Looking Back (and Traveling)

International Travel, Music

There is a lyric by Steven Wilson that’s been on my mind a lot lately: “Strange how you never become / The person you see when you’re young.” As I creep further into my fourth decade, I suppose it’s not unexpected to find myself looking back. When I was younger, my passion was writing. I was not only going to be a writer, but a great writer. I wanted to rival William Faulkner, with Cormac McCarthy revealing that great writing could still exist in this digital age. While an undergraduate, I drafted out two novels and a short story collection. Stories and poems of mine started appearing in small journals and anthologies.

In grad school, I shifted to mostly writing poetry, as poems can be quicker to draft than a story or novel. A decade later my first poetry collection was published, with my second and third following a few years later. I have a fourth collection in draft form and a fifth researched but never written. Only thing is, I rarely write any more and can’t imagine finishing any of these unfinished collections. I’ve become an academic and a scholar, the demon-driven writer in me driven down. Or maybe the demon has just changed focus from writing to traveling.

One thing that drives my traveling is time—I want to see as much as I can in the time I have. This is founded somewhat in experience. I never expected to lose both of my parents before I turned forty and have this nagging little voice that likes to remind me now and again that the men in my family tend to not make it far past sixty, if they make it to sixty at all. It’s not a contest or a race; I just try not to pass up an opportunity to see something I haven’t seen before (or find something new in a familiar land).

So this finds me getting ready to depart on another expedition—seven countries in ten weeks. Every time I embark on a longer trip, I tell myself it will be the last—I’m getting too old for it and would prefer shorter outings. Yet, there’s another little nagging voice reminding me that life’s short and unpredictable in many ways. Besides, the person you become may be more interesting than the one you imagine when you’re young.


Posted in response to: http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/03/10/weekly-writing-challenge-golden-years/

Weekly Writing Challenge: Object


Here’s another one from the archives, this time from my second poetry collection, Pagan Blues (2007):


I have placed it on the alter
for the devout to devour.

I have buried it in sand
forsaking it to the sun.

I have left it near the edge
letting gravity run its course.

I have split it in two
exposing it for the gods.

I have set it on the pyre
transforming it to ash.

I have ground it to dust
scattering it at sea.

I have hung it from a cross
skewering its side.

I have named it
and left it unnamed.

Posted in response to: http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/02/24/writing-challenge-object/

Weekly Writing Challenge: The Sound of Silence


Was reminded of this poem, which was written as part of a series of poems that ended up in my first poetry collection, In a Strange Land (2003). It didn’t make the cut and has remained unpublished, though still seems timely given recent events.



A favorite teacher once lost me here,
holding steadfast to his belief in the Creation,
casting off opposing views with a zealot’s indignation.
I tried to introduce a third option for those of us
between primates and miracles, but was silenced.

Then you with your grey eyes closed as I read to you,
hours of exchanges between us, a lifetime of discovery
that could have been, but again this issue.
“How can it even be considered a science?”
you once asked. I was struck silent.


Posed in response to: http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/02/17/the-sound-of-silence/

Prior to the Pageant (Gonzo Writing Challenge)

Southern California

“Is it a penguin? No, . . . a pelican? No . . . you know, they have ’em at the zoo. They look like they’re in suits.” “Penguins.” “They don’t have knees.” “What?” “Penguins don’t have knees.” “Birds don’t have knees, do they?” “Sure they do. But penguins don’t.” This is the most interesting conversation surrounding me while I wait for the display of five pieces at this Working Press Night preview of the Pageant of the Masters, which doesn’t formally begin for another month. I am cold and regretting having my hair cut short the day before.

I arrived an hour earlier and toured backstage with my obligatory name tag among a herd of others equally branded. I felt like a blood cell trying to work my way through a clogged artery. Four hundred press in attendance and most seemed interested in blocking my way. In my slow crossing I can see some makeup being administered to a young man simultaneously being blinded by the seemingly constant flash photography. I also notice that along the upper edges of the beige walls are painted Styrofoam heads, sequentially numbered, giving the makeup artists sculpted guides to follow.

