Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Eleventy One

A peculiar house sits at the end of the block--a low ranch made of long flat limestones with lava lamps sitting near the front windows and a vibe that doesn't seem so Third Reichish, or Third Shiftish, as is quite common around here. Last February, on a cold winter's night, I strolled past, noted the three lava lamps in their fluid movements through the sheer drapes, thought, "Wow--hippies in Miamisburg, Ohio," and then just happened to look at the house number, which is 111, though it sits on Twelfth Street.

The number seemed significant somehow. A friend and fellow writer has told me on a number of occasions that the occurrence of a triad is noteworthy. When I got home, I noted it in my journal, but didn't say anything else about it. I've walked past that house a number of times this year, and each time, I look at those numbers, wondering what they might mean, but never enough to continue thinking about it to the end of the block, where I turn at the corner and start making my way home.

The past few months have had two very different but distinct edges to them. On one hand, it's been a time of significant personal growth as I've had to come to terms with what it means to trust my intuition, to realize that my underlying beliefs have me living in a hateful and belligerent universe rather than a loving and balanced one. With a number of cliffs and drop offs coming into view, as I've wondered what the next step will be, I've kept hearing my inner guide telling me, "Just relax and learn to listen through the noise of your anxious thoughts," which is "the other hand." Overall, I think I've done an okay job handling this dichotomy, but I've had moments of sheer panic and outright despair. Each time, I trace my steps back to four years ago, when I left Minnesota to begin this adventure in California, where the adventure began with the disintegration of everything I thought my life was--a disintegration that continued until I thought there was nothing else that could possibly fall apart.

As I've wondered, wondered, and wondered still again where my life is headed, I've thought about 111, and on occasion, it has occurred to me that it just might mean January 11, or even January (20)11. But I can't tell you how many times I've tried to patch such premonitions and signs together into something and only wound up with a quilt of disappointment. In moments of despair, the darker side of myself laughed, scorned such ridiculousness, but always with a hint of fever and desperation, as if despite his cynicism, he held some vague hope as well that perhaps 1/11, whatever it means, just might mean a new start in a new year.

After a joyous time with my family over the Christmas weekend, I swam in the dark matter of doubt and fear, wondering, again, what my next steps should be, especially after paying bills and wondering how it's all going to fit together. Mom was giving me a ride home, and I happened to look at a mailbox that had the number 888 on it. It immediately reminded me of my friend's idea of the importance of triads. I thought again of 111. 

Later, I took a walk around town, trying to air out my head and return myself to a state of equilibrium. I wound up at the cemetery--a place I often go because I know the people won't bug me too much, though I haven't gone there much lately. As I was heading toward the place where I'd come in, I noted a line of cars coming in for a burial. I've noted a reluctance of drivers in this area to share the road with pedestrians. I didn't want to face potentially angry and grieving drivers on those narrow cemetery lanes, so on two different occasions, took turns that would eventually lead me to a different entrance and out on the main street where I'd never have chosen to walk because of the noisy traffic.

As I walked down the busy street, I looked up and saw the street sign, "Eleventh Street." I stared at the sign because I'd noticed that sign before and since it has the words (Eleventh) rather than numbers (11th), I'd often, because of my mild case of dyslexia, read it as "Elveneth" Street. I looked at the sign, thinking of all of the various permutations of the letters, even throwing something about Elvis in there for good measure, but never thought about it more than laughing to myself for my own jocularity. It wasn't until this morning, the next day, that I realized how the synchronous events of a death, a burial, and the timing that had me, on two occasions, avoiding funeral traffic and eventually ending up out on a street where I'd see the sign ELEVENTH.

Last night, I did a meditation based on a book I'm reading by Martha Beck, where you reach into your own future and try to get a bodily sense of what is there. It's complicated, so I won't go into it, but by all accounts, it really seems as if something is about to happen. I'd really appreciate that, but I've learned enough to know to detach. Whatever the case, I'm going to start living as I would if 111 means I've got about two weeks before something significant happens. At the very least, living as if it is true might help me know what to do if 111 and the other interesting connections to it are nothing more than a random occurrences. Whether January 11, 2011 (11111) is an important date or not, I'll blog about it. 

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Wisdom form a Wayward Boy

I’ve been working on my book Wayward Son and wanted to share some of my favorite passages.

On being a missionary…

“My wife and I were a particular brand of missionaries called 'Bible translators.' As a part of that very specific goal, we’d joined the Summer Institute of Linguistics (typically referred to as SIL) and come to Ethiopia to help fulfill its mission of documenting the complex interaction of the one hundred languages in the country, their status as either literate or preliterate, and then determining the possibility of developing a writing system for them. Once a language has an alphabet, speakers learn to read and write it. Then, they develop a body of vernacular literature by writing down their oral traditions, by encouraging indigenous writers to create texts, and by translating texts from other languages—such as health and government documents, and, for our purposes, the Old and New Testaments. Bending a few facts here and there and conveniently leaving out certain information, it’s not difficult to make all of this sound really good on paper, but as with the majority of issues involved with intercultural relations, it’s fraught with all kinds of hidden agendas and opportunism, which tends to generate certain controversy. A lot has been done over the centuries in the name of loyalty to Christ and his message—from the Crusades to Vacation Bible School—that a good number of people are reluctant to label 'good' and 'noble.' Missionary work is included on that list, not far below the Crusades.”

On marriage…

“Experts call these relationships 'codependent.' I suppose that label works well enough. In the years to come, I was the screw up, the fuck up, the jackass who could never seem to get it right, whereas Faye was the strong, motherly type who knew how to make it all work, kept tabs on all the goings on, and held me accountable to the system of rules and principles that kept her life running smoothly—at least as far as she was concerned. And thus, early on, before I even had any idea that a relationship was developing, we established the rules of engagement for what our relationship would be. A tacit pair of rules governed our interactions, one being that in times of uncertainty, Faye would make the decision, and the second being that I had to intuit Faye’s decision from her cryptic clues and verbalize it so that it appeared that I, the man of the family, had made the decision.

On growing up…

“Adults in my world made little sense to my childish brain. They exploded suddenly into fits of rage. They complained incessantly how inconvenient it was to have children. They always seemed worried that I’d play with my penis when they weren’t watching, or see my female cousins naked. They always seemed angry and unhappy, except when we went to church. Magically, upon stepping through the front doors into the narthex, they suddenly became smiling, easy-going people who talked about Jesus and how wonderful it was to be 'saved.' (That’s insider lingo that means, 'being a Christian.' The idea is you are saved from going to hell.) It’s funny how family life in working-class family culture is consistently labeled “dysfunctional.” It’s really super-functional. What person with high self-esteem, who knows his better qualities, and has had encouragement and opportunities to practice and hone them, and who has hope in a kinder and gentler world is going to readily work in a factory or join the ranks of the enlisted military? Working class parents perform their societal duty in consistently producing young people who feel it is somehow right and fitting to waste their lives doing menial work or risking them for sake of the State and its imperialist agenda. For these people, Christianity offers hope of heaven after we die. It doesn’t have to be much to be better than what we have on this earth. For a low-down, dirty, disgusting sinner, what more should I expect anyway? Thank Jesus I’m saved.”

On reasons to become an Evangelical…

“Over the years, I’d heard a number of stories of people getting in trouble with the law, tripped out and fucked up on drugs, lost in prostitution, lost in the wilderness, and being crippled, maimed, or made grotesque in freak accidents. What was it going to take for me to live my life for God? The question hung in my mind like a threat. I imagined Dad losing control of the car and he, Mom, and me being rushed to the hospital on bloody gurneys. Among my most cherished abilities was playing the guitar and drawing pictures. What if I was crippled and could no longer enjoy these activities?”

On the motivation for religion…

“‘The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,’ Proverbs 1:7 reads. If 'knowledge' is a body of teachings that requires the learner to see herself as a human turd with no intrinsic ability to know, as a reprehensible sinner with no hope beyond some outside force transforming her into something worthwhile, then whoever wrote that proverb is right. We begin at a place of deficiency and end up under another human’s control. ‘The LORD’ is nothing more than a cardboard effigy that the teacher points to for credence. ‘Religion is the opiate of the people,’ Karl Marx wrote, a kind of sentential synonym of Proverbs 1:7, a rhetorical counterpart. To stupefy people with religion, there must be some underlying fear in them, a fear directly rooted in the inability to trust your own sense of things, to be in a place where someone else has to tell you what truth and knowledge is.”

