Monday, February 28, 2011

Day 0: The Los Angeles Experiment

Alright then, headed "home" for right now, if any place can truly be called home. It's my final few hours here in North Carolina with Leslie. Been a great time. Something about the dynamic the two of us have together equates to ridiculous amounts of abuse and laughter. I really appreciate being able to call Leslie a friend. We've been bouncing all over the place since I got here - a few days at her parents' house in Cary (near Raleigh) then down to Southern Pines to visit Cassie and her family (another friend from Haiti), then all three of us took off to Charlotte to see Cassie's sister and her baby daughter Selah. After our night in Charlotte, Leslie and I bid Cassie adieu and headed up into the mountains to Asheville, a very pretty, very hippie, very white town. How white?

This white.
We had fun up there, crashing in two hostels, the second of which, Bon Paul & Sharky's, was really cool. Sweet Peas was a little too sterile for my tastes. No character. On Saturday we headed out to explore the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, which, according to Leslie, is apparently the most visited national park in the country. Hmmm. I dunno. Maybe it's because it's free to enter? No offense here North Carolina, your park is beautiful, but it ain't no Yosemite. Lesie, being easy to scare, was the perfect choice in victim for me, since I do enjoy entertaining myself at other peoples' expense on occasion. Some of the old buildings in Smoky Mountains are old and have the haunted look to them. Combine that with my love of getting lost and following random dirt roads that go nowhere (and in this case, ultimately dead end because of a fallen tree) whilst telling her all the horrible ways we could be slaughtered (axe murderer, evil spirits, etc.) and it was downright fun. I took a few videos of it all. I'll toss them up soon, but yea, all said and done, great day trip.

So then, since I've been here, I've been to a tiger sanctuary, got to rub elbows with the elite of the Moore County Hounds at a fox hunt, watched a ton of $1.50 movies, been to a legit bluegrass hoedown, got to experience a weekly Christian youth group get together and I finally got to try the hallowed Chik-fil-A, the fast food place my old girlfriend Morgan (from the South) said was the best thing ever (it was only OK). I got to ride a horse English saddle for the first time, made far more enjoyable by watching how much Leslie hated it. She and I were approached by some GQ photographer at The Admiral in Asheville (a restaurant by day, bar by night) who wanted to snap our photos for an article he was putting together and was thoroughly confused when we explained we were not, in fact, a couple. Later that night in the same locale, we randomly bumped into Jordan, Cassie's boyfriend, on the dance floor and proceeded to enjoy many a fantastic microbrew. Leslie, Cassie, Jordan and I had earlier in the week gone to see what turned out to be a truly epic roller derby game between the Carolina Rollergirls and their DC rivals in which the Carolina home team pulled it out with ten seconds left in the match. We all rushed the court and got high-fives from the lot of them. Well played ladies! Now if only Leslie hadn't taken it upon herself to sign me up for the men's team (which really shouldn't exist when it comes to roller derby, it's all about the chicas in this sport). I just got a rather entertaining recruitment email... And finally, I discovered my new favorite song, something I've had hiding in my music collection for months but have never actually listened to. A muchas gracias to Ms. Mathilde for turning me on to Pretty Lights. Loving it.

All said and done, this has been a great trip, and needed after England, which, while wonderful, was far more intense. This has been easy - anpil laughter and just relaxing and having fun with it all. A big thank you to Leslie, Cassie and their families for hosting me, and for showing me how y'all do it 'round these here country parts. Ha! Leslie is about as far from country as you can get, but she did just get accepted into Columbia so she'll be in the city soon enough. Manhattan, you're a special one you know that?

