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 I wouldn't exactly call them 'happy'. 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, 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
forever:

"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
again.

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

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?"

"Yes."

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 actual 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?"

"4:45."

"WHAT?!?!?"

"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?"

"5:00."

"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.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

A few instances of jealousy


  • One time we were laying in bed and we were talking about what we liked about each other, things that we noticed. When she tried to describe me, she got a bit tangled. I was Asian, but not like Asian Asian, cuz I was American too. But I wasn't really American either, at least not like the ones she's met in the past. After stumbling around her thoughts for a few seconds, she sort of blurted out, "I dunno, you're like kinda Latin!" The way she said "Latin" had this undertone of disgust, but not disgust as in disgusting, more like something she would have to worry about, that I knew how to move and women are always attracted to men who can move. It made me blush and feel confident at the same time. And I also liked that she was worried about my ability to attract the opposite sex, cuz too often it was the other way around.

  • There was this one time we were on the subway going to meet a couple of friends who lived a few hours away. I remember we struggled waking up from a nap, almost considered canceling and staying in. But we eventually dragged ourselves to the Metro, dazed and barely awake. I held her in the middle of the train, so closely, like she was composed of this infinite stardust that would scatter if I didn't hold on tightly enough. I knew at that moment that if she was the last woman I'd ever love, I would have won the game. And she held me the same way. Two seats opened up. There was a seat by the door, then a seat adjacent to another seat, which was occupied by this really attractive woman. I walked toward the seats and just KNEW to take the one by the door, no thought, just fluid reaction, like a martial art you practice for decades until it becomes second nature. When that woman left, she leaned in and said, "You made the right choice by not sitting next to that woman." I smiled.

  • We were at a bus stop waiting for the 387 and this cute young girl walked up and sat down next to us. She was wearing a black halter top, blue jeans and had her hair tied in two braided ponytails. As she sat, she sort of gave me a once over, up and down, then did it again. There must have been a certain look in her eyes because shortly after the girl left, she said to me, "All these women look at you, and not just cuz you look different, it's like in all possible ways, like even sexual!!! No...I don't like it, no." Then she sort of crossed her arms and was semi-upset with me, even though I hadn't done anything. For some strange reason, I felt more secure that she felt threatened. Not because I would use it against her, I just hoped that it would one day mean that much more to her when she realized that really, I only cared about her, no matter how anyone else looked at me. 

  • The first time I came back to the United States, I went under an pretty intense study of chado tea making. I'd attend three-hour long classes learning how to make, serve and receive Japanese tea. I practiced it twice a day, once in the morning, once in the afternoon. For those three months, I took it pretty damn seriously and even "performed" at the Seattle Art Museum on one occasion. There were times where I'd even hang out with my instructors and classmates, who happened to be these two sweet Japanese grandmothers. Before the class ended, I took a picture with them and sent it to her. She laughed with approval. "Good! You should do even more! You know knitting? You spend your weekends knitting with them, all the time!" I laughed and asked if she was joking, more in a rhetorical way than anything else. She sort of wavered on a response and finally said, "I mean...kinda?"

  • I used to run for 6 miles along the beach, just about everyday. It would take me 45 mins or so, and at some point I always had to take off my shirt. She saw me from the window one time when I was walking back to my apartment. She said there was a woman who looked at me a certain way and that it was a good thing I didn't pay it any attention. She said that if she had a bow and arrow, she would have shot that woman in the head had she spoken to me, then did an air motion of drawing a bow and releasing the arrow, all the while having this creepy-ass smile on her face. I was both terrified and more in love at the same time.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

The moment after

I still remember the moment I found out. I was back on my old campus to do a presentation about my trip to Brazil and I got a message on Facebook while I was trying to sleep at the Odegaard library. The message was from a friend and it said, "I really don't think you should be dating her."

Me and him went back and forth about it for a while and I remember my chest sinking with each message that came in. I lost patience in piecing together the whole story. Part of me wanted to believe that I made a bad translation, maybe I read the whole thing wrong. Messages had a tendency to do that sort of thing. It's one of the few times you wish you were worse at something that you had been wanting to be good at for so long. So I called him, long distance, from the US to Brazil. He explained everything to me, and to my dismay, I understood it perfectly the first time.   

