Sunday, August 26, 2012

En Tierra de Nadie

Perhaps my best years are gone...
but I wouldn't want them back.
Not with the fire in me now.
~Samuel Beckett

Last weekend Jonathan and I went to the southern outskirts of Cochabamba to visit a neighborhood called Kara Kara.  The previous week a man named Ariel had come to the front door of the office looking for me.  We had never met but he knew my name and was looking for a few minutes of my time.  As we sat and talked he told me about how the solid waste disposal system worked in Cochabamba.  He explained how trash was taken to this place called Kara Kara, and how small illegal housing communities were popping up in and around the vast landfills, all teeming with poor families scraping a meager living off of scavenging recyclable materials from the trash heaps.  Ariel explained how he was making a documentary about the landfills, and how he wanted to share the stories of these families who were raising their children in a city of garbage.

Thus, several short days later, Jonathan and I agreed to take a short field trip out to Kara Kara, which literally means, "a place where nothing grows" in Quechua, to see for ourselves.  Although our curiosities were piqued, I must admit I was skeptical of our film-making friend who was to be our guide.  Why was Ariel so eager to help?  Aside from promoting his cause what ELSE did he want from us?  We crammed our over-sized Western bodies into an under-sized Bolivian taxi and off we went.  To say I wasn't prepared for what followed would not but true.  I was prepared.  But being prepared did nothing to help assuage the gut wrenching feeling that comes from seeing people living in the runoff of a broken world.  Walking through it while they take their kids to school.  Hopping over it to get from one path to another.  We were dressed as inauspiciously as possible, without cameras, without goggling eyes, but I couldn't help but feel like we stuck out like football players at a baby shower.

As we walked up the dusty hill to gain a better view of the area Jonathan pointed upwards at a plastic bag that had been caught by the wind and lifted high into the sky.  I smiled at the novelty of it, until my gaze continued past the bag and I could see dozens more, even higher, all floating hundreds of meters in the air, as if they were a flock of vultures circling death.  I suppose in many ways, that's precisely what they were.  At the crest of the hill we stopped and took in the surrounding area.  Hundreds of mud and tin houses dotted the hills, all precariously balanced on the hills in and around the titanic-esque landfills.  Dogs were everywhere, children were everywhere.  So much life in the midst of so much dirt and disease.  Hanging from the pole next to where we stood was the stuffed effigy of a man, complete with worn out sneakers and a baseball cap.  Around his neck hung a sign that read, "Steal from us and this will happen to you."  Jonathan asked about it and Ariel replied that mob justice was the law around here.  There were no police, unless you counted the ones that occasionally came by to destroy illegal housing and remove squatters from their homes they never legally owned.  The community made its own rules, as much as it could, and spared no pity for thieves.

Walking back down the dirt road, with the faceless dummy staring me in the back, I couldn't help but feel as though I had done something wrong.  As though at any moment men would emerge from their broken down houses and grab me.  There would be a short struggle, and then they would string me up by the neck as a warning for everyone to see.  I admitted to Ariel and Jonathan, with the dust rising up from under our shoes and seeping into our skin, that I felt ashamed to be there.  That I felt remorse for being a walking symbol of wealth and affluence in a community that had, quite literally, been shoved to the last place anyone else would want to be.  Before my feelings had a chance to take hold, however, Ariel chimed in and said that he too often felt ashamed whenever he came here.  He said that provided much of the motivation for the documentaries that he made, because he had lived a privileged life in comparison, and who he was neccesitated his need to share these stories with others.

I realized then that I did not have exclusive rights to the kind of lifestyle I have chosen for myself.  Although, like Ariel, who I am dictates how I respond to people in need, that does not mean other people, from other walks of life, are not allowed to feel likewise.  I was then doubly shamed, once for taking for granted so many of the things that make my life easy, and a second time for assuming that because I am white and American I am allowed to feel responsible for much of the world's hurt, while someone like Ariel, a Bolivian with his own family, his own problems, isn't allowed to also want to help.  I was then sorry I had doubted him.

This week I am trying to be more mindful of the mark I make in this life.  I am trying to remember that I have been given so much, not all of which is actually mine.  And I am trying to remember that we all find ourselves thrown together, whether we like it or not, and that we all have something to give, regardless of who we are or where we are from.

Hopefully in the years ahead I can return to Kara Kara, 
carrying with me something more than just my shame.

