Listening to: “One April Day” – Stephin Merritt

Dude, can you believe this Western United States? It’s fucking crazy, man. Apparently there are snow storms back East or something. Ha. Ha ha.

canyonlake

It’s been sunny and dry and infinite ever since I landed in Phoenix last Tuesday. I’m staying out here with some good old friends, and I’ve been doing lots of climbing and riding in cars and making primitive-sounding exclamations at all the prettiness everywhere. Prettiness in the great outdoors that is. Nature = beautiful, but the cities here? Not so much. Because they can, the cities here stretch squat and wide. Phoenix isn’t so much urban as one endless suburb, halted from further stretching its tentacles only by the mountains.

We drove to Vegas, too. Saw the Hoover Dam, which looked like something out of Lord of the Rings. There was snow in Flagstaff, AZ, and dust in Boulder City, NV and wind in Needles, CA, and sun everywhere. We spotted the honest-to-god Oscar Mayer Wienermobile (!) in a bitty outpost along the old Route 66.

fishpools

We stayed at the Rio near the strip, I gambled a minute amount at one of the low limit casinos in Old Vegas (“old” being about 50 years), had a cigar at the Venetian and a dirty martini at Wynn. We recharged from the madness that is the Strip by climbing in Red Rock outside the city, eating at In-N-Out Burger, and holing up at a genuine hipster bar along Fremont.

Today I went hiking in South Mountain Park south of Phoenix, ambled along the ridgeline, snuck out of the park through a horse ranch, and walked about 2 miles along a rural highway with the mountains all looming and purple behind me. Got about 6 honks, pet some nice dogs. My friend picked me up a mile short of civilization.

altatrail

And now, I am very tired. Three days till I head back eastward and trade my cheap bomber jacket and Chucks for my cheap down coat and snow boots. Freeeeaking New England.

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Listening to: “North Adams” – Gabriel Kahane

In another bid to crystallize my utter gastric disgust with her, Sarah Palin demonizes international travel. When asked why she didn’t have a passport until last year:

I’m not one of those who maybe came from a background of, you know, kids who perhaps graduate college and their parents give them a passport and give them a backpack and say go off and travel the world. No, I’ve worked all my life. In fact, I usually had two jobs all my life until I had kids. I was not a part of, I guess, that culture.

‘Cause you know, only lazy entitled people travel. Good Americans who work for a living wouldn’t dream of leaving U.S. soil unless coerced.

Gross gross gross. Anyway, I try not to let my horror at the tubes America is going down ruin my already foul disposition. Funny thing — a downward-spiraling economy isn’t so awesome for helping to find employment. I’m thinking now’s a better time than ever to quit this country for a bit, provided I can find something quasi-lucrative overseas.

If only I could focus my attention, lazer-like, on what I want. It’s just that I want about a hundred things — and most of them don’t work with each other. It doesn’t really gel with the way society works right now. So it’s hard. I just like to move — I don’t really care about the destination. But that’s not the way to be “successful” in this world. Maybe I need to find a different world.

—-

I’ve been reading West With the Night, Beryl Markham‘s memoirs about her years as a aviatrix/horse trainer/huntress/all-around badass in pre-World War II Kenya and England. She’s pretty much the awesomest person who ever was — a totally independent woman in an era and a place where that was really difficult, an adventurer, a free thinker, a total babe, and a really good writer. (There’s a theory that her then-husband, who was a journalist, was the real author of West With the Night; but I like to think it was Beryl who wrote it.)

Anyway, I’m at a part in the book where she’s on a safari with some white hunters on the Yatta Plateau, having an introspective moment while sitting around a campfire. Though she was born in England, she’s been in East Africa since the age of 3:

You were alone when you sat and talked with the others — and they were alone. This is so wherever you are if it is night and a fire burns in free flames rising to a free wind. What you say has no ready ear but your own, and what you think is nothing except to yourself. The world is there, and you are here — and these are the only poles, the only realities …

I return to my list of things needed, but not for long. I wonder if I should have a change — a year in Europe this time — something new, something better, perhaps. A life has to move or it stagnates. Even this life, I think.

