The Ultimate Seattle to LA Amtrak Blog Post (part eins)

In an effort to fight the stereotype that train service in the US is awful, I have decided to embark on a 35+ hour scenic jaunt down to Los Angeles from Seattle on the Amtrak Coastal Starlight. It is 9:38am. The train is scheduled to leave at 9:45am. I’m already drinking my first coffee. There’s a thermos upstairs from which one can presumably take multiple refills. I have met the sleeper car attendant, whose name is Sokhavy. She said, “Do you have any questions?” and I precoeeded to batter her with questions for the next five minutes, though my thirst for Amtrak knowledge, and this route in general, was not even close to satiated. Apparently the observation car — with glass ceilings — is a good place to make friends. I shall go there soon.

My sleeping berth is slightly more spacious than I thought. It’s also laid out differently. I thought you would open a door to a narrow corridor flanked by a bed and culminating in a window. But instead it’s more like the first class you see on airplanes. Two seats facing each other that fold into a bed. Unlimited coffee. Have I mentioned this? But Jesus, what am I going to do for 35 hours. Sokhavy has just informed me there’s no wifi. I have an uplifting book about Afghanistan, the CIA, and the leadup to 9/11.

I better make friends.

As things currently stand were hauling ass. I have no idea how this takes 35+ hours. We must make some long stops. And also go slow through the mountains.

Halftime of the Ajax Chelsea game has coincided nicely with sweeping views of south Puget Sound. I’ve made my way to the lounge car where two couples from the south are gabbing excitedly about the views. One woman is Facetiming and the audio is, well, audible. Her southern accent is like honey that has fermented to my northern ears.

The passenger across from me is named Shay and will apparently be boarding at PDX. Will Shay and I be besties? Also, lunch is scheduled for 1:00pm and dinner for 7:30pm. I wanted a later dinner time. I imagine dining alone at night, the countryside racing by. I imagine most of these people are just taking this train to Portland. Maybe some to the Bay Area. Even fewer to LA. I would like to become friends with Sakhovy, the sleeping car train attendant. She’s been working for Amtrak for 15 years.

Practical notes: the bathrooms are more than serviceable. The existence of the lounge car with its floor to ceiling windows is welcome. I’m in a sleeper on the first floor which smells more than faintly of disinfectant. But apparently the first floor is actually kind of nice because there’s much less traffic. All foot transit takes place on the second floor. The first floor is a bastion of tranquility. We’re nearing the place where an Amtrak train derailed last year. We’re also nearing the very tip of south Puget Sound.

The best part of taking the train so far: you’re not going along the highway so you’re seeing parts of the country you’d never otherwise see.

First impressions: Everything is better so far than I expected. The scenery is gorgeous. We might actually roll into LA more or less on schedule. The food sounds pretty good. I love having my own little compartment.

So far this could compete with many European train services. It’s a gorgeous fall day and the track is lined with deciduous trees shedding their leaves and preparing to hunker down for winter.

There are people playing dominos in the lounge car. I’m drinking orange juice. Portland was beautiful. A sea of fall leaves and people walking around as if Portland were the only city on earth. I took a power walk and made it as far as the Whole Foods and Powell’s Books in the Pearl District. My knowledge of Portland is poor and my desire to increase it poorer. I will never live south of Seattle again unless it’s Mexico or Chile or Italy or maybe (maybe) New Zealand.

I would estimate our top speed so far around 70mph. Possibly 80mph. Not bad but a far cry from the gazelles that zip across the European or Asian countrysides. Apparently long haul train travel in the US is on its way out. Could the Coast Starlight be the end of an era? Will everyone by driving self driven electric cars in 10 years, even more glued to their phones than they are now?

Lunch was a lively affair consisting of an Angus burger and sitting with a couple from North Carolina and a German masqaurading as an Englishman. If you’re traveling alone on Amtrak you will probably sit with strangers for meals. It was nice to have a bit of social interaction. The German guy was happy with the train, especially the scenery and the amenities despite it being “obviously an old train.” I noticed he tipped well despite coming from two countries not known for tipping. As for dinner I’m already excited. My reservation, as I mentioned, is for 7:30pm. I’m hoping to get the Land & Sea Combo accompanied by a garden salad. It retails for $39 and has a steak and a crab cake. Will they allow me such decadence? Meals are included with the sleepers but I’m not sure if all the meals are. Suburban Portland is a prison of convenience stores and overly temperate weather. I’m thinking about having another coffee. The girl across the hall finally showed up but doesn’t seem particularly keen on making friends. It might be time to meditate or even take a nap. We’re crossing rivers and going by lakes and the sun feels like it’s already setting. It’s a beautiful day.