I called another friend right after. I told him I was going to be so pissed later. Really I wanted to say "so heartbroken", but I didn't want to look weak. The one thing he told me that kind of helped was, "Don't let this make you lose faith in God." 

But I'll tell you why I was pissed. I was pissed because I was bamboozled. I was pissed because you were a fraud. And the worst kind of fraud because you think you are not everything that you are. You are not all peace and happiness. You are not always helping the world. You hurt people. That's not to say you're the only one; people hurt other people all the time. I hurt people all the time. But I don't pretend that I don't. There's a part of me that's a fucking piece of shit, but I own it. I show it and see what happens. I don't hide. I am not a liar. You said that you never wanted to hurt me. But you didn't mean that. You don't say something like to someone that unless you mean it.

Then I went to give my presentation. One of the few things I'm proud about in my life is that I managed to knock that presentation out of the park. I spoke like nothing had happened. I carried myself as if my heart wasn't shattered into a million pieces half-an-hour earlier. It was possible to compose yourself in those kind of moments. I just don't enjoy it all that much.

I sat in my car and tried to figure out why. I scanned my memory for signs, maybe something I had overlooked. But nothing came up. Instead I remembered our last conversation. You said to me, "Let's stay together until we're old and ugly!!" You said that on the same day it happened. I have the text message to prove it.

I sat there for 10 minutes in complete silence. I didn't cry, though I had wanted to. I guess the feeling hadn't sunk in. I don't think I felt much during those minutes, or maybe it's just something I don't want to remember. I dunno. It's not a place that I like to revisit very often. 

Sunday, January 31, 2016

A writing exercise

I've been attending a writing group on Sundays at the Hugo House and we're given prompts to create a piece of writing within the span of 20mins or so. Last week's prompt was to create a poem using the answers among a series of questions. Here are the 10 questions I chose to answer:

1) Name the flower you love the most.

2) Your favorite body part, either for what it does or what it looks like.

3) What is your greatest fear?

4) Word that comes to mind with the word "tablecloth".

5) Favorite time of day.

6) A public space where you are uncomfortable.

7) If you could be anywhere else in the world outside of Seattle, where would you be?

8) Soil or tree?

9) Three little pigs or three bears?

10) If you could have one superpower, what would it be?


*For one answer, we had to find a word that rhymed with our response, and use it in the refrain.

Here's what I wrote:

---

Let's say I could teleport anywhere 
in an instant. 
That would be really convenient 
but I'd probably lose all virtues 
of patience.
Like understanding the magic in a seed 
peeking through 
the soil 
or all that went into 
the blossom of a tulip.

The monsters in the concert 
slip past the inattentive.

Most people hate the mornings 
but I don't. 
It's not because I feel great 
upon waking. 
It is because there is 
a chance. 
An opportunity 
to write how life unfolds. 
It is the holy hour 
of strategy. 

The monsters in the concert 
slip past the inattentive.

There is no shame 
in reaching out a hand. 
"Estamos juntos" 
as they say in 
Brazil. 
The three little pigs 
only survived 
shameful demise
because of their 
neighbor.    

Sunday, January 24, 2016

What I have learned through heartbreak.

It's been a little over a year since I returned from Brazil. To say that this past year has been rough would be an understatement. It damn near killed me.

I don't mean that as a figure of speech. I got hit with a staph infection in the first few days I got back, and what began as a small itchy red bump on the side of my stomach quickly grew into a huge blue-and-purple mound that left me hardly able to walk. After three emergency room visits, I found out I had caught MRSA, a strand of staph that can kill a person if left untreated. I was bed-ridden for about three weeks, hopped up on painkillers and antibiotics, and I guess you could say all the inactivity and time with myself drove me a bit crazy. I needed someone to talk to and the one person I wanted to talk to at the time was Flora. We were still kinda-sorta together then, but the problem was that she was never around; in fact, the only times she showed up were in ways that I totally did not need. I don't even know if she thought about me while all of this was going on.

