Friday, March 25, 2011

Day 0: A Question (To Myself)

One of the things I find myself asking myself a lot in regards to this blog, and the majority of the writing that I do these days is a simple one - is there a point? When I was in Haiti, there was a point. I wanted to both chronicle my adventures for my own sake and be able to share them with people who might be interested in a first-person account of what life in Haiti was really like for an out-of-country aid worker. Seems pretty straight forward. I was only one of many volunteers at All Hands writing a blog. I assume most of us wrote them for similar reasons.

The thing is, I'm not in Haiti anymore. My life isn't quite as outwardly interesting as it was there. In some respects, I feel like I'm not really doing much these days to warrant writing, because I hate the idea of writing just to read my own thoughts. I have a hard time believing that I have enough to offer at this point to come from a place of simply being me, with nothing else to add some level of depth to whatever it is I'm trying to put out there. Yet, I also know that where I am right now - a strange limbo place - is, in fact, perhaps one of the most interesting places to try and explore, even if the majority of my time right now is spent sitting in a nondescript one-bedroom apartment in West Hollywood, on my computer or watching Netflix documentaries or listening to music and podcasts and Pimsleur French lessons. Again, on the surface, I'm not doing a whole hell of a lot, but underneath that, there's an abundance of invisible activity. I'm in my head more now than I've been in a long time. I've a lot to think about, or at least that's what I tell myself. I'm sure it is a place a lot of people can relate to. Maybe there's value in sharing it?

I don't know the answer really, and this isn't the first time I've struggled with this question. So then, enough writing for now. I don't think it's getting me any closer to clarity and I don't want to write circles simply to do it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Day 0: Well, That Was Enlightening

OK, don't ask me why I thought a class labeled "TurboKick" offered at 24 Hour Fitness was going to be anything remotely close to a real kickboxing class. Wishful thinking maybe? I mean, I knew this wasn't going to be Fairtex (the muay-thai gym where I got my ass handed to me on a not at all regular basis when I lived in San Francisco), but good god, I didn't expect it to be what it was. Let's break it down for you:

I knew this wasn't likely:

But this I wasn't ready for:

Needless to say, after bouncing around like a moron for about thirty seconds, I knew there wasn't a snowball's chance in hell I was staying for sixty minutes of that ridiculousness. That's right people, I was that guy who very unstealth-like walks all the way across the entire room in the middle of the instructor giving her far too excited instructions and leaves. Lesson learned. Now, should I choose to explore another new 24 Hour Fitness class offering, I'll be setting up camp near the door. I took a quick pass through the cardio room but the machines all looked completely alien to me, with pretty people far too peppily climbing never-ending stairs and riding one-wheeled bikes and running forever in place. I had to leave immediately. So here I sit, typing instead of working out. I suppose I could have jumped in the pool (that's the main reason I signed up for that gym, given I love to swim) but I somehow lost my swimsuit in the shuffle from Haiti to NYC to England to NYC to NC to CA and my replacement one hasn't gotten here yet.

Anyway, not much else to report. Job hunting is a bit soul-killing (I really, really hate the Craigslist jobs board) but gotta do what ya gotta do. Going in for an interview tomorrow about a tele-fundraising gig. It pays nothing, but at least I'd be raising money for things I can get behind - environmental causes, LGBT causes, etc., and besides, it's three months. I can do that. If nothing else, it'll stop me hemorrhaging the ever-dwindling savings I want to make last until grad school come Fall 2012.  And if I land a restaurant gig between now and when I leave LA, I'll work both. The more money the better.

Connected with someone on Skype this morning that lit up my day and made me refocus myself to a certain degree - remember why I'm here, and what awaits down the road if I can make it all come together. She has a way of being a driving force for me. She reminds me of what my life can be. She brings out the best in me.

Alright then, if exercise isn't happening today I damn well ain't skipping language learning. Time to bone up on my Fran├žais. Fluenz French, let's do this.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Day 0: Settled In (Well, Physically Anyway)

Alright, I'm in my place of sorts, that is, the place I'll be living for the next three or so months. My brother and I are sharing a one-bedroom here in West Hollywood, in the epicenter of the gayest part of LA, and perhaps, after the Castro, the country. Hey, I'm down. The gay fellas know how to make a neighborhood nice. One of my favorite neighborhoods in San Diego, a city I by and large detest, was Hillcrest, the "gay" neighborhood. Good restaurants, clean, fun shops (not that I'm really into shopping). Same here. Place is nice too. Big enough that Cort has the bedroom and I have my little space in the living room. This apartment in Manhattan would cost double what it does here, if not more. Cort's going to be happy here I think. That makes me happy. And both of us have had enough time kickin' it with the gay community to be totally comfortable getting hit on, which undoubtedly is going to happen a lot in this neighborhood. So be it, let's do this boys!