I can now officially say I’ve made a friend on the train. Her name is Katrin and she’s wonderful. She’s from Germany, Chemnitz to be exact, which is near Dresden. In the past few months I’ve met three people from Dresden. What is the universe trying to tell me? I’m not sure, but I’m listening. The universe is speaking to me in German.

I’m in my sleeper now preparing for bed. We’re winding through the mountains toward Mt. Shasta, aka Dunsmuir, aka Redding. Aka the Bay Area. Aka were in California and still have approximately 24 hours to go. How is this possible. How is this state so massive or this train so slow or both. I’m already looking forward to hopefully breakfasting with Katrin tomorrow and talking about the Camino de Santiago and spiritual shit. She told me she’s reading a book by Osho. I told her I fall asleep to Eckhart Tolle videos. The thing about Amtrak is they make you eat meals with other people, so you have to meet people. It’s like a forced blind date with someone regardless of gender or age. I had dinner with a woman in her 70’s from Klamath Falls. We talked at length about healthcare. I shoveled down rolls and strained to hear the conversation of the (different) German girl next to me who appeared to be taking about Kombucha. And then when I got back to the sleep car Sokhavy, bless her beating heart, said, “I’m gonna go downstairs and make up your bed.” Am I in paradise? Is Amtrak actually the future?

(to be continued…)

A Ferocious Awakening (#16)

There’s a guy looking at porn behind me in the library. If he didn’t look semi-dangerous (and he doesn’t), I would probably say something. But I mean, come on, the guy is obviously lonely as fuck. Who am I to screw up his afternoon. And it’s not like we’re in the children’s section. Could a child walk by and see what he’s looking at? Obviously. Which is probably why I should say something.

I have booked a flight to Norway and told almost no one. I’m finally realizing what has become a dream of adulthood: going to Svalbard. Svalbard is an archipelago located north of Norway between the Greenland and the Barents Sea. It’s not exactly tropical. The idea of Spring Break Svalbard was something my friend and I joked about for a long time. It won’t be spring when I’m there. In fact, the sun won’t rise the entire time I’m there. I just talked to a guy who guided there (I think) last summer. He said by buying caviar in tubes and bread you can more than subsist. And plus, since it’s not summer, lodging won’t be THAT expensive. Like, around $50 bucks a night. Which isn’t that bad. But what do people do in Svalbard?

That’s what I intend to find out.

I’m also thinking about going to California this Wednesday. Taking the Amtrak down. A sleeper car. Maybe surfing a bit, bumming around, soaking up some sun, and then flying back for Halloween.

Coming back from Mexico a couple days ago was a ferocious awakening. Ten days in Mexico, temperatures in the 90’s, constant sun, and then back to Seattle where it’s basically rained ever since I got back. Living on a boat. If I didn’t have a space heater, I’d probably be dead right now. But it was also intense because we lived what felt like a year’s worth of experiences in 10 days, and then coming back to Seattle, feeling listless, rudderless, not really knowing what I’m doing, well that added to the effect of the rain and the cold and the increased darkness.

Has the experience with the dude watching porn tipped me over to the edge to the point where I’ll actually buy a laptop? God, I hope so. I don’t think I’d miss my little forays into the Seattle libraries. I think I’d do just fine without them. I like working at cafes better, anyways. I like the din. The din of a cafe is very neutral, where the sounds of a library are silence usually interspersed with a child screaming or one of the adults at the computers yelling something inappropriate.

The leaves in Seattle are brilliant shades or orange and red. I saw a tree today that looked like it was on fire. And even the rain wasn’t that bad today, since then the sun came out and I went to Volunteer Park where I did a lap, dodged a squadron of squirrels, and then scaled the water tower.

Two steps at a time.

Ok maybe mostly one.

