Belize, Part 1

Me on the farm in Belize.

Me on the farm in Belize.

Four and a half years ago I spent sixteen days in the Belizean rain forest. I’m not talking hotels and taxis, here, I’m talking about living in a tent on a few-acres of clearing in the middle of the jungle. I’m talking three yards from uncut wilderness. I’m talking unknown creatures sniffing at my tent in the middle of the night and having to duck around snakes and giant spiders.

              Originally I had planned to be there for six months, so it’s a little embarrassing to admit I was only there for just over two weeks. People often ask me why I came back so early—a fair question, I have to admit, considering how big of a deal I made the whole thing. And I give them a standard answer I’ve perfected over the past four and a half years. However, there’s that one question that I never get asked, but probably should:

              Why did I go in the first place?

              I suppose people don’t ever ask me this because they think they can guess the reasons (or already know it in part). They think I was just looking to travel, or for an adventure, or maybe to just get away from all the noise of the city. All of which could be said to be true, but none entirely.

              A couple of things sparked off the entire adventure, really. The first being a bad breakup. Okay, to be fair, it really started with a decent breakup, which escalated into a bad breakup. I’m talking shouting and crying and pleas of, “Do you just want me to die?! Do you?!” Plus, she was kind of upset too.

              I was distraught. It was a two year relationship—the longest I’d ever had by a longshot. I was in love with the woman, but she was no longer in love with me. And that’s hard to deal with*. All of this was weighing heavy on me everywhere. I moped around. A lot. I watched Yes Man. A lot. I didn’t do much of anything. A lot.

              The one thing I did do was show up to work. I was the unofficial assistant manager of the small business and thus had a responsibility to come in every day. The job, however, was high stress, disgusting, and not getting any better. It all accumulated in an argument with a coworker which resulted in me walking out forever.

              Yes, just like a bad finding-oneself-through-adventure movie, I lost my girlfriend and my job. And what comes after losing your girlfriend of two years and your job of the same two years?

              Mental breakdown, obviously.

              When I was in high school I had a plan. A plan A, that is, because plan B’s are for people who aren’t dedicated! (Or so I thought, until my plan A completely fell through.) Part of my plan was to move out of America. I could see how it was falling apart and the injustices here. I wanted to travel and make another place my home—somewhere in which I could live among the locals and be one with them.

              My first (and only, really) choice was Ireland. Either big city Dublin or a much, much smaller village no one had ever heard of. I also knew that that kind of move takes a lot of money and prep time, which is why I gave myself a deadline: By the age of twenty-three, I had to be out of the country.

              This was in the back of my head five years later, freshly dumped, jobless, and sobbing at the kitchen table—making all my roommates feel very awkward. I needed something new, I told myself. In truth, I probably just needed to get away from the old.

              With the help of my friends and family, I made plans to finally break away from my home country and to explore the world. It just so happened that, instead of the cliffs and green hills of Ireland, I found a farm looking for some help in the damp and untamed wilds of Belize.

              The couple who owned the farm were friendly when I talked to them via e-mail and Skype. I was sure about this place. I knew I could stay there for months, maybe even years! And so I began to prepare myself.

              I cashed in on some mutual funds I had; I got a new, part-time job to earn as much cash as I could; I asked for camping gear for Christmas; I even sold my car for a ridiculously low price—after all, I wouldn’t need it anymore.

              Midway through January, about six months from my twenty-third birthday, I got on a plane for the first time in my life. One layover later, I was cruising over this beautiful, exotic, and new country. It was full of promise. It meant a fresh start.

              But that’s not really what it was. My leaving America and attempting to settle into a whole new place wasn’t truly a fresh start. It was an escape. It was me running away. I was running away from a broken heart and unsure future. I was running away from the fact that I hadn’t become the person I’d always wanted to be.

              I was running away from my failures, hoping to make a new name for myself as an adventurer. I would come home with grand stories of fending off jaguars and discovering ancient Mayan relics. My friends and family would marvel at me, eyes filled with jealousy, hands clasped together beneath their chins, begging for another story.

              I’m not that strong, though. I wouldn’t come home to a parade in my honor. I would come slinking home, my tail between my legs, not wanting to admit that all I had acquired was yet another failure to put on my long-running list.

