previoushomenext

7. 2003-2004











Happy 2003!

Laem Sai, Jan 1, 2003

It's 12:00 noon on the first day of January. At this
very moment in New York they are ringing in the New
Year in Times Square. It is still three hours before
my friends in California will welcome another year.
Being at the far eastern end of the time zones makes
one acutely aware that the world is round. It also
makes one conscious of the artificial nature of time
itself. I have to forget about my 18 hour flight,
crossing the international date line, in order for it
to all make sense. If my mind wanders east, over the
wide Pacific Ocean, back to another day, it all seems
very confusing. But when I travel west across the
continent of Asia, into Europe and over the Atlantic
it makes sense, as if the world were flat like a paper
map. It's so much easier to accept that in New York it
is 12:00 am on Wednesday and Chicago is 11:00 pm on
Tuesday. That I can accept!

As I look out of my bungalow window to the north I can
see the moon shining onto the north shore. It doesn't
seem all that strange until I remember looking out of
the south facing kitchen window in San Francisco and
seeing the same moon. How many people in the world are
unaware that their experiences and perceptions are
very unique from millions of others in the world? I
feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to
challenge myself by traveling. It is only during the
first days of travel that one can afford to hang on to
opinions and perceptions that are inappropriate in a
new setting. Eventually even the most stubborn person
will realize that survival depends on adapting. It is
not an easy task, giving up ideas we have accepted as
universal truths. The process is liberating though. We
get to take account of who we really are behind the
masks we wear in order to present ourselves to all the
others who have accepted the same truths. We get to
emerge like a butterfly from a cocoon, more beautiful
than before, and hopefully able to fly!

This morning the rains have finally stopped. The tide
is the highest tide of the year. I had to walk out to
the main road because there was no beach. There is a
short stretch of road between Laem Sai and the school
that is made of clay. It is on a slight incline. Today
it was almost impossible to climb up this part of the
road. The road was slippery, but my sandals stuck to
the clay. With each step I had to lift my foot
straight up as if walking on suction cups. There was a
long green snake hanging from one of the trees. I
checked to see if his tail was brown. The ones with
brown tails are the most poisonous. The other danger
is from falling coconuts. There seem to be many
falling after the storms. They come down at great
speed with a dull thud that would mean certain death
if it were from contact with a human skull. As always,
information is power. If you are in a foreign
environment you have to be conscious every moment.
There are many people who live here and become old
with lots of stories to tell. Unfortunately, many of
the stories are about unconscious tourists who took
chances that proved fatal. I like to believe I'm not
in that category!

This morning my friends who run the internet shop gave
me New Year's food. The first was sticky rice with
coconut that had been cooked inside a hollow piece of
bamboo. It had a sweet smoked flavor. Then I had small
pot stickers filled with sweet meat in a beautiful red
sauce sprinkled with just the right amount of chilies,
not too spicy. Third was a steamed bun with sweet bean
paste in the center. This all began when I brought
them salmon teriyaki and tea for Christmas. Now they
bring me food every day. I guess I am like part of the
family now. I'm doing my smokefree work from their
computers.

Laem Sai, Jan 3, 2003

Today is the second day the sun is shining, and not a
moment too soon. The following is for my family, but I
assume there is some universal appeal.

In the afternoon a thunder storm came suddenly. When I
opened the door I smelled a fresh breeze that drew me
out onto the front porch to the bamboo chair. The air
smelled green like fresh cut grass. I closed my eyes
and found myself on the front porch of my
grandmother's Victorian house back in Illinois. It had
one of those porches that wrapped around two sides of
the house. In the summertime we would spend rainy days
playing on the porch. I could feel the mist blowing
across my face just the way it did almost half a
century ago. In this moment I knew what I miss in
life.