Throat Coat (#15)

Do me a favor as we ease into today’s post, as I sit here drinking my Traditional Medicinals Throat Coat, trying to ward off the cold that has taken me by storm, possessing my throat, possessing much of my energy, and making me only want to lie horizontally and watch YouTube videos.

I’m speculating as to how I got “sick.” It was either when I exited the shower the other night and had wet hair and didn’t cover it. Everyone knows that makes you sick. But when I was younger and lived in Minnesota we used to go swimming at the community center and I remember walking to the car in the parking lot afterward and our hair would freeze, forming little icicles right on our heads. And I loved it. And when I was younger I never got sick. Or at least very rarely, from what I can remember.

What being sick has made me not want to do today is meditate. Why would I want to sit there and contemplate my own misery? Ah, but you see there, sonny, you’re not contemplating your own misery. You’re contemplating your breath. You’re contemplating the general IQ of Seahawks fans, which probably hovers around the 60’s, which, according to Wikipedia, means they’re capable “harvesting vegetables and repairing furniture.” Though I think both of those activities are pushing it a little bit. I don’t know too many Seahawks fans who could properly harvest a tomato.

I don’t know exactly what it is I have against Seahawks fan, and football fans in general. For starters, why do they wear the damn jerseys? I think you should only wear sports jerseys in the following situations: When you’re actually playing sports, and maybe, MAYBE, in the privacy of your own home. In your own home you’re permitted to dress like a cretin, but when you go out in the street you shouldn’t be wearing something a four-year-old would wear.

But I know Seahawks fans are super special, because they make so much noise and cause the opposing team to false start. The 12th man! So much so that they get it painted on the sides of their houses, or on their cars, or –even more regrettably — on the sides of their cheeks.

God, to be a Seahawks fan.

What misery.

That said, I probably will watch part of the game today.

Fall has officially come to the greater Seattle area, and with it a preponderance of beanies, or tuques, as our wacky neighbors to the north call them. Now that I have my 40,000 Amtrak points I plan to make frequent trips up north of the border to Vancouver, Victoria, and points beyond. My quest to one day live in Canada still continues. I’ve made some inroads. For example, I now have a library card for the Vancouver libraries that allows me to use the computers for an hour and a half per day. Most of the time I’m at the library I feel like at any moment someone is going to stab me, but that’s how I usually feel at the Seattle Public Libraries. I don’t know why I don’t buy a computer. I really don’t. For example, on this upcoming Mexico trip, aka tomorrow night, I’m going to have to type all the blog entries from my phone. Can you imagine that? I mean, can you actually fathom that? Because I can. It won’t be that bad. In fact, I used to love writing on my phone, because it made me go slower. But now I’m back to liking writing on a computer. ‘Cause I can go fast AF.

Mexico for ten days. And I might extend the trip and stay another week, or another two weeks. Or the rest of my life.

And then Vietnam in November/December. At some point, look for a job.

At some point.

I feel semi-awful.

I’m going to lie down.


What Happened? (#14)

There is a time and a place for going to the little fishing hamlet of Westport, Washington. The time is almost never. But today was one of the days in which it was appropriate to go. The waves looked to be wondrous, and they were. A friend and I had one of the best surf sessions we’d had in awhile. I felt like a taller, less capable version of Kelly Slater. The waves were consistent and the wind was offshore. The traffic was light going through Tacoma and Olympia, which almost never happens. If I were religious I would say that the gods (plural) were smiling at us from their perches up on high. But I am not religious. I believe in Chopin Nocturnes and saying goodnight to the stars every night.

But that is neither here nor there.

What is here (and there)? I’m not quite sure. I’m going to Mexico on Saturday, and I’m excited about that. The flight leaves at 5am from Seattle which means we have to be to the airport around 3am, which means I’m basically not sleeping Friday night. Which is fine, because it means I’ll probably sleep more on the plane. I have aisle seats all the way there. At least on the first flight to LAX, home to Shake Shack, a company I have stock in which has been tanking recently.

Our AirBnb the first two nights in Mexico is spectacular.

Excuse the ghetto-ass embed above. But I wanted to show you how incredible this place looks. It doesn’t cost $273 a night.