Flash. Another photo taken. I work my way past wardrobe, past the few available individuals being interviewed by short, gray haired men with blue-inked ball-point pens and flip-top notepads, to the wall of photographs depicting past glories in the field of “living pictures,” as they put it—essentially cast members painted and outfitted and placed in life-sized art, portraying lovers or baseball players or intricate ornaments. My eye wanders to a vacant corner of the opposite wall where an Emergency Exit Plan is hanging.

So I’ve been sitting in this firm, narrow chair in Laguna’s Irvine Bowl amphitheater for an hour, listing to the slowly gathering others talk about their first times. One lady behind me says hers was back in ’69 and that she’s been coming back for more every year. Another’s was five years ago but this is her first time back. It is only women discussing their first times. I don’t let on that this is mine.

An hour in the growing dark and gathering fog and forty-five minutes behind schedule, the presentation of the pieces finally begins. By this time so many camera operators have coalesced on the platform set up for them before the stage that I am sure those of us behind them are going to see the collapse of more than the Berlin Wall during our lifetimes. The exhibition lasts less than thirty minutes in all, including four minute staging periods between pieces. I wonder about the lady whose first time was back in ’69 and whether it is still as good for her now as it was then. I am too numb from the night’s increasing chill to contribute my own response.

Backstage and up-close the makeup work seemed rough, nearly amateurish, and the outfitting too brash and cartoonish, but on stage, properly lit, the living pictures do become art. At once these scenes are transformed from people made-up in oversized settings to an artist’s bold brush strokes or the distinctive look of cool porcelain. Of the five pieces shown the first and fifth are the best. The first, an eighteenth century “Pastoral Fantasy,” for it portrays the delicacies of miniature porcelain with great detail and color; the fifth, “Perfume Bottle,” for it is a striking, sculpted form set against a black backdrop, and because I have a thing for nude women painted gold, arching their backs.

As I leave I realize two things: The small band in the corner is playing the same song they were when I entered the park two hours prior, and that the fair amount of press that had left before the fifth piece was displayed did so so they could be first in line for the free food. Grilled chicken. Smells good, but it is late and I am numb and have a long drive home.


Posted in response to: http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/01/13/gonzo-writing-challenge/
Image from http://www.foapom.com/pageant-of-the-masters/

It’s The End of the World as We Know It

International Travel

sjc_04It’s December 23, 2012 and I’m in San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico, for what many say is the day the Mayans have prophesied as the end of the world. Of course, in reality today marks the end of the previous Mayan calendar and there are no more Maya around to start the next one, but what’s a decade without at least one predicted apocalypse?

It’s a rainy day and I’ve joined a small group heading out to San Juan Chamula, located in the Chiapas highlands, known for its rebels. In fact, we pass truckloads of rebels driving into San Cristobal while we are heading out, replete with masks and rifles and an uncertain purpose.

San Juan Chamula enjoys unique autonomous status within Mexico. No outside police or military are allowed in the village and Chamulas have their own police force. We’re dropped off in front of a small cemetery and walk through the rain into the center of town. While visiting their church, home to a unique blend of traditional Maya beliefs with Catholic practices, we are witness to a shaman’s sacrifice. None of the locals seem to notice—they pass along to find the altar they are looking for, the one that will hear their prayers. I sit to the side and watch the shaman. He is kneeling, chanting, and rocking gently back and forth all while holding a very passive chicken. After going into a transe-like state, the shaman cleansers the chicken over the smoke from the rows of candles lit in front of him before twisting the bird’s neck. The chicken convulses a few times before becoming still and being placed back into the plastic bag it was brought in. After a few more chants, the shaman rises and leaves.

We follow this with a home visit in neighboring San Lorenzo Zinacantán, though this home is also a market and cafeteria. It’s good to know that on the last day of the world, after the sacrifices have been made, one can still get in a little shopping.

Posted in response to: http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/12/02/weekly-writing-challenge-snapshots/