Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I got a tattoo

Yes I did. It's the word "timshel" written out in my own cursive handwriting on my right wrist. It's a Hebrew word found in the book of Genesis meaning "thou mayest," but I got the idea from the book "East of Eden," by John Steinbeck. In Genesis, the word appears when God is telling Cain whether he may be able to rule over sin. The phrase has been translated as "thou shalt rule over sin," "do thou rule over sin," but John Steinbeck stumbled upon the more recent translation of "thou mayest rule over sin." Here is the specific excerpt from East of Eden:

Lee’s hand shook as he filled the delicate cups. He drank his down in one gulp. “Don’t you see?” he cried. “The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in ‘Thou shalt,’ meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.’ Don’t you see?”

“Yes, I see. I do see. But you do not believe this is divine law. Why do you feel its importance?”

“Ah!” said Lee. “I’ve wanted to tell you this for a long time. I even anticipated your questions and I am well prepared. Any writing which has influenced the thinking and the lives of innumerable people is important. Now, there are many millions in their sects and churches who feel the order, ‘Do thou,’ and throw their weight into obedience. And there are millions more who feel predestination in ‘Thou shalt.’ Nothing they may do can interfere with what will be. But ‘Thou mayest’! Why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win.” Lee’s voice was a chant of triumph.

Adam said, “Do you believe that, Lee?”

“Yes, I do. Yes, I do. It is easy out of laziness, out of weakness, to throw oneself into the lap of deity, saying, ‘I couldn’t help it; the way was set.’ But think of the glory of the choice! That makes a man a man. A cat has no choice, a bee must make honey. There’s no godliness there. And do you know, those old gentlemen who were sliding gently down to death are too interested to die now?”

Adam said, “Do you mean these Chinese men believe the Old Testament?”

Lee said, “These old men believe a true story, and they know a true story when they hear it. They are critics of truth. They know that these sixteen verses are a history of humankind in any age or culture or race. They do not believe a man writes fifteen and three-quarter verses of truth and tells a lie with one verb. Confucius tells men how they should live to have good and successful lives. But this—this is a ladder to climb to the stars.” Lee’s eyes shone. “You can never lose that. It cuts the feet from under weakness and cowardliness and laziness.”

Adam said, “I don’t see how you could cook and raise the boys and take care of me and still do all this.”

“Neither do I,” said Lee. “But I take my two pipes in the afternoon, no more and no less, like the elders. And I feel that I am a man. And I feel that a man is a very important thing—maybe more important than a star. This is not theology. I have no bent toward gods. But I have a new love for that glittering instrument, the human soul. It is a lovely and unique thing in the universe. It is always attacked and never destroyed— because ‘Thou mayest.’”

I know that some people--particularly some in my family--are categorically against tattoos. I invite them to open their minds to the idea behind this one. I've wanted a tattoo for a few years now, and I've known the purpose it would serve, but I just didn't know the form. The purpose of having this word always in plain sight is to remind me that whatever situation I'm in, the path I take is up to me. If I ever feel stuck, the power is mine to get unstuck. Or even if the path is somehow already set, it is up to me how I perceive it. This is an eternal truth that some people never realize and most others forget.

This tattoo will also serve as a reminder of this time in my life. I came up with the idea back in May when Miles and I took our road trip to California and I was rereading East of Eden. We had just graduated the week before and were delirious with freedom. Now I'm heading to California to meet my best friends before flying to South East Asia, where who knows what will happen. I can't think of a period of time that more exemplifies the idea "Thou mayest."

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Driven back by the rain.

The lows can get pretty low, but the highs can get just as high.

I started out yesterday with the intent to make it to the Oregon coast and hitchhike all the way down to San Francisco. Well, one day later, and I'm back in Portland. Part of the problem was that I didn't get out of the city until about noon. The rest of the problem is that nobody wanted to pick me up. I got off a city bus at the end of the line and started walking out into the coutryside filled with corn and dairy farms. A couple short rides carried me a few miles, and then a woman in a construction company truck offered me a ride in the bed. She was doing road work at the top of a pass halfway between Portland and the coast, and that's where she dropped me off. It was four o'clock, starting to rain, and I was in the middle of nowhere. I stood there for an hour watching the cars pass and getting bitter. The thing about hitchhiking is that every time you stick your thumb out, you're making a request, so you're constantly at the whim of other people's generosity. When the rides are good, it gives me an uplifting opinion of mankind; but when rides are bad, I curse people for their lack of compassion.
I had to get these thoughts out of the forefront of my mind so I started walking down the pass. I knew it was hopeless that I would make it to the sea by the end of the day, or even the end of the next day, but walking was all I could do to keep from going crazy. Every time I heard a car behind me, I'd make a half turn to stick out my thumb, but car after car after car just whizzed by. An hour of walking went by. And then another, and I was getting really discouraged--even a little unsettled. It was cold, wet, and getting late, and all I had for camping gear was a light sleeping bag and a bivy sac. If I had to sleep in the woods for the night it would have been very uncomfortable and possible hypothermic. For a moment while thinking about all these things, I noticed that my eyes were a little damp, and I wasn't sure if I had been weeping or if it was just from the rain. I kept walking. I was soaked and my spirits were gone, but I kept walking and sticking my thumb out, not knowing what else to do. When a car finally did stop--a lexus SUV--I thought I was hallucinating. You can't feel that kind of salvation unless you scrape the depths of experience. I assured the driver that he has some good karma coming his way.