We argued a lot. She'd mark a time to speak to me, then cancel it, or just not show up at all, pretty much what I had been experiencing in person towards the tail-end of my stay in Brazil. I loved the hell out of that girl, but she was also irritating the crap out of me. In the end, I couldn't take it and kept holding her to standards that she couldn't keep. One day it just proved to be too much for her and she said it was over. The feelings dried up. We broke up, like for real this time. I haven't talked to Flora in about half a year. It got to the point where all my interactions with her was like stabbing myself in the chest.

In her defense, what happened was that she started making concerted efforts into becoming a professional musician, which basically meant spending more time playing shows, busking on the subway and practicing in the studio. It also meant just sacrificing things out of her life. I guess I didn't make the cut.

I say this with no sense of exaggeration. My entire world fell apart when we broke up. It unraveled the complete state of shit that is my life. I really had no idea what I was doing. I had and still have no viable way of supporting myself, let alone a family, and it's here that I realize that I have never really taken anything seriously in my life. That's not coming from a place of feeling "sorry" for myself, but an acknowledgement of a side that people might not know about me.

I guess you could say that I didn't handle the situation well. I started sleeping. A LOT. Waking up was like a punishment. It was torture. It was a reminder that this show is still going on and I couldn't do anything about it. I just wanted the channel to be turned off. This is going to sound pathetic, but the only thing that I could muster energy for was to take showers. I took 3 or 4 of them a day. At one point my shower drain clogged and it would take a day for the water to drain out. I'd stand there in my own filth, snot and loose hair not giving a shit.

I lost passion for everything. I slowly watched everything I had built up until that point slip between my fingers, and I somehow convinced myself that I had never earned them in the first place. It was hard to eat. I stopped training. It went on like that for a couple of months. Then I got into this really stupid and horrible car accident that was completely my fault, where I'm pretty sure totaled the other car, and left mine in embarrassing damage. I pulled up my car into the body shop, yet again, to see the same people. It's like a yearly fucking ritual.

And I used to have these dreams. I used to wake up at 3 in the morning everyday, on the fucking dot, screaming, then going into a crying fit. I remember one time the sequence was that I went back to Brazil, just to pick something up and she was there, throwing away some garbage in the hallway. The moment we saw each other everything was forgotten, everything forgiven and we just held each other. I woke up from the dream and immediately started sobbing, mostly because it wasn't real and I wanted more than anything for it to be so.

I hit that point where I didn't know whether life was worth living anymore. I've never been the suicidal type, but I definitely stopped trying. I was just doing enough to get by on the least amount of pain possible. It's like you live in a blackness that never seems to end, but if there's anything I would pass onto to people, I would tell them that it does. If you really want it to, it does.

And in some strange way, dying teaches you how to live. It is in those places where it seems that life is no longer worth living that you find your purpose. You find the reason. Once you see the consequences of not taking control of your life, you are given the choice to live or to die, and you really have to find that place within yourself to save your own life. I don't know how, but I found it. I woke up one day and told myself: I'm not doing this anymore.

The first thing I did was go back to yoga for the sole reason that they had 6:30AM classes and I wanted to force myself out of bed as early as possible. My friend H'rina made me commit to morning pages and we'd Snapchat our three pages to each other every morning with consequences of making one line public to social media if we missed out on one day. I hope she knows how much those pages got me out of the dark places. 

Then I got back to my writing. I somehow managed to retain my position with Vice through the sparse pieces I was writing during my depression. If you read anything I published between the dates of November 2014 to about February 2015, there's a reason why it sucked. Somehow though, I got my ass back to work, and at some point I found myself too busy to stay depressed.

If you're ever in a bad spot and use writing as a tool to get out, then writing about fighters is the best goddamn topic you could ever choose. I heard stories about fighters going through heinous shit about 10 times worse than anything I've ever faced, yet they still show up to the gym. I've heard stories about fighters rebuilding themselves, and trainers who constructed the spaces for them to do so, because more typically than not, they've been there before. And it gave me the opportunity to meet some of the most interesting characters in the business, guys like Ivan Salaverry, Eddie Bravo, and Phoenix Jones. For those of you not tapped into the fighting world, those names might not mean much, but for those of us that are, it's a pretty fucking cool. If I didn't have the pass of a journalist, I would have never gotten a chance to sit down with them one-on-one and have a conversation about how they figured out life. That alone has made this whole ordeal worth it.