I miss springtime with the smell of lilacs and tulips
in my mother's garden. I miss that feeling of the last
day of school, the lust for summertime, that joy and
celebration of freedom. I miss playing after dark
until Mother screams our names from the front porch
and we pretend not to hear her the first time. I miss
falling down and getting up again without worrying
that I've broken something beyond repair. I miss Mom's
fried chicken and potato salad on a picnic at Douglas
park. I miss having something excite me like the
roller coaster and strawberry snow cones used to. I
miss family reunions with huge aluminum tubs of ice
filled with soda pop. I miss the odor of hot dogs with
onions and root beer on a metal tray attached to the
car window at the A&W. I miss rides in Dad's fishing
boat on Lake Vermilion. I miss the ravenous hunger one
feels after hours of jumping off the raft into the
water at the sportsman's club, when your skin feels
like a prune and the ends of your fingers are numb. I
miss warm nights when everyone sits outside because
there is no air-conditioning. I miss lightning bugs
and crickets and walking through wet grass with a
flashlight catching night crawlers for Dad's next
fishing trip. I miss simplicity, the sense of
community and belonging. I miss doors that are never
locked and neighbors who drop by without calling. I
miss conversations around the kitchen table card games
with potato chips and onion dip. I miss bowling at
midnight and eating fried onion rings at one A.M. I
miss Christmas morning, the sound of steam rattling
the pipes to the radiators as Dad stokes the coal
furnace in the basement. I miss the smell of a bushel
of apples stored in the pantry. I miss climbing trees
and eating cherries until you are sick to your
stomach. I miss wiener roasts, burnt marshmallows and
hay rides. I miss buying milk and bread from the owner
of the corner grocery store and telling him to put it
on the bill. I miss the song of tires rolling across
the red bricks on the street in front of my
grandmother's house. I miss the sense of family and
belonging one feels when sitting around a table filled
with food, when dinner is served at the same time each
day. I miss the sound of a wooden screen door slamming
as children rush from the table, with a sense of
urgency, to finish their game of kick the can.

It is not just in this moment of the fresh smell of
rain that these feelings come to me. They are present
in every moment in which I participate in the sterile,
selfish, greed driven environment that is forced upon
us in the name of progress. As I sit at computers,
shop in air-conditioned malls, walk down deserted
streets during prime time television hours, I can feel
an ever present sense of loss of something vital. As I
question Thais who are new to this artificial world I
can see the same excitement I once felt myself. There
is no way I can tell them what they will sacrificed in
order to make this mistake continue to feed itself.
One day they too will go shopping because it is the
only option left to fill the void they can't quite
describe. They will fill their closets with
unnecessary things they have subconsciously been told
they need. Everything will revolve around money and
the economy. They will never be satisfied because they
will be addicted to the idea that more and bigger is
better. And all the time I will remember the joy of
sliding down the hill on pieces of discarded cardboard
boxes. What a simple joy it was to be with friends, to
laugh together, to create somethings that was uniquely
ours and share it with each other!


Laem Sai, Jan 10, 2003

As I begin the sixth week here I am entering the
second phase of this journey. There are two things
that have changed. The monsoon has ended and I have
passed that point where I want to run back to the
mistake. This is the place where most ordinary
tourists never get to venture. My existence here has
become my life. I no longer qualify as a visitor or
tourist. I have routines, friends and responsibilities
that are all attached to being here. Some time after
five weeks, wherever you are begins to seem like home.

The mud has dried into smooth peaks and valleys on the
road to Laem Sai. The toads have been reduced to
pancake-like fossils on the main road. The sun beats
down with an intensity that penetrates right through
the awnings and umbrellas designed to protect us from
its damaging rays. The mosquitos have retreated to
cooler swamps and shadows, now only venturing out at
sunrise and sunset. This is the time I cherish the
most. The heat creates a sense of living in a state of
dream. One is never quite sure of the difference
between reality and mirage. The equatorial sun opens a
door between the temporal and the spirit world. We get
to pass through it unencumbered by doubts or
judgments. We get to lie about lazily without guilt.
We are allowed to stare unfocused on anything in
particular as our minds wander through time and space.
Then suddenly some unconscious act of nature or man
awakens us rudely. We are forced to acknowledge the
idea that time exists. We are not quite sure what to
do with it if it does, or even if we really want to do
anything. So we slowly drift back into
semiconsciousness and bliss.