My savior didn't take me all the way to the coast. He instead dropped me off at a diner about 10 miles inland. I was cold and hungry so I went in and had the best bad tea and carrot cake I'd ever had (the carrot cake was actually genuinely good). When I saw another customer paying his bill, I collected my things and waited for him outside. He was old looking man, but I think his lifestyle had aged his appearance faster than time had. I approached him and asked if he could give me a ride to Tillamook (Yes, it's where the cheese comes from). He said yes, but he looked a little bewildered as though he didn't know what he said yes to. I got in the old pickup with him anyway. I was anxious to get to town before it got totally dark, but before the man even put the key in the ignition, he talked for about five minutes about I don't know what. When he put the key in, he talked for another three before turning it, and when he started the engine he talked for another two before putting the truck in gear. Strangely enough though, he was rather silent on the drive into town.
Once in Tillamook, I was determined to have a hotel room. I checked one place that was supposedly the cheapest at $60. I left the office to go stew over the price in the street, when I saw two guys my age walking their pack laden bicycles. I walked up to them and asked if they knew of a cheap place to stay. They laughed, saying they were looking for the same thing. I debriefed them about the hotel I just checked out and offered to split a room three ways. They quickly agreed. One of them went to go rent the room that had magically inflated to $70 per night, while the other guy and I went to buy a six-pack of beer. We settled into our room around 7:30 and were in bed by 9:30.
I was planning to hitchhike down the coast and they were planning to ride back to Portland, but we heard the weather forcast, and we all decided to take a $10 bus back in Portland in the morning. Now I'm trying to set up a rideshare to San Francisco where I'm hoping the sun is shining.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Heading South

I'm back in Portland now, beginning my journey south to L.A. Seattle treated me well--or rather I should say the people in Seattle treated me well. Sarah and Dagny provided me with places to stay, things to eat, transportation, and good company. Both of their families live in the Seattle area, and I spent some time mixing in with both the Rothmans and the Ihnots.
It's nice returning to these Northwest cities. I've been to both Portland and Seattle a few times now, so when I come, I don't feel any obligation to sightsee or take the city in. Instead I can mosey around, doing whatever pleases me, feeling somewhat at home. My original intent on taking this 2 week Northwest trip was to look at this region with an eye for possible places to live. So what have I concluded: Though I like both cities, if I had to chose one to live in, I would be leaning toward Portland. The Puget Sound is a major draw to Seattle, but the city is otherwise sprawling and somewhat overwhelming. Portland has a similar feel to Seattle, but it seems smaller and more straightforward. I haven't come close to beginning to make moving plans, but that's just my most recent impression.

Alright, the morning is fleeting, and I have to be hitting the road. So long.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Modes of Travel

I don't think I like air travel anymore. I still like the sensation of being on a plane--the rise and fall, acceleration and deceleration--and I still like the view from a small plane window. I always request window seats, and whatever time I don't spend reading, I spend with my forehead pressed to the thin Plexiglas separating me from 600 mph of upper troposphere. So, the view and the feeling of flying I like; everything else I don't like.
Airports are always a hassle to get to and from. They are expensive, strict, and full of delays. I chose to fly to Portland to avoid any more hang-ups in getting to the Northwest, but, consistent with Monday's travel attempts, my first flight was delayed, causing my second flight to be rescheduled for four hours later. Though my flights were a hassle, I landed during a pink sunset over green and watery Portland with a crescent moon dangling low in the sky. Seeing something pretty was enough to counteract the sour experiences I may have had that day. But another issue I have with flying is that you simply take off from an ugly place (Phoenix) and land in a pretty place (Portland) without seeing the slow incremental transition between the two. You gain no empirical knowledge of what connects two distinct places on Earth.
Better than air travel, is train travel. The view is more grounded, and usually just as captivating. The gentle rocking and clanking soothes the mind into thinking calm and meditative thoughts about the nature of the world and self. The only problem is that whatever landscapes you may view, they are for viewing only. You can't yell out, "Stop the train; I want to walk through the that meadow!" Many a time I've been riding, looking out the window and have tried to make a mental note to return to such and such village to get more than just a passing glimpse, but it's never happened. I took the Amtrak from Portland to Seattle, and it was one of the few train trips I've every taken in the U.S. I carefully watched how the landscape of one city became the landscape of another, and, luckily, there weren't any places I felt absolutely compelled to return to.
In a couple days I'll get to employ my favorite method of transport: hitchhiking. Hitchhiking is free, affords good views, and you have the flexibility of getting on and off whenever and wherever you please, as well as the excitement of never knowing if you'll actually get a ride. I'm going to have several days to work my way down to San Francisco, and I have no idea what will happen between here and there. But that's in a couple days, and until then, I'm going to enjoy myself in Seattle.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Away we... no