Yea, that's right, welcome to the good life.
So yes, "home". Not really, but that's OK, I'm content here. I bought myself a cheap twin bed and mattress off Craigslist. A cheap desk from Target. Bedding. A towel. A lamp. A folding metal chair. Some clothes hangers. Deodorant. The basics. I don't need much else, besides a job. Stay busy. Make money. Continue to plan my next move, and, when the time comes, make it.

I'd be lying if I said I was happy. I'm not. I'm not unhappy either, really. I just am. I'm existing. I feel very flat-lined emotionally right now. I'm figuring out ways to make the days go by. Just finished a great book - A Thousand Splendid Suns. Talk about putting things in perspective. Here's to hoping the Taliban never manage to regain control anywhere ever again. Better yet, just eradicate the bunch of them from off the face of the planet. I've no sympathy. Not for people who make life so horrific for others. OK, yea, settle down Quinn. Anyway, good book. Read it.

I like being with my brother, and being with my pup, and I like being able to see my dad and stepmom fairly regularly. It's nice to see Mike and Christina and Ginny and Ariel and Jenni and other close friends. Still though, I'm lonely. It became clear to me in Haiti that I'm ready to give myself to someone, but it's also clear to me that I'm not going to pursue any random girl to make it happen. I'm not that type of person. I'm happy to wait, and be patient, and, when the right one comes along, I trust I'll know it. I had glimpses of it before, in a beautiful woman I was with before Haiti, and I truly found it for the first time in Haiti, where I met a girl I became very close to. I know now what it feels like. And truth be told, I'd be lying if I said I'm still not hurting a bit in regards to that girl from Haiti, which would suggest I'm actually not yet ready to try and partner up with someone else, even if it might make me feel better in the here and now. It isn't really fair to the other person. Sure, a more playful, casual thing I'm open to. That can be a lot of fun in its simplicity. But something deeper right now? Nope. Not the time. Not yet anyway. Besides, I chose this. I could have walked a different path. I didn't. I chose trying to build a life I can be proud of before trying to be partner to someone I'd come to love and respect. It seems to me the right order of things. You can't really be with someone in any truly healthy way over the long run until you're happy with yourself - with who you are, and with what you've made your life mean. With what you do when you wake up in the morning. I'm not quite there yet. I'm getting ever closer, but I'm not there. Not yet. Hence choosing not to relocate to London. Hence being here for the next few months, even if I know it isn't where I want to be, or where I'm going to be. It's good to remind myself of that. It grounds me. I'm at the point now where I trust my gut. It wasn't always that way. I'm really glad to have reached that place, even if on occasion I need to remember that that is, in fact, the case.

So all said and done, I'm cool being where I'm at with it all. I suppose it's natural to miss the person who unlocked something in me for the first time, even if it was brief, and now, many months ago. And I'm fine with hurting every once in a while as a result of not having her around any more. It's part of being human really. In many respects, it's the most powerful part of being human - hurting. It brings out your compassion, and humility, and, if you let it, it will make you a more honest person, with yourself as much as with others. That's invaluable. Most people don't like to hurt though. They'll do whatever they can to avoid it. I've got my methods, definitely. I'm no better than the next guy. But right now I'm not engaging any of them. I'm not drinking, I'm not wasting hours on end playing video games. I guess reading is an escape, but it's one I'm happy to allow myself. I suppose that's why time feels strange right now - I'm present to it. Maybe this emotional mutedness is part of it. If you're truly present, it's hard to swing dramatically. That usually comes as a result of pushing furiously into a nonexistent future, or clinging desperately to a dead past. I still do play in the future, and linger in moments past, but I know when I am, and something about knowing it strips it of its potency. I very rarely find myself truly in pain because of it anymore. I'm very rarely all in. It's usually pretty easy for me to snap back to present. Mornings, after I've been dreaming, can sometimes be tricky, but I suppose that makes sense - dreaming is one thing I can't control, or realize I'm doing (never did figure out that whole lucid dreaming thing), so its potency isn't diminished. And dreams aren't real. They unfold in pasts and futures and alternate presents. Waking up to the real present can be jarring. But it passes, and I'm out of bed. I'm in the shower, and then getting dressed, and now my dog is wagging his tail at me with his goofy grin, and I'm smiling back and speaking in that ridiculous voice reserved only for him, and my brother is figuring out what to do for breakfast, and I'm here, and that's good enough for me right now. Paciencia gringo, I tell myself. It's a big beautiful world out there. Do what you need to do now to get out into it again soon. Or, the wise man sayeth in return, realize that you're in it already. Now. Right now. Really?, I say, Los Angeles? Really? Really? Fuck. You're an asshole you know that? You're right, but you're an asshole. Then I realize I'm being a dick. Check yourself Quinn. You've so much of what other people only wish they had. Haiti was proof enough of that. The world is proof enough of that.

