Teotihuacan

…Candor offers no assurance that one’s beliefs about the world are true. — Sam Harris

I’m confused as to why YouTube thinks I need to be confronted with a barrage of grammarly ads. I’m listening to the song the twist by metric, and it reminds me of the early 2010’s or late 2000’s or some time period like that, specifically of a trip to whistler in which we saw Metric perform and were also told by Canadian police to pour out a 24 pack of kokanee on the slopes of whistler.

“Sorry, guys, know it sucks to pour out a two four.”

Meanwhile.

I couldn’t get on the flight to Guadalajara this morning, and I’m not entirely sure why. It might just be that I wanted to sleep in more. I think it was also because I knew that the trip to Guadalajara was me falling into the familiar trip that things will be better if I just go somewhere else. Instead of improving my life here in seattle, or learning some kind of acceptance so I just appreciate my already kickass life, I think I need to go somewhere else. The grass is always greener, unless you live in Arizona, in which case the grass is yucca and scrub brush.

A few minutes ago I was doing pushups on the ground and screaming. I’ve discovered better form that makes them not hurt my shoulder and elbow as much. I simply position my hands lower down, closer to my belly button. I keep my elbows in. And after I’m done with a set, I let out a guttural scream.

It wasn’t just Guadalajara. I was going to go to Mexico City after that, and that I’m actually cool with. “I love Mexico City,” seems to be a popular sentiment these days, whereas 20 years ago no one would ever say that. But now most millenials can recount some kind of trip they went on to Mexico City where they went to the pyramids of Teotihuacan and ate “real tacos al pastor” and it was “life-changing.” This same trip inspired them to come back to Seattle, do precisely two months of Duolingo, and then give up.

Where did you go in Mexico City? La Condesa, Roma. We went to a lucha libre one night.

Matador, estocada, you’re my blood sport.

And so I’ve postponed the Mexico City trip for now. It is grey in Seattle. It was just raining. The days are getting longer and there is beauty to be found here. My succulents are still alive. I climbed yesterday and it was terrible but I sent a fun orange.

And now I’m going to go pee on a keto strip.

Loneliness

I have begun an inquiry into the subject of loneliness, as it’s something I struggle with. I love solitude; don’t get me wrong. But loneliness and solitude are very different things. For me, loneliness is the lack of connection, feeling alone when you don’t want to be alone, helplessly alone. It is possible to feel loneliness in a crowd of people,  but I don’t think it’s possible to feel solitude in a crowd of people. Maybe if you’re enlightened. Basically, loneliness is something that feels negative to me, whereas solitude feels positive. Solitude is chosen. This isn’t to say that nothing good can come from loneliness. One can learn from loneliness, and good company after a period of loneliness often feels that much sweeter.

Ever since graduating from undergrad I’ve often felt lonely. And in the last five years or so, loneliness has become the norm. Furthermore, I’ve noticed that I especially feel lonely in Seattle, which is unfortunate because this is where I’ve always expected to feel the least lonely. This is where I’m from. This is where I’ve always had friends. And yet increasingly it’s also the place where I feel the most lonely. I have several hypotheses as to why this is, and one of them is expectations. The fact that I don’t expect to be lonely here makes it that more gut wrenching when I am. Another hypothesis has been Seattle’s size. Surely I’d be less lonely in a small town, I fantasize. But does this hypothesis hold water? Probably not, since there have been plenty of times in the past when I’ve lived here and not been lonely at all. Another hypothesis is lack of shared values. I fantasize that all people in Seattle care about is career, money, social standing and accumulating things and experiences. Since I value these things less, I imagine this puts me at odds with the culture here and contributes to lack of community and loneliness. But is this really the case? It’s dangerous to assume this chasm in values between me and others, since I don’t know that many others. And one last hypothesis (there are others) is that one of the biggest contributors to my loneliness is simply not being around other people since I’m not in school or working a job that requires it. One of the first times I really felt lonely was the winter of 2009, when I was unemployed and not in school and living at my parents’ house. That was essentially the first extended period of time when I hadn’t been in school or working, and coincidentally it’s the first time I can remember having experienced real loneliness. Of course, I didn’t really know it at the time. I compensated with alcohol and partying and a number of other desperate activities. My soul was crying out for help, but I wasn’t sure why.