Monday, August 6, 2012


This we have now is not imagination.
This is not grief or joy.
Not a judging state, or an elation, or sadness.
Those come and go.
This is the presence that doesn't.

We are the night ocean filled
with glints of light.  We are the space
between the fish and the moon,
while we sit here together.

I've been trying and trying to get my feet planted on something firm and for the first time in what feels like months I can finally feel some sand under my toes.

The last several months have been nothing short of a whirlwind.  My last post had me leaving Bolivia, saying goodbye to my grandma, revisiting and reinvesting in my friends and loved ones in California, seeing my family out East, and finally, finally, returning to Cochabamba.

There was a point, long since passed, where I would have liked to sit you down and say, "Well, let me TELL you about all that has HAPPENED," but our lives don't wait, and now those beautiful moments are alive only in my mind, and it seems inappropriate to pull them back out now after they've just settled.

And speaking of settling.  Here I am.  I've accepted a job with Sustainable Bolivia, and now its problems are my problems, and its successes are my successes.  We have an entirely new crew of foreign workers, where once there were three women there are now three men, and the shift is quickly apparent as we discuss buying a sound system for the yard and kitchen, where we should put the ping pong table, and how we can get rid of all the clothes that have piled up in our "free" closet.  We've bro'ed out the office, planned some weekly adventure outings, and are running full steam in a direction we hope is beneficial for SB and the community in general.

Many of you probably don't know exactly what it is that I'm doing.  Well you could, of course, click here and check out the website, which gives a pretty basic description of the goings-on throughout any week.  If that's too much work, however, I'll save you the extra click by saying that in a nutshell, I work for an funneling organization that connects international workers with local NGOs to bring about cross-cultural connectivity and lasting community development.  It's like working at Dairy Queen, except without the ice cream.  Actually no it's not.

As a result, you may notice a shift in my blog posts over the next several months as this space becomes less of a reservoir for travel and adventure and more of a forum for talking about what is on my heart, especially as it relates to my work with Sustainable Bolivia.  I am in a unique position to direct resources, both human and financial, towards areas and people that are in desperate need of them.  As a person of faith, this opportunity also carries with it the desire, and dare I say mandate, to come alongside those who are suffering in a genuine way.

I'm pretty excited about this.

So stay tuned friends, and we'll journey together.

Thursday, May 17, 2012


I will not wait to love as best as I can.  We thought we were young and that there would be time to love well sometime in the future.  This is a terrible way to think.  It is no way to live, to wait to love. 
~ Dave Eggers

I am circling around God, around the ancient tower, and I have been circling for a thousand years, and I still don't know if I am a falcon, or a storm, or a great song. ~Rainer Maria Rilke

This past week I said goodbye to Cochabamba and began the journey north to Lima.  After a pleasant yet mostly sleepless overnight bus to La Paz and several hours waiting in that freezing den of a place they call a bus station (oh no, I won't need my hoodie, the only place it'll be cold will be in the La Paz bus station and I'll only be there for a bit... gah... stupid logic) I was headed toward Lima with only one small obstacle left in my way; the border.

Let me explain one of the joys of international travel to those who have never been graced with this particular experience.  Many countries open their borders to international travelers for one reason and one reason only; money.  They want our dolla dolla bills yall!  These countries want us to pay the park entry fees, the overpriced taxi services, the overnight at the Sheraton, the tasty local dishes, and then, thank you very much for your time, they want us to leave.  This may sound harsh but really it's quite sound logic (unlike that bus station thing).  Many developing countries want foreigners money, but not their influence.  Money builds schools and provides salaries, influence brings McDonalds and celebrity TV shows.  To help maximize the dollars spent and minimize the corruptive cultural influence, many countries grant tourists 90 day entry visas.  If I was a country, and let's not disregard this as a serious career choice for my future, I'd probably do the exact same thing.

Anyway, getting back to the story.  I had entered Bolivia on this very same 90 day tourist visa, and then promptly decided to stay about 190 days.  No bueno.

In some countries, like our own, overstaying a visa entitles aforementioned country to send agents to kick down your door and force you (and your family) out.  In Bolivia, fortunately, this doesn't happen, one must simply pay a fine.  I was prepared for this, and knew that I could be made to pay a pretty hefty sum by the border guards if they deemed that appropriate.  I also had heard stories of others who simply waltzed through the office, got their stamp, and moved off without so much as a glance at their overstayed tourist visa.