Also excuse this paltry blog post today. I’m exhausted. After surfing I went to my friend’s house and drank coffee, and coffee is pretty much a life ruiner for me. It picks me up for a few moments, and then drops me like a sack of yams. Which basically meant that as I was driving back from Westport I began to slip into a state of malaise. As we were going by Sea-Tac I was ready to open the door, shove myself out, and roll. But I stayed strong. And now I’m at my friend’s house desperately blogging and getting ready to eat pozole.

The universe provides.

Speaking of the universe providing, I wonder if it will provide me with a massage in the next couple days. I desperately need one ( see: it would be a welcome luxury) and have always thought that when you really need something, the universe provides it. Like the time I went to Chile with $300 bucks and got a job at a bed ‘n’ breakfast and then at an Italian restaurant. Or the time I needed to get the metal out of my wrist and the surgeon walked into the triage room and said, “So, we’re taking all the metal out today?”

You know exactly what I’m talking about.

Or maybe you have no idea what I’m talking about. I feel miles apart from you today. What happened?


Clutter (#13)

The Grand Island of Chiloe. Where mental clutter is a rarity.

“A collection of things lying about in an untidy mass.”

Oxford Dictionary

I’m thinking about my relationship with things.

I’m thinking about my relationship with both material and psychological things. Material things are pretty straightforward. My wetsuit, for example, is a material thing. My electric tea kettle is a material thing. The toilet I still haven’t gotten around to fixing is a material thing. But what’s a psychological thing? For me, psychological things are a bit like ideas. The idea, for example, that you should contribute something to society, that’s a psychological “thing.” The idea that you should get married and get a job and have kids, that’s a psychological “thing.” The idea that owning a car is normal, that’s a psychological “thing.”

Basically, anytime something you’re doing (or not) isn’t in harmony with something you’re thinking, it becomes a psychological thing. All the things you “should” be doing, losing weight, exercising more, but you’re not because you’re a lazy scab on the otherwise healthy flesh of society, those are all psychological “things.”

And then, of course, we have material things. My aforementioned wetsuit was the first example. This is an important thing. It allows me to do the activity I love most and not freeze to death and have my body discovered in the Strait of Juan de Fuca by some confused deckhand from Guangzhou on a container ship. My boat is another thing. A big thing, as it also happens to be my home. It’s 27 foot long of pure laboratory grade ecstacy. Though right now it’s cold as scrotum because the weather has decided to turn cold and I haven’t yet bought a heater, yet another “thing.”

Your narrative about yourself and how you fit in in the world is another thing. Here’s a narrative I’ve tended to have about myself: I’m too good for the working world, too good for the rat race, and at the same time I’m a lazy sack of you know what because I haven’t worked in more than a year, I’m not fulfilling my potential, I’ve never had a long-term relationship, my diet could be better, everything could be better, etc etc etc.

These are all psychological “things.”

And not exactly the healthiest “things.”

They are also, ultimately, an illusion. They exist in my mind and possibly in the minds of others, but they exist nowhere else. They are not facts, they are simply ways of interpreting things that are facts. But there are always myriad ways to interpret things. The way you interpret them and tell them to yourself and others becomes your “narrative.” The narrative others have of you is dependent on the one you have of yourself, and not the other way around. The world sees you how you see yourself, as my semi-deranged (but also possibly brilliant) Peruvian former professor once said.

Keeping with pyschological things we also have the world of decisions. Decisions, I would argue, are psychological “things.” The decision of whether or not to have that afternoon cup of coffee you want so bad because you’re a gluttonous wretch but that you know will keep you up at night thinking about whether your daughter Penelope is in the right daycare, that’s a psychological thing. The decision of whether or not to go skiing this weekend when you so desperately want to shred the slopes but aren’t sure you can afford it on your administrative assistant (see: secretary) salary, that’s another thing. These things add up and clutter our brains, making it harder to think. Or better put, we spend our whole day thinking about these things, these illusions.

The antidote is to start seeing these things as things, as useless clutter, rather than giving them the importance we give them. You can do this through meditation, through playing sports or other activities that put you into the infamous state of “flow,” and through ketamine (kidding!!!). Your narrative about yourself doesn’t cease to exist when you identify it as a narrative, but it may begin to lose some of the credence you give to it. And when it loses some of the credence you give to it, it may lose some of the credence others give to it as well.