But now I head off to another city on the opposite side of this ridiculous country. That's right Los Angeles, time for the two of us to get reacquainted. It isn't my favorite city, but I do have to admit I enjoy LA, because not only is it where my family is, but some of my closest friends are there. Brandon, Mike, Christina (from Haiti!), Amanda, Ariel, Ginny, the list goes on. Plus Blaine, one of my very best friends, is just down the road in San Diego (definitely anything but my favorite city). As it stands right now the plan is pretty simple - get to LA tonight, and link up w/ Christina. Spend the night at her spot, then link up w/ Mike tomorrow, whom I'll be staying with for a few weeks, but not before picking up my pooch from the kennel. Once Cort (my brother) lands a one bedroom, we'll both move into it. I'll crash out in the living room. Mac (the pooch) comes with. The three of us redefine what it means to rock a bachelor pad. I'll split the rent with him for three or four months max, while working any crap job I can get that will bring in the dinero (thinking bar tending or waiting tables, joy!) and planning my biosand project. After Cort gets established and is good to go financially, I'll take off, he'll take Mac, and all of us will be better off in the long run. I can't wait to spend time with him. Cort has been my one true constant for most of my life. While everything else changed (primary parents, homes, schools, friends, etc.) he and I stuck together. Needless to say, he's my best friend, and I haven't seen much of him these last three years. Having time with him will be good.

However, it isn't going to be all fun and games for me in Los Angeles. Given the short nature of the stay there, I want to run an experiment on myself during my time in the City of Angels. I've never really held myself accountable to some of the things I've told myself forever I need to do, and as such, they haven't been done. This pocket of time in LA seems like the perfect environment to give it a real shot, particularly given I'm going to be leaving LA to try and pursue something that is undoubtedly going to be the most challenging, and potentially rewarding thing I've ever done, at least on a professional level. So, I want to run the Los Angeles Experiment in preparation, and I'm sharing it here, publicly, as a way to keep myself accountable. What does the experiment entail exactly? I haven't flushed it all out in my head yet, but here are some of the key components:

  • Bare minimum of thirty minutes of exercise a day, every day. I have never exercised in my life. Now's the time to do it. Haiti helped me shed about thirty pounds, ten of which I've put back on (thanks Southern cooking!). I don't intend to put back on the other twenty. Between yoga, maybe some muay thai (if I can find a cheap gym near where I'll be living) and swimming (if I can find a pool) I should be good to go. It'd be nice to, after three of four months, look in the mirror and see something that makes me smile.
  • A commitment to eating better (and cheaper!). Mainly, cooking my own food, and keeping it simple. I tend to eat really well anyway when I cook my own food. It's when I eat out that I can get into the less than ideal food groups (hello Carl's Junior!). Cort loves to cook as well, so this should be easy.
  • No drinking. Actually, let me rephrase that. No drinking alcohol. No drinking period is probably a bad life choice. I have a rather serious love of beer. I can drink it for breakfast (which I in fact did yesterday, oatmeal porter - mmm mmm good!). And while I rarely get shitfaced drunk any more, I've never actually seen what it would be like to be totally sober for an extended period of time. Not since I was twelve or something ridiculous. So, why not give it a shot? This will undoubtedly be the hardest aspect of the Los Angeles Experiment, simply because so much of modern day socializing is based on drinking, but hey, fuck it. I can quit smoking cold turkey whenever I please (and did just that when I got back from the UK two weeks ago) so it's high time I give this a crack.
  • No video games unless I'm playing with Cort. This one I don't think will be that hard, truth be told. I used to be far more addicted to video games then I am now. At this point, I'm more interested in learning about the field of work I want to get involved in, and reading, and learning languages, etc. That said, I still can slip into video game mode and waste too much time if I let myself. So, unless Cort and I want to kick each other's asses in Starcraft II or some such shenanigans, no playing solo. And, regardless of whether or not Cort is playing with me or not, no MMOs at all (that'd be "Massively Multiplayer Online", think World of Warcraft). Those games are just a massive time sink. Been there, done that, not doing it again.
  • A serious commitment to learning French. I've never really had to "learn" a foreign language before (I suppose Haitian Creole kind of counts, but I never really tried to learn it, I just picked it up being there). Yes, I speak Spanish, but I learned it as a primary language, right alongside English. Such is the result of being born and raised in Mexico. I don't ever recall "learning" Spanish. I just know it. Learning French is undoubtedly going to be challenging, but it will be worth it. Along with Spanish and English, French is one of the international languages of diplomacy. A lot of development work is done in countries where French is the primary language. Even where it isn't, it can still be incredibly useful. Anyone who hit Haiti with a working knowledge of French was leaps and bounds ahead of me. Of course, cross the island to the Dominican side and we'll see who's handing business... Ah, but I digress. Anyway, yes, I have Rosetta Stone, I have Fluenz, I have Pimsleur and Tell Me More. The tools are there. I just need to make some time, every day, to put them to use.
  • Work two jobs. This is a little misleading actually. Technically, I'll likely only be working one "job", unless I can only find part-time work, then I'll piece together two or more of them to get the hours and money I want. What I mean by two jobs is I'll have the crap job(s) that makes me money, then I'll have my "real" job - planning my project. Biosand Nicaragua isn't going to come to pass without substantial elbow grease going into it beforehand. I have resources. I have wonderful people like Caelin and my godfather who know their shit and can help me. I have people who have expressed interest in perhaps helping fund it. What needs to happen before all of it is for me (and Max and Dan) to really make this thing concrete. To take it from the realm of idea into the realm of reality. That is a job. A real job. A job worth working. I'll work it.
  • Apply to King's College London and/or Oxford. I'm not intending to go to grad school this year, but rather in Fall 2012, but it still can't hurt to try my hand at getting in. Oxford is a long-shot, but I do have the advantage of having studied there as a fully integrated student for a year and earning top marks, so who knows? King's College will be a little more likely, but is also one of the top schools in the UK. I really don't know what to expect, but giving it a go can't hurt. I believe both accept applications until May. I have time.
  • More to follow... This list is by no means done. It's a start. But even with just this list, I'm going to be busy, and it will reshape a lot of how I spend my time. I'm excited about it though. I'm ready to challenge myself. If I can pull this off, I can't see how I won't be in a much better spot to launch back out into the world and the work I want to do once the time comes. So, let's get after it shall we? 