On the death of a friend…

“So many years later, I could stop feeling angry that Rachel had died and realize that there were so many more people out there in the world, outside the church, on a path to knowing themselves, finding, identifying, and sticking to the core of truth that exists in each one of us, the truth that’s mirrored and reflected in an unspoiled night sky, in a majestic comet, in the vast and fathomless ocean, in the beauty of nature, in the golden sunlight dancing on the waves of a crater lake, in the weight and warmth of my newborn daughter and son lying in my arms, in the warm and tender touch of a lover’s hand against my cheek or playing with a lock of my hair. After so many years of casting myself against the jagged rocks along the shores of Evangelicalism, I finally found my courage and swam away. I listened to the very message of God to me in the words of a Classic Rock hit and carried on into the mystery that had drawn me since those days as a boy, when sitting in the silver maple looking to the blue hills north of town, I felt the pain of it’s call and knew something good was happening deep down inside.”

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Actualize This

Following my path from this point and going forward requires first that I trust, and then that I accept. I always thought that trust meant believing that my needs would be met. This is true to a certain degree, but the idea existed with a set of underlying assumptions about what “needs” means. In point of fact, I don’t really know what I need, not in the fullest sense of the word. Maslow’s hierarchy might serve as some kind of paradigm for establishing needs in a broad sense. The trick comes in assessing just exactly what “food,” “shelter,” and “safety” mean. If the greatest aspiration of man is self-actualization, it seems, according to Maslow’s hierarchy, that this state won’t exist unless I first have these things. The problem comes in recognizing that not having food, not having shelter, not feeling safe might be part of a process that leads to self-actualization.

If you look at the greatest stories, there always seems to be a point where the hero is deprived of the lower “needs” on Maslow’s pyramid. He comes to the lowest point, rock bottom, and realizes that it isn’t in fact the lower part of the pyramid that he needs, but to reach deep down within himself and access, actualize something that has lain there dormant, unused, locked up, suppressed, or hidden. The need for safety, the need for shelter, the need for food, these all pale in comparison to the need to know oneself and bring out something that completes the hero, gives him a new horizon from which to gauge his bearings.

If we view “needs” in this way, the very definition of trust is transformed. No longer am I standing in a field, homeless, while jackals wait in the shadows, ready to tear me limbless and eat my entrails wondering why God has forsaken me, why she has disregarded my pleas to give me what I need. Trust looks at each situation, knowing that whatever happens is best in terms of the highest aspirations of humans, whether you want to call it “self-actualization” or merely “following my path.” If I stand in a field, homeless, ready to be killed, trust requires that I accept this situation as the very best place for me to be in.

Sure, we might talk about preferences, about conveniences, about “druthers,” as my Uncle Merle would say. So many times I’ve been in places and felt abandoned and forsaken. When my income waned and waned and eventually stopped coming, when my girlfriend left and married another man, when day after day I woke up and went to bed in a lonely apartment with few friends and no family living nearby, I would rather have had the things I felt deprived of. The perspective of trust and acceptance, however, requires me to reframe my entire existence to understand, know, and believe that whatever befalls me is ultimately a part of the larger and more encompassing process of getting me to that place of self-actualization. This always has the potential of including experiences wherein I don’t have access to those items on the lower part of Maslow’s hierarchy.

I recently made yet another revision of Wayward Son, my memoir about the significant turning point that came in my life as a direct result of having gone to Ethiopia to be a Bible translator. That was one of the darkest and most difficult times in my life. When I initially wrote the rough draft, I was angry:  angry with the mission, angry with my colleagues, angry with Evangelicalism, angry with my ex-wife. My focus was on the pain I felt. Every word, sentence, and paragraph I composed intended in some way to convey the struggles I went through and how difficult that time had been for me. As I worked through subsequent revisions, I was also working through the second most difficult time in my life, the period of two and a half years that it took me to trust that the Universe had done the right thing in taking my ex-girlfriend away and accepting that I could live a meaningful life without her. During this phase, Wayward Son began to shape up as a process of becoming. While in Ethiopia, I went from trying to find meaning and purpose within Evangelicalism to taking the first very feeble steps toward self-actualization. The process of getting over the breakup helped me understand better the process of transformation that unfolded in Ethiopia and after.

But it isn’t the process that informs us most nobly of the mysterious forces that direct our fate and destiny. This was a difficult lesson to learn because the process is so important. You can’t arrive at the destination point without the process. It’s necessary, and some part of it must be told in the story, but only the most important and transformative events that lead up to the place where the hero experiences at least some aspect of self-actualization. The goal of the story, it’s teleology, is the hero’s appropriation of some aspect of his truest self, not only his recognition for the need of it (as most British films seem sufficiently happy to tell), or even taking steps toward that change—the ensuing struggle—but getting through that struggle and existing in the new state.

Wayward Son never told that final stopping point, where I came to exist as a transformed man. That transformation was tied directly to my experiences as a missionary in Ethiopia, but those experiences weren’t the story. In those experiences, I felt abandoned, alone, forsaken, and forlorn. In the end, I had to come to see that it was those very experiences that opened the way for me to be a different kind of person than the henpecked, emasculated, cowardly boy who got on a plane and landed in Ethiopia. I’d always known that, but I’d failed to show the final stages of the process, when I made decisions to follow the threads of self-actualization rather than constantly seeking to have the “needs” on the lower part of the pyramid met.
I think Maslow was onto something. I’ve never read his works to know how he develops his ideas, only the rarified versions you find in college textbooks—not the kind of place to look for inspiration for staring in your own hero’s tale. As I understand it, Maslow was himself an actualized person. He didn’t come to that without passing through a process like that which I’ve been describing. I’m suspicious that the hierarchy is presentes as the Hierarchy (with a capital H) and how it really rather supports the very bourgeois approach to life that demands comfort and stability, “and then, I’ll worry about self-actualization.” It’s the very kind of mindset that enslaves, that helps build the walls of fear that so efficiently keep us from following the deepest strains in our hearts. It’s a mindset that has allowed me to conveniently circumvent self-actualization all these years in favor of “keeping it Baptist,” as I like to say, which means nominal, non-threatening, neat, pink, and clean.
Joseph Campbell says we enter our story by going to the darkest part of the woods, not knowing exactly what we will meet, but knowing that whoever we are coming out on the other side of the woods, the process that unfolded inside the woods was worth it. I can look back on my experiences in Ethiopia now and can say honestly, “It was perhaps the most difficult two and a half years of my life, but I had to go there, and I’m glad I did.”

Friday, September 24, 2010

Learning to Accept

Within hours of arriving back in Miamisburg, I walked down to Kroger (a local grocery store chain) to get some victuals. On my way back, I approached the entrance to a gas station out on Central Ave., the main drag through Miamisburg. A silver '70s model Chevy pickup truck passed and I heard a feminine voice shout something incoherent at me. Most of the drive by shoutings I've experienced in this town have happened near that particular spot. Perhaps there's a sign on the road there that reads, "Shout at pedestrians" and for whatever reason I haven't spotted it yet.

Even better, last night I rode 5 miles up to Walmart along the "bike route." The "bike route" is really a sidewalk that turns into the shoulder of the road. You know it's a bike route from the tiny green sign that reads "bike route" that has a corresponding picture of a bicycle. I stopped at a red light, and when it turned green, I proceeded into the intersection and was nearly run over by an old guy in a white, monogrammed polo shirt driving a Lexus. He stopped short and laid on the horn--a mere three feet from my ear--and then squealed his tires when I got out of his majesty's way. I turned around to look at the old fart, as if to say, "What in the world is wrong with you?" surprised to see that he had the exact same look on his face. I was a split second from flipping him the bird, but thought better of it and just continued on my way.

Souls come into this life to have different kinds of experiences. This is something I have constantly to remind myself of, especially living here in Ohio. The people in this area, I suppose, came into this life to live a relatively challengeless existence. Perhaps they are young souls who haven't had the experience of facing significant travail, or they experienced serious turmoil in the previous life and are here to just take it easy, roll along, and not have to think too much about anything. In this world, you can drive your Lexus without having to worry about cyclists riding on a "bike route," impeding your passage to the Country Club. Or perhaps, you don't have to consider that ambulating is a function with more purposes than taking you to the refrigerator to get a beer, a snack, or both. Shouts from old silver Chevies is the result of absolute surprise and wonder.