Here are some ways I cut down on my mental clutter:

1) I cut down on caffeine.
Caffeine makes me anxious. Anxiety is like stepping into a room full of clutter, and when you lift your arm to start cleaning you knock something over and suddenly have even more to clean, and even more, and even more.

2) I meditate.
Let me be real specific here: I observe my breath and observe my thoughts. I don’t go into some trance where the Buddha inhabits my sternum and rids me of dukkha.

3) I go on long walks.
I’m talking long. Screw your 10,000 steps.

4) I create.

Writing this blog or just writing in general helps me cut down on mental clutter because it takes some of the clutter and puts it on the page in all of its gory majesty. I also play the piano, which for me is also creating, albeit guided by the ghosts of Chopin and other composers.

This last one is huge. By creating you’re in a sense bringing more physical clutter into the world, but freeing yourself of mental clutter. There, these words are on the page now. You deal with them.

The thing I haven’t worked out yet is when these strategies to reduce clutter end up being clutter themselves. Where does spirituality end, for example, and psychological materialism begin? I don’t have the answer to that. At least not yet. But when you berate yourself for not meditating, for example, or not downward dogging 80 minutes a day, or not working out right after you get off work at Amazon, that’s mental clutter. There has to be acceptance on some level. You are not perfect, nor will you ever be. You are not objectively beautiful. You not a hotshot, or a loser. You are not a somebody or a nobody. All those things are just mental constructs.

All those things are just…


Did Christopher Hitchens Drink Coffee? (#12)

The other day I googled, “Christopher Hitchens coffee,” trying to ascertain whether or not Christopher Hitchens drank coffee, and was dismayed to find that the results were paltry. Which is why I’m going to make the results. Yes, friends, today’s post attempts to answer the question: Did Christopher Hitchens drink coffee?

First of all, it’s common knowledge that Hitchens drank tea. He even has an article about it. Here’s what Hitchens says about tea in the US:

“It is already virtually impossible in the United States, unless you undertake the job yourself, to get a cup or pot of tea that tastes remotely as it ought to.”

Christopher Hitchens, Slate, 2011

In the next paragraph he then compares tea to coffee, and in a subsequent paragraph says, “Until relatively few years ago, practically anything hot and blackish or brackish could be sold in America under the name of coffee.” He’s not directly saying he drinks coffee here. But he’s implying that he knows something about drinking coffee. Or that he knows something about America. Or that he knows something about things brackish.

Let’s move on to an article that appeared in The New Yorker, also, serendipitously (or just dipitously), in two-thousand-and-eleven. The article was called “Dinner with Hitchens” and written by the uproariously needling Lauren Collins. Lauren, bless my heart, had the pleasure of having dinner with Christopher Hitchens (and Salman Rushdie!) as well as Hitchens’ wife and agent. There’s one telling sentence in this article: “…I had fantasized about talking (or, more accurately, listening) late into the night, but the party had broken up around midnight, with Hitchens, coffee mug in hand, wandering off into the fug.”

Now, I know what you’re thinking. What the fug is a “fug”? I had certainly never heard that word before this article. But apparently it’s a “warm, stuffy or smoky atmosphere in a room.” So it’s not actually a place. It’s like wandering into a cloud of smoke. We can see Christopher Hitchens doing this, indeed receding into the mist not unlike a young Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, coffee mug in hand, probably muttering about something or other, a wry smile on his face, his mind certainly moving a thousand miles a minute.

But the important part is he had a coffee mug in his hand.

Which was presumably filled with coffee.

Then there’s this article: “Lunch with the FT: Christopher Hitchens,” written in 2008 by the apparently venerable Edward Luce. This is my favorite article I’ve come across so far in my Hitchens/coffee research. It’s well written. It provides a window into Hitchens’s personality, his life. It talks about how Hitchens attended Oxford at the same time as William Clinton who, from what I can gather, Hitchens thought was a scumbag. It doesn’t, however, talk a ton about coffee. It just has this sentence: ” The thalis are cleared away and we move on to coffee. As we sip, a burly Rastafarian walks past….”

But what else do you need to know? They ate Indian food, they moved on to coffee. They sipped it.