Then in 2012 I graduated from grad school, and since then loneliness has increasingly become the norm, to the point today where it’s weird for me to not feel lonely. It pains me to write that, but it’s true. The other day for example I hung out with two friends in Vancouver and we went sledding and had dinner together and I felt such a sense of belonging and community I was elated. And that used to happen every day for me. Every single day I would experience that feeling of belonging and community. But now it happens rarely, and when it does it’s like sitting in the sun after months of cloudiness to the point where you forgot what the sun was like. I had that feeling of belonging up until I got back to Seattle, and now the loneliness is back.

Hence this inquiry.

Loneliness and lack of community are things I discuss frequently with my therapist, so I guess you could say the inquiry started there. The seeds for the inquiry were planted way back in that winter of 2009, when I felt lonely but didn’t know what was happening. And today I decided that maybe I could take some steps into looking at this loneliness and looking for ways to, not eradicate it, but alleviate it and maybe modify my life so that there’s less loneliness and instead more community — and so that more of the time spent alone is spent in solitude and not in loneliness.

What are the first steps to take in this inquiry? Well, I imagine my therapist might agree in saying that the first step is not condemning myself for being lonely, to be compassionate with myself and also how I’ve reacted to this loneliness. Am I lame person for seeking to numb the pain of loneliness with things like alcohol and YouTube videos and Netflix series? Or is that a normal reaction? Am I weak or lame for not reacting to the loneliness in a healthy way? No, I am not lame. It is normal to want to numb this pain, and compassion for myself is a good, albeit extremely difficult, first step. Another good first step might be to get curious about the loneliness. What makes it worse? What makes it better? When do I feel it? How do I react when I feel it? This is a good first step because it doesn’t require solving the problem, it just requires an examination into the nature of it. I’m capable of this.

So that’s where I’m at right now. Maybe some of you have felt similarly in the past or feel similarly right now. Or maybe not, in which case that’s great. Anyway, that’s all I have to say about the inquiry right now. I’ll let you know how things progress.

 

 

First Days in Jersey

Why did I come to Jersey? This is a question I don’t find myself asking myself. I came to get away from my boat, to sleep in real beds, and to go to Europe. So far I have done the first two things. I’m no longer on my boat. I’m in a real bed. And on Monday I’ll go to Europe.

But first, how did I get to Jersey? Or actually first: What/where is Jersey?

Jersey is one of the Channel Islands. It’s part of the UK but self-governing. No one wears masks here except on public transportation and in hospitals. COVID doesn’t exist. Also Jersey is close to France. You can get here by ferry or fly. I flew from Heathrow after flying business class on American Airlines flight 156 from Seattle. It was one of the easiest flights to Europe I’ve ever had. I got on, got situated, ate dinner, watched Saving Private Ryan, slept, woke up, ate breakfast, and then we landed. And then I had a four hour layover in Heathrow.

The key to not wearing a mask at Heathrow is to always be drinking something. Or to always be on your phone. Or to just not wear a mask. While at Heathrow I bought a book called A Theater for Dreamers by Polly Samson. It’s perfect vacation lit. Based on an island in Greece with plenty of descriptions of goats and donkeys and wine drinking and sex. And people getting up at 4am and “only bringing a wine skin and a few pieces of bread” and shit like that which you only read about in books because in reality you gotta bring some water or you’re not doing much hiking.

My stomach is kinda fucked from too much sugar.

I’m gonna go swimming soon.

I’m staying in Jersey for three more nights. Tomorrow I need to change lodging. I can currently hear a seagull cawing outside my room. I just walked back from St Helier along the beach, about 5km. I might see if I can watch Spain vs Switzerland here in a second on TV even though I hate Spain. I love the country. But hate the soccer team. Bunch of whining diving non-men with ugly accents. That said, maybe I’ll go to Spain on this trip. Or maybe Porto. Or maybe Latvia or Lithuania. I’m not sure what I’m going to do. The only thing I have scheduled is an antigen test on Monday followed by a haircut. I’m thinking sort of a high and tight situation, but I’m open to suggestions. Should I get him to shave a notch in my eyebrow? Will that make me look like a gang member?