On that note, I need to get after showering myself at the moment, then Leslie and I are headed to grab "New York" bagels. Riiiight... North Carolina, I love you, but that shit just ain't happening here.

Hasta pronto.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Day 0: Patience

9:22AM here in Cary, North Carolina. I'm writing this sprawled out on the guest bed in the guest bedroom of Leslie's house. I've been here a few days now, having left New York on Friday to take a healthy nine hour train ride down the coast. I love trains. They have a way of making you think and yet not think at all. Just lean your head against the window and watch it all roll by. It's nice, particularly when you find yourself in a place of over-thinking everything. It's a much appreciate respite from that.

But it comes back. I'll likely be dealing with it - this overactive mind of mine - until I'm sure I'm going to make it back to the work I want to be doing, and making my life mean something. That's going to take some patience though. A conversation I had with my brother yesterday made that clear.

I have a dog. His name is Mac. He's the coolest dog in the world.

Hi, I'm Mac, the coolest dog in the world.
For the last three years, Mac has been living with my brother in San Francisco, given I moved to New York to help open the office there. This worked for all parties - Mac got to stay with someone he loved, I had my mobility (even though I missed him) and Cort had a great dog to keep him company. About a month and a half ago Cort moved to Los Angeles and is currently living with my dad and stepmom while he works to save up some money to get his own place. Mac stayed in San Francisco with Natasha, my old roommate and Mac's adopted mom. Natasha, however, is gaining traction as a singer and performer so she's currently touring and obviously can't bring Mac, so now we're at a bit of a sticky spot. Long story short, Cort had originally told me it was time for me to come back and get my dog. I was planning on doing just that. Yes, it throws some wrenches in my plans for Nicaragua and the biosand filter project, as having a dog does limit mobility, but he is my responsibility at the end of the day, and I love him, so I need to do what needs to be done. Besides, in my head, I didn't see having Mac as a major issue in regards to that project. Instead of flying down to Nicaragua, I could just buy some crap truck, load it up with the gear I need for the project, and Mac, and drive down. That was the original plan in regards to the pooch. Another option has surfaced, however, and it is a better one. But, it is going to require me to suck it up, check my restlessness, and plant myself in Los Angeles for three months.