              No one said “I told you so,” though. No one smirked behind my back or rolled their eyes at me. None of my friends or family laughed me out of the room. Instead, they hugged me and expressed their surprise at seeing me so soon. They would ask why I returned and I would give them my answer—or otherwise say I didn’t want to talk about it.

              Then they asked all about my trip, as if it had merely been any ordinary vacation. And I told them all about my would-be adventures, never quite admitting that I had run away from not only my broken heart and myself, but also them as well.

              Eventually, I was able to admit to myself why I had left. That’s something I learned from my sixteen days in the Belizean rain forest—to admit the truth about myself to the one person who it matters most to: Myself.

              And no matter the reason I left or came back, I was back—and damn happy about it.

Footnotes:
*I later found out that she was actually in love with someone else at the time of our breakup. But I’m not spiteful or anything—fuckers…
†Man, do I miss that Geo.
‡I mean, I think. If they did, I wouldn’t really know, I guess. But my friends aren’t really dicks, so probably not.
Posted in Flash Nonfiction | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

When Did I Become Likable?

The mail carrier at my work has been asking about me, apparently. When I first got word of this, I thought it was weird. Because it is, right? It’s not like I knew the guy. I think I’d said hi to him a total of two times before. So then, why does he give me a wide smile and make sure to stop and chitchat for a minute before moving on?

              But, more importantly, why is he asking about me?

              Not that I particularly care. He seems like a genuine guy—and if there’s one thing I like, it’s genuine people. He’s polite and seems very happy. Which is great; I need more interaction with people like that.

              But why is he asking about me?

              I should maybe clarify; a coworker told me one day that the mail carrier had come in during my break and asked where I was (or, more specifically, where “the guy with the red glasses” was). This would have struck me as odd, and nothing more, if it weren’t for a few other factors:

              He has been coming in and saying stuff like, “Oh, it’s good to see you again! I haven’t seen you in awhile. I was wondering if you still worked here.” Innocent, sure, but when you couple it with his inquiries about me to my coworkers, I find it somewhat strange.

              The other factor is other people. It’s not just the mail carrier from my work. I get friendly conversation from people I’ve met once or twice. Friendly, as in, conversations I would only normally have with friends. People are very comfortable with me, it seems. They’ll tell me things I feel are very personal. I smile and nod along, all the while thinking, What? Seriously? Are you seriously talking with me like this?

              I get Facebook requests from people I hardly know. And I understand that everyone gets these Facebook requests (and even ones from people you’ve never met) but then I get knowing grins from those people when I bump into them in real life. Which leads to me having to stop and remember their name, because if I can’t, it means I’m a dick. We’re Facebook friends, after all.

              All this has led me to wonder: When did I become so likable?

              I used to be a real asshole. I was standoffish. I was a jerk. I’m surprised the friends I have have stuck around, honestly. In the world of “playfully cruel jokes,” I was the Lord Emperor. I would mock others to boost my own self-esteem—something I didn’t realize at the time, but can admit now.

              Then, at some point in the past four or so years, I stopped. Or, okay, I lessened. I cut back on the mean jokes. I was nicer to people I would normally be a jerk to (like my mom) and tried to give out more compliments than insults to others (like my friends). I smile more now. I encourage people. I actively engage in conversations—even if I’m not really interested.

              This is with my friends and family, though. People at parties or bars that I met by chance too, perhaps. Complete strangers? I don’t treat them any differently. At least, I don’t think I do.

              But then, maybe I do. Perhaps my being nicer to the people I know has bled over into the realm of strangers. Maybe I had a quick but excellent conversation with that mail carrier one day that I simply don’t remember. If that’s the case, he certainly did.

              And, well, fuck it. If I can make an impact on other people’s lives—even complete strangers—isn’t that good?

              Then again, maybe it’s something a lot more simple: What if he’s just seen my vlog (quite unlikely). Maybe he’s new to the area and is trying to meet people he thinks are cool (me, cool? Less likely). Or maybe he’s just a nice guy (that’s probably it).

              Whatever the reason for this sudden hike in strangers finding me likable, I guess I should just take it. It’s better than getting dirty looks and eye rolls. I’ve been there before and it’s not as fun as you might think.

              Unless you actually think it sounds fun. In which case, you’re probably an asshole who people find unlikable.