Living here, I feel the oppressive weight of constriction and judgment. In taking on a life of relative ease and lack of challenge, the trade off is that anything different or out of the ordinary presents a supreme challenge. Anything not experienced before is not only confusing, but very likely also evil. This is the climate I grew up in and through it, somehow managed to overcome this small universe and live a life of relative diversity and variety, appreciating differences, even seeking them out.

So, why did I come into this life in this particular place in the world? First, I needed to overcome the stultifying stench of conformity and Fascism. I had to learn to be an individual with wildly erratic impulses in a world that tends to slap down anything that falls outside the ten commandments. Second, I needed to learn to accept that some souls simply aren't ready for that. For them, it's a challenging life. Like the hiker who traverses continents who comes upon people complaining about having to walk a mile to get somewhere, I have to learn to see that not everyone has come to this world to expand, to explore, to tear down walls, to think outside the box.

"You get what you give," I've heard people say. If I want acceptance, I must give acceptance. For the time that I'm here in Miamisburg, I will endeavor to accept that these people are exactly where they need to be. I realize I'm not and am going to do everything I can to get to California and live there. In the meantime, "Hello Mr. Aristocrat in a monogrammed polo and Lexus. You go on ahead. The people at the country club are just dying to see you." And, "to you in the silver Chevy, I'm not from another planet, but I can see how you might think that. Don't worry, I'm going home to eat some beans and cornbread. Just close your eyes and in a minute I'll be gone."

Monday, September 20, 2010

Out of the Fog

Realizations can come like a flash in the pan. One moment, I stand in complete confusion, not knowing what steps to make, and the next, there is clear direction and a sense of purpose. Not that I'm particularly happy with where I'm headed at the moment. I fly out of LA tomorrow back to Miamisburg, Ohio. I've come to terms with this decision and no longer see it as failure.

About two months ago, I had this idea of going out to LA for a week or so to get the lay of the land, meet people, get around, see what it's like, etc. This trip has been very much like that, I have met such incredible people. I've met so many interesting people who have encouraged me during times when I felt so afraid and uncertain. So, I made my short trip and have seen that I fit here, that this is a place where I could flourish. I'll go home, write my ass off and do whatever I can to get my screenplays into production, perhaps have to file for bankruptcy, but we'll see.

When I was in Mankato, when I just happened to show up at the University as the watercolor painting class was painting, I felt I'd found my tribe. Later that afternoon, I met an eighty-one year old psychic healer at Cub Foods, yet another member, perhaps a shaman in that tribe. This was the day after my catharsis in Sakatah State Park, of learning to trust the Universe, that she is always concerned with my highest good no matter how it feels to me. Those moments were like a death, and the very next day, I was re-born into a new phase. I've come into a time of attracting my tribe--people who see the world similarly to myself.

This past weekend I met a woman who is studying at Fuller Theological Seminary (one of the three leading Evangelical seminaries in the country). In many ways, we have been on a very similar journey of becoming fed up with Evangelicalism, but she's stayed inside while I've gone outside. This experience reminded of a time when I spoke to my pastor in Irving, Texas, perhaps eight years ago. I explained my radical thoughts to him and his response was, "You're a prophet. God has put you here to challenge the church." His words resonated at the time, but have long gone dormant since I disavowed my Evangelical beliefs. But in meeting the seminary student, I'm considering opening my heart to the possibility that there is still something to it, though I have to say I'd really rather have nothing to do with the church. But the more important point is that meeting such fascinating people is the connection between the Minnesota Bike Tour and the LA Reconnaissance Tour. They are two phases of the same journey. I intend to write an essay about it and will try to get it published.

I really don't like Ohio. It was difficult to live there. But I believe there must still be some remaining karma for me to work out--otherwise, why go back at what seems to me a very critical moment? One thing is I know I need to be more accepting of others. I also need to learn to live in the moment and not try so hard to figure out what's coming down the road. I almost never get it right anyway, so I'm going to try to stop trying to figure it out. I know that I will write screenplays and be paid for them, but I don't currently know how I will get from A to B. I accept this next stage and will do my best to be the man I need to be under those circumstances and try to enjoy myself in the process.

Miamisburg, Ohio residents Fred Lucas and Billy Rae Le Suer find themselves resistant to the current "faggot" direction things are going with Mark Weaver walking and riding a "gad-derned" bicycle everywhere.

One thing I've learned on this two-pronged tour is that the Universe often brings things to us to get us to see who we are in comparison to our potential. She doesn't care how much it hurts either--consider the Holocaust in Germany. Sometimes all we can do is just bear the pain and get through it. Nevertheless, there is gold in those painful moments if we are willing to dig. Digging's hard and it often requires that we act or think in ways that challenge us at deep levels, as I wrote in a recent post. Our highest good is always her goal, and she doesn't care what pain we experience to get us there. The Universe can be quite ruthless, but it seems it's better to go with her flow than to resist it.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Into the Fog

Sodium vapor lamps over parking lots dotted the night like spots of burning sun in the mist. I walked down along Muscle Beach toward Venice through a fog that grew even more dense the longer I was out. Down on the beach path, the lights of the amusement park on the pier shone only as a pastel luminescence hanging in the white sheen. Fellow exercisers, walking, running, biking, skateboarding, came to and fro, passing me, me passing them, in and out of the fog like wraiths seeking solace. I stood in the shadow of an empty beach cafe, shielded from the orange glow of the parking lot lights. "Please make the way for me to stay in LA and establish my screenwriting career," I said in prayer to the Universe.

There are those times when you aren't sure what the next step is going to be. I've been in LA for about ten days now, having come out with the idea of staying, and on several occasions since being here, it has seemed that this will be my home for awhile. But the experience of this week has left a pool of ambiguity in my heart. It's as if I walk along in a fog, and all I have to go on is the internal compass, and then I constantly question it, wondering if it is really telling me to go here or there. 

I joined CouchSurfers.org earlier this week and contacted three of four people. The only people that responded where a couple who are able to allow me to sleep in an extra bedroom until Sunday. That will be a day of reckoning because it's at that point that the path ahead is quite vague. On that bike trip through Central Minnesota, a significant lesson that emerged was learning to trust the Universe. Leaving from camp in the morning, I needed to trust that I'd both make it to the next destination and that there would be a place for me to pitch a tent that night. Having learned that lesson to whatever degree I was able, soon, my path led me back to the Twin Cities and then out here.

It's been a great struggle this week as I have had to acknowledge that whatever happens, it is what is best for me. After contacting couch surfing hosts earlier in the week, I had to trust that those appointed to do so would respond. The week has passed, my stay at the hostel is finished, and I look toward Sunday as the edge of the abyss, not sure exactly what's going to happen or turn up. As one of my previous posts explored, there is a real possibility that I might end up setting up a bed roll next to some homeless guys down on Ocean Ave.

The Original "Muscle Beach," possible bed-down
spot in Mark's immediate future.

A certain number of mental leaps are required to accept that sleeping out on the sandy lawn along Ocean Avenue is what's best for me, but that's the direction things have gone. The fail-safe is going back to Miamisburg, Ohio, and that's a real possibility in my mind as I enter this weekend. Does that constitute failure? It feels that way. And then there's the question of whether that is going to lead to anything in a nowhere, working-class town where I feel about as comfortable as a whale on a beach.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


What’s the baseline of comfort and security, even of propriety, decency, and dignity. In some way, all of these define the boundaries of fear. I don’t want to be uncomfortable; I don’t want to be embarrassed; I don’t want to be naked, alone, in some place where my person and material items are vulnerable, in some place where someone might think lesser of me. In all of these, there is a way to feel afraid. And where there is the presence of fear, there is an opportunity for someone to take advantage of me or manipulate me.

In finding these boundaries, I have strangely come upon the boundaries of ego. It's so easy to think of all of these rules, restrictions, and preference as comprising my essence, of defining who I am in the fullest sense, of making some absolute statement of who Mark Weaver is supposed to be. But I'm finding that these boundaries fail as I move through scary situations. I move through them and see the parameters of self change. I hold onto the limited and limiting aspects of ego, and somewhere in the transfer, of the exchange, of the experience, some aspects of myself are lost, and only because I haven't allowed myself to be defined that way.