It is no good telling yourself that one day you will wish you had never made that change; it is no good anticipating regrets. Every tomorrow ought not to resemble every yesterday.

Still, I look at my yesterdays for months past, and find them as good a lot of yesterdays as anybody might want. I sit there in the firelight and see them all.

The hours that made them were good, and so were the moments that made the hours. I have had responsibilities and work, dangers and pleasure, good friends, and a world without walls to live in. These things I still have, I remind myself — and shall have until I leave them …

Meanwhile, haven’t I got two quarts of water, a pound of biltong — and the doctor’s bottled sleep (should I be hors de combat and the Siafu hungry that night)? I certainly have, and, moreover, I am not defenceless. I have a Luger in my locker — a gun that Tom has insisted on my carrying, and which can be used as a short rifle simply by adjusting its emergency stock. What could be better? I am an expedition by myself, complete with rations, a weapon, and a book to read — Air Navigation, by Weems.

All this, and discontent too! Otherwise, why am I sitting here dreaming of England? Why am I gazing at this campfire like a lost soul seeking a hope when all that I love is at my wingtips? Because I am curious. Because I am incorrigibly now, a wanderer.

Ugh, Beryl man, I feel ya. Here’s an example of someone who’s driven, but in more than one direction. And she manages. She more than manages — she’s a fucking hero. It was a different time though, when there were more frontiers, more things to do that hadn’t yet been done.

—-

I went on another hike in New Hampshire last weekend with J, Tuck and some more peeps. It was perfect clear early fall weather. We hiked 15 miles, hitting two summits in the Upper Valley — Mt. Smarts and Mt. Cube. Ridiculous names, no?

A little over halfway, we camped overnight and finally got to build a fire! Here’s the view west toward Vermont from the abandoned firetower on the top of Mt. Smarts:

Ah, mountain climbing. So much more clear-cut than anything else in life.

*Takes thoughtful drag from universal pretentious cigarette*

Listening to: “River” – Joni Mitchell

I don’t have time to be going all bloggy now, I’ve got shit to do–but isn’t that always the time when I write in this fucking thing?

Rooting around my drawers today, I came across my old travel journal from my 6 months studying abroad in London my junior year of college. Well, from only 3 of those months actually. I kept a different journal during the first 3 months. It was a Moleskine notebook. I lost it one spring day in a field in Surrey. At least, that’s the last time I remember seeing it. There’s even a picture of me writing in it that day:

Last seen

I was on a hike around the countryside with a friend’s school group. We had ducked into a random old church (aren’t they all in England?) that turned out to contain the oldest wall painting in Europe. Or somesuch impressive historical statistic. It had been covered over during Henry VIII’s reign, because goons were going around the countryside in the wake of the “Reformation” destroying Catholic or Pagan-leaning paintings. In the mid-20th century, people restoring the church knocked into a wall and found it, perfectly preserved, hidden behind. I put 40 pence into a wooden box for a postcard of the mural and stuck it in my journal and walked out of the church with it in my hand. We continued on through farmers’ fields. Later, on the Tube back to my flat in East London, I realized it was missing from my bag.

I think of all the things I’ve lost or misplaced in my life (and there have been lots), if I could reclaim any one of them, it would be that journal. It had recollections, sketches, souvenirs, poems, and story fragments from my stay in London and from my trips to Paris, Dublin, the Lake District, Oxford, Bath, Peterborough, Brighton, Vienna, and Salzburg. To lose it was… well, it sucks. It sucks a lot.

But I digress; I was talking about the journal I do still have, the little orange leather-bound journal I bought at the Guggenheim Museum in New York in 2003. And I’m very thankful that I still have that one. I read through it tonight when I found it. This one has the goods from Barcelona, Madrid, Mallorca, Rome, Venice, Edinburgh, Glasgow, the Scottish Highlands, and the airplane ride back to the States.