I don’t understand the people in Jersey when they talk to me. “Right, so you head down to high street, flip a right and keep going till you get to the big toe.”

I followed the man’s instructions, looking for a big toe which actually turned out to be a big toad. That said, people have been lovely here. There are lots of immigrants. Lots of Poles. Gotta love the Poles. I understand the Poles better than I do the locals. Also lots of Portuguese, which makes me wanna go to Portugal. But so far I’ve heard no one speaking French.

It was foggy this morning but now it’s sunny. Can I muster myself to go swimming? The water isn’t terrible. Probably warmer than Puget Sound. I just have to make sure I don’t take any naps this afternoon, because I already took a four hour nap this morning and woke up pretty confused. I headed bleary eyed into the town, and then took a bus to St Helier and went to Ried’s Pharmacy to ask about COVID tests. I wouldn’t need one if I was coming from the US, but since I’m coming from the UK I do need one. And it costs 50 pounds. But what’s the alternative? I’m in Jersey and it’s enchanting and I’m probably about to go swimming.

I either need to change shirts or change lodgings. The staff here is wonderful. I think it’s a mix of Poles and Italians. Cory just called the front desk looking for me and I felt so cool that someone was calling for me even though I assumed it had to do with my COVID test when I got here or something like that. I had the burger with hella ketchup and mayonnaise and aioli and my digestive system was fucked earlier and now I don’t wanna know what it’s gonna be like. Then I walked the town a bit and sat on the little sea wall for a little bit next to the yacht club. People are out tonight. The Old Court House is starting to shut down though. And I’ll probably read my book and go to bed. I can’t decide whether to stay here tomorrow or go to France. I’m pretty sure I’ll stay here. I mean I flit by  coming here but I’m not gonna do a bunch of mini flits now that I’m here because I know they don’t do the trick. But I have to change lodgings. And that way I won’t have to change my shirt. Plus England play tomorrow.

Bummed Italy won. I love Lukaku. Gonna read my book and go to bed. If I can’t sleep that is. Stanley Cup at 1am tonight but don’t think I’ll stay up that late. Full English breakfast tomorrow with fried tomato. Then move to the new lodging. Cheap one in town or nicer one in the middle of nowhere? Swim again tomorrow? Party

 

 

En Cuba | Memories of a First Trip

Trinidad, Cuba, circa 2006. Photo: Jenny Newman.

I feel a bit slooooooooooooooooooooow today. Even though I just had two cups of coffee, I feel a bit slow. But no matter. You don’t always have to move fast. You don’t always have to be limber, like a “taught, pre-teen Swedish boy.” You don’t always have to wake up and think, Man, I could just get out of bed and run 5k right now. 

I don’t know if I’ve ever run 5k in my life.

Maybe while playing soccer. 

I was kinda bumming on my hotel here in Zacatecas even though the location is perfect. That is until I had breakfast on the rooftop terrace this morning and basically fell in love. The breakfast was: coffee, a concha, huevos rancheros WITH chilaquiles, and fresh fruit. Oh and also bread, but I didn’t have any of that. And the view! My god the view. It was stunning. The city rippling out in front of me like a blanket waving in the wind. The sounds wafting up from the streets made me feel like I was in 2nd century Rome. The church spires in the distance, and the sun kissing my face. It was an ideal breakfast. 

But I’m not here today to talk about Zacatecas or my hotel or huevos rancheros or the fact the Subi is bone-dry on oil, I’m here to today to talk about Cuba. I would like to reminisce a bit. I went to Cuba for the first time in 2006, with my friend Jenny, and I would like to recount everything I remember about that trip. Which actually isn’t that much, since we spent a good portion of it drunk. But I’m hoping writing a blog post will dredge up memories about it, and for some reason today I feel like dredging. 