Posted in Flash Nonfiction | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Vegetarianism: Not Eating the Goose

About nine months ago I stopped eating meat cold turkey*. I used to be one of those people who, when told that someone was a vegetarian, would make a face and reply with, “Oh, I could never give up meat.” That is, until I gave up meat.

It happened one day while reading the classic novel about World War I All Quiet on the Western Front. How I usually explain it to people (after getting the customary, “Why?” accompanied by a look of disgust) is that I was reading the book when I came to a part about the German soldiers finding a goose. They caught the goose, killed it, and cooked it.

Normally this wouldn’t have done anything to my mindset except make me wonder where I could get a goose dinner, but something struck me in that moment: Only a chapter or two before this scene was one in which the narrator expressed distress over having to kill his enemy, who he doesn’t even know.

Fuck this guy! He didn’t know the goose either, but they had no qualms about chasing down that poor, honking creature and chopping its head off!

I’ve always been a compassionate sort of person. I’m understanding of others. I’m sensitive. I cry at the end of Return of the King when Aragorn insists that the Hobbits bow to no one. And I’ve never thought myself capable of actually killing another human being. In that moment, however, lying in bed reading the old novel I couldn’t help but think, Why does my morality stop there?

After all, I felt worse for the goose—however fictional—than I did for the French soldiers in the other trenches—however less fictional than the goose. So why did I find it okay to have animals killed on my behalf?

That’s when I stopped eating meat. That was the moment—even if I was reading, not eating. But there would be no last meal. No one-last-slice of meat lover’s pizza. Not one-more-taste of Vienna sausage in Tabasco sauce. No I’ll-stop-tomorrow pepperoni sandwich. No right-after-this meatball. Not a last bacon cheese burger. Not a last bacon-wrapped cabbage wedge. Not a last cocktail wiener wrapped in bacon and cooked in brown sugar. In fact, no last-bit-of bacon at all.

It started off as a test of will. I wanted to see how long I could go without it. As it turns out, it’s forever (so far). I’ve had my temptations, my accidental meat sauce intakes, my “is there bacon on these cheese fries?” moments. But I’ve stuck with it. I’ve learned to check labels and menus twice; to ask waiters specific questions that probably make me look like a real douche bag. But I’ve stuck with it.

There was a second reason I stopped eating meat, the real reason I’ve kept off the stuff: I believe in reincarnation. It came to mind that it wasn’t right to keep eating animals if I believed that spirits are recycled from all creatures. In fact, soon after I went vegetarian I found myself feeling bad for killing bugs. Just this morning I carried a spider outside on a napkin, apologizing on the way out the door. It’s that bad, guys.

I was reluctant to call myself a vegetarian for a long time, though. It was just a test trial, see. If I put the label on myself then that was that—I couldn’t risk someone being able to say in a snarky tone, “I thought you were a vegetarian?” Only I’m allowed that snarky tone. But it’s lasted so long I can’t help picking up that label now.

For about six months from the start of my new diet lifestyle, I had another funny thing happen: About once a week I would have a nightmare about accidentally eating meat. Not just meat, but MEAT. Like, biting into a burger and then going, “Wait, is there meat in this?”

I brought this up to all my vegetarians friends, thinking it would be a funny bonding thing that we all go through, but I was wrong. It only happened to me. Which might say something about me as a vegetarian; what if I wasn’t meant to live like this?

But then, what if it meant something more about our society? Maybe I’ve been brainwashed and psychologically manufactured to crave meat like some sort of medium-rare-thirsty monster! After all, the dreams did eventually stop. I can even smell a sausage pizza without my mouth watering now. I don’t really get cravings for meat that often, and when I do, it’s easy enough to shake off.

I don’t mean to be one of those vegetarians that goes on and on about how it’s such a superior diet and about how now my bowel movements are so much easier. I’ve never told any friend that they should come to the veg-side just out of the blue. Not to say I haven’t suggested it, but that suggestion usually comes after someone says, “Have you lost weight? You look good. What’d you do?”

Ah, yes, you mean the twenty-five pounds I’ve lost and kept off for the past nine months? Well, it’s simple, really—I stopped eating the stuff with all the fucking fat. At which point the people make a face and reply, “Oh, I could never give up meat.”