The Hype Machine is great. One of my favorite things to do when I'm simply being is hunting for music. I'm a bit of a madman in how excited I can get when I find new songs I like, and The Hype Machine is a great resource for that. Highly recommend it for fellow music junkies. Here's a few I just found, remixes by one of my favorite bands, Home Video:

The Naked Hearts - Only For You (Home Video Remix)
Bear In Heaven - Ultimate Satisfaction (Home Video Remix)


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Day 0: Playing Catch Up

Playing night owl tonight apparently. It's Saturday, 3:21AM. No real desire to go out and get rowdy. I've been good on the whole no drinking aspect of the Los Angeles Experiment, and so much of going out involves that, so I chose to stay in. Watched Jackass 3D with my friend Mike. Guilty pleasure, unquestionably, but it had some funny parts in it. "The High Five" is pretty hilarious. Then I opened up my videos from Haiti and we went through them. There are so many. He wanted to see the people and the places I talk to him about, so that's what we did.

Now I'm in the process of trying to go through them and get them a little bit more organized so I can get them up on YouTube. It'll take a bit of time, but once it is done, you can find them on my YouTube channel. Here's a few that have finished uploading:

Many more to come.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Day 0: Living In The Now But Damn The Future's Looking Bright

All smiles today. Sitting here at Stir Crazy, the local coffee shop I like in my temporary neighborhood. Cool vibe, outside seating w/ plugs to jack into, and a damn cute young lady working the counter who agrees with me that, as Android smartphone owners, we're clearly outnumbered by the overwhelming number of Mac fanboys in this place. No joke. Every single person in here the other day was rockin' an Apple laptop. Marketing and Los Angeles. Match made in heaven. Anyway, yea, like to come here w/ Mac (that'd be my DOG, not a computer), order the bottomless iced coffee for $2.50, grab a table outside, plug in, jump on WiFi, and handle what I need to handle. The fact that the password for the network is "surfyourballsoff" just seals the deal.

Jumped on Facebook this morning and saw that Dan, one of my partners in the biosand project I'm trying to put together, is headed back to Haiti come May. At first this came as a bit of a surprise, given I'm projecting we'll kick off our own project come June or July, but after talking to him, I came up with what is, in all likelihood, an even better idea.

Instead of going straight from LA to Nicaragua (I've basically honed in on Nicaragua as the spot to make this project happen), I'll instead head back to Haiti for a few months in the summer. Dan will be there, and I imagine Max (our other partner) will also come, and James (the fourth and final partner, and one my best friends from Haiti who is Haitian and living / working in Leogane) will already be there. All of the key players will be in the same place. The biosand project I helped start for All Hands in Leogane will still be running, so I can check in on my baby and see how she's doing, and, perhaps more importantly, Max and Dan can spend time working that project to get a lot more familiar with all things biosand filter, given that'll be our next stop after Haiti. James already knows a lot - he was the one who helped me set it up to begin with. And hell, I'm sure by the time I get back the project will have evolved and I'll be able to learn a lot more as well. Win-win for everyone.

It makes sense, and besides, I really do miss my friends in Haiti. It'd be great to see them all again, and to spend some time back in the place that really cemented in me the desire to make this work my career. And I have no doubt that Nicaragua isn't going to be easy, but I think we'll be a lot better prepared for it after spending a few months in Leogane at the peak of Haitian summer, sweating like mad, getting our hands dirty again. I almost want to book my flight to touchdown on the Port-au-Prince runway July 1st. That's the day I landed in Haiti last year. Seems appropriate.