You might be wondering why I care whether or not Christopher Hitchens drank coffee. Well, Hitchens is one of my favorite orators/writers who’s ever existed, and when I find an author I like I like to see what their routines are so I can possibly emulate them. I’m particularly interested in whether or not writers drink coffee. Karl Ove Knausgaard, one of my other favorite writers, drank tons of coffee. Tons of instant coffee, for that matter. Roberto Bolaño, my other favorite writer, famously drank chamomile tea. And smoked tons of cigarettes.

At the same time it’s important to note that you don’t have to emulate the habits of your favorite writers. In fact, you’re probably better off not doing so. I’m not going to smoke just because Karl Ove, and Roberto, and Christopher all smoked. I’m not going to suddenly start drinking gallons of chamomile tea. But I do like to know what they did. I do like to try to figure out how they did it. So that one day I might do it myself.


Las Lajas, Argentina (#11)

All right. Things are good. If you’ll excuse me I’m just kind of settling into my chair here. Just kind of getting ready for the day. Still kind of waking up. Had a vitamin B12 this morning, but haven’t had any caffeine. The reason I haven’t had any caffeine is because I’m playing soccer today, and last time I played soccer with no caffeine before and with also taking a vitamin B12 (there were other factors at play!) I felt amazing. So I’m trying to replicate that day. Because the adult league on Bainbridge means a helluva lot to me. More than it should.

The picture at the beginning of this post is from Las Lajas, Argentina.

And here, on the map, you can see where Las Lajas is. It’s somewhere in Argentina. One might call it, “the middle of nowhere,” though one might also call it, “smack dab in the middle of everywhere.” The choice is yours.

To get to Las Lajas I hitchhiked from a town on the Chilean side called Lonquimay. At the border between Chile and Argentina I spent about an hour chilling with the border guard in his little hut, drinking mate and talking about random shit. It was wonderful. He had a heater. He told me I could chill there and we could just ask everyone who came if I could get a ride with them into town. Then he gave me spaghetti. Apparently a lot times truckers won’t be able to bring meals with them across the border, so they’ll just give them to him. We drank more mate. I told him a bit about the journey was on. Sometimes it’s really, really, really nice to speak Spanish.

Eventually a dude he kind of knew came, and that dude agreed to take me to Las Lajas. But not only did he agree to take me to Las Lajas, he insisted on asking around until we found the AirBnb I’d reserved. We drove up and down the main street at least three times before finding the place. But he insisted on helping me. People are amazing.

Later on that trip I took the above photo. This is the bus station in Las Lajas, Argentina.

After Las Lajas I took a bus to Zapala, and then another bus to San Martin de los Andes. I love these parts of Argentina. There are no tourists here (except of course when you get to San Martin). But in a place like Zapala? There are just Argentinian people. It’s an Argentinian small town. You get to see how Argentinian people actually live, something you don’t often get to see in a place like Buenos Aires or Bariloche. I could’ve walked around Zapala all afternoon, or I could’ve tried to hithchike, but I decided to cough up the 16 or so bucks for the bus (if I remember correctly).

In San Martin I got drunk. I don’t know exactly why. One night I just thought, “I’m gonna eat a shit ton of empanadas and get mildly intoxicated.” And that’s what I did. I stayed in a beautiful chalet style house — wood beams, wood joists, all that — in San Martin. I walked around a bit. And then the next day I headed off to Villa La Angostura, where that picture from a few posts back was taken. This was at a time in my life when I was still teaching English online. I don’t teach English online anymore. I’m on sabbatical.

After Villa la Angoustura I tried to hitchhike back to Chile and ran into this French/English kid who was studying in Santiago but since the teachers on Santiago were on strike he decided to take a trip. Then we were joined by ANOTHER kid, also trying to get to Chile, this time Chilean, and the three of us successfully hitchhiked with a trucker who wanted to know all about our lives. I remember the Chilean kid, who had a beard, said something that I thought was interesting and might’ve inspired me down the road. He pulled out his little brick, non-smart phone about halfway into the trip and said, “I got out of the machine.”

The French/English kid got dropped off at some hot springs. I got dropped off in a town called Osorno, where I then made my way to Puerto Varas, where I again got kind of drunk.

That was all a couple years ago at this point. But for some reason this morning I felt compelled to talk about it.


