Thursday, October 25, 2007

Non-conformist or Just Plain Lazy?

"This is Halloween, everybody make a scene, trick or treat 'till the neighbors gonna die of fright." - From Nightmare Before Christmas

The question starts toward the end of September, usually after someone remarks just how quickly the year seems to be flying by.

Guy: (trying to make small talk with his lovely co-worker) "Yeah, can you believe it's almost October?"

Girl: (thinking Guy would make a great match for her roommate) "Oh, you're right. And after Halloween its just a blink of an eye to Christmas. I can hardly believe it."

Guy: "Yeah." (Awkward pause as Guy wonders if this is the opportune moment to "make his move" and then chickens out because ... well, come on, that's just the way it happens)

Guy (trying to salvage his dignity): "So what are you gonna be for Halloween?"

And it never lets up. From the moment those word are first uttered until they roll the last pudgy, sugar-soaked kid or slutty witch/nurse/pumpkin into bed (Why do typically nice, mild-mannered girls feel free to go wild and slutty on Halloween? And why don't they feel that free more of the time?), you will be barraged with this inquiry by friends, co-workers, and folk you never wanted to lay eyes on.

But after last year's failed attempt to portray a realistic-looking Hershey's chocolate bar, I decided I wasn't gonna play that game. So yesterday when one of my friends asked me what I was dressing up as for the law school Halloween party (which - find the logic here - is going down on October 25), I said, "Not a blessed thing."

So here I sit - dressed in my regular blue jeans, button-up shirt, top-siders and a "Wrist Strong" wrist band on my left wrist (Go Colbert Nation!) and I got to thinking. See, in reality we're a nation of conformists. With a few exceptions - notable only for how silly they appear as they try to fight the "system" and stick it to "the man" - we drink what we're given, work when we should, and do our best not to stand-out more than necessary to get a date on Friday night.

And Halloween is no exception. Even though we get to wear something bizarre, funny, or sexy that we wouldn't dream of wearing the rest of the live-long year, so does everybody else. It's an odd conundrum, but as they say in Pixar's most amazing movie The Incredibles, "When everyone's special, no one is."

Does that mean that the non-costume wearers are really the non-conformists come Halloween? (I mean, we're fighting the "system" by NOT being falsely unique). Or does that mean the non-wearers are just lazy?

Perhaps we'll never know; but at least we'll have candy corn. And that's something to bring every lazy Halloween hater, posing non-conformist, or excitable "princess" together.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

"All We Like Raptors Have Gone Astray"

Sometimes, even though you probably shouldn't, you just can't help but laugh. A lot. And the best part? The pterodactyl and volcano in the background.

Three cheers for photo shop and a hearty thanks to Mark Davis for sending this my way.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Conversations with Alice ...

"Two roads diverged in a wood and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference."

Actually, though, I didn't choose that road. Not yet, anyway. Frost may have jumped on the "I'm gonna be the most famous American poet in recent memory" boat, but I'm still undecided. Both roads lie ahead and I'm here, sitting at the crossroads, eating an apple (beef jerky perhaps?) and seriously trying to decide which one to take. Of course you'll say it's just gainful employment for a summer, how bad could it be? I mean, it's not like its the rest of my life.

But what if it is? A small, but supremely-wise hobbit was fond of saying that the road goes ever on and on. So it may be a little path now, but that same small road may soon join something grander and larger and longer until I find myself, years from now, somewhere down the line wondering what the !@^#& happened to take me there.

New York ... California ... Seattle ... Salt Lake City ... China ... I might as well throw darts at a spinning globe. Maybe then at least I'd have some explanation for my choice.

"So Matt, how'd you end up in Kyrgyzstan?"

"Well, it was a mix of hard deliberation, serious thought, a twelve-pack of Mr. Pibb and an oddly-thrown dart."

I've never liked that freakish Cheshire cat - metaphorically or literally (or even literarily). He always sits above, pawing around in a tree waiting to tease and tickle the imagination with those blasted words.

"Which one should I take," I ask.

"Well, that depends on where you want to go," he replies.

"But I don't know where I want to go," I say.

"Then it probably doesn't matter, does it," he finishes.

At the end of this whole process, I may not know why I picked the place I'm going to work, but I will know at least one thing - I sure do hate that cat.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

We interrupt this regularly scheduled blog ...