The coconut palms are still a deep shade of green all
the way to the fragile tips. They create a dizzying
optical illusion against the backdrop of the clear
blue sky. The air is still and light compared to the
wet moist blanket created during the rains. The sun
creates fragrant bursts of olfactory stimuli as it
rains down upon the offspring of the monsoons. The
noontime sun surveys a quiet landscape as all nature
has retreated beneath every bush and leaf that could
provide protection. But on the seashore gather the
humans buttered like russet potatoes waiting to be
baked. They scoff at every cloud that might deny their
trophy tan and the opportunity to make their friends
back home jealous. And I am glad to be alive, to be
relaxed and to be in my sixth week, totally detached
from the tourist's limited concept of traveling.

January 20, 2003

For my 54th birthday:

In the silence and solitude I sometimes hear the voice
of my ego. In the absence of companionship I must face
myself, a stranger standing cold and naked in front of
a mirror. I gaze upon a reflection that's difficult to
bear, because it no longer bears resemblance to the
picture my ego wants to present to the world. I have
the urge to wrap myself back into illusions and run
back to the dream I'm trying to awaken from. But that
reflection begins to look more and more like a newborn
child. Perhaps this is my chance to be born again. If
only I can bear the pain of stripping away one more
layer of who I believe I am, or who I want to be. Am I
strong enough to face the truth? Will I be devoured by
demons if I completely let myself go, or are my demons
simply more manifestations of who I think I am? The
closer the moment comes the less resistance I feel. I
take one last breath and fall into the light.

Now I remember who I am!
Peace and Love 
 

Samui, January 14, 2004

Greetings, from Southeast Asia. I am on the island of
Samui in the Gulf of Thailand. It is very centrally
located. To the south lie Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei
and Indonesia. To the east and northeast lie Vietnam
and Cambodia. To the north are Laos and Burma
(Myanmar), which form a buffer to the south coast of
China. To the west and northwest are India, Bhutan,
Nepal and Sri Lanka. I live at the edge of a village
called Maenam. My Bungalow (at LaemSai) faces a cove
that separates us from the Big Buddha statue on the
opposite shore. Through the middle of Maenam runs a
river that connects to the north shore of the sea.
Beside the river is a path through the jungle to the
southeast coast of the island and the town of Lamai.
Each year my first challenge is to find someone to do
the seven-hour trek through the jungle to the
southeast coast. I have found no other single exercise
that brings me so quickly out of my mind and into the
present moment.

Samui, January 21, 2004

Happy Chinese New Year!

There is no difficulty remembering Chinese New Year in
Asia. I awoke to the sound of firecrackers at sunrise
this morning, Wednesday, January 21. Although I am in
Thailand, many of the people here have Chinese roots.
There is no better day than today to see just how much
Chinese tradition and how many Chinese descendants
live here. On the fourth day of celebration the dragon
will come to Nathon (Nah-Tone), the port where all the
ferries from the mainland dock. I will try to be there
with my camera.

One of my favorite New Year's traditions is the
launching of the Chinese lanterns from the jungle at
night. The lanterns are made of waxed paper and are
lifted into the night sky like hot air balloons.
Candles provide both the heat and the light. There is
something very serene about the sight of these
red/orange vessels floating across a dark sky that is
already dripping with stars. Their graceful accent is
reminiscent of a swan slowly gliding across a still
lake.

Samui, January 22, 2004

My day begins at 5:00 AM. I'm not sure why I wake up
at that particular moment each morning. I just accept
that I do. The first thing is to do yoga and
meditation for an hour or more. I have arthritis in my
knees and hips. Stretching each morning helps keep the
range of movement wide enough to function normally. My
second meditation is on cutting garlic for my toast. I
chop three to four cloves and sauté them in olive oil,
then pour that over toast. It helps to protect the
stomach against infection and I'm convinced also wards
off mosquitoes and vampires. If cooked correctly, it's
also delicious. My third meditation is to channel some
kind of creativity into my computer before setting off
through the jungle to the e-mail shop. Of course I
reserve the right to cancel it all at a moment's
notice and run off into some spontaneous fantasy.