Courage can be defined in so many ways, but a part of courage is a willingness to let myself and others perceive me as something that is uncomfortable for me. As I write it, it seems so petty and I wonder if it's really an insight. But it is. It is because I know how much it scares me to think of being homeless. It isn't so much sleeping on the street that bothers me, but the boundary it crosses, the redefinition of self that occurs when you become someone standing on the outside looking in.

Those inside may look out at you with hatred, fear, loathing, or pity, but none of these is flattering. It's that very place that I fear being, where I am no longer defined as one of the "proper" aspects of society, but one of the dregs, the shadows, the shameful and embarrassing. Courage in this instance is a willingness to be something that others would view differently than what I prefer. And this fear is one that is used to keep me in a cage, one that consistently has me reconnoitering my plans so that I might avoid transgressing the boundaries of propriety, dignity, and acceptance.

The Universe doesn't care what my ego thinks or feels. She doesn't care about his petty rules and laws, nor the tantrums he throws when things fall "out of order." The Universe cares that who I really am rises above the constraints of this existence. I turn it into suffering, and I might be considered brave for enduring whatever indignities the Universe might toss my direction. But it does take courage because it all looks, feels, tastes, and sounds so real and important, enough that I've spent most of my life selling my soul for dignity, propriety, and others' opinions.

Monday, September 13, 2010

So Many Cool People

Sitting at Rapidan Dam a week and a half ago, contemplating whether I should continue to go forward or head back to the Twin Cities, I was unaware of my path forward from that point. It was like standing in a dense fog and simply walking forward. The road out to Mankato and back was lonely, especially as I contemplated traversing literally thousands of miles of rural highway through the heartland of our country. There were times that I felt that loneliness keenly, accepting it, knowing that at times in life it is actually better to be alone and naked against the world, that sometimes--perhaps often--the road forward requires it.

Looking back over the landscape of my life, I remember the intense loneliness I felt at times. As a child, hiding my true nature to avoid the cruel scrutiny of those who would ridicule what they couldn't understand. The parched lands of religion, where judges and teachers are a dime a dozen, but friends rank among the nonexistence. The dark days in Ethiopia when I feared facing the truth that religion was not what I thought it should be, and there were no others to admit it. A lifeless, sexless marriage. The desperation of loving someone too much, perhaps for good reasons, but not knowing the necessity of detachment. It was when I realized that loneliness is not the worst fate to befall us, but to abandon oneself to end loneliness is perhaps the worst crime we can commit.

Immediately after arriving at the hostel, I began to make friends, people I doubted existed in the world, people looking to live full, rich lives with courage and vision, trusting their instincts and turning a deaf ear to naysayers. This is a tribe of people who have come to know themselves and use that knowledge to live the life they know they should.

One of the things I learned during the dark days of grief was that we tend to attract people who validate our view of the world. However we conceive relationships, others, and their affects upon us, people will come into our lives that make such conclusions and assumptions irrefutable within the context of our experiences. The encouraging thing is that perhaps the cool people emerging in my life are the result of my own acquiring of a different set of beliefs.

One day after the next, I have met one person after another who shares a passion for life, for living it to the fullest, for standing against fear and embracing the destiny that is unfurling before them. At times when it seems the way has gotten dark and threatening, someone comes along who says, "You're doing the right thing. Hang in there. Hold on. Believe." My new friend Tracy told me today, "You belong in LA. You need to stay here. You can do it. God will give you what you need."

I'm here to stay. I've found my place. I'm finding my tribe. I'm finding my destiny.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Long Way

The shuttle ride to the hotel last night wasn't bad, except that for me it was nearly 2:00 AM. Even if it were 2:00 PM, I'd have been in a bad way because I'd taken not one, but two doses of Dramamine to keep from feeling sick on the plane. Still, I made it to the hotel and up to my room, where I lay awake and watched Jimmy Fallon. The buzz of flying and traveling, and arriving in a different time zone, and just the plain fact that I'm doing something like going to Los Angeles, California at the most difficult financial time I've ever been at in my life had my brain zipping too sprightly to feel sleepy..

Using Google Maps, I found a reasonable way to get to Santa Monica via an average of four bus changes. All the routes were essentially the same, but configured in different ways. While looking at the computer screen, it all makes sense, but later, looking only at my scrawling notes, I began to have doubts that I'd end up in Santa Monica in a reasonable amount of time without a number of wrong turns. I stiffened my upper lip and left my room to check out. I asked the hotel clerk how much the buses cost. She  told me if I took the free shuttle (free except for the tip to the driver) to the airport that I could catch the Santa Monica "Big Blue Bus." I followed this advice and was here within a half hour. I couldn't believe how easy it was. I'd have stayed in my room a little longer had I known. Anyway, I got off the bus, found a local grocery, and got food to take down to the beach for a picnic. I sat perched in the sand, feeling the cool, slightly humid ocean breeze and still trying to decide whether all of this is real.

Three years ago today, my ex-girlfriend broke up with me. That was such a significant day for so long. Surely, this first full day in California falling on that day signifies that I am sailing forth in a new direction. Occasionally, fear grips me and I wonder what in the world I'm doing, but under it all is an uncanny feeling that I'm right where I need to be and that I shouldn't worry. This, of course, doesn't mean that undesirable or inconvenient things won't happen, only that if they do, they are part of the unfurling of this next phase I'm stepping into. For so long, I've longed to move on, to start anew, to get a life, forget the past, and go forward. That, my friends, is what's happening as I tread the earth on this side of the continent.  It's a welcome change.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Pulling Me Forward

There are those times in life when it seems destiny draws me, shows the way, leads me to a particular door and gives me the desire to want to open it, all the while leading me past a dozen other doors I don't even think about. The age-old questions of free will and predestination bring up certain considerations that in a broader context argue toward a more holistic rather than a linear progression of time. Over the past three to four years, I've been doing a lot of reading about setting intentions and moving toward your goals. Approaches like The Secret are good examples of philosophical ideals that tend toward free will. Things come about because we direct our thoughts a particular way. Another approach, such as Calvinism in Christianity, says that all things are determined ahead of time and follow a particular and unchangeable path. Things come about as they are predetermined and there's nothing we can do to change them, only to accept them.

These ideologies limit themselves to a linear perspective of time. They imply that cause and effect flow from past to present to future. If "this" happens now--you think positively, God predestines something--"that" necessarily follows. The brain has evolved to operate according to such a cosmology, thus it is often, perhaps even typical, that good or bad fortune surprises us, or seems like dumb luck, because in some linear fashion we haven't been able to observe a chronological ordering of causes and effects.

But let's say that we exist past-present-future all at the same time. Because of our evolution, our brains and how they work, we can only experience time linearly, or experience existence according to linear time, while in reality we actually exist in all moments of time simultaneously. As we move through existence, we are only aware of one moment following the next, when in reality, conscious versions of myself both precede and follow me.

Looking at existence this way, it makes sense that we would have premonitions, and experience deja vu. It would also make sense that things that are happening in "the future" are influencing us in the present. What we do now, influences our past selves. Let's say, for example that I chose not to go to Los Angeles right now. A few weeks ago, I was feeling strong premonitions about going to California and receiving signs about it, as I have over the past few days. Those signs and premonitions happened because that's what I'm doing now--going to California. My present actions influenced what is now my past self.

I think of it as something like many people walking on a high wire. Each person's actions influences everyone on the wire. When someone up ahead trips, everyone on the wire feels the vibrations. Each person experiences the wire in linear fashion, but actions before and behind send energy to us. This is why, from the standpoint of the brain, it's easy to think of past events affecting us now, and to see signs or premonitions as essentially unreliable. This is why it often feels that we are destined to certain things. The strength of the intentions of our future selves might feel like predetermined happenings. This is why when we meet people special to us that it often seems like destiny:  those feelings flow backward as well as forward.

Regret is such a strong emotion; it has the force of sending messages to past selves. Regret is a kind of reverse hope. Where hope sends energy "forward," regret is a kind of setting intentions for the past we wish would have experienced. That energy might come in the form of dreams to lead us to make a different decision, or to especially impress a different course upon us. Right now, in my past, my past selves are feeling the energy of my breaking free from fears, of my following my heart and my bliss. When I look back at my life, at times like when I chose to go with an ex-girlfriend to California, that it was something I understand now was an important experience. When she broke up with me, it was one of the most difficult experiences I've ever endured, but I see now that it was necessary, and I understand the feelings I had the day she broke up with me to let her go, to let her find her own way because the way I've come since that time has allowed me to have a much richer experience of life.