Life eh? Has a funny way of constantly wriggling around on you. It's like one of those toys that some of you may remember from back in the day - the long tube-like squishy plastic things filled with water or some sort of liquid that rolled in on themselves and were downright impossible to hold onto. Right when you thought you had it, it'd slip out of your grip. You'd scramble to try and catch it before it hit the ground, and you very rarely pulled it off. And yet, that was the fun of it. If you could just hold the damn thing, you'd get bored pretty quickly, and probably end up throwing it at someone, a water balloon of sorts. At least that's what I'd do. Right at my brother's face. But I digress... I guess what I'm trying to say is life is unpredictable. That scares the shit out of a lot of people, but for me, I find there's a lot of fun to be had in uncertainty. If I could just hold life and direct it to unfold exactly as I desired, I'm sure I'd get bored of it. I want life to wriggle out of my grasp. Trying to catch it again is such a huge part of being alive.

On that note, time to rock out to my favorite song as of late. Won't you join me?

And hell, while we're at it, have a few more:

Suffice to say, Pretty Lights rocks.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Day 0: The Past Is Gone, The Future Doesn't Exist

That's the truth really. It's not one I'm particularly good at living my life by, but at the end of the day, any wise person will tell you as much. What has happened has happened. It won't happen again. Not like it did. And what you project into the future isn't real. It is fiction. It has no form. It doesn't exist. It can come to pass that it is what you envisioned it to be, but that's not guaranteed. The future never is. The present, that's all we've got, you and me and everyone. The present. Learn to love it. You're going to spend your entire life in it.

Something shifted in me a few days ago. Had a rough night. It was hard to be here, hard to be in the tiny guest bedroom of my friend's dad's house. It felt too small, the air too still, the sounds too tame. I could feel the absence of the dogs howling, and the vodou drums, and the kompa music. I felt incredibly lonely. I felt unsure of my ability to live up to what I hope to be able to accomplish. It was uncomfortable. I wanted so badly to reach out to someone who I could let in when I'm like that, but nobody exists right now that is that person. I've got my friends, yes, but they don't quite fit the bill for me when I'm in that place, and I've got my brother, who I can always lean on, but again, it isn't quite the right fit. For me, that fit comes in the form of a woman I've taken as my partner, and right now, no such woman exists. So I went in reverse. I jumped back through my hoops, back to North Carolina, back to New York and Oxford and London, back to Port-au-Prince and Leogane and my tent on its bed of cinderblocks on the roof under the bright stars hanging above a dark and beautiful country. I stayed there. It was a sweet place to linger. I liked that tent. I like the memories I have of it. I went through those memories. They made me smile, and, truth be told, they also made me cry. So be it. It isn't something to be embarrassed by. Haiti was huge. I'm feeling it now that I've finally stopped moving and just have the time and space to simply be. My dog, sensitive one that he is, crawled up on the bed and nuzzled me. It was nice. We huddled up together in the dark and eventually fell asleep.

I awoke the next morning worse for it. I felt completely disconnected from where I was, and where in many ways I need to be right now. It was unpleasant, like suffering from an itch you simply can't reach to scratch. I walked around with no purpose or direction, eating things and checking the same empty Gmail inbox and Facebook page, repeating the boredom of the cycle. Finally I talked to my friend Helen on Skype for a bit, and, being one of my closest, she quickly picked up on my mood. She told me something I didn't want to hear. I signed off in the middle of our conversation. I was annoyed, because I knew she was right, and I didn't want to accept it. But, slowly, over the course of the day, I came to realize the truth in her rather blunt statement. It made me come to see that, like it or not, a large part of me was living in a past that doesn't exist any more, and no amount of wanting it to remain will keep it. It made me accept that the beauty of Haiti and what I experienced there is over. What I have now is this - Los Angeles, California. Do with it what I will. At first it felt so depressing - Los Angeles isn't a place I envisioned myself calling "home" right now - but I came to see the beauty in accepting it as such. It's my home now. Now isn't permanent, and now can be wonderful if I know it isn't permanent, and choose to find pleasures in the temporariness of it (is that even a word?). I have wonderful friends here, and most of my immediate family is here. My dog is here. My brother is here. That's a lot of good to be taking advantage of.