Short note that should help get you through a crazy and devilish week:

They may have taken Smurfs off the air, but they can never take them out of your heart.

Stand true blue, through and through ... and Smurf yourself a grin.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Recreating ...

Think back to the most amazing moment(s) of your life. Picture every detail; ponder every picture; and feel. That's probably the most important part ... just feel what it was like to be there. Exult that you had that chance.

Once, I stood on the top of the Great Wall of China in the middle of a long stretch winding across impressive mountain peaks north of Beijing. As I stood there, alone, early on that June morning, wind rushed up from all four sides of the watchtower creating a vortex of sorts. All around for miles I could see little to spoil this one, true connection with nature and the accompanying sensory explosion.

Once, I sat listening to a dramatization of Dumas' poetic "The Count of Monte Cristo." As the actors, especially the one playing the formidable Dante, delved deeper into one of the most impressive studies of revenge ever imagined, I joined them - more than I had joined any performance before or since. What they did through their cantering stagecraft to create this vision, I don't know; but I was enraptured and could not help being sucked full tilt into their world.

Once, on a frosty, clear night in December, I sat in an open field with the only woman who has ever found true space in my heart (thus far), and gazed for hours at the twinkling heavens.

Eternity is built on such as this - commonplace moments possessed of unexpected and unwatched for vitality and sweetness. Little do we know their power until we are left foresaken and grasping ... trying desperately to recreate past masterpieces.

I don't know why I wrote this (and I'm the only one who reads them anyway). Perhaps I'm just looking for something I was, or something I did, or something wonderful the once happened to me and hoping (but really without much hope) that I can recreate this perfected past. But, then again, who really has time for recreating on a Saturday night?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Responsible life decisions ...

Hands down, up, or in the middle of a high-five, the worst icebreaker question of all is "Where do you see yourself in ______ (insert arbitrary number) years?" Think about it. No really ... first, who really cares where you see yourself in ______ (still arbitrary) years? Even I've got a healthy apathy in that department (and I've been neck deep in conversations about judging soil and rotten milk). Second, assuming the questioner is in earnest, how in the bloody name of Agatha Christie are you supposed to know? Remember five years ago if you can - back then, did you see yourself here? Or even close? I know I didn't see myself single, chubby, or in law school (a triple threat, my friends). Five years ago I was still on the path to being a happily married medical researcher out to cure cancer and the common cold - and my mother is still weeping the change.

As far as I can tell, the whole question must have started in the seventies with the advent of networking. (And I'll bet the first guy to ask the question was some brash, starched-shirt wearing schmuck named Bob. Or, maybe, Bobette). Bob must have been one of those incredibly annoying "networkers" - the kind of guy that goes to a party to "work" a room, "make contacts," and "carouse" with "loose" women.

He must have been pretty darn stuck to let this wonder fly ... probably in the middle of a drink with Ed, that one guy who's so buggered self-serving that he even makes people like Bob look good.

"And I told her that I didn't care how many times she made out with Bono, it still couldn't be as awesome as shaking hands with the President . . . or walking on the moon."

"Ed," Bob probably asked nonchalantly as he grabbed another drink, "so, um, where exactly do you see yourself in ____ (yeah, you know) years?"

"Well, that's a good question Bob. I guess that I . . . Bob? Bob? Hey, where'd he go?"

But by then, Bob was across the room getting to know Sara, a rather excitable and friendly rock groupie. On second thought, maybe . . . no, that question still sucks rocks.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Perfect Day

I wouldn't think of making this up or sensationalizing. Everything below accurately captures how it felt to be alive on Saturday June 23, 2007.

The sun hadn't risen when I popped out of my chalet at the South Pacific Resort. An order of hashbrowns and banana waffles and I was off along the Western coast to Tekek, the hub of Pulao Tioman (also known as Bali Hai - my special island). Refreshing winds lazed across the beach as monkeys played in the palms, dropping coconuts onto the sand below (just like in the cartoons) and the walk was cool and calming.