In addition to all my writing, it’s got Metro tickets, cigarette ashes, tattoo designs, pigeon feathers, rose petals, restaurant napkins, beer labels, herb leaves… It was the happiest and saddest time of my life. Happy, because I was doing my favorite thing–traveling. And I was prolific, and I was learning how to be on my own, and discovering new things about myself, and hooking up with lots of random boys. Sad, because I was intensely lonely and depressed, and didn’t know what I wanted and was racking up infinite debt.

When I finished reading, I looked around my apartment and took a brief stock of my current situation–busy beyond comprehension, a published writer, slowly paying off my debts, a dog in the kitchen, still single (no patience for relationships, mon chers), still a slob, a few days away from 24.

Aw shit. I’m having one of those stupid quarter-life crises, aren’t I?

Well, not exactly “on the road.” More like, “on the other side of the office again.” My desk has been re-moved back to where I was this summer. No more watching the sun set out the window, or listening to the mysterious other guys in the corner butt heads about obscure things.

I do wish I was on the road, though. Walking Tucker this morning, in the relative heat of an unseasonably warm January, I caught a whiff of something indefinable that made me think of London. It actually made my heart pull a little. I gotta get out of town, dude. And not to New York, or DC, or Rochester, or Vermont, which are the only other places I ever go lately. I mean like the fuck off the East Coast. Smell some different air. Realign my perspective.

Last night after seeing a show, I stopped in for a pizza slice. While I was eating, I overheard one of the most inane conversations I’ve ever been privy to. This guy and a girl, apparently on a date, discussing…condiments. Seriously. It’d be a full minute on ketchup, two minutes on mustard, and just when I think they’re done, the guy’s like, “So what do you think of mayonnaise?”

Then it hit me: this is why I hate going on dates! Because they’re inane and awful! Absurd little mating dances where nobody learns anything real about the other person, and you come across as the lamest possible version of yourself. Still, I can’t think of a better solution.

Can YOU?

Inquiring Cookie Monsters want to know.

Listening to: “100 Days, 100 Nights” – Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings

Just got back from a send-off party at my office for two out-going engineers (unfortunately, they’re not particularly outgoing engineers). I spent a long time talking with Richard, a Scottish ex-rocker with long black hair. He had brought a quite expensive bottle of 14-year-old scotch to the shindig, which went down really smooth with a bit of water.

I’d listen to Richard tell stories even if they were boring as hell–the man’s got a Scottish accent, for chrissake! But his stories are really, really interesting. He’s traveled all over the world, met lots of very cool people, and done some very cool stuff. I was asking him about his travels, and how he’d been able to afford it.

Turns out he made his way from Scotland to Southeast Asia working the night shift at a frozen quiche factory. Once he reached Thailand, he got everything–room, board, booze, pot, and sundry–by playing his guitar wherever he went. I told him, I can’t play guitar. He said, there are a million things you can do to make your way. Then I brought up my student debts that don’t seem like they’ll be going away till I’m well into old age.

“There’s never a good time to go,” Richard said. “You’ll always be in debt, and there will always be a lot of good reasons not to go. So you just have to go. Decide you’re going to, and just do it. Go.”

He’s right.

Screw moving to New York after my lease is up in September. I’ve spent too long on the East Coast. Besides, I’ll live there eventually. I’ll get my parents to take care of Tucker for a few months, and fuck off to somewhere. Make jewelry, whatever. Do what I have to do. I’m good at traveling; I’ve done it before.

Fuck it. I’m setting a goal. I am. There’s never a good time, so why not now?

Listening to: “Shankill Butchers” – The Decemberists

As much as I respect Colin Meloy’s right to have a nervous breakdown, couldn’t he have waited till after their Boston gig? I had those tickets for 3 months….

Lord, I’m heartless.

But I digress. I was going to say something about something being a great equalizer.

Oh yes——wait. I forgot.

Something about inertia.

Fuck it.

Ehhrmm….literary quote to the rescue!

“Foreign places yield more to one who is himself worth meeting.” ~ Beowulf (Seamus Heaney transl.)

Tomorrow, I’m interviewing the director of the Moscow Cats Theatre for the Herald. Yes, I really mean a circus. With cats. From Russia. Doing tricks. He apparently looks something like this:

*Braces self*