Unfortunately, I wasn't that lucky, but a funny thing happened once the guards realized I would be their catch of the day.  There I was, unlucky gringo who had WAY overstayed his visa.  Let's fine the snot out of him!  They calculated and calculated again, counting each day I was over and adding up the fee to present me with a grand total.  Bam.  There it was.  Now pay!

But to everyone's surprise...  I couldn't.  I had very little cash on me, as I try to do whenever I travel... actually I guess I try to do that whenever I do anything.  Well, go get more out of an ATM.  Okay, where's an ATM?  Umm... where IS an ATM...  Bill do you know?  There's one in Puno.  That's 4 hours away.  Oh right.  There's one on the Peruvian side.  At the Banco Central?  Yes I think so.  No that one closed last year.  What about on Calle Anticucho?  Next to the jeweler?  The jeweler's on Calle Orgallo.  No the other jeweler.  On Calle Anticucho?  Yes that's what I said!  No that's not an ATM, that's an arcade game.  Cesar do you know where an ATM is?  What?  An ATM!  This gringo needs to pay us.  Oh, there's one in Puno...

... and on and on it went until, like a group of office workers who've overlaughed an already overtold joke, an uncomfortable silence descended on the small little room where we all stood.

How much money DO you have?  That's it?  Let me see your wallet...  Bill, he's not kidding... What should we do?  I suppose we have to let him through.




Two hours later, after my bus had already left me far behind, I was finally in Peru!  Sometimes the highly ineffective and inefficient system works your way...

I didn't know it at the time, but almost in the same hour while I was struggling to leave the country, my grandmother was passing away back home, in peace and surrounded by our other family members.  I had had the opportunity to briefly talk with her two days earlier, knowing full well it would probably be the last time we spoke.  She lived a long, hard, and rewarding life to a ripe old age, and it was her time to move on, just as it was mine.  So while I crossed a border from one South American country to another, she crossed her own border into eternity.

Grandma, I remember talking with you about the saying that goes, "When you were born you cried and the world rejoiced, now live your life in such a way that when you die the world cries and you rejoice," and you did just that.  There are many of us who will miss you for a long long time, but the memory of your smile will stay with me forever.  I will never ever be able to forget the way you shielded your face with your hands whenever I told a joke that made you laugh.  It made me never want to stop telling them.

U R Special
U R Blessed
U R Loved

I love you.  We'll dance again soon.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Surprised by Joy... in the Form of Paragliding Accidents

There was one thing to be done before I left, an awkward, unpleasant thing that perhaps had better have been let alone.  But I wanted to leave things in order and not just trust the obliging and indifferent sea to sweep my refuse away.  So I went to see her. - The Great Gatsby

I don't want to scare you, he said, but I can very clearly see you dying nobly, one way or another, for some highly unworthy cause. -Mr. Antolini (Catcher in the Rye)

So I was paragliding the other day, 2000 feet up in the air, when...

Okay hold on, hold on, let me try that again.

So I was 2000 feet up in the air, paragliding, when...

No wait,

The other day I was paragliding, and as I was soaring some 2000 feet up in the air, I realized I was a pretty lucky guy.  Much better.

I suppose if there is one place I can safely gloat it should be my blog right?  Well here's me gloating.  Gloat gloat gloat gloat gloat.

As a final hoorah for my time here in Bolivia I decided to take a paragliding course with the guys here at Andes Xtremo.  Cochabamba is one of the cheapest and best places in the world to learn, so I decided to go ahead and pluck paragliding from my "that'd be cool some day" list and put it firmly in the "did that" list.  Okay okay, I don't actually keep a list, that would be somewhat lame, but you get the idea right?

I could give you some amusing anecdotes about my awkward takeoffs and near death landings, but instead I'll regale you with the story of what happened not to me, but to a friend of mine here.  Her name is Natalia (changed to protect her identity... but actually not changed at all tee hee) who came to Cochabamba from Moscow just to paraglide.  She already had received training and was set to go, but on this particular day happened to come across a dangerous combination of strong winds and unfamiliar equipment.  As she came in for her final approach of the landing zone she ended up being swung out to the side of her wing and smashing into the ground, breaking her left foot in ten different places.