I don't know how much we can change, but I'm considering a theory that perhaps a "life," the one we incarnate into, requires several "passes" to learn all of the lessons, to work out all of the karma, to conquer all the fears. The first guy on the line perhaps has the greatest shocks and difficulties, but as he feels regrets and sends back energy to make changes, the life improves, and eventually we learn what we need to learn, gain what we need to gain, and balance the karmic demands of that particular existence. Sometimes it's feels like destiny, sometimes it feels as if we choose, but always, we are moving through past, present, and future and finding our way.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Smack in the Middle of a Rainbow

Coming out of Mankato on the way back to the Twin Cities, I came through the most curious weather. Cool and refreshing wind had blown all day as I spent the better part of the afternoon in a state park, thinking about this trip, wondering what it means, wondering what I would do once I got back in the Twin Cities, strangely feeling calm in the midst of all of it. But once I got to Mankato, brooding clouds moved across the sky and brought sporadic bouts of chilly rainfall. I watched one cloud in particular, a columnar white bluff coming across the sky like a snowplow. A fuzzy gray mist hung under it, a sight I knew to be falling rain. By use of my internal geometry, I could see that me and this cloud were bound to meet. And so we did, just as I got out of town and away from places to take cover.

My legs churned and chugged, pushing me, my pack, and the bike up out of the river valley. The chill wind whispered across my sweaty limbs and forehead, shooting a shiver through my timbers. The rain came in large, cold drops that felt strangely refreshing, but I'd spend the whole day trying to get my things dry and I resented this intrusion of sky-borne hydration. The cloud moved upon me, as a wrath following me either to or from the grave. I was just bemoaning my luck of being out of the protective covering of infrastructure when I came to a place in a ravine, under a highway bridge sixty or so feet above the trail.

I stood watching the cloud move across the sky, followed in the west by a dark patch of blue. The setting sun at the western edge of the world cast orange and yellow light askance so that the clouds moved, the rain fell, the sun shone in a dance of vibrancy and color. But it didn't mean much to me at that time. I was aggravated at the inconvenience of getting wet, at the irritation of all of my hard-won dryness being washed away in a single, natural stroke. It was just about that time that it occurred to me that somewhere, it was very likely that someone could see a rainbow. Here I was, smack in the middle of it.

I thought of this and felt humbled--humbled to be so belligerent when in fact the Universe had brought the very symbol of "hope" and "promise" literally right over my head. I'd been wondering all day if what I was doing--turning back from this trek--was right, and here an answer of sorts had come and all I could do was bitch.

As I came out of the ravine through which I was riding, the sky opened out, and the offending cloud, which had passed on a few miles ahead of me, was moving across the prairie to the east. Sure enough, right there was a rainbow, my rainbow, the one under which I 'd stood. I watched it for some time as I rode, until it faded into the twilight surrounding me.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Dammed Up and Handicapped

Squatting on the church lawn Thursday night was a mixed emotional bag. In terms of beauty and softness, it was the best place I'd stayed yet. I situated the tent in a place where I wouldn't be easily spotted from the road, and reconciled myself to the reality of my situation, but the realization that I was doing something that many people might mistake as an act of outright nonconformity had me squirming a good bit of the night. My experiences with Jerry only heightened the horror by which I imagined myself through the eyes of neighbors as they peeked between slates in the venetian blinds to see me audaciously planted on the church lawn. As if this weren't bad enough, and perhaps to remind me of the Bible, storms of the type Noah might have encountered moved through the area that night. The pink and orange lightning peppered the sky for hours before they actually came. I managed to sleep about three hours.

Of note:  one time, after awakening from one of my "naps" that night, just as I opened my eyes, exactly above my tent, exactly in my line of sight, a shooting star zipped right in front of me. I thought, "I should make a wish," and I said, "May I have a good journey." But I immediately thought after that that this shooting star was not about a wish, but a kind of sign that my wishes, for going out to California, were about to come true. Not long after, the silent lightning started. The orange, undulating clouds moved in.

The next morning, my tent was soaked and it took an extra amount of time to pack everything up. I shuttled all my stuff to the entrance of the church, under the overhang, packed it up and ate a little breakfast. I really didn't want to ride into the countryside with the clouds still hanging so dark and solemn in the sky. I could easily find cover in an urban area, but not out among the corn and soy. I looked west and saw bright blue skies and pedaled off.

It was a morning marked by wrong turns and a lot of wasted effort, going up hills so steep they required walking my bike. I'd get to the top before realizing I went the wrong way, turn around, coast down to the place of maldirection, and be plagued once again with doubt as to whether I was going the right way. After finally get on the right road, it started drizzling. So much exertion had me drinking a lot of water so that I had nearly depleted my water supply, so I looked forward to getting to Rapidan, Minnesota so I could get water in the stores I expected to be there. As it turns out, Rapidan is well past it's glory days and all the stores in town, and the city school, are boarded up. I had to stop at a private residence refill my water bottles. They told me that the town I was headed to was like Rapidan, and advised that I go to Lake Crystal instead.

Two miles down the road to Lake Crystal, I came upon Rapidan Dam, where there is a park with picnic shelters and water fountains. It was a great place to stop, rest, and spread my things out to dry. Not long after I stopped, serious rain arrived. I stood wondering how I really felt about continuing across a countryside where I could never really predict if towns would have places where I could get supplies.

I hung around at Rapidan Dam Park for quite some time, thinking and pondering, even eating lunch at the nearby Dam Store. After lunch, a bus from a handicapped, mentally challenged group home came so a group of its residents could get pie at the Dam Store (their renowned for their "homemade" pies).

I stood there thinking, "I'm at a dam waiting for the rain to stop, and here are people who are handicapped. It seems that "blocked" or "impeded" is the message I'm getting." It was like a kind of epiphany and in that moment, I understood that heading across the country on a bike to get to California, while certainly a noble and courageous effort, is something that will take months to complete, if I even complete it at all--and then what? Over the next months, while travelling, I wouldn't save money because food was more expensive bought in quantities for carrying in a backpack. While out there on the road, I wasn't either in California or writing, which seems to go against what my life should be right now.

I decided in that moment to return to the Twin Cities, not really sure what I'd do when I got there. Over the past couple of days, it's clarified and I believe I will find a way out to California that will get me there more quickly. This trip was important for many reasons, but it was never intended to last longer than it has. It was time to come back.

Coming back has been, perhaps, the most difficult thing to do--even more than going forward. I've really wrestled with it, fearing that I may just be giving up, fearing that others would judge me a quitter. But following intuition means following it during such times and doing what it hints at, so I have stuck it out, and all along the road today I have seen dozens of moths and butterflies--an omen I received a few weeks ago which seemed to indicate that big changes are coming.

I don't know what will happen when I get to the Twin Cities, but I believe the Universe is guiding me there, and as with every day and night of this journey, I know I can trust her to do what's best for me.

Homeless Gypsy

My great challenge yet came on Thursday night. After meeting my new artist friends at the University in Mankato and the eighty-year-old psychic healer at Cub, I was confronted with the reality that I had no easily identifiable place to pitch a tent that night. Let me reframe that: from the perspective of someone who is used to sleeping in places with the permission of owners or stewards, I had few options. From the perspective of a homeless person, there were plenty.

As I was leaving the University earlier, I'd spotted a church with a huge, moved lawn and a labyrinth of spruce pines. As I passed it, I thought it would be a great place to camp. So, I went back there and scouted it out. Yes indeed, I could pitch a tent there, but since no one was around to ask permission, I had to face the fact that staying there would be as a squatter, a homeless Gypsy. With few other options, since I picture myself as a more a Yuppie type than a homeless person, I conceded that this is what I needed to do. My choice was aided by the banner in front of the church, which read, "All Welcome." As I knocked on the front door, I also saw that they had Buddhist and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meeting there, and figured I could always tell the pastor, "I'm riding my bike across the country on a shamanic journey," and he'd understand and be cool with it.

The problem arose with what to do until it was dark. Squatting on private land requires a certain finesse, as explained by Jerry, a homeless guy I co-loitered with for about 30 minutes in front of Cub Foods while waiting for it to get dark. "I pitch my tent at about 11," he said with a craggy voice to rival Joe Cocker, "and take it down about 5." This was the most coherent sentence I got from the guy. Most of his speech was something like the following:  "Yeah, he told me that he so I didn't know but there was the other one so I figured..."