Cort wants to take Mac. He doesn't like the idea of me taking him down into Nicaragua. "If you want to go die, go for it, but Mac can't die with you." My brother isn't too keen on me driving through some of the grittier parts of Latin America, particularly Mexico right now, with the drug gangs. "If you can come to LA and get a place that allows you to have Mac for three months, that's enough time for me to get the money I need to get my own place that allows me to have Mac, then I'll take him and you can go." It makes sense. In the long run, I love Mac, but I know he'd make certain things impossible. I very much intend to go to grad school in 2012, very likely in the UK. Mac wouldn't make that very easy to do. I also intend to have a lifestyle that involves a lot of mobility. Mac would definitely make that difficult. By taking three months now to allow my brother to do what he needs to do, I'll be benefiting everyone in the long run. I can work some crap job and save money while I focus on my project on my off-hours, and try my best to learn some French (I have Pimsleur, Rosetta Stone and Fluenz installed and ready to rock). Mac can be with me instead of sitting in a kennel. Cort can get his finances saved up without feeling insane pressure to get out and get a place because of Mac. In the long run, Mac has stability, I have mobility, and Cort has companionship and peace of mind. It makes sense. I'm just going to have to be patient. Sitting in the United States is just about the last thing I want to do right now, but hey, sometimes you gotta pay your dues. I'm lucky for the fact that this one is obviously the right choice in the long run.

So yes, patience. Something I can be good at in moments, and something I struggle with in others. I woke up an hour ago and found an email in my inbox telling me I had a comment on one of my YouTube videos from Haiti. This one:

It made me smile, even if it did tug at heart strings. I miss Little Venice. I miss those people. I miss Marites' daughters. The little girl at the end of the video, Jenisse, is his youngest, and one of the coolest girls I've ever met. She loved me. She'd come and sit on my lap and we'd rap together. She loved my music. In the video, she just so happens to be sitting next to another one of the coolest girls I've ever met, Ms. Mathilde. Needless to say, she's missed too. That particular video was shot during the All Hands mustache growing phenomenon, hence all of us rocking ugly as hell facial hair. God bless it.

Yea. Miss it. Good memories from that place. Little Venice is also the spot where Caelin, Simon (in the video), Christina (in the video) and I got stuck during the torrential downpour in early August. That was hands down one of the best experiences during my time in Haiti. Such wonderful people. Jenisse was there, crawling all over Caelin and me trying to get warm and dry while we all huddled together. So beautiful. So real. It changes you. I got a fairly lucrative job offer from some friends of mine when I was in New York last week. I turned it down. It would involve staying in New York, working in an industry I simply don't have any interest being in, even if my wallet would benefit. "Sorry guys, I really appreciate it, but I can't. My heart's not in it. I can't stay here. I gotta get back out into it. The First World is a temporary proposition for me right now." It is. Besides, I got an email recently, the most beautiful thing anyone has ever written me truth be told, and in it it was made very clear that if I stayed in New York and didn't pursue my dreams, the person who wrote me that letter would fly over to New York and personally knock me out. Being knocked out doesn't sound like a lot of fun. I'll take the other option thank you very much.

So there it is. Patience. Planning. Perspective. I have to take a slightly longer view of this thing. What I want to do isn't complicated in my head. It's once I start to think of the many moving parts that the complexity of it starts to reveal itself. Truth be told, three months of being settled may be really beneficial for what I want to do in the long run. Make money, plan my project, learn French. Not the worst plan, and once it's done, my dog will be happy, my brother will be happy, and I'll have my mobility again. I need that right now, and I love Mac and Cort too much to put them both in a shitty situation because of my own lack of patience. Entonces tengo que tener paciencia. No va ser por mucho tiempo, y cuando termina, todos van a ser mejor. Hell, I may even be able to write that in French once it's all said and done.

