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 
The three little pigs 
only survived 
shameful demise
because of their 

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


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.