Jerry eventually got angry at me and left Cub Foods in a huff. I'd evidently offended him. In a discussion about my playing the guitar, I insinuated that the most important reason for wanting it with me was that I enjoy playing it. "That's not the reason you should have it with you," he said with no small measure of piss and venom, his scratchy vocal chords ratcheting the sounds. "People give you money if you play an instrument, you dumbass." I was happy to see Jerry mount his bike and pedal away, but in his absence, I was certain people now viewed my loitering in front of Cub Foods as a certain sign of my inclusion with Jerry as among the homeless creeps of the world.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Finding My Tribe

There’s a weird smell in Mankato, Minnesota—a cross between burning tires and apple pie hangs in the air—suggesting industry, sure, but more—something more deeply rooted, probably not good, probably poisoning the inhabitants, who wonder years later how the hell they got ball cancer. It was as if I’d gone through a portal that ripped me away and transported me to Ohio.

Finding a place to eat lunch was at the top of my list, but there truly seemed to be no parks in Mankato. I finally settled for going to the University, but getting there required riding my bike up a long incline, which I was able to do, so I walked it and found my legs in knots by the time I got to the top. Finding a place to sit and eat became the next challenge as I rode around on top of the hill on which the University if perched. I found a spot in a garden-like area in front of one of the buildings. There was a kind of horseshoe walk lined with oaks, maples, and various varieties of flowers. The maples in the center are already foretelling the approach of Autumn in the fiery hue of orange erupting in their leaves.

From my place on one of the wooden benches, I could see a young woman across the horseshoe with a giant pad, a palate, and a collection of brushes. I thought how cool it was that she had the guts to sit in such a public place and paint. I’d done so while painting caricatures at Valleyfair a number of summers ago, but I had to as a part of the business. A certain reluctance in me to bother people I don’t know typically holds me back from doing what I want, which in this case was going over to see what she was painting and talking to her about it.
Later, some people were standing near a guy at a bench not far from me. I overheard one of the young women say, “We’re just going around seeing what everyone else is doing.” It was then that I realized there were a number of people sitting around this place painting. I overruled my general reluctance to bother people I don’t know and went over to talk to them. It turns out, this was a watercolor painting class and the teacher had sent them out to this place to paint. In reward for pushing myself beyond my comfort zone, I met three lovely and very talented painters. We stood around chatting for a while, and one was even able to give me directions to find a grocery store when I left the University.

When I left that morning, I had no idea where I was headed. I’d learned to begin trusting the Universe to direct me, and here I could see I was led to people I might call “my tribe,” aspiring artists, and one was also a writer. We shared many of the same values. It was encouraging to see them using their artistic abilities and I was able to talk some of my values in striking off on this crazy journey. It was a confirmation that the Universe takes us to places that help us become whom we know we need to be.

Later that afternoon, I found the Cub Foods and inside discovered they had a place where you could sit and eat. A girlfriend from years ago and I used to go to groceries instead of restaurants to save money. I always found it fun and exciting to have the entire store to choose from, finding those items I most wanted, and sitting down to eat them. It felt sad to leave my new friends at the University, but this dining opportunity at Cub cheered me up.

While eating, I struck up a conversation with an eighty-year-old touch healer. She has a gift of being able to use touch to help people relax and feel at peace. She discovered her gift late in life and was telling me she knew she’d live to be older than one hundred because she had to make up for the time she lost earlier in her life as she lived by more conventional ideology. We talked for some time, finding we shared much in common in how we see the world. She said it was such a joy to meet someone like me because there just weren’t that many people around with whom you could talk about such things without them getting all “German Lutheran on you.” Again, I was greatly encouraged and fascinated to see these “chance meetings” that were so encouraging, especially after the first few really difficult days of my trip.

I entrusted my way to the Universe that morning, uncertain where it would lead, and I could see how each “wrong turn,” each seemingly “insignificant” decision lead me to these two very enriching experiences with people it was a great pleasure and joy to meet. I sat in Cub Foods for a bit after the touch healer left to write my thoughts and got choked up as I thought about it and put it all together. It was a moment of learning for me.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


August 30 -- I woke up feeling pretty down, discouraged, and fearful. It's nothing new really--same old stuff:   worrying about bills, society's opinion of me, and whether all of this has been a big mistake. I tried pacing, but kept stirring up mosquitoes, so I sat at the picnic table. I sat there and just said, "Please help me. I don't know what to do." I soon had the word "trust" going through my mind:  I need to trust the process, trust the universe, trust my instincts. It was one of those moments when you know your prayer has been answered.

Later in the afternoon, I spent a few hours at the library in Waterville, Minnesota. The place was about ready to close, so I packed up all my gear (not an easy task since I have to unpack and repack my pack to get the computer in and out). I had about five minutes left, so I perused the shelves, not wanting to leave the air conditioning and go into the putrid humidity outside.

I found a book full of stories of people working as I have been to live soulful lives. I just opened the book to see where it landed and it opened to a girl asking to have a birthday party with all of her friends. I wasn't too interested, so I looked at the table of contents and saw a story entitled "Trust" and turned to it. It was the very story the book had fallen open to. A girl, for her birthday, asked the creator for snow (it was July in Arizona) and for all her friends to come to her party.

Her parents asked her if she was disappointed when her prayer wasn't answered. She said, "It was answered. He said 'no.'" The whole point being that trusting the Universe or the Creator or whatever means that any outcome is an answer. Ultimately, the writer argues that whatever the Universe does, or is doing, it's in our best interest, that even sadness, fear, and hopelessness can be forces that help us in ways we might not currently understand.

August 31 -- Storms moved into the area early this morning. I put my shoes on and got out to baton down the hatches. I got back into the sweltering tent, waiting for the coming judgment. It started raining with the familiar pelting sounds surrounding me. Almost immediately, I felt a drop on my leg. This seemed strange, so I used my other foot to feel the spot. I felt four slimy feet launch from my leg and a slithery body land on my hand. I nearly freaked. Once I got the flashlight on, I saw the tiny toad sitting on top of my sleeping bag. In my haste to get the rain fly in place, I left the screen unzipped and this little guy made his way into my sleeping space--about the same capacity as a coffin. I freaked. I don't mind toads out in the yard, but I don't want to share such a small space with one.

I tried using the flashlight to scare the toad toward the screen so I could get him to jump out. This jittery little bugger wanted rather to jump toward the light and the hand holding it. After 5 steamy minutes of this in the sauna-like tent with my glasses fogging up on me, I finally got him near the screen. All he had to do was jump out. But he wouldn't. He would go any direction but the one he was supposed to. So, yet again, I'd be left coaxing him toward the unzipped screen. He jumped into my hat. He slithered under the sleeping bag. He jumped right at my face. "You stupid dumb ass," I cried out. "Why don't you jump right there--one inch away, you idiot!"

Right at the moment, I got a clear picture of my life. I've been like this toad, following survival mode and not expecting that the "big guy" up there is actually trying to help me. I think the Universe has made so much possible for me, but I still cling to fear, worry, and desperation. It's gotten better over the years, but I know that I still often fret over things that don't really count. How many times has the way been opened for me, but because of my fears, I jump this way or that, not the way that would take me where I need to go? Well, this toad was obtuse, so I finally grabbed a sock and used it to seize this fellow and toss him out into the rain. I hope the Universe doesn't have to do that with me!

Going forward means trusting that whatever happens is the best to happen. If that means bankruptcy, shame, and failure, then that's what it means. More practically for this trip, if it means sleeping in a ditch by the side of the road, getting lost, or not knowing where to look for help, then that is the situation and I need to understand that perhaps this is the "easy" way. Hopefully these things won't happen, but this perspective gives me a frame through which to understand my circumstances. I am heading out into the rain, though it may be a way that, under my current understanding, seems scary or overwhelming.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Into the Mighty Wind

August 28 -- Windburned, Sun scorched, Tired, Sore. Salt crusts on my face and arms. I feel greasy from sunscreen and exertion. The wind feels like a curse. At times I have to get off the bike and walk, and my feet are getting sore as well. I sit on the grass in front of a Superamerica eating my lunch. I suppose I've now completed my first 12 miles. I'd hoped to make 40 today, but I don't think it's going to happen. Coming up out of the Minnesota River valley, is brutal enough, but into a head wind blowing a steady 30-40 mph, it is killing me. I'd hoped to get down to Faribault, so I could take the bike trail that leads to Mankato. There are camping sites along the path. But I can't see making it that far. That means finding a place along the way to camp along side of the road. It makes me nervous to think of it.