OK, up and at it. Leslie and I are going to go play with tigers today. Leslie's much prettier than I am, even if I am a more substantial meal. Let's hope these particular tigers value aesthetic over quantity when it comes to their food.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Day 0: Adieu Angleterre

Wow. What a trip. I left Haiti knowing I'd likely need time to process, consciously or not, what the experience meant for me. I did, and I do, but now, being here for three weeks, it feels as if this experience, in some respects, has been just as intense and beautiful and challenging. It has nothing to do with England itself, unlike Haiti. It has everything to do with the relationships I have with people here. This, more than even Haiti, has been a lesson in intimacy. In many ways, I feel I'm very capable in that area, but this has been something of a wake-up call. Again, I can't go into details, which makes me question whether this post is in fact pointless, but I'm feeling it right now. Intensely. I just said goodbye to someone I got very, very close to here in Oxford. I'm in limbo now - unsure whether I'm going down to London to see another person I'm very close to, or whether I'm staying here and taking a bus to Gatwick tomorrow. I've almost hit a point where the feelings have gotten so intense they've burned out. It isn't numbness. I feel. It's more akin to resignation - the situation, by the nature of the thing, is going to be painful in moments. Accept it. Do everything you can to avoid hurting people any more than is unavoidable. Press on. Be honest. Always be honest. It's scary. Honesty can be terrifying. But you'll always know that you don't have anything to hide, and that others know where you stand. That's worth it.

See you tomorrow NYC. And we continue...

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Day 0: Aristide To Return?

Well now this is interesting. First Baby Doc decides to come back to the country he ruled over as dictator for many years, and now Jean Bertrand Aristide, the twice exiled ex-President of the country, and by many peoples' accounts still the most popular political figure there, is perhaps considering a return? I'm not quite sure what it means for the Haitian people, but given the madness of the last year, I can't say it comes as a surprise.

My thoughts? Let him. Yes, his presence could be destabilizing. His party, Fanmi Lavalas, was barred from running in the elections by current President Preval. Bullshit, considering it is still very popular. To have him return could easily stir the pot, and generate an upswell of support from his base. Is that a bad thing though? If he truly is the people's choice, he should be allowed to return, even if it shakes up the system. It isn't a functioning system to begin with. I can't profess to know what he would be hoping to accomplish if he does come back to Haiti, but the reality is the Haitians don't have much in terms of leadership as it stands now. Hell, if Baby Doc is finding support from people he used to oppress, murder and steal from, it shows how desperately the Haitians want something akin to a steady hand at the wheel, even if that hand has blood on it. Aristide may be another option.

Once again, understanding Haiti proves near impossible. I can't help but love the place regardless.

Day 0: Moving Right Along!

My time in the UK is beginning to wind up, and that's a good thing. It's time for me to go. It has been wonderful to see old friends, get closer to new friends, and see the old haunts, but I really don't have any reason to be here other than to simply say hello and kick around, and I'm finding my social nature isn't the driving force in me at the moment. I'm driven by the desire to get the next project started. My professional nature? I don't know what you'd call it.

That said, being here has been helpful in the sense that it has given me some clarity into things I needed to get clear about, including the relationship I have with someone who has been the focus of a large part of my attention for many months now. Again, I intentionally remain vague on this subject, because it involves other people who may not be as forthcoming as I can sometimes be, but, for me, the clarity comes in the simple understanding that it is time to move on. My attentions need to go elsewhere. I want them to go elsewhere. Keeping them where they are only hurts people I care for, and I'm not OK with that. That was never my intention. I knew this before I came here, I wrote of it before, but being here close to her, and seeing her, has been harder than I expected it would be. It is one thing to understand something in your intellect, another entirely to have to experience it through your emotions. Emotions aren't governed by any set of rules, and they have a way of taking the best laid plans and twisting them. Proximity has a way of bringing emotions to the forefront. The two in combination can make a mess of things. To some degree, they have. I wrote before that I hoped I could come here and be a man I respect and one who earns her respect. I'm not quite sure I succeeded. It's hard to write that, but the truth is important to me. And that's all there is to say really. I don't want to write about it any more. I don't see the need to, as I know it changes nothing, and offers me no further clarity. I'll see her again before I go, at the All Hands Reunion party in London tomorrow. I think it will be a lot of fun. We still do really care for each other, regardless of the challenges. Then, in a few days, I'll leave England, and my focus will shift. It's a big, beautiful world out there, with many wonderful people to be met. Hell, I've met some of them here. So yes, it's time. Let's get back out into the thick of it again shall we? That is where my energy needs to be.