(I suppose this is the part where I have to stop gloating about the whole paragliding thing)

After undergoing surgery at a local hospital and having six different pins placed in her foot to help reset her bones she found herself quite unhappily stuck in a Bolivian hospital waiting on her insurance provider to pay for the medical bill.  You see, here in Bolivia you are physically prevented from leaving a hospital until you have paid the bill, which is a terrible system as it discourages a vast majority of the poor from ever even seeking medical treatment because they know they can't afford the bill.  (I've even heard that if a bill cannot be paid then patients can be sent to jail, but that's entirely unsubstantiated)

Anyway, i'm trying to focus on the story here.  Where were we?  Yes.  Natalia.  Stuck in a hospital.  Unable to leave.  Bored to tears.  All of us at Andes Xtremo were extremely concerned for her, obviously she's not having the kind of travel adventure she was hoping for.  So what do we decide to do?  Well, what any concerned friends would naturally do in this situation; break her out of the hospital.

I'll save you the details, in part to minimize evidence that could be used against us, and in part because I wasn't physically there for the actual event. ;)  Needless to say, through a tricky system of "taking a walk down the hall to stretch the good leg" and "where does this door lead?" and "run run run!!!" and "well carry her then" and "don't forget her crutches" Natalia managed to break out of the hospital with the help of several nameless friends.

Thirty minutes later we were celebrating back at the Andes Xtremo office.  One injured Russian, two crazy Irishmen, four sweetly endearing Bolivians, one fiendishly good rock-climbing Argentine, and myself.  We sat around our makeshift table, a loaf of bread, a few bottles of wine, some hastily made spaghetti, and a ridiculously over-sugared cake split between us.  We laughed well into the night (although not too hard because it hurt the leg), and enjoyed our spontaneous fellowship.  As I sat around the table with my new friends Kurt Vonnegut's Grandfather's words rang through my mind, "well if this ain't nice, I don't know what is"  (you'll have to read A Man Without a Country if you want more details on that particular saying).

The point, friends, is that if you let it life can surprise you with joy, even in the midst of seemingly tragic events.  My guess is Natalia would have preferred a different journey through South America, but the one she has is the one she was given, and her decision to enjoy it (not just that night but continually day after day) has brought her an adventure she will never forget.

That night, after goodbyes were said and friends began to disperse, Natalia was dropped back off at the hospital (well, a half a block from the hospital actually, so no one would get in trouble) and returned to her room with a handful of nurses clucking over her and ensuring she was okay.  She was released a couple of days later.

Quite unassumingly I've fallen deeply in love with the place where I'm at, and even though it continues to change that is a love I hope to carry with me, to new places and new friends and new daring escapes.

For friends in Texas, I'll be around in a couple of weeks.
For friends in LA, see you in June.
For friends everywhere else, carry on!

For friends who think that last little segment was cheesy, :-p


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Homecoming Riots

Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.
~ Frederick Buechner

You were once wild here. Don't let them tame you.
~Isadora Duncan

This morning my dreams were filled with violence as explosions continued to rock the ground around me. I'm not really sure what I was doing, talking to my fourth grade teacher who had somehow turned into a parakeet, or maybe trying to fly by running really really fast (I don't know why I always try that in my dreams). Whatever the particular dream may have been, when I finally opened my eyes I realized there were actually an inordinate amount of fireworks exploding outside, especially for 7:30 in the morning.

Ah yes. Riot day.

Bolivians love riots. More specifically they love bloqueos, or roadblocks. If you haven't been paid in two weeks, set up a bloqueo, if you've petitioned the government for a change and you haven't heard back fast enough, set up a bloqueo, if your favorite soccer team lost last night... bloqueo. While these actions sometimes border on the comical, the sad truth is that many poor Bolivians have no other recourse in which to make their voice heard, thus for days at a time cities are often shut down while particular interest groups battle it out with government bureaucracy.

This particular day happened to be the bus drivers, petitioning for a raise in public bus fares from 24 cents to 36 cents. As I locked my front door and stepped out into the street I wished them all the luck in the world, but I couldn't help letting out a little grumble as that still meant that I had to walk the 18 blocks to work, and it just didn't feel like a walking morning.

