a shit-ton of novels! She's really impressive. Really, really amazing.

Did you get to meet any of them?

Mostly through email. I have this very fortunate situation that I admire mid-level celebrities, so meeting them is actually a possibility. The problem is that I have this really horrible habit of pestering people, and I think they end up hating me (laughs). For example, another person I admire is Loic Wacquant, this French sociologist who wrote a book about his experience boxing in South Chicago. Being a sociology major at the time, I thought I had wanted to do what he did. I would literally pester him and he refused to meet me. I don't really blame him though. I was a mess. He read a draft I sent him and just completed trashed it. I responded by blaming the educational structure of American sociology, which is pretty much shitting on the field in which he makes his living. I didn't realize that til later (laughs). But I somehow managed to smooth things out and I eventually met him about 5 years later. We have a respectful relationship now, but meeting him also kind of told me that I didn't want to do what he does. And that's really okay. 

Why didn't you want to do what he does?

Honestly, I'm not smart enough for it (laughs). The way he writes, speaks, thinks and looks at the world is way too complicated for me. I mean it's pretty brilliant when you're able to lay it all out and take in all that's he's saying, but there was no way I could do that; that's why my first draft to him sucked. I was trying to imitate him. But something he told me that really helped is that there are a number of valid ways to approach the same topic, and one isn't necessarily better than the other. It wasn't until I started really finding my voice that I really understood that. But once I did, things in general got easier.

How did you find your voice?

Just work. You imitate for a while. I still imitate a lot and I feel like my voice is still being discovered. But you have to at least know writing you like to read before you know how you like to write. It's really just about constant practice over time, and being okay with change. That's about it. 

Are great writers born or made?

Hmmm...(pauses). I think everyone has the ability to be a strong and competent writer. You can do that by just drilling, drilling, drilling for hours on end, and that kind of writer will likely surpass one with in-born talent who is lazy and undisciplined. But somewhere along the time there is this extra something that separates the greats from everyone else. I mean some people were really born with a natural talent for something. But all that doesn't matter if you don't work hard. Talent without discipline is useless.

Do you feel that you were "called" to writing?

You know, I'm not really sure. I mean I constantly question whether or not this notion of a "calling" in life even exists. Dedicating your life around such a concept requires a lot of faith. Plus, you can really become self-absorbed in that line of thinking and that's a trap. But at the same time, part of me thinks so because I'm still writing after all this time, and every so often people take away something useful from something I wrote. But do I think I'm doing something grand that changes the world? No, absolutely not. If it does change anything, the change is done in these unnoticeable increments, and most of the time I write for the purposes of maintaining my own sanity. But I guess that's how anything gets changed, yeah? I think we fall in love with this romantic notion that the course of the world is constantly settled in some epic 2-hr storyline. What most people don't see is the tedious hours of training and working that these fictional hero figures go through in order to be anywhere near what it is they are portraying. So am I "called" to be a writer? I don't know. I guess I'm working to find out. But I really hope so, because I'm not very good at anything else I've tried (laughs). 

Well, I think that's all the questions I have. Anything else you want to add?

No, not really. I think I've blown enough steam up people's asses (laughs). I guess if there was one thing I'd close with, it'd be for people to know that getting good at any profession is a struggle and all of them serve a practical function in life, but if there is an instinctual pull in your gut to do something, you should at least try. If you go in prepared, you'll be fine, and the regret of not trying is way worse than failing at it.