Many people have greeted me. A man in a Model A Ford honked as he went past. I waved. He waved. It was as if, together, we represented an older spirit of America--he driving one of history's greatest machines; me striking off west with only what I can carry. Many people have greeted me and shown great enthusiasm for my endeavor.

After hours of riding along country roads, I finally found a truck stop off of I-35 at the Northfield exit. I ran out of water. I thought, for some reason, that I'd be going through towns, but as it turns out, only prairie. Miles and miles of PRAIRIE. I was really starting to worry about water, so I stopped at a couple of houses, but was too embarrassed to go to the door to ask for water. I worry too much about this:  how people perceive me. I happened upon a Lutheran Church, where the cleaning crew was cleaning. I saw cars in the lot, so I went in and drank a gallon from the water fountain and refilled my bottle. I told the people of my trip. They were amazed and astounded, wished me good luck. I wished they would invite me to sleep in there air conditioned youth room with over-sized couches, a large screen TV, and carpeted floor.

I now sit at the truck stop, in the air conditioning. I was out of water again, so I bought two liters, Water is heavy, and I'm so tired I can hardly see straight. I haven't found a place to bed down for the night, so I have to go out now. The sun is setting and it'll be dark soon.

After leaving the truck stop, I tried two places near a cornfield, but was nearly eaten alive by mosquitoes. The grass was too high to pitch a tent. I rode another two miles down the road and was about to knock on a door to ask if I could sleep on their lawn. Then I spotted a boat ramp going down to a lake. A little exploring, and I found a nice, secluded spot along a trail next to the lake. I was able to bathe in the water and get a good night's sleep.

August 29 -- I really wonder what my life is all about. While riding, I don't get much chance to think because most of the effort is put into pedaling into this crazy wind. I wonder if I am somehow "going against the spirit." I sit under a picnic shelter near a lake and wonder where this is leading. I feel pretty discouraged, especially as I think of how much further I have to go. I lay my head down on the picnic table and cry for a few minutes because I feel such despair for where my life is headed. I don't understand this. I've done everything I know to follow my bliss, but it seems only ever to lead to things like this, to dead ends and difficult trips that seem fraught with challenges. I worry that people think I'm crazy, or worse, not willing to work. It's so difficult to explain. I'm just following my heart, but it has become such a long road. I'm tired, my butt hurts, and I wonder where I'm going to sleep tonight.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Cats and Butterflies

A couple of years ago, while working through difficult and complicated grief, I began learning about omens and signs. Around that time, a tabby cat began showing up out in front of my apartment in Uptown Minneapolis. I took it as a sign that a mysterious world would open up to me, and indeed, it did as I began exploring various avenues for a deeper, more spiritual understanding of the issues that came into my life. Right around that time, I interviewed a local author in St. Paul about her first book, a memoir, that was due to be released soon after. She was kind enough after the interview to do a palm reading for me. She said a number of things, but something that stood out was her words:  "You're like a butterfly; you have this wonderful beauty as a person, but you are so light and unobtrusive that people hardly know you're there."

In the past month, I've begun noticing these two omens, cats and butterflies, in my life. One morning a week or so ago, I woke up to a huge moth on my screen. I didn't even know such big moths were around in Ohio. He was on one screen when I got up in the morning, and some time later had moved to another window. Later that day, I watched a Japanime film, a trippy, surreal story about dreams. In it on several occasions were a flurry of blue butterflies. Later in the day, as I thought about the moth, I made the connection to the moth on the window and thought to myself, Is there a connection? Just as I said that, I spotted a butterfly fluttering around some plum blossoms of a tree growing next to the sidewalk.. 

A few days later, I was sitting next to a window in the library when a tiny moth came up to the glass right in front of me and fluttered there for a bit. And then again, later in the day, I was sitting next to a window when two women starting making a fuss about something on the window behind me. I was in deep concentration on what I was reading and felt a little annoyed at the interruption, but when I looked up, there was a big, cobalt blue butterfly on the window behind me. It looked like the ones in the Japanime film. 

Earlier this week, I was chatting with a friend in Japan. I'd told her about all these butterfly encounters and she told me about her trip to the beach. While she was sitting there, two butterflies came and lighted upon her slippers. They stayed there for a moment, and the fluttered along into the sky. 

Yesterday, I saw a cat lying on top of a waste-high wall next to a convenient store. Someone had put out a can of food for it and it lay there eating its fill. On my way back, I spotted the cat sitting in the parking lot, all fat and satisfied, staring at me. It occurred to me, I wonder if that's my cat totem getting my attention again. There was no particular reason for this thought; it's just what occurred to me.

A few minutes later, I passed through a dark parking lot behind a pharmacy, where I'd found a dime last week. I was looking at the ground, but it was too dark to see anything. Still, I looked at a particular spot and was sure there was a coin there. I bent over and put my finger against the spot, and sure enough, there was a penny. Of course, I picked it up and kept it. 

A few steps down the next block, while walking past a house whose owner had left the curtains opened wide, I spotted a cat sitting in the middle of the window, looking out at me on the street. I thought, How odd. I was just wondering about that. And then, the very next house down on the block, in the middle of a picture window, where the curtains were parted maybe a foot, stood another cat looking out at me. I thought, Certainly, there must be something to this. 

Two more times on my way home, I walked past houses with cats sitting next to open curtains looking out the window at me. As I neared my house, I thought, If between here and my house I see a cat, I'll be certain that something's going on here. I chastised myself immediately for my lack of faith in my own premonitions and omens, thinking, I know there aren't any cats around here anyway.

I walked down the block to my house, looking around to see if any cats were around. I'd given up seeing another when I walked past my uncle's window (he lives in the lower part of the house under my upstairs apartment), and there stood Tiger, his cat, looking out the window at me as I walked past. I'd forgotten about Tiger, and was amazed to see him there because he rarely sits by that window at night.

Had "something" told all these cats to look for me? I don't think it was a coincidence, so I'm trying to make sense of what these two omens mean. Butterflies and moths represent death, transformation, beauty, and frailty. Cats represent dreams, the underworld (the unconscious), and understanding mysteries. I've been doing some readings for a couple of projects that I'm working on that have me looking at religion and spirituality, and it's clicking with many other thoughts I've had throughout my life concerning my destiny and purpose in this life. I'll write more about this later.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Symbols of Faith, Hope, and Love

While living in Japan in Autumn 2009, I came to face many significant fears as I considered following my heart into a career as a writer/thinker. In conjunction, I also wondered if love would come into my life, and if I would have the money and/or resources to follow my dreams. On three different occasions, I pondered these matters, wondering what would be.

One crisp and clear day, I walked out of City Hall in downtown Tamashima. I’d just been thinking about my future, wondering if I could truly believe the things my heart was telling me would come about. I happened to be looking down at that moment and saw a tiny, silver star glinting up at me from the sidewalk. I understood this to be a sign of hope and felt encouraged to continue to follow my dreams.

Another day, it wasn’t so clear. Spotty clouds hung in the sky, occasionally hiding the Sun’s face. On this day, I was worried about money, about making enough to pay my bills and keep me out of trouble with creditors. I looked down at the road and there shining up at me was a single yen coin. I never found loose change lying around in Japan and found this truly remarkable, especially at a time when I was specifically worrying about money. At first, I walked past the coin, but a few meters down the road, I turned around, came back, and picked it up, understanding that I could have faith that the Universe would provide for my needs.

A week or so later, while walking along the street in my neighborhood, I approached a bamboo grove. My heart felt heavy as I pondered a dream I’d had where someone I cared about had died. I wondered if I would ever find love like hers in my life again. I looked down at the ground and there was a pink heart. Yes, someday, this kind of love would return to me.