I turned off the main road past the village Mosque and into the thickets of the island's interior. And what an interior - trees a hundred feet tall lined the slopes as the stone covered trail led deeper into the foilage. All around, birds sang and branches cracked as monitor lizards, monkeys and small deer ran from the massive orang putai (white man) trekking about. I can't say the trek was easy, exactly. By the time I got to the top of the hill (four kilometers later), sweat covered every stitch of clothing I had on. That's probably why the breeze from the ocean that met me as I crossed the ridge felt so nice. And the view stretched out resplendently - mountain ridges and valleys melting into the welcoming Juara bay below.

I checked into the secluded, beach-side Rainbow Chalets and immediately set about to some serious relaxation (oh so welcome after the six-mile hike). Lazing on a beach cot with a good book and plenty of water took up most of the late morning and into the early afternoon when I went exploring the rocky point near the resort. A lunch of pineapple fried rice, roti telur and a refreshing coconut juice gave me enough energy for the long hours of swimming in the crystal clear waters that spread out from the beach. As I reclined in the ocean waves and played with some of the local children who came for a respite from the hot sun, crabs scuttled across the rocks and fish jumped in and out of the surf.

By this time I was already exulting in this God given gift of a day. Juara was nearly deserted and the travelers that were there seemed content to work on their tans from the comfort of their own chalets, granting free reign. It was like the whole beach, nay, the whole island belonged to me and me alone. As the sun set, I walked back to my chalet, changed for the evening, and traipsed over to a nearby restaurant serving banana milkshakes and the Bushman - a local concoction beyond description.

A storm moved in while I was eating and lightening split the sky. After finishing the food, I crossed through the downpour and put on my swimsuit again - this time to go play in the rain. The tide moved out, leaving dead coral across the beach, and the falling water felt crisp, cool and wonderful. My senses crazed in the moment: the smell of rain on sand, the touch of the cool water, the sound of the ocean waves and surrounding storm, the sight of flashing lights against the darkness, and the taste of the dinner so lately eaten. The wonder of being alive.

I walked across the bay and left even the small signs of civilization that were there, coming to a stretch of beach entirely deserted. Knowing no one was around, there was only one thing I could do - I took off my swimsuit and walked naked across the beach (nothing sexual here - it just felt right). Soon after, the storm ceased and the moon and stars began to shine down. I stopped, sat in the sand, and sang softly to the sea. On my way back (clothed again) I felt filled with energy, and began running across the sand. A couple of miles dodging coral and breathing in the sea air passed quickly and as I got back to my chalet the rains fell again, washing off the sweat and refreshing my muscles.

The prayer I said that night was filled with gratitude at the wonders of the world - and for the chance I had to live another perfect day in it.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Two Men on a Bus

Canadian (in a heavy Montreal accent): Hey, you know where this bus is headed?

: Central Station.

(pause. both look at the passing scenery.)

: You been in Malacca long?

: No, just two days. I'm going to Kuala Lumpur now and then back to Taiwan.

: You live in Taiwan?

: For about seven years now. I live there with my girlfriend and her three kids.

: Huh ... so what brings you here?

: I take photographs for a French Canadian travel magazine. It doesn't pay much - enough to keep me traveling. Where are you from?

: The States. Utah originally, but I'm living in California for the summer.

: I love Utah. You've got Moab. Bryce. Arches. I used to go mountain biking in Moab. Great times.

: What got you into all this traveling?

: Well, I ran away from home when I was 16. I couldn't stand my dad and one day I just started hitchhiking across Canada. It took me about two months. In the end, I loved it so much that I just kept going.

: Hitchhiking, huh, how was that?

: Fantastic. A lot of people will say, "no, you can't hitchhike anymore. Maybe twenty or thirty years ago, but not now." But they are wrong. If you smile and shave and look presentable, people will pick you up. I even hitched around the Western United States for several months through California, Nevada, Arizona ... Utah. It's not dangerous at all and I love meeting new people. What are you doing here?

American: I'm doing an internship in KL at a law firm. I used to live hear about four years back and figured it was time to come again. Once Asia gets in your system, there's no way to get it out.

Canadian: You said it.

(More time goes by and the two talk about a stolen motorbike, trips to China and the future of that country's growth, photography, and religious policies in Malaysia. If you're still looking for a point ... stop. The only point is that not all Canadians end sentences with 'eh.' And that is cultural understanding.)

Sunday, June 17, 2007

One Nation Under ... Dressed?

