A Diagnostic of Professional Nomadics

Why do we travel?  Where is it genetically written, apart from in the genomes (idiot), that some of us feel this absolutely crucial, life-bending pull into unknown and discomfort, while others opt for a warm hug?  If those in the former category, too, are this way by nature, can they possibly be, simultaneously, the type to cling nostalgically and desperately to a pair of shoes or a mindset or a memory?  Could preference and personality be exclusive, and is it possible to live an intellectual life making decisions to spite one’s true nature?  It on these questions that I hang my fight tonight, at the suffix of a marvelously warm winter day, feeling cozy and content and unadulteratedly adult sipping non-alcoholic tea, wearing my Uncle Paul’s old blue sweater, listening to Mehldau’s cover of Young At Heart without feeling the puff of tears protruding from beneath my Adam’s Apple.  It is from here, this realm of relative clarity and emotional stability, that I spearhead an analysis on why I’m here to begin with.  Perhaps along this arduous and sanitized road, we might stop and look at some landmarks, or even share the reading of the odometer.  Surely one would long for the good old days when this writer might actually discuss his experiences with more literary and less emotive indulgences, wouldn’t one?  Well, then, on we go:

It is honestly and with all sudden realization very difficult for me to write that I’ve been in Australia for nearly three months, while the memory of living in Thailand and the experiences afforded therein seem to belong to another person altogether.  Who I’ve been, or what I’ve been doing, has not occurred to me since I’ve been here; for someone who arrived with intentions to settle and assimilate (not to mention one freshly emerged from a once-enlightening meditation retreat), I’ve only discussed tomorrow since arrival, and have had my typical share of wallowing and projection in the face of a pretty calm and pacific existence.

When one tries to live abroad — in this case, I intend to define the instance of living in a place temporarily and as a cultural outsider with the aim of observation — one goes through a number of periods, beginning with a sort of renewed infancy on arrival.  This is admittedly a great draw to such a life, that we might enter every room unsure of our reverberations, where even in a country sharing our language, we might elicit a chuckle from the most innocuous phrasings, perchance offending someone with the angle of our elbows or confound someone with the placement of our hat.  If you’re lucky, you are forced to consider most aspects of yourself that come, normally, without consideration, like a writer that is forced to consciously avoid any and all colloquialisms and idioms.  With it, we can be rejuvenated and sometimes wholly conscious of ourselves, and, in turn, we might be able to reflect some of this back and compare from end to end.  The first time I really left home, I did so thinking that everything would be better over “there” (Italy, in this case), and, as I was so ready to allow anything, many things came to truly fit me.  I saw merit in looking around the corner, that even in coming from the most populous country in the world, the incredibly lonely and ironically commonplace feeling of loneliness might be flipped onto its head by encountering an entire culture that might actually and similarly place value on blanching tomatoes by hand (or by pot, you could say).

This works two ways, of course, for when you find other aspects of a foreign culture that don’t coalign with your nature, your entire background can be instantly illuminated, a swill that, normally tasting of tap water, suddenly tastes of Dublin Guinness.  As we struggle so desperately, so frantically (and often miserably), these lessons (I don’t need to say, but will) are simply invaluable.

So you’ve arrived in your new place, immediately projecting ideas and expectations onto your surroundings, and every little action is exciting.  As Cedric Klapsich so perfectly describes in L’auberge Espagnole, every street name sounds exotic, and simple chores take on new significance.  This, I would imagine, would be true with any change in life, and the courting phase can last any length of rope, depending on a million factors, most notably you and the direction your nose is facing.  In this phase, you feel like every night spent indoors a shame, every mirrored meal a waste, every path retraced a bore.  Soon, however, as your vacation ends and your life begins, it becomes necessary to open the same bedroom door every day, or to allow yourself a little trash time, or to grab some — gasp!! — McDonalds on the way to work (yes, I’ve admitted to it).  A struggle ensues, and you begin blaming yourself for all of this, thinking, EGAD, I’ve become as settled as I had avoided at home, and your mind lags, tangled in this sludge.  The old anecdotes and travel stories so typically surefire in a rootless existence become tired and useless, and you are forced to actually talk to people, to sit in comfortable silence with your housemates, to watch a movie without making sarcastic remarks, and friendships are either upgraded or discarded.

It is in this phase I currently find myself, and it has been difficult at times.  Melbourne — Australia, really, at the moment — has lost its function as a destination and now I’m meant to fend for myself.  Perhaps this is why I’m again feeling the pull to Tasmania, to Tonga, to Treason.  In any case, I am seeing that beyond all of the exciting allure of travel, all that appeals to every aspect of my being, stripped away, leaving only myself and my, as discussed in the last entry, habits.  So, where before I would cruise this marvelous city with wide eyes, it being a skyscraper built over a well-weathered foundation, so constantly at odds with its ever-changing face and dependably consistent personality, I must now either allow it into my blood stream while sowing a few drops into its soil, or pull the cord altogether.  This describes my current state of mind, with tonight pointing to the ground, not to the sky, for a change.  With that all said, what have I been doing amidst all of this riff-raff and yawnish conversation?

Well, for the last six weeks, I’ve been living in a share house in St Kilda, the beach side suburb south of the city, full of derelects and snobs at once, while working at the notorious local restaurant named Deveroli’s.  This eatery, located on a massively commercial and crowded street just five minute’s walk from my home, is big and somewhat impersonal, and likely owned by the mafia, but is also thankfully frequented by a Skittles bag full of crazy old people.