Disturbing Dream Foretells Wayward Trail

I had a pretty disturbing dream last spring.:

April 6, 2009 -- I was at my aunt's house house in Crystal Lake, Ohio. There were two buildings arranged like bunkhouses sitting side-by-side with about twenty feet between them. The area was cluttered with all kinds of junk. Most of this was indiscernible, mostly because it was dark, but there were old carpets, furniture, and machinery lying around in high grass. I went into one of the bunkhouses, which was fairly Spartan on the inside—the walls weren’t painted and there wasn’t much furniture. The floors were bare, a very simple cabin, except that it was fairly large. The place was full of men, dancing around and talking excitedly. Someone brought a headless corpse into the room. It was dressed in a white shirt and black or navy pants. There was a pen in the pocket and there might have been a thin, black tie. The body was fat and was hanging on something like a laundry track by a rope or strap. The men started cutting the corpse up and were excited about this. I didn’t want to be a part of it, but I felt awkward leaving, as if I might offend someone if I did. There may even have been some resistance to my leaving, but no one stopped me from going. I was afraid they’d make me do something I didn’t want to do. I felt some repulsion and I felt afraid of being implicated in the murder.

Either before or after this dream, I was skateboarding down the street in a city neighborhood. I came upon a spot in the road where it went down at a 90-degree angle or something approaching that. It seemed appropriate to ride the skateboard down it, but I was afraid, didn’t want to. Off to the side, there was a kind of stairway where you could climb down, but even this wasn’t easy. The steps were four or five feet high and you had to navigate around chain-link fences. The drop was considerable, at perhaps a hundred feet or so. The city was Dayton—I knew this but there weren’t any obvious signs that I was in Dayton. I was avoiding people—didn’t want to talk to anyone. I don’t know why this was. A group of teenage boys came down the street on skateboards. I avoided them, but they greeted me. They wanted me to go down the precipice, but I just keep climbing down the stairs, though I felt awkward again, as if I were disappointing them. I was afraid they’d make me do something I didn’t want to do.

In both dreams, I was either directly or indirectly challenged to face being torn apart. In the skateboard dream, I tried to take the easy way. In the murder dream, I left—didn’t want to be a part of it. It seems I don’t want to face being reduced to nothing. Yesterday, while at the Southdale library, I dozed a bit. I had a short little dream where a bunch of people stood around a machine while it collapsed. They immediately jumped upon the wreckage and started building things. By extension here, I understand that the dismantling of the ego will lead to the building of a more complete self. Yet, this really scares me. Last night, while I was walking, I asked my subconscious to help me make a decision about going to Japan. I understand from this dream that my time in Japan would be very challenging. I will take a great risk and could fail significantly if I don’t use it as a time of growth. This confirms to me that it is a big decision and that it will be the opportunity to grow significantly, but will also be very challenging.

I found this in my dream journal the other day and was astounded at the accuracy of these images and symbols. In Japan, I faced the dismantling of myself, my ego, and came to face my deepest and most persistent fears. There was a room there where I worked where I did a lot of pacing. It was a dark and closed place, like a crypt. I knew going to Japan would be a challenge, but I never knew it would result in being torn apart. 

Thursday, February 25, 2010

New Totem

I moved into the apartment my parents were occupying. They left a lot of their stuff there and I've been working my way through it, and getting most of it out of my way. In cleaning my apartment, I’ve found a number of interesting trinkets and such. I found a game called "Proverbial Wisdom." It’s something like Trivial Pursuit, but the premise is knowledge of various proverbs. I decided to use this game as a divination device. There is a box full of cards, so I figure I can use them like Tarot cards.

The first day I found them, I was feeling pretty bad about my life, worried about making it, paying bills, finding my dreams, etc.—all the stuff I think about all the time at this point in my life. I’ve said on a number of occasions, “I’m at the end of my rope,” and I felt that way on Monday when I drew the card. It had the proverb, “Give a man enough rope and he will hang himself.” It made me angry, as if it were a confirmation that I’d really screwed up and hung myself. Later in the day, or the next day, I went into my dream journal and read about a dream I had about nine months ago as I was planning to go to Japan. The interpretation of that dream concerns the dismantling of my ego, of my being torn apart and in particular as I headed to Japan. I can look back at that and know that this process has certainly come to be. This card might be interpreted as the continued execution of the ego. Indeed, I’m going deeper and deeper each step and dealing with continuingly more difficult and deep-seated fears.

The definition given on the card is “Enough freedom will inevitably lead a bad person to capture.” It’s interesting that the word “freedom” is there, and the idea of being a bad person. These are concepts I wrote about with regard to images I got while watching Cloverfield, My Super Ex-Girlfriend, and Greg the Bunny.

Yesterday, I took another card. This one was a picture card with only part of the proverb given on the card. Platers are to guess the proverb based on these clues. It represents the proverb “When the cat’s away, the mice will play.” At first, I thought this was referring to my ex-wife. She is the cat, and once she is gone (in a metaphorical sense of me not being afraid of her or allowing her continued tyranny in my life) , I will be free. Again, here is the theme of freedom, of the shackles of fear being removed so that I will be free to pursue what’s natural for me.

On a different level, this card also relates to the passing of one phase of my life to another. Since being back in the States, I’ve gotten signs that the totem guiding my life was changing. The main sign for this was my parents' cat that I needed to keep in my apartment when I first moved back. It had attacked my dad. He got a pretty serious bite that became infected and he wound up in the hospital for four days, and then again for another week in an allergic reaction to amoxicillin. It took some time before Dad actually took the cat away. When he did, the timing corresponded to the Chinese New Year. It’s the year of the Tiger, which promises to be quite favorable to horses like me. I took this to be a sign that this cat totem was passing. The cat left last Wednesday. I did a mini-vision quest over this past weekend, where I got a message from a stictomancy exercise, “El Gato is dead.” Gato is the Spanish word for “cat.” Now, I drew this card signifying that the cat is away and freedom has come.

I want to say here that I appreciated the cat totem. It was indeed a challenging time, as signified in the troubles my dad had in the aftermath of his encounter with the beast, and in the fact that I’m allergic to cats. But it was under that totem that I learned many things. The difficulty of that time opened my eyes to a completely new world and a completely new life. I happily accept the passing of the cat as my guiding totem and accept the new, which is apparently the Wolf/Orca (sea wolf). The passing of the cat totem, it seems, represents freedom, of having restrictions that have ruled my life being removed, and am I ever grateful.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Excerpt from Wayward Son

The Following is from my memoir. Enjoy.

The moment our feet hit the yellow gravel on the street in front of our walled compound, a young girl jumped up and cried out. “Fërënji mëtt’a,” she said. Her sentence translated into English as, “The Fërënji came,” using the singular masculine form, referring, I supposed, only to me and not to my wife, Faye. Fërënji is a word borrowed from Arabic, used to talk about the European Christians who came to Palestine centuries earlier, otherwise known as the Crusaders. The girl wore a dirty pink sweater that had probably once been red. It now how had a number of different shades of gray and brown stains. Her large brown eyes sparkled under a mop of brown tangled locks. Her smile was crystalline.

“You, you, you, you, you…” others shouted, running from the other side of the street, their tattered and faded clothes hanging on their tiny bodies. They shouted the English word “you,” a common usage by every child in Ethiopia in response to seeing a White person walking on the street.

T’ena yïst’ïlïny,” we said, using the sparse Amharic we knew. The phrase translates as, “May he (God) give you health,” and is used as a greeting. This elicited a sweep of giggles and looks of wonder from the children, who seemed to draw energy from our attempt at friendliness. They danced around us and followed us up the street until the voices of adult women in languages we could not understand called them back to the flat-timber houses with corrugated, galvanized steel roofs enveloped in blotches of green foliage.

Today was our first day of language school, where we would study Amharic, the national language of Ethiopia. We were on our way by foot to the taxi stop at K’ëllëm Fabrica, meaning, “paint factory,” named for the small industrial complex near the intersection. We would catch a taxi to the Joint Language School (JLS) from there. Faye and I continued through the neighborhood, climbing up out of the river valley where the house we were renting was located. The wide road leading up to K’ëllëm Fabrica sprouted large stones and puffed plumes of yellow earth as we walked along.

About halfway to K'ëllëm Fabrica, we passed a cubical hut planked with brown boards and patched up with bits of cardboard and tin cans, some still shiny with tiny rust specs, others completely covered in ruddy encrustation. An old woman sat at the uneven rectangle of the doorway. Smoke from the chimney-less hearth inside fumed out the top edge of the frame. From the sun’s glare I was unable to discern anything past the black entry of the door. The old woman pulled off leaves of gomën (collard greens), placing them in a large kettle, while something simmered in a black pot over an open fire a meter away. Her toothless jaw mouthed a tune, her voice barely audible.