Every September 28th for the Last Five Years (#10)

Every once in a while I like to play a game. I usually play this game while sitting in a cafe, drinking the first of several macchiatos, preparing to have a nervous breakdown. What I do is I sit there with my notebook and think, Where am I today? Where am I at this exact moment? Then I think: Where was I last year at this exact moment? What was I doing? How was I feeling? Then I do the same with two years ago, three, and up until at least five, depending on how well I can remember. I use Gmail as an aid to help me figure things out. There’s no way I could do it on my own. Then when I have my list I sit back, take a sip of my macchiato, signal to the barista with a knowing wink that I’d like several more, and let out a hearty sigh.

Today (September 28, 2019): At my parents’ house on Bainbridge Island. Sitting at the computer upstairs. It was raining outside, but now has stopped. I’ve had a lot of black tea this morning. I feel, generally, pretty good.

September 28, 2018: I was in the Central Library downtown, starting a WordPress version of my critically-acclaimed blog about Christian Pulisic. About a week later I would drop everything and head to Vienna, Austra, to study German for two months.

September 28, 2017: I was probably roaming around Capitol Hill. I’d just finished interpreting a pulmonology appointment at Kaiser Permanente on Capitol Hill, and so I probably went to Trader Joe’s, got coffee, bought a Larabar, and then went down to Elliott Bay books to read some kind of philosophical book and freak out.

Gainfully employed, though!

September 28, 2016: Ahhh, now we’re getting into the fun part. I was in Mexico! In Ensenada where apparently my hotel room was 800 degrees. I was alone, driving south from Seattle. The roadtrip would take me to Cabo, and then over to the mainland, and all the way to Panama City. In Panama I would meet a German girl and fall briefly in love. We’d go to Bocas del Toro together. I’d surf! And then..and then…I’d fly to Chile.

September 28, 2015:

Manizales, Colombia. September, 2015.

I had just finished guiding a tour for El Camino Travel in Cartagena in which I had a wonderful group and also met a kindred spirit and someone I’m proud to call my friend named Jen. Jen is a wildly talented photographer. But on this particular date I was back in the Seattle area doing interpreting and probably trying to figure out what to do next. This is where things start to get a bit murky.

September 28, 2014 (five years ago): I was in Saint Vincent de Tyrosse, in Les Landes, France. I was staying in an AirBnb and tindering heavily. In fact, I even had a blog called Hot Tinder Chicks Smoking Cigs. The blog is still one of the finest online dating blogs in existence. Shortly after SV de T I moved to Seignosse and lived with a wonderful woman named Fred and her high school age daughter. I surfed often and rated Google ads online for a living. Life was pretty good.

And so yeah, that’s the last five years of my life. Or at least the last five September 28th’s. Today’s is not over though, of course. Today’s has just begun.


Status Anxiety (#9)

I’m reading a fascinating book right now. It’s called Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton (Vintage International; $16) and it’s almost as if the universe has found the perfect book for me at this moment in my life. Not that I struggle with status anxiety. Oh no, quite the contrary. I have hip shoes. After my recent trip to Fantasy Cuts in Vancouver I even have a hip haircut. But if I were to struggle with status anxiety, with the idea that I don’t measure up based on society’s expectations, if I were to be crippled by constantly comparing myself to those around me, then this would be the perfect book.

Consider this quote, for example, from page 25. Or you know what, I’m just gonna paste the picture here. Read block “1.”

Cell phone picture quality anxiety.

So what’s so fascinating about this? Tell me, Mark, you’re saying, essentially screaming, what’s so damn fascinating about this. And I’ll tell you. Just let me take a sip of my pu-erh kombucha first.

Here’s what I found so fascinating about this quote: the fact that as our ability to lead more full lives, more materially abundant lives, our status about possible deprivation has increased. In other words, yeah, we’re capable of having so much shit these days, buying so much shit, eating so much shit, consuming so much shit, but what do we actually do? Worry about the shit we’re not consuming.

Which is sad.

The Point.

Yesterday, while walking back from The Point at Port Angeles, where the waves were not that good, I had a bit of an epiphany (see: apostraphe). I thought to myself, Man, fall is really beautiful here. Usually at this time of year I’m preparing to leave. But now instead of fleeing from the seasons I’m actually enjoying them. I mean, they even have maple flavored coffee samples at Trader Joe’s.