 

 

Footnotes:
*Pun most definitely intended.
†”Nightmare” might be a strong word. I don’t really have nightmares anymore—not as an adult. More like “aggressive dreams.”
‡In fact, I get more protein now that I’ve stopped eating meat. I substitute beans for everything and will put a fried egg on just about any dish. Also, why are even discussing my bowel movements?
Posted in Essays | Tagged , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Real Women

 

Please stop using the phrase “real women.”

Posted in Cartoons | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Kid is Old

Tomorrow’s my birthday and I’m getting old.

Don’t misunderstand me—I don’t mean that in the, “OMG! I’m, like, so totally old now” kind of way. I’m not old, but I sure as hell am getting old. Particularly for a twenty-seven year old.

I’ve never not felt old in my life. You can even see pictures of me as a kid and note it. I was grumpy from the start. I was a complainer at an early age. I’ve never had much of a memory—at least, as far as I can remember. My grandmother has had a more active social life than I ever have*.

These things have been true forever, but it wasn’t until the past few years that I really started to feel older than my years. Not until I started waking up with a bad back; not until I really started feeling my lack of energy; not until the gray hairs started showing up; not until I found myself standing completely still trying to remember how to do something I’ve done hundreds of times.

I feel fucking old.

And that’s a real shame, considering how young I should be. These are the wild years. I should be out at the club every weekend; going out on dates and hanging out with friends. I should be able to slam back more than two beers before being done. I should be able to stay up past midnight. I should be up dancing—if only in my room by myself.

I should be an energy-filled punk just looking for a good time. Instead, I just want a nap. I turn down offers to hang out with my friends all the time because I simply can’t reach the enthusiasm needed to change out of my comfortable home-clothes, or because I know I have to work the next day. There are no risks in my life because I love the comfortableness I’ve made for myself.

Someone once told me, “Maybe you feel old because you’ve always been told that you seem old.” At the time I mumbled a short agreement, but really I couldn’t because people have never told me I seem old. This was always a self-assessment. I have gotten the occasional “old soul” comment, but never an actual advanced-age determination.

If it were as simple as a young-man-frame-of-mind, I might be able to squash my old man mentality.

It’s pretty difficult to keep a young-man-frame-of-mind, however, when your body is dragging you around, too. I’ve literally spent entire mornings hunched over like a ninety-year old with osteoporosis because of my bad back. And you’ve not felt old until you find yourself wincing as you pathetically try to lift a leg into your pants.

Try going to the mirror right after that and seeing the light catch the silver hairs on the sides of your head. And you look closely, running your fingers through the short hairs, squinting, trying to remember when that started happening. Now try imagining that your twenty-seventh birthday is coming up.

This isn’t how it’s supposed to be, you think.

But there is no right or wrong way to age. You simply allow yourself to grow old. And you can wish it away, but what good will it do? You can dye the sides of your head, you can try brain-improving techniques and diets, and you can start sleeping in more posture-friendly positions—but in the end, nothing seems to help.

I’m sure anyone born on June 27th, 1987 or earlier would look at me and say, “Ah, you’re just a kid!” And I am. Or, at least, I am in age. Because all I want to do is retire, despite the fact that I have far too much free time as it is.

 

 

Footnote:
*I’m not being cute; this is entirely true.
†If it wasn’t obvious enough by my blog, and also my vlog.
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Let’s All Sell Out

Sellout

I hate money.

The reality is, I hate not having money. Or, even more accurate, I hate needing money and not having it. I’ve never been as depressed in my life as when I’ve found myself with more bills than cash. Because that’s what it means to be poor: Knowing you can never afford to do all the things you want to do.

Which is why it bothers me so much when I hear people say that their favorite musician, artist, filmmaker—whatever—has “sold out.” To some people, a sellout is someone who abandons their roots in favor of a fat paycheck. But what it should really mean is, “Oh, good, that person I enjoy will be able to continue to live.”

It’s hard to make art when you’re dead. Unless you’re an extreme performance artist.

Most artists get into art to make art, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to get paid, too. Awhile back I wrote about giving away art and how people who sell art sometimes blame free artists for their financial woes. Most of us that do give out free art, however, do so either because we’re trying to make a name for ourselves or we have little (or no) self-value and don’t know how to charge.

I give away my art because I don’t think anyone would be willing to pay for it. They may like to see it up on their wall, but at the end of the day, how do I put a price tag on it if it’s just a sheet of paper with pencil markings?