I started seeking out interviews, hell, hunting might be the better way to put it, being an absolute pain in the ass for my interviewees because I would constantly pester and bombard them with emails and calls to secure a time to speak with them. I started transcribing interviews the moment I finished them and began writing outlines and pushing myself through those horrible first drafts that make you want to punch yourself in the face. I eventually got used to it all, and the only thing that went through my head was, "Fuck. Why haven't I been doing it like this from the beginning?"

I would have to say that after a decade of sorta writing, this is the first time that I'm taking it seriously, like canceling other obligations or turning down paid work in order to sit in front of a screen and pull my hair out panicking about deadlines. I have no fucking clue how writers do this, but I am learning in a very slow and painful way. What I think people don't really understand about me is that I don't write because I necessarily "like" writing. I write because that is the only thing I have left. I weighed out all the other options in my life, and at least at this juncture in time, writing is the only activity where I don't feel like shooting myself in the face. Writing, for me, is essentially to save my own life.

Discovering all of this has been great in some ways, but also incredibly lonely. It's the same thing I felt when I traveled on my own for two years. I had all these amazing experiences, but it got to the point where I just wanted to share them with someone. The novelty wore off, basically. Some people look at my life and want to be in the position I'm in. It's not that I'm not grateful for all the cool shit I get to do, but some part of me always envied the guy that married the love of his life and worked some mediocre job that he may or may not have loved. I know that's easy to say not living that life, and maybe I'd feel differently being on the other side, but goddamn, I still miss her. A lot of me is just a guy walking around with a broken heart, trying to keep himself distracted.

Overall though, I'm happier, or just more emotionally stable at least. I'm not completely healed, but I am healing. What I've learned in all of this is the following: Respect yourself. Don't go too much further than the other is willing to go. And don't EVER let anyone trample over your heart, even if they are doing it unknowingly. You have to love yourself more than that.

But the thing I've learned about most, is Flora. In doing all this writing, I've found that I've had little time for anything else, even people I care for deeply. I don't really have a choice. I remember one time we got into an argument over her canceling one of our dates and at some point of the conversation she said:

"You don't think I want to drop everything and just be with you? You don't think I want to do that more than anything? But I can't!"

She couldn't see the expression on my face, but it read something like, "Uhhhh...fuck no it does NOT seem like you want to do that at all."

I mean it's not that I really wanted her to do that, the words just didn't match up with her actions; but when after thinking about it a moment longer, I responded by asking, "You really want this music thing, don't you?"

"I have no other choice," she told me.

I guess I'm starting to understand what she meant. I replay a lot of the things she used to say, and I can finally hear what she was trying to tell me: I was getting in the way of her path, and in some ways, she was getting into the way of mine.

I think about Flora every day. Every morning when I wake up. No exception. It doesn't matter that I've stopped calling, texting, looking at pictures and old videos of us together. It doesn't matter how many times in my head I run through the moments where she wronged me. There is still this part of me that is very much in love with her, and I don't really understand why. A lot of people tell me to move on, that it is not healthy for me to keep thinking about her, in which I respond by asking them how to control the first thought that enters your head in the morning. I mean I get where they're coming from, and in many ways, I agree with them. But at the same time, they don't know. They weren't there. They didn't see the things that I saw, feel the ways that I felt, know the truths that I want more than anything to believe to be true.

What I've taken away from all of this, is that you can't "force" someone into a relationship. You cannot guilt them into staying with you out of notions of commitment or hold them to past promises on a present moment that is ever changing. Everything, all of this, is temporary, and when the time comes to say goodbye, you have to learn to let go with grace. It all reminds me of words I once heard in regards to how we should deal with loss. It went something like this:

"When someone leaves, we can be happy or we can be sad. You can choose to be sad, but it's better to be happy for that person, because we don't always know what it is that calls them away."

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Hitchhiker

The first time I ever picked up a hitchhiker was when I returned from my first trip through Latin America. I had received so many rides, impromptu lodging and all sorts of help along the way, that I figured it was the appropriate time to give back. That is, after all, how this shit works, right?

I was driving from Capitol Hill, headed south to a destination I can't quite remember, and I saw a guy holding a cardboard sign with his right thumb sticking out. I pulled to the side of the off-ramp, and peered over to see his face to make sure he didn't look like someone that would rape and maim my body before I let him in. On very much the contrary, he had one of the kindest faces I'd ever seen. He couldn't have been more than 20.