This is supposed to be a travel blog, but so far it's only a trying-to-leave-Boulder blog.  My ride this morning got delayed due to a incomplete money transfer, so I searched for a new ride.  I found another guy who was going to drive to Oregon this afternoon, so I made plans with him.  But, when he was on his way to pick me up in Denver, first he locked himself out of his car, delaying him for an hour, then he got a flat tire en route, and he was going to get it fixed as quickly as possible, but all the tire stores were all closed, so he was going to leave in the morning instead, and blah, but blah, and therefore blah.  He offered to take me in the morning.  No thank you.  I'm going to give air travel a try.  I'm going to need a lot of patience in the months to come, so I guess I may as well start cultivating it now.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Away we go

     My bags are packed; I've said my goodbyes; Away we go.  I found a ride to Montana on Craigslist, and tomorrow morning he's picking me up at my old place of work, Folsom Street Coffee.  I'll get into Bozeman late in the day and find a place to stay.  The next morning I'll hitchhike as far as I can I-90 toward Seattle, and whatever distance I don't make by the end of Tuesday, I'll complete with a Greyhound ride.  From Seattle I'll make my way slowly down the coast, eventually ending up in L.A. on October 9.  There'll be a week of revelry and debauchery, and then it's off to Bangkok, for--in all likelihood-- more revelry and debauchery.  
     All I'm taking is a small backpack.  It would probably be considered a large day pack, but I'm going to live out of it for months.  What am I bringing?  I'm taking a small sleeping bag, a sheet, and a pad.  I have a water bottle and a thermos.  There's a bag of food with 3 apples, 1lb of almonds, and two small chocolate bars.  To wear, I have a pair of shorts, capris, and jeans; 2 tanks, 3 T's, a long sleeve, and a button-up; as well as 3 pairs of boxers, and 3 pairs of socks; and then a sun hat, a pair of shoes and flip flops.  Then there are some odds and ends, like a sac of cables and chargers, a bag of toiletries, a pack towel, a map of the western United States, a digital camera, and a headlamp.  For the brain, I have two books, (Shantaram, and The Perennial Philosophy), my journal, and an ipod.  And it all fits cozily in my "day pack."

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Ungrounded wanderlust

     I leave in less than one week.  Even so, I find that I'm already severing my tethers to Boulder as a home, but with nowhere else to attach them, they are flapping freely in the future.  Whenever I've travelled in the past, and even when I studied abroad for six months, I was merely putting my life in Boulder on pause.  This is the first time in my life when I've been wholly leaving something behind and starting something new.  Boulder will always be my home in one way or another (23 years in one place will do that), but when I come back there will be little remaining of my old life.  So when the inevitable homesick travel blues set in, what will I be homesick for?  I suppose it'll be the ghost of my old life.  But there is usually some respite in homesickness, because there is the hope of having a home to return to, but in my case, even if I return home, I'll be nearly as ungrounded in Boulder as anywhere else.   By saying that my tethers are flapping freely in the future, that's what I mean.  I already feel as though a part of me has left.
     This all sounds tragic and woeful, and I guess it is, but that's only one side of the coin.  The idea of being completely untethered is also exciting as hell.  For the first time in my life, I have no obligations to be anywhere or do anything, other that catch my flight to Bangkok on October 15.  Like I said before, every time I've travelled in the past I've put my life in Boulder on hold, which also means that all my responsibilities in Boulder were looming over me--namely, school.  This is the first time I can strike off and not have a single thought in my mind about finishing such and such commitment or fulfilling this or that duty.  My mental burden will be as light as the physical burden strapped to my back.
     Now, one last thing.  I know traveling isn't some skeleton key to coffers of pure joy.  Traveling is just as hard as day-to-day living.  The pendulum of happiness and misery swings just as freely in other countries as in your own.  Just because you don't have to worry about work or school doesn't mean your times are free from worry.  Or even if they are, then they may be filled with boredom.  I know all of this... but I've forgotten it, so I have to relearn it.  I can regurgitate those lessons I've already learned, but I only know them as empty facts.  I've got wanderlust like never before, and until I satisfy it on a macro scale I won't be able settle contentedly anywhere.  I need to relearn that a change in environment doesn't mean a change in mental condition.  I need to travel the world to relearn that locations are irrelevant--a location is whatever you make of it.