My partners in crime, Max and Dan, are still both committed to starting our project. It may no longer be in Chiapas. We're undecided. Hell, it may not even be in Latin America any more. There are many countries in the world, including some in Africa, that speak English as an official language. The only reason we thought to stick to Latin America was to avoid a language barrier, since I speak Spanish. Looks like we may not have to limit ourselves. I'm intrigued by Africa. Everyone I've ever talked to that I respect and has been there says it has something about it that doesn't leave you. They all intend to one day return. Sierra Leone, for example, is heavily English speaking (85.3% according to Wikipedia) and is clearly a country in need. Yes, security issues are likely much more real there, and need be taken into consideration, but Caelin (a friend I met in Haiti that is currently in Oxford studying) has been there in the thick of it and she's still around, with all four limbs intact at that! I'll talk to her about it today. Be good to get some insight from her. Anyway, the point is, the three of us (and James, back in Haiti) are still very much intending to make this thing happen. That makes me very happy. I can't wait to get back Stateside to link up with them and start to turn this idea into a reality.

But until then, I'm still here in England, and while I do acknowledge I'm ready to go, I also intend to enjoy the time and company of my friends here while I'm still with them. I've been in Coventry for the last few days, spending time with Paddy. Tonight, we're headed back to Oxford to rendezvous with his friend Lisa and maybe a few more people, and then tomorrow Paddy, Simon, Jodie and I head down to Londontown to see quite a few more friends from All Hands. So then, onto it...

Oh, but before I go, the history dork in me would kick my own ass (not that history dorks are really known for that) if I didn't share this: Coventry was heavily, heavily bombed during World War II. There isn't much remaining today to remind you of that except for the old cathedral. I went there the other day, to take some pictures. This struck me:

Then. Churchill walks the grounds.
Now. Tourists do the same.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Day 0: What Am I Doing?

What am I doing? That question has been running through my head since I left Haiti, but has intensified being here in England. What am I doing? What am I doing here? Floating around. Banging into people and places, sometimes in a good way, sometimes in a bad way. I'm hurting myself some, but that's OK, I expected that, but I'm also hurting other people I care for, and that I'm not OK with. It isn't intentional, but that's no excuse. This place of limbo - this place of total disconnect, in which I don't belong anywhere and don't have anything to put my talents toward - is humbling but also chaotic and somewhat volatile. I have huge reserves of energy that Haiti brought out in me that are simply sitting inside me at the moment, making even basic day to day things hard to do - sleep, eat, focus. I've been doing more drinking than I should. It helps sedate me when I'm trying to go to bed.

I don't write this as some sort of poor me confessional. I write it to simply be honest. A lot of people told me the time following Haiti was going to be hard. I knew that it had been for many people before me. Many of them came back to the project as soon as they could, which I imagine they did to escape the fallout that leaving the first time created in them. As my friend Kurt from Haiti told me upon his return - "A lot of people tell you how wonderful they think it is that you've put your life on hold to go help others. I realized that is totally wrong. My life was on hold. Coming here sparked it. Before I was just existing. Here I'm living." I get that. I know now why it can be so hard to leave. I know why so many choose to come back as soon as they can. I don't have plans to go back to Haiti. I have plans to start my own project with two close friends of mine, as I've written about before. For now, however, I must be patient. I felt like I'd need time off after Haiti, to kick around and see friends and just be. I'm finding that to be a dangerous proposition - simply being when in a place of upheaval and transition isn't a good thing. Having endless time with my own thoughts isn't productive, or healthy right now. I feel very torn, because I am happy to be here to see my friends, and, even though it can be painful, seeing M is also nice, but in some ways I wish my time in England was over. That I could skip ahead, enjoy North Carolina, see my family in Los Angeles, and then go. Get out again. Get lost in it again. Push forward again with purpose.

Purpose. That's it. It's like a drug. Haiti was full of it. I never even had to question whether what I was doing was worth it, or purposeful. Here, I feel its absence. Once you've found it, you can't let it go for very long. It has a funny way of reminding you you need to find it again.