To wit, I finally got to chat at length today with the obese Croatian that comes in every day with the large group of grave-looking former Yugoslavs, yet sits inexplicably alone as his friends chat uproariously outside.  That look of eternal sadness he furrows on his brow swelled as I told him I was from Los Angeles.  “I fell in love with Califormian [sic] woman once.  Almost married her, but I let her go,” he says, his barrel chest rising in subtle shivers, stroking his bald, fatty scalp with eyes down turned.

“When was that?”  I asked him, stricken by his candor and drawn in by his pain.

“1961.”  When he said that, this mammoth of a man with a mountain of unfulfilling first date dinners stewing rancid in his belly, tears in his eyes, my life went down the drain for the next five seconds.  Everything came crashing against my skull, trying in vain for escape.  Can you imagine spending a life, hounded by such a toxic and omnipresent regret?  I immediately pictured myself slumping as he was, he fifty-one years my senior, and thought of all of the people I left behind, wondering after my decision of transience, fearful of finally settling at home, and if I would find myself there like sand at the bottom of a black depth of ocean too hostile and murky  to be reached by others.  Of course, with faith in your forgiveness and dependability, old friends, I remind myself, with a concession to self-importance, that I was out here living one of my true dreams — one that involves working in a diner, but a dream nevertheless — and that gave me a little faith in myself, too.  Finally the kitchen bell rang, and I had to leave this man, watching him sip his coffee in renewed silence, and of course imagined how easily one might find themselves in such a reality.  I can’t fault him for a thing.

Most times the restaurant, which is run by a twentysomething philistine, flamboyantly gay and intimidatingly testosteroned at the same time, who, without leash from the owners (whose names I will never know and faces I will never meet), who don’t seem to care how their business goes.  With that, he, and any other employee that feels so inclined, will yell at and belittle any customer that proves impatient, demanding, or disrespectful, and, as a waiter with a decent shake of experience by now, that can be truly refreshing.

Australians, however, don’t tip, and when I say that I mean it: yesterday I waited on a party of twenty that reserved a private room upstairs, them occupying it for hours on end, and, me running up and down stairs, carrying their paltry drinks and appetizers, I must say that I provided them with unsneezable service, even going so far as to discuss the challenges of teaching and the important role that multimedia plays in it.  How much did these friendly and gracious people tip me?  No, they didn’t.  So that just proves that Australians are a racist, inherently stunted and troubled people.  With that, and considering that I work 12 hour shift with singular thirty minute breaks, all illegally under the table, scrubbing toilets for $13, some five dollars below the minimum wage, you might say that I don’t love my job.  But, at least it’s close to my house and my coworkers constantly and ignorantly mock me for being American, while playing Madonna and Lady GaGa and other aural weapons of mass destruction.  Tomorrow I shall interview for a new job.

I currently share a small and cozy room with Jonathan Isao Burroughs, that old college football teammate of mine, and in our rickety, if slightly charming old cottage, we mingle comfortably with the other residents: Elodie and Elise, the two impossibly friendly and often confused French interns out here learning English, as well as Luke, the good-natured Brit who was undoubtedly disappointed to discover that the two single American guys moving in wouldn’t be quite so down to go out drinking with him as much as he’d hoped.  We somehow manage to keep everything in line, the house properly cleaned and, even with my eternal poops and my hour shours (or my hower showers, if you prefer), there have been few, if any, squabbles over space.  Life is pretty boring at times, in fact, in how smoothly things go.  Though Luke keeps borrowing my DVDs without asking me, and has had Punch-Drunk Love for some time, for which I am becoming nearly homicidal with frustration.

Regarding Production.  I’ve been writing, as you might expect, a shitton.  After a few months of preparation, including a weekend in Cha Am, Thailand spent writing an outline, I started a very epic book (which is already frighteningly more verbose and will probably be darker than anything I’ve ever written, lending me enough joy to help me realize that I have business or mind to be a screenwriter primarily), I’m working on a meager (but promising!) short film with Jon, and I have started writing another short about The Resurrection at the request of my old toothless friend that lives on a volcano in Sicily, who wants to gather a pool of filmmaker friends and pour all of that into production.  Robert Townsend knows as well as I whether or not I’ll finish any of it, but, as Ron Jeremy might have said, “it is better to shoot erratically than to not shoot at all.” (radio edit)

More importantly, I discovered a new love for cooking — tonight after work I made Twice-Baked Honey and Spice Chicken with fresh garlic mashed potatoes and bitter balsamic portobello mushrooms, while last week I made — from scratch, pointlessly and to impress you — apple pie tortettes, which fucking killed me when consumed with ice cream.  I don’t write poetry, as chopping garlic has come to suffice.  I still find “portcullis” to be a funny word.

Well anyway, it’s time to wrap things up.  With a contast struggle for definition, trying to finger what I’m doing here and whether or not that outweighs my time spent in a more closely permanent spot (like Los Angeles, or the USA at all, for that matter), I have come to a few conclusions: (1) ‘Please Call Me, Baby’ by Tom Waits might have the most beautiful chord progression I’ve ever heard; (2) Australians think that America, specifically Los Angeles, is the most gun-riddled, dangerous place on earth; (3) I do not regret any significant decision I’ve ever made, and am at present very happy and slightly secure with where I’m sitting; (4) love can presumably rewrite anything above, as well as all previous philosophies, priorities, plans, and worldviews.  Not that I know or am anywhere close to knowing, but I did just watch The Holiday with my neighbors a few hours ago and I think that gives me a pretty good say.

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~ by nearhelsinki on June 22, 2009.

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