“En Cuba….In Cuba.” That was one of the first thing any Cuban said to us, translating this dastardly difficult phrase. He also pointed out “La palma,” meaning of course to say, “LaS palmaS,” but Cubans are incapable of pronouncing “s’s.” Find me a single Cuban who has ever fully pronounced an “s” in her life, and I will buy you a one-way ticket to Wenatchee. Jenny and I tried to HITCHHIKE from the airport to Havana, but ended up just getting a cab. For like 20 bucks.

That night we ended up in the middle of nowhere. We were trying to get to Trinidad, but the bus just dropped us off somewhere on the highway. We had no idea the bus wasn’t gonna take us all the way to Trinidad. But then we were in a ’54 Pontiac getting taken to Trinidad, and then we were on the rooftop of some kind of lodging we found, enjoying the tropical night and looking out at the stars. Did we get a bottle of rum that first night? Did we do anything at all?

We went swimming on a beach near Trinidad that wasn’t a beach. We got a ride there from a guy on a horse-drawn cart, and he kept yelling at the horse, “Cabaaaaaaaallo.” On the way back we hitchhiked on what might’ve been a huge army truck, a bunch of people standing in the back. At the beach women tried to buy Jenny’s sunglasses, and also asked if she had any makeup she could give or sell them. That night we DID drink rum and went to a club in a cave, where I danced like a fool and Jenny got romanced by some Cuban guy. This would be our routine: One night drink WAY too much, the next day be hungover and not drink at all. Then the next night drink WAY too much again. When you’re young you recover quickly. I was 23 at the time. My Spanish was the best it’s ever been. And it was Mexican Spanish, through and through. I didn’t realize then that every country had a completely different dialect. When the waiter said something  I didn’t understand I said, “Mande?” and then the guys next to us said, “Are you from Mexico?”

“No, why do you ask,” we said.

“Because of the word ‘mande.'”

Trinidad? Somewhere in Cuba…Photo: Jenny Newman

After Trinidad we went north, determined to go to a beach. We hitchhiked to a cay and went swimming and saw a barracuda in the water. At the beach bar of an all inclusive resort the bartender said, “Gimme 10 bucks and I’ll give you whatever you want.” So we had lobster and drinks. Then we went to the pool of the all-inclusive resort where we met some Brits who had a vendetta against the hotel and said they’d get us free drinks. And then when we were sufficiently housed we just went up to the pool bar ourselves and ordered whatever we wanted. Jenny was thrilled at being able to buy stuff in the hotel store of the all-inclusive resort. It’s hard to buy stuff in Cuba. Lots of times you go to the supermarket and there are just empty shelves. You go to an ice cream shop and they don’t even sell ice cream, just tobacco. You go to buy water at a gas station and they say, “Come back at 12pm.” When you come back at 12pm they say, “Come back at 2pm.”

After the cay we went to Varadero for more swimming. And then from there it was on to Havana, where we ate the only really good food of the trip. Cuba has amazing food, incredible food, but you have to buy it from places where locals eat. If you get it at touristy places it’ll be horrible and cost too much and probably be pizza. If you can’t pay in the peso nacional, you probably shouldn’t be eating there. I don’t remember much about being in Havana. We walked the malecon, one of the most enchanting parts of Havana, cars from the 50’s whizzing by and decadent mansions behind you, crumbling. Across the strait in front of you lies Florida, just a scant few miles away. En Cuba….

And then it was back to Mexico, back to Mexico City, back to consumerism, back to drinking and smoking cigarettes and speaking tons of Spanish and going out with friends. Back to “real life.” I didn’t like Cuba that trip. I sort of hated it. But that was just because I was hungover half the time. Even though I sort of hated it I always wanted to go back, and I finally did in 2017. And that of course was a different trip. That time I didn’t spend the trip hungover. I met actual Cubans. I stayed with Cubans. I met a wonderful girl from Denmark to travel with for part of the trip. I witnessed a Santeria ceremony on the beach. But most of all I got an appreciation for Cuban life, appreciating things we take for granted in the US, and just kind of going…slower. Spending time with family. Talking and laughing. Swimming. Walking. There ain’t a whole lot else to do in Cuba.

En Cuba….

Jenny Newman and the author.