Los Angeles is also a springboard for me, a pitstop en route to a much more desired place: myself in a beautiful community somewhere down in Latin America, running a project with great friends beside me, bringing clean water to people that need it. That's my destination. It's there for the taking. Los Angeles is simply where I'm catching a few breaths and making a bit of money before I shove off. That's the truth. But there's another truth in that truth: I have to be here, present, living now, here, now, if I'm going to get there. I can't linger in the past. I can't circle the ghosts of a place and of people that, while still existing, are not in my life any more. Haiti will be there. The people I grew close to are still out there. But none of them are here. Leogane is not here. My tent is not here. It's probably lying as ashes on the bottom of one of the incinerators in the back of the JLB, like so many tents before it. It doesn't exist any more. Not like it did. None of it does. I'm allowed to appreciate it all, and to move forward changed by it, and be a better person for the experience of it, but I cannot give it my energy. I inherently already know this. I've walked this path before, when I took part in my mom's battle with, and death from, cancer. Holding her hand, hearing her final words to me and then again to my brother ("I love you." "I love you.") and watching her take her last breath was incredibly painful. There's no way it couldn't have been. It still hurts in moments. Even just typing that, and re-reading it, pulls at my chest and tightens my throat. Yet, I was not crippled by her death, I am not crippled by her death, because I didn't linger on it. I don't linger on it. The strength in her final moments has a lot to do with that, and is something I am and always will be eternally grateful for. But once she was still, it was up to me to choose the path I wanted to take - one of acceptance and progression, or one of disbelief and resistance. I chose the first. I need to do the same now. To make what I want to happen actually happen is going to require energy. It is going to require focus. I need to wake up in the morning no longer thinking about those ghosts from my time in Haiti, but about the now, and what I can do in it to get ever closer to my desired future. I need to be thinking about that same thing when I go to sleep at night.

It's that simple really. My life has promise. I love the cusp I'm standing on. The door is there. I know it exists. I can begin to move toward it. In my mind's eye I can see through it at times, catching uncertain glimpses of what may await me on the other side. The door is there. But I can't open it, I can't walk through it, until I face it. I won't find my way to it unless it is in front of me. I have to stop looking behind. My life doesn't exist there any more. Ghosts aren't real, no matter how powerfully they can manifest themselves in moments.

So that's what I'm going to do. Today was the first real day of that for me, and already, in reaching out to someone in the present to share my ideas for the future, I've uncovered what could be a very valuable resource in reaching that future. That's as good a sign as any that I'm facing the right direction.

So then, time to start walking.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Day 0: LaLa Land

And here I am. 1:26AM. Sleep is hard to come by tonight, as it was last night, but it doesn't stem from something being wrong. I've just been thinking a lot these last few days. I imagine I'll continue to for the duration of my time here. It's what I want. These thoughts, they go everywhere. They circle the tent-covered rooftop of my old home in Leogane, and swim through the reefs of Jacksonville Beach. They pass down the alleys of ancient Oxford, moving toward St. Clement's Street. They exit London Bridge Station and linger in the shadows of Southwark Cathedral, waiting. They carry with them hopes of a future, and fears that it won't come to pass. They double back on themselves to take bittersweet comfort in the bygone pleasures of the past.

My heart is more open than it has ever been. Such, it seems, is Haiti's gift. My heart couldn't resist it. And someone found it like that there, open, and pulled it even wider. She had to go away, but my heart stayed the way she left it. It's strong, my heart, and OK with being open, and it has reaped the rewards in the form of meaningful friendships, and moments of sweetness with beautiful people. It has found them in all the places I've been since I left my home in Leogane: Port-au-Prince, New York, London, Oxford, North Carolina, Los Angeles.

I'm very lucky for the life I've been able to lead these many months. I feel very much in love with possibility.

Mesi a ou, zanmi mwen, pou tout bagay. And for my three wild wheels, keep spinning. Por ti, belleza, un beso (y sangria!). And you, my evil Angel, a begrudging acknowledgement that I do, in fact, miss you. For my actor clown mother sister, thank you for being there for me in those many moments I've needed you without knowing it. And you, my bald beauty from the desk job days, I look forward to our talks to come. Abuela, you listen to me without judgement when I speak of things that make me feel weak, as everyone hopes a grandmother will. Y tu, hermano mio, you make me proud - you're the reason I'm happy to be here now.  And for you who lingers in my past, my present, my future, for you who pulled wider this open heart of mine, as then, and now, and always, anpil.