Even though there are other elements to this story, including witnessing a non-rioting bus driver get his tires slashed by an angry mob, and having to pick my way through an oncoming band of riot police, all the while convinced one of them was going to crack me on the head just for kicks and giggles, I wanted to pause the progression here. Because even as I grumbled my way to work this morning, I have to laugh this evening, because like soooo many other things I unthinkingly whine about, having to walk 18 blocks to work when I don't particularly feel like it falls in my new mental category of "first world problems." I can't remember who I need to thank for helping me create this category, my best guess would be Becca Pratt's facebook wall, but suddenly I have begun catching myself complaining about things that are entirely not complaint-worthy. The other day, for instance, my ipod just WASN'T syncing with my library and it was bugging the snot out of me... up until the point I was able to whap myself on the forehead and say, "Ryan... first world problem!"

Friends, the fact that you are able to read these words should help you realize that most of the things we spend our time worrying about are completely first world problems. We are so entirely blessed/lucky/privileged/good-karmaed (depending on your spiritual or psychological outlook) that many of the things that get us down just AREN'T WORTH IT! None of us had the tires slashed on our sole-source-of-income this morning, none of us are trying to earn 12 cents more to help us feed our families. I don't mean to minimize anyone's pain, but I think we would all benefit from trying just a little bit harder to avoid worrying about our first world problems, and instead bleed for the things that deserve to be bled over.

It's late and I have places to visit in my dreams, but I also wanted to mention that my time here in Bolivia is coming to a close. Due to the continuously overwhelming generosity of others I'll be able to make my way up to Lima and catch a flight to Dallas where I'll get to watch two wonderful people get married. Then, if I'm lucky and the wind blows just right, I'll find myself floating back to LA. For those of you who know me well that probably sounds strange, me coming back to the states. I left trying to be strong, trying to let the wound left from the absence of friends heal over... but like so many other things I'm continuously learning and relearning, strength is highly overrated. I miss you, and I don't particularly feel like trying to not miss you anymore... so I'm coming home.


Monday, April 2, 2012

Flaming Disappointments

Most men (and women) lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.

Dance, when you're broken open. Dance, if you've torn the bandage off. Dance in the middle of the fighting. Dance in your blood. Dance when you're perfectly free.

There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired.
~F. Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby)

I'm not in the mood to be light or funny, but I told myself that when I finally did update my blog I would start with a story.

So here is that story.

The other day as we were sipping our tea at breakfast and I was making a poor attempt to rub the sleep out of my eyes, tia Ruth sadly informed me that the two lovebirds and one of the parrots had died in the night. Someone had fed them something they shouldn't have eaten and that was that. I was surprisingly shocked. I mean, they're birds. Like most things birds tend to die every once in a while, but I felt like a travesty had been committed and I should have been able to prevent it. I sympathized with Ruth and Dona Mary about the loss of the birds, and after an appropriate amount of silence excused myself from the table and walked back out to the courtyard on my way back to my room.
As I passed by the cage that now surely contained just one lonely bird I stopped short. There they were, all four of the birds, looking vibrant and healthy and without care or concern.

Did I mention that my Spanish sometimes fails me at really important moments?

I still try to imagine if it wasn't the birds, then what in the world Ruth and Mary were talking about, but I can't muster the courage to go back and ask them. Were they playing a joke on me? If they were they never got to enjoy the laugh that is usually meant to follow. Or perhaps they were talking about some relatives that had passed away. If so then what did I say? How did I respond? Did I call their dead relatives birds? Ahhh Spanish...

On the flipside of that rather traumatizing event, several nights later the whole family and I were sitting around the table for dinner and Junior, one of the many young members of the household, asked if he could get up and fry himself another egg. After receiving permission he popped into the kitchen and started heating up the oil (fried eggs are pretty much deep fried here). Being the young teenager that he is, he started a rather impromptu dance in the doorway between the kitchen and the dining room, and we were all having a good laugh at his musical rendition and awkward dance moves, when suddenly a huge orange glow erupted from the stove that we could see reflecting off of his shocked face. Johnny, Ruth, Dona Mary, and I all jumped up and dashed into the kitchen, where we found a pan of oil that had combusted into a huge fireball that was licking at the ceiling of the kitchen. Junior's dance moves had markedly turned from the disco-dance to the panic-dance and he scrambled to the sink and grabbed a bowl of dishwater to douse the flame. Without a moment to think I yelled at him not to use water (thank you Luke Prince for teaching me that one) but even as he was looking at me confusedly Dona Mary swooped in, grabbed the flaming oil pan, and capped it in one swift motion, effectively extinguishing the flames. As we all calmed ourselves I explained the importance of not using water to extinguish a fire caused by oil, with Dona Mary nodding her approval at my every sentence. Ahhh... Spanish, we can still be friends.