However, if someone took a look at something I’ve made and said, “I want this. Here, take some money,” I’m not going to reject them. Because money means more art supplies to me. To other artists it means a tune-up, studio time, actors, food, rent, soap, booze—you know, the things that they need in order to function.

Occasionally I’ll hear a friend say those word—O! those dreaded words!—that are now associated with the very worst kind of hipsters: “I liked them before they were cool.”

Shut the fuck up.

What this really means is, “I used to like them before everyone else liked them.” Or if we simplify it further, “They’re sellouts.” I used to have this line of thinking years and years ago, back before I realized something: What this attitude is essentially saying is, “They’re mine and now that I have to share, I don’t want them at all.”

But they’re not yours. They’re not anyone’s. They’re everyone’s. Artists of any form belong to everyone; to the people. They share their work without restrictions. Anyone can listen to jazz; anyone can watch mumblecore; anyone can enjoy Thomas Kinkade*.

The real sellouts are the ones who give up their art to pick up a retail job so that they can afford to live. They’re the ones who let go of their passions in favor of being able to afford silly things like bread and health insurance. But we never call them sellouts. We just mutter to each other with clicks of the tongue about what a shame it is that they had to give up on their dreams.

We are terrible people.

Wouldn’t it be nice if no one needed to “sell out”? What I mean is, what if we fed and clothed and housed our artists? What if we made sure they had paints, instruments, equipment, or whatever they needed? If we bathed our artists in comfort so that they could concentrate on the art instead of making next month’s rent?

Well, guess what? That will never happen. And until the day it does, you should tuck away the word “sellout” for someone truly deserving of it—like politicians taking kickbacks from corporations. Your favorite band signing up with a major record label? That’s just them securing the chance to make more music.

 

 

Footnotes:
*Not that most people do.
Posted in Essays | Tagged , , , , , , | 122 Comments

Always Retirement

There’s some saying about the number one killer of old folks is retirement. The idea being that if a retiree doesn’t find something to occupy their time they have less reason to hang on.

There’s also a saying about how youth is wasted on the young. But I think that phrase should actually be about retirement being wasted on the old.

I’d make an amazing retired person. I have an obscene amount of hobbies already, and new hobbies appearing weekly. I like trying new things—so long as I have control over those new things, and not vice versa.

Sometimes things stick and I end up with a thick stack of watercolor painting wasting space in my room. Other times the hobbies don’t turn out so well and I end up with not a vial of essential oil, but one filled with sour-smelling goop.

I only work part-time, which leaves me with a lot of free time. I also live in a part of town that is most inconvenient for, you know, going out and doing things. So instead I end up sitting around my room drawing, or painting, or reading, or playing video games, or doing puzzles, or cooking, or writing, or making videos, or building a Snoricam, or sewing a puppet, or making my own pickles, or designing T-shirts, or dancing, or any number of other things.

I’m a hobby kind of person. Over the years I’ve spent far too much money at art and hobby stores, sometimes on things that never come to fruition. I like to create things—I have a real god-complex when it comes to building something from little or nothing.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be one of two things: An architect or a writer. In the end, writer won out because I found out that to be an architect you have to go to school for a long time. I was never much of a school person. But the two professions had one huge thing in common: Building. With an architect, you design an entire building from your imagination and then it’s built. A writer, though, can make anything so long as they can think it up. I like that idea.

However, I ended up neither. The closest I ever came to architect was building with Legos. I do write, but not for money. How can I call myself a professional if I do it strictly as a hobby?*

The fact is, I’m good at doing certain things, but terrible at making money from those things. My mother is always bothering me with, “You could probably sell that on the internet,” whenever I do just about anything creative. But I’m not really a marketing kind of person.

Thus, in the end, they’re hobbies. I draw because it’s fun. I paint because it’s relaxing. Video games keep my mind engaged. Designing T-shirts is practical. Writing is cathartic. And they all release a certain amount of pent-up creativity that would otherwise take over my brain and unleash what would be a torrent of negative mental activity that would probably result in me in a mental institution.

And so, until the day I can actually retire and justify my hobbies, I’ll continue on my way. By which I mean on my way to the store—I’ve got to purchase ingredients to make my own cheese.

 

Footnotes:
*Not that I wouldn’t do it for money, I just don’t know how to.
Posted in Flash Nonfiction | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment