The Costumes We Wear

I always had the best costume, an expert at disguise.

” I’ve walked these streets
In a spectacle of wealth & poverty
In the diamond market
The scarlet welcome carpet
That they just rolled out for me”

Uh oh, Natalie Merchant pandora. Brings me back to Lubbock, Texas where my Aunt Brenda and I would listen to everything from Tom Petty to yes, Natalie Merchant. “Carnival” transfixed me. Natalie’s tragic walk through the sad carnival resonated with my 8 year old soul. Ashamed that my first spiritual experience occurred at the hands of such a feminine artist, I stuffed the feeling into my back pocket.

That feeling would outgrow every back pocket, every pair of pants. Basketball, accounting, money. Eventually, and sometimes quite rapidly, these things lost the requisite meaning to obscure my true self.

As a child, my favorite animal was the wolf. Grey fur, the trademark howl, and those bright, white fangs were all nice throw-ins. However, I loved the wolf because I empathized with the slander exacted upon its character. Wolves were tortured souls in desperate need of a second chance.

Years later, I remember gazing out the window as our family zoomed south on US 59 to a baseball game or perhaps a museum. My forehead, my eyes, were pulled in by the 15 mile stretch of slums hugging the interstate. The interstate stood rigid, never acquiescing to the ghetto’s call for affection, attention of any kind. Like a distant, busy father the highway had places to go. No time for stopping, embracing.

I wondered what happened in those neighborhoods, what the hungry child thought as he lay awake.

Did he, like me, long for that girl in home room he had been crushing on since elementary? Or did his mind process the poverty and uncertainty surrounding him?

Did he dream about the NBA just as I did? Or was it closer to a burning desire?

Did his stomach growling clinch both the stomach and the heart or did the physical ailment of hunger stomp over any emotions?

His family left starving, forgotten, how did his Father feel? Was his Father so starving and forgotten that he forgot there was an alternative?

Did children, gazing through dirty clothes lines out to the indifferent highway, see the callous, carnival procession?

I believed that, for the wolf and the starving children of Houston, my feelings of sympathy and concern would better the condition of the suffering.

Years passed. I still read grisly newspaper accounts of murders, robberies, with well-hidden remorse. I searched for Wheatley, Sam Houston, Jones High School, all the tough schools, as I scanned the high school box scores each morning. I secretly rooted for them, holding the misinformed idea that my concern, unaccompanied by action, made a difference.

College came and went. Had fun. Did nothing.

I started an accounting career. Still, these feelings, concerns, lay dormant in my back pocket.

It wasn’t until I volunteered with Junior Achievement that I started to shed the costume. These kids, the same kids I worried about, didn’t need my concern. They just needed someone to witness their genius. The creativity, ambition, boldness I witnessed told me exactly what I needed to know.  I needed to rip my feelings, concerns out of my back pocket, shred them into a million pieces.

Just like many adults and, in my case, children, I was once an expert of disguise.

Advertisements

Why I Write

I write as an act of gratitude.

I write to apologize for discovering so late.

I write to go somewhere, I write to go nowhere.  I write because it helps me move.  Helped me move thousands of miles.

I write with my socks on.  I write in a tent with wet, smelly feet.

I write to see thoughts occupy a page.

I write because it provides a perfect blend of control and spontaneity.  Not quite like a railcar off its track but more like a car on an unknown South American mountain pass.

I write because I know my frail condition.

I write in anger, the pen driving irrevocable stitches into an innocent page.

I write because of a feeling had while writing a poem about Allen Iverson in fourth grade.  I write because that poem sucked and I’ve always been the petulant type who seldom enjoys something he’s not good at, except this time I did.

I write for my 10th grade English teacher.  The one who cried when I told her I was transferring.  I write because she’ll never know how much it meant for someone to care in a high school of 4,000 students.

I write because it’s rare for anyone to understand on a deeper level than my physical appearance and spoken words.

I write because it doesn’t require someone’s permission.

I write out of insecurity.  I write because it’s brave.  I write inviting judgment, criticism, or just plain indifference, hoping for the former and usually receiving the latter.

I write to capture a desolate feeling in a Radison Inn somewhere on the West Coast.  I write to describe the lump in my throat the next morning. I write to describe a subpar continental breakfast in a dark hotel dining room.   I write to one day remember being awake, writing at 5 AM in a strange city on the East Coast.

I write to avoid wasting life on cheap weekend thrills.  Vodka, shouting, mediocre dance moves,  all that shit I used to love.

I write for the process.  No longer do I write for results.

Substance is joy.  The essential matter can always be arranged, rearranged.

Experience grows, sensations arrive, words appear.

Burlington Part 2–The Accord Motor Inn

Note:  This is Part 2.  Click here for Part 1 of my trip to Burlington, Vermont.

The Accord Motor Inn

After five hours of slumber at the modest Accord Motor Inn, I woke up at sunrise.  I peered through my tented windows and saw an old church next to an old cemetery.  A one-stop shop for existential anxiety.  Delirious and lacking all mental acuity, I drove in circles trying to find Burlington’s miniature replica of Stone Henge.  I failed.  (Pathetically, six hours later I realized I had been to the original Stone Henge just a few years prior.)

I eventually parked and wandered into Panera Bread, the only decent establishment open at 7:30 in this college town.  I ordered, hurried to the bathroom for a much-needed splash of water across the face and then brushed my teeth.  I laughed at the irony of needing to find a “decent establishment” for a temporarily homeless man to brush his teeth.

It’s Such a Beautiful Day

My next task was to salvage some dignity out of sleeping in a car.  Every hotel was sold out due to the annual Vermont International Film Festival, a realization I did not have until I was bombarded with posters on every corner.  I bought tickets for the first show of the day, a short film called Magnetic Reconnection and the feature film, It’s Such a Beautiful Day.  Both films exposed our pathetic, ephemeral lives quite well.

Through use of simplistic, effective animation, It’s Such a Beautiful Day chronicled a man named Bill slipping into dementia.  As Bill’s memories faded, his perceptual awareness became sharper.  Bill’s clear observations reached an apex on a sunny day in which he finally saw the full beauty of a gorgeous California flower in bloom and the brilliant texture and striking green of individual blades of grass.  At the low point of what we consider healthy human consciousness, Bill experienced zen-like mindfulness.

I was immediately struck by how relevant this was to my earlier struggle to appreciate this town’s beauty.  The electronic shutters slowly receded and the large glass windows revealed a resplendent sun over Lake Champlain.  It’s such a beautiful day, indeed.  This played on repeat as I spent the day biking around the lake.

Image

It’s Such a Beautiful Day

Burlington, Vermont:  The Best of the Rest

IMG_1372

IMG_1342

IMG_1348

IMG_1396

Burlington, Vermont- Part 1

An Afternoon Marred by Expectation

Why Burlington?  I hadn’t an inkling as to why I chose this place.  Maybe passing references to the Burlington Coat Factory in my youth had long ago etched a subconscious interest in this obscure Vermont town.  A place so far North that they have coat factories does seem radically different than the year-round Gulf Coast sauna that I grew up in.

Never mind this post-rationalizing drivel, I got in my car to fall back in love with adventure.  To fall back in love with writing.  For the last 6 weeks, I’ve immersed myself in the highs and lows of teaching.  Writing and traveling have fallen by the wayside.  An experimental jaunt 4 hours North seemed a fitting cure.

Image

Burlington, Why Not?

I envisioned being blown away by the tranquil water of Lake Champlain and enthralled by the flurry of activity in the hippie mecca that spawned the likes of Phish and Ben & Jerry’s.  The problem with it all is that I came with the idea that this experience would somehow eclipse my prior travel experiences.  I was staring straight through the muddled lens of prior knowledge.

There’s a scene in Wall Street 2, where a financial professional asks a senior colleague what amount of salary would prompt him to finally exit the rat race.  The executive replied, “It’s simple, more.”  Even on a spontaneous road trip, this spirit of wanting more for the sake of more predominated my thoughts.

Oblivious to the dazzling yellow and orange leaves of a New England fall, I stared at Lake Champlain.  The fiery sun glistened off the cool, easy waves and I couldn’t help but compare it to Auckland, New Zealand’s peaceful harbor.  I stared down the vibrant Church Street marketplace and immediately noticed the absence of the cobble-stone pavement of Portland, Maine that I had enjoyed a month earlier.

Image

How could I have missed this the first time?

Ri-Ra an Irish Pub

 Our vow is recorded,

our banner unfurled,

in the name of Vermont,

we defy all the world.

Without a damn clue what the practical meaning of the green scarf above the bar meant, I settled into a tight spot next to a 30-something man wearing a greasy backwards Michigan hat.  My first impression was that this was a washed-up frat boy clinging to a past life through desperate support of his alma mater.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  After a few Traveler’s (a pumpkin ale that I would highly recommend), conversation turned to careers and life choices.  Mike was visiting friends while on furlough, a temporary government shut-down casualty.  It just so happened that Mike was a highly motivated trade advisor to the Obama administration.

This relative level of prestige briefly impressed me but what left a deeper impression was how he got there.  Mike, like myself, spent years in his twenties having bits and pieces of his soul sucked up by the professional services world, albeit in the more glamorous mergers and acquisitions area.  One day, Mike sent his resume to a friend working in Washington, D.C.  The next day Mike’s friend went for a brisk jog along the Potomac River with a close friend who worked for the Democratic Party.  By the following day, Mike’s resume was on the top of a stack of close to 1,000 resumes.  Mike got the job.  Mike loves his job.  When opportunity comes knocking, open the door.

Image

The sun never sets on a day of travel without learning something new