I've been living in Cochabamba Bolivia since November of last year. That puts things at nearly five months. One one hand, a good chunk, on the other, barely a drop in the bucket. I've been doing things the way I want to do them, not the way life usually dictates. That means a lot of reflecting, a lot of reading, a lot of partying, a lot of prayer. I'm grateful for this, the power to choose where and how I would like to be, when usually I find myself too weak or uncertain (or is it just too nice?) to force life to play by my rules. Thank you life for being such an acquiescing opponent at times.

This past week I said goodbye to my wonderful host family. I was thoroughly surprised, and deeply grateful, for how enjoyable my time with them was. However after initially agreeing to stay with them two months, and then staying there four, I felt as though my time with them was at an end. While they would never admit it, I had begun to feel as though I was stretching their ability to be generous hosts. Granted I was paying rent, but I suspect they could use the space more effectively than the money, so I said my goodbyes and moved into the second floor of Andes Xtremo, an extreme sports and adventure guide business situated in the center of town. I have my own climbing wall. Don't hate.

And so yet again I find myself in the middle of transition. Changes come.

In the past couple of weeks I was also turned down for a very nice position with a very nice organization that would have allowed me to return to LA and still remain working in the Humanitarian Aid sector. It seems as though my heart has divided itself nicely between my desire for community, for friends who get me and understand (or at least put up with) my various passions, and with my desire to work in a field that feels significant to me, namely international development. Until this job possibility I had steeled myself to the reality that those were two segments of life that would remain separate until I managed to create a "home" somewhere overseas. But then that job popped up, and I applied, and I was placed on the shortlist, and I had an interview, and I had a second interview, before a panel, and I was shnazzy and professional, and then I had a third interview, and the world seemed ready to become my oyster. And then I didn't get it.

So now I'm left feeling somewhat adrift as I reconcile myself to my previous ideas of reality. Will I ever be able to have a home with those I love while I do something I am good at and passionate about? My answer right now is probably not, which is okay, but the dream has left something of a stale taste in my mouth. I added the quotes at the top not because I just bumped (or rebumped) into them, as is usually my practice, but because they resonate with me at this particular moment of my life. Which is, not at all coincidentally, why I don't particularly feel like being light or funny. Now I know certain friends and family members may be worried at this point, but please don't be. There is a way to experience sadness, or perhaps regret at an opportunity and an idea that will never be born, without it permeating your soul, and I am walking in that particular way. My days are marked with joy, and when I'm still I catch myself smiling at little nothings, but this particular post happens to not be about those things. So please, fret not ;)

This month I'll be doing a lot of thinking. Or I guess I should say a lot more thinking. I'd like to come home, but at 27 I'd also like to feel as though my life were moving in a direction that hinted at something greater. I have good friends who are getting married, others who are having kids (and Uncle Ryan wants to see them!) and others who are just having a rough go of things in general. And I'm not there. Strangely, as I write this a part of me recognizes that therein lies an answer to the question I continue to pose. Do I really want to be part of something greater? Is a job really going to satiate that hunger within me? Or am I already a part of something greater, something that we are all apart of, that remains much larger than any 9 to 5, that involves simple presence and time spent.

As a person of faith I believe in those trite little things that are so fashionably scoffed at these days, things like angels and demons and heaven and hell. And as a matter of course, I also believe that we spend our lives either moving closer or pulling farther apart from God. In his sermon The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis talks about this very thing, explaining that it is our burden to love our neighbors and to have a concern for their eternal well being. That, he says, is ultimately the weight of glory. So, I suppose, from that perspective, is there really a "something greater" that I still feel like I need to find? Or has the answer been staring me in the face this whole time?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Brothers Carnival

Every time I do this I feel as though I must apologize... this is, after all, not what a blog is for. But, nevertheless, every time I finish a great book I need a forum to record some of its gems, so that years from now when I look back I can remember what was.

This week was Brothers K.