"Where are you headed?" I asked.

"Portland," he said. "How far south are you going?"

"We'll see," I said. "Get in." 

The first thing I told him was why I picked him up, which was basically because of his face. He told me that I wasn't the first person to tell him that. Turns out, he had been traveling for two years on a mission to visit all 50 states, and others like me had helped him based on the sole reason that he had a face that looked trustworthy. Oregon was to be his 49th state, Alaska being the last. His name was Joel, and he had made it thus far on a multitude of ground transport: foot, bike, automobile, but his favorite by far was hopping trains. My guess on his age wasn't too off either. He was 19 and just graduated high school not long ago. He was thinking about going into audio engineering at the college level; the trip was solidifying that decision.

I then went into my own story, about I had spend the last year traveling Latin America on an academic scholarship and all the amazing things that I had seen. I had never done anything as bold as him though. The only time I hitched a ride was in Honduras when I was coming back from the national park in Tegucigalpa.

"Oh man, I always wanted to travel abroad," he said. "No passport though."

"You'll get there soon enough," I told him.

We then commenced on a friendly exchange of stories. He told me a number of anecdotes, all pretty amazing in their own regard, but the one I remember most was this one:

"One time I stopped in this insurance office to stay out of the cold, and I started talking to the receptionist. I told her about my trip, the 50 state mission, and the places I had slept in order to get there. I was maybe a year in. She then told me to wait and went into the back room for ten minutes. When she came back, she took out a piece of paper, wrote some numbers down and said: 'This is your reservation number for the next 2 nights at the Best Western across the street.' I couldn't believe it. I told her there was no way I could accept it, but she told me it had already been paid for and that it shouldn't go to waste. I think I cried right there."

"Wow. That's amazing," I said.

"There are good people in this world," he said.

By this time we were passing Olympia. It was winter, but rays of light streaked through the gray like a river down a mountain, making arbitrary spotlights on the ground below. It was one of the most beautiful scenes I'd ever seen. Joel and I just sat there silently in witness to it, and I realized the reason I had picked up Joel in the first place.

"How far are you taking me?" he asked.

"Eh, I'll just take you the rest of the way," I shrugged.

It was dark by the time we got into Oregon. We pulled into the first diner and I treated him to a meal. He was vegetarian, so he only had some soup and a side salad. I had something along the same lines. Before we parted, I gave him all the money in my wallet, which was about 7 dollars. I apologized for the amount, but he treated it like he won the lottery. I gave him my email and told me to stay in touch, to contact me when he made it to state 50. And that was it. I never saw Joel again.

About 3 months later, I'm sitting at my computer and I get this email from an address I don't recognize. It's Joel. The email is long, but he told me all about his time since we last saw each other. He told me how grateful he was for the ride and that he'll never forget meeting me. I'll never forget the picture he attached with his message. It was a photo of him with two girls in Colombia. I recognized the background. It was Parque Tyrona on the north coast.

"Son of a bitch," I mumbled to myself, "he did it."

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Snapshot

We were having a late breakfast at her father's house in Volta Redonda, about two hours outside of Rio. I don't remember the plate exactly, something like rice with garbanzo beans and peas, something healthy. Her family was that type. I proceeded to do this thing that I used to do with Grace, which was to use my nose as a beak and peck some part of the body of another person. She sort of stared at me and asked, "What was that?" I replied by peaking her harder and in grander scale. She then put two pecks of her own on my shoulder before I stopped her.

"Oh, you can't do that," I said. "You can't peck."

"What? Says who?"

I sort of shrugged my shoulders to make time for the first thought that came into my mind. For whatever reason it was this:

"Says the law of men and women."

She looked at me for a moment, and I wondered if it was because she was wondering whether or not I was serious. But based on what she said next, it wasn't that. She was just trying to find the appropriate response.

"I'm gonna start a movement," she said. Then she started off in a protest chant. "E-qual rights! Every-one can peck!

She then mimed taking of her bra and swinging it around in the air over her head while yelling "Wooooooooooo!"


See. This is why I loved (and still love) this girl.