I also had another epiphany: that I am beholden to no one. I made a promise to Clarita, my Chilean friend/mentor, to settle down, and the reason I’m keeping that is because she said it would cause her physical pain if I broke it. We shook hands. Twice. And so that’s why I’m keeping it. Not for me, though of course it has benefited me and that’s the whole point, but for her.

Other than that, I can do whatever the heck I want.

Which brings me back to status anxiety.

The Point, looking towards Canada.

How much of what you do everyday is based primarily on your family’s, your friends’, and society’s expectations of you? I would wager quite a bit. I know that’s true at least for me. Sometimes I wonder if pretty much everything I do is based on fulfilling the perceived expectations of others or of society in general. But here’s the thing: these expectations that you’ll “do something with your life,” that you’ll “be someone,” that you’ll get a high-powered job and a corner office and one day train show-quality Irish Wolfhounds, these are new expectations! Go back to the 17th century and the expectations were this: do everything you can to not die, and that’s about it. Farm potatoes. Basically farm anything you can. But the idea that you could rise through the ranks, that you could become something out of nothing, that idea didn’t exist. Let me stress that: That idea did not exist. It’s not that people considered the possibility and then just resigned themselves to a life of strife, it’s that they never considered the possibility in the first place. Today, if you’re not someone, you’re no one. Back then, if you weren’t someone you were just like everyone else, which sort of made you someone. Maybe you’d lament your lot in life when something particularly bad happened, but you wouldn’t spend all day worrying over becoming something, because that thought would never cross your mind. You’d be too busy drinking ale and farming potatoes, in other words, enjoying life.

So what’s the answer to this situation, to this sick view of what makes a full life? I don’t know if there is an answer. Or rather, there definitely is an answer, somewhere, but I don’t think you’re going to find it by reading this blog post, or by reading Eckhart Tolle (ok maybe you’ll find it by readking Eckhart Tolle since the man’s a hedgehog-looking genius), or by reading Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton. But at least by reading this post or those books you might get it in your head that there’s an alternative to the way of thinking that describes modern-day status centered around material accumulation and “being someone.”

You are someone. You are someone in the exact way that I’m someone, or that Bill Gates is someone, or that your hamster is someone. Don’t let me dissuade you from pursuing that dream job. Just please stop for a moment to contemplate why you’re pursuing it. And stop, just for a moment, to contemplate pursuing breeding show-quality Irish Wolfhounds.


Trying Too Hard (#8)

I think I might be trying a bit too hard on this blog. I say this because on my other blog, dedicated to American soccer phenom Christian Pulisic, I don’t try hard at all. I just have fun. But for some reason on this blog I feel compelled to make the writing good, which of course only makes it bad. There was a famous Sportscenter commercial where Kenny Mayne is hitting golf balls into the satellite dish behind the company offices. The guy helping him says, “Hold it like a bird. Not so hard that you crush it. Not so soft that it gets away.”

Ahhh, these metaphors for life.

The above picture was taken by my right arm outside Villa la Angostura about two years ago. The girl in the picture had some kind of exotic name with syllables where they shouldn’t have been, and as I usually do, I briefly fell in love with her on our walk. She had a boyfriend. She was very clear about that. But that didn’t stop us from enjoying a nice hike together and drinking mate in the mountains of Patagonia.

But what does this have to do with anything?

It has to with mate because the reason I’ve been trying hard on this damn blog is because I want it to be something. I have no idea what. I want recognition. The other day I heard that someone had said about me, “I got caught up on Mark’s blog. Sounds like he’s still traveling around, still drinking mate and talking about how much he loves the waitress. But, like, nothing’s really changed, has it?”

I was of course deeply hurt by this until I realized that the reason I was hurt was because it was completely true. That’s been the last 10 years of my life. Traveling around. Drinking yerba mate. Falling in love but now really. And then moving on the next day.

Which is actually completely fine.

But then I made a promise to an 80-year-old Chilean woman that I would stop doing that. So I moved back to Seattle. I bought a boat. And now I live on said boat, and it’s where I’m typing these very words, listening to the rain outside, wondering where I might be able to travel to next, and also wondering if it’s time to boil water and drink a little mate.