Only the unwritten can truly live a life. So who I was, what I was, had to be unwritten. - Everett

Suffering is above, not below.
And everyone thinks that suffering is below.
And everyone wants to rise.
~Antonio Porchia

There are kinds of human problems which really do seem, as our tidy expressions would have it, to "come to a head" and "demand to be dealth with." But there are also problems, often just as serious, which come to nothing that we can recognize or openly deal with. Some long-lived, insidious problems simply slip us off to one side of ourselves. Some gently rob us of just enough energy or faith so that days which once took place on a horizontal plane become an endless series of uphill slogs. And some - like high water working year after year at the roots of a riverside tree - quietly undercut our trust or our hope, our sense of place, or our humor, our ability to empathize, or to feel enthused, and we don't sense impending danger, we don't feel the damage at all, till one day, to our amazement, we find ourselves crashing to the ground. - Kade

"There's something missing," he told Chekhov, handing him the last brown bag. "But there's always something missing. Having things missing, even indispensable things, is a fact of life, don't you think? And life goes on anyhow. Except for the missing parts. Which were indispensable, so of course it goes on all out of whack. But that, hell and damn, is why we prefer things like cooking and eating brown paper bags to philosophizing. Don't you think?"
Chekhov stared at the falling snow, chewed his bag, voiced no opinion. - Everett

We never know, with regard to the inner life, who or when lightning is going to strike. Often we don't even know when we ourselves are the one so stricken. - Kade

Because an eye for an eye is smart, see, but love is dumb, lovers are fools. - Kade

No sign of the people, nothing left of 'em now. But still shining down. And still trying to maybe tell us, Enjoy it down there. Live like you mean it. 'Cause once upon a time, this was a world too.

I feel as though we're all headed in slow motion for a car wreck, knowing already that we're all going to be injured. - Kade

It's clear to me now that the economy of the psyche, the inner checks and balances, our inner workings are so tricky, so impossibly fragile, we're so easily crushed, that I can't believe any longer that it's me alone, or even me and you alone, or even me and you and luck alone, that's keeping me alive. I feel now that we could die or be killed or be driven mad by grief or disaster at any moment. Even the strongest of us. Or be killed on the inside without even being touched. Yet my reaction to this, Tasha, has suddenly ceased to be anger and begun to be gratitude. - Everett

Why does my whole heart, every beat, round the clock, answer my mind's constant groaning with: but wait, but wait, but wait...?

I have been something of an emotional wreck for the last week or so. While that statement may sound glib to some, for me, the guy who will remain emotionally objective through a hurricane, that´s tantamount to a nervous breakdown. It started out with Carnival. The Mt. Everest of emotional peaks. For two days (which are really just one LONG day), the entire world descends on a tiny little town in Bolivia to celebrate a 2000 year old tradition that remains the Continent´s largest folkloric festival. Involving over 28,000 dancers and 10,000 musicians, this street parade lasts for more than 20 hours... which means that if you´re young and somewhat out of touch with reality, you may think it´s a good idea to try to ¨live it up¨ as they say and be right in the thick of it the entire time.
Emm hmm...
I almost made it.
After about 14 hours of dancing, shouting, screaming, yelling, running from police, running from mobs, running to bathrooms, getting sprayed with water, getting sprayed with foam from these terrible little spray cans (which, by the way, are supposed to be non-toxic yet still cause terrible rashes), and eating whatever street food I could get my hands on, I just HAD to take a break. At one point I was so covered in foam that my sunglasses fell off my head and were instantly scooped up by a little kid who proceeded to put them on and then laugh at me. Not knowing what else to do I laughed right back at him, but he may have sensed this as some form of aggression because instead of returning my glasses like any responsible 8 year old he whisked off through the crowd never to be seen or heard from again. Sigh... I hope he trips in a puddle.

Needless to say it was hectic. I would have loved to be able to share some pictures with you all of the madness, but the sheer number of people in the streets means that you will, with your full knowledge but complete inability to prevent it, have your pockets rifled through at least two or three times while being crushed into the sweaty back of the person in front of you. So fortunately for me I left my camera at home. EVERY other person that I know of in my party who took a camera had theirs either stolen or lost.

It was great.

But then on the emotional flipside of Carnival there is the continuing job hunt that grows ever more depressing and ever more threatening towards my self-esteem. It´s not so much the lack of opportunity, although that has something to do with it, but moreso my inability to reconcile what my heart asks of me with what my bank account tells me. I don´t want to just find something that works, I want magic! And right now that desire means that I must live quite simply in order to meet my financial obligations, even while I continue to search for that THING that I can´t articulate and barely know how to imagine. And THAT, my dear friends, stresses me out at times.

But just as Everett in Brothers K comes to question, I too must grapple with the understanding that even as my head groans my heart responds, with every beat in my body, ¨but wait, but wait, but wait...¨