Malacca lies two hours south of Kuala Lumpur on the West Coast of Malaysia. Between the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries, it became one of the most active port cities in Southeast Asia controlled by various imperial powers (most notably, the Portuguese). Blessed with an incredibly rich blend of history and culture, the Malaccan people crown this Asian treasure. It's a highlight no matter what reasons you have for coming to the country (and a great way to start a post). And now, into the heart of today's issue.

Last Saturday when I arrived at my hostel - run by a rag-tag collection of Islamic natives- the manager(who was really more like a mother than a proprietor) immediately began asking me about myself. Typical questions like "What was I doing with my life? What brought me to Malaysia? What was life like back in England?"

And that made me pause. England? Forsooth ...

"Actually, I'm from America," I said with a democratic twinkle in my eye.

"Oh, you just looked so nice and proper that I thought you must be from England. They always wear nice clothes and comb their hair and everything," she replied nonchalantly. "Americans don't usually look that nice."

And that got me thinking. I was in a nicer polo and I did have some exceptionally well-cared for hair that afternoon (for me, anyway).

Could it be true? Was I really part of a nation of shaggy citizens soiling the world with their fashion sins? And more importantly, could I bedevil the local citizens about my origins merely by combing my hair?

Amidst claims of dumbing down and fattening up, it seems logical that the next step would be for Americans to begin lowering our fashion standards and start slumming around. Even if that were the case, though, as travelers we don't exactly have a corner on the market. Honestly, have you seen English backpackers? That old-school British charm simply doesn't accompany them en route. In fact, it really doesn't matter what country they're from, backpackers just exude slumminess (and that's probably ok).

Back in the states, however, things do seem to be getting a bit sloppier. For a lot of people, dressing up just isn't at the top of the docket. Kind of sad, really. I mean, Form should never entirely be at the mercy of Function (though the Form devotees bowing to the Gucci gods are just as bad). Otherwise, sweats and baggy shorts would kick the inseams off khakis and we'd all grow a little bit flabbier for want of proper motivation. Though our language may be on the downward slope (TMWFI), our looks shouldn't be destined to follow.

Comfort and ease are nice, but respect is optimum. I started running because health and wellness are among the first steps towards gaining real self-respect. Taking care of our appearance is another. A clean shirt and a washed face are just that much easier to love.

In reality, I'm not worried that we're going to be outclassed on the hostel circuit by Brits or anyone else anytime soon. But we could all probably stand a little bit more attention to our appearance no matter where we are (in an "I care about myself" way, not an "If you think I'm sexy and you want my body" way). I don't think clothes always make the man, but they do seem to show a lot about who he is.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Mystic Law of the Universe

Everything about the highlands was peaceful ... the temperature, the people, the food - even the storms were downright friendly. The Camerons are about a five hour bus ride outside of Kuala Lumpur on the most curvy, sea-sickening road I've ever encountered (including East Malaysia - and that's saying something). Still, the views were amazing ... and how many people can say they've been naked in a rainstorm in the heart of the jungle?

But the best part came yesterday when I met Buddhist apologist extraordinaire, Mr. Jeffrey Teoh. Within 10 seconds of our chance encounter near a waterfall, I was already knee-deep in the mysteries of Life, the Universe, and Everything.

"We are all Buddhas," Jeffrey explained, "but in mortal form. We can only become eternal when we are chanting."

Curious, I asked exactly what we should be chanting (though quite adept at "Pie Jesu Domine," I'm always looking to further my repertoire). He told me. I looked befuddled. He repeated and I continued, in my own silly way, to look befuddled. He wrote it down for me.

And this, in full, is what it said - "Nam-Myo-Ho-Ren-Ge-Kyo."

"This is the essence," Jeffrey said, "it's the same as chanting all 84,000 normal sutras that the rest of the Buddhists chant. But this, this is The Mystic Law of the Universe."

I asked him what the words meant and he said something about lotus flowers and water cycles or whatever. But the key is what he said as I was getting ready to leave.

"Chant this and any problem you have, any difficulty you encounter, will be automatically corrected. The more you chant, the better your life will become."

How can that not be awesome? So there it is, my friends, the answer to your next excrutiating law school final exam is simple - chant. Chant long. Chant hard. And, you've got a moment, put in a few chants for me.