I enjoy the walk down the road from Laemsai each
morning. I give myself plenty of time to be distracted
along the way. I try to ignore all those city impulses
that trick people into believing they must hurry past
everything that is beautiful and real, only to
participate in some organized event motivated by
material lust, or greed. My main agenda is to not have
an agenda. I reserve the right to take the fork in the
road that I've never traveled before, to get lost, to
be late for an appointment, or to never show up at
all.

There is a small hill behind Laemsai where one can
view the entire north shore at Maenam beach. In the
early morning it's really spectacular with the
sunlight over the shoulder to the east. I am always
overwhelmed by the beauty of millions of droplets of
sunlight tossed upon the sand from the tips of palm
fronds dancing in the wind. At sunset Big Buddha's
golden radiance is accentuated as the sun drops off
behind the western mountains.

I often come upon water buffalo at the side of the
road. The villagers tie them to different trees each
day. They walk the perimeter, eating clean the circle
allowed by their tether. Sometimes I find them bathing
in the black murky swamp created by the monsoon. Often
they are accompanied by pure white herons who sit upon
their backs and feed upon parasites. For ten years
I've tried to capture the two together on film. Always
the click of the shutter signals the heron to fly
away. Maybe I'll have better luck with my digital
camera.

The road to Laemsai is a virtual treasure chest of
experience. At any given moment it can make your heart
sing with delight or fear. It is not uncommon for
tourists to come home with stories of cobras standing
straight upon their tails with their hoods open wide.
Conventional wisdom from locals is to travel with a
walking stick, especially at night. Scratching the
gravel road occasionally will send most creatures
running before you encounter them. During the monsoon,
legend has it frogs rain down from the sky. Truth is,
they live under ground and come out to mate during the
rainy season. This year I arrived after the monsoon,
so the only traces of the frogs on the road are the
pancake images left by passing jeeps, or the strange
sound in the night, like someone in a stalled vehicle
trying to turn over an engine that refuses to ignite.

There are some traditional Thai families who still
live near the road, although their numbers are reduced
each year as corporate interests snatch up the
property with visions of 4-star resorts and spas. I
will miss the dirt road and the occasional chicken
running across, "to get to the other side!" When the
swamp has been drained and all the mosquitoes killed
with pesticides, when all the water buffalo and cobras
have been moved to zoos what will I have to write home
about?

Samui, January 23, 2004

One needs a guide the first time one visits a Thai
open market. The choices of so many exotic fruits are
intimidating. The first impulse is to photograph them.
As a tourist or visitor it's sometimes hard to get the
courage to try something new. If durian is the first
think you decide to sample, it's a good possibility
you will never try another Southeast Asian fruit as
long as you live. The first time I walked into a
market when durian was in season, I thought someone
was trying to sell raw chicken that had been in the
hot sun for three days. Durian is definitely an
acquired taste. It's a green fruit about 10 inches
across with a hard, prickly shell. The fruit ripens
only after it falls from the tree. If you can get past
the smell, the taste is sweet with a hint of garlic.

My favorite fruit is rambutan. Unpeeled, they resemble
sea urchins or small red porcupines. They are round,
from two to three inches across, with a fruit that
resembles a Chinese leechee. I open the rambutan by
running my finger nail around the circumference and
removing the upper half. I think the main attraction
is the exotic look. Nothing stops tourists in their
tracks like a table full of rambutan.

The third popular fruit is mangosteen. It's shaped
like a tangerine with a hard yellowish to
reddish-purple rind. It has a juicy, white flesh that
separates into sections.

Of course there are familiar fruits as well. Mangos
are of the small yellow variety, very juicy and sweet.
Bananas grow just outside my windows, but every time a
bunch begins to ripen the entire plant seems to get
toppled by a strong windstorm. The bananas are very
small and extremely sweet. Also growing next to my
bungalow are papaya. Pineapple are abundant and can be
purchased from vendors who walk along the beach to
entertain you with the clever slight of hand as they
magically peel and slice the fruit in record breaking
time.

Any trip to the market in Nathon includes fish as
well. The fishermen can be seen sorting and mending
their nets during the day. They go out at sunrise and
return in the early morning with their catch. The Thai
fishing boats are very colorful and unique. They have
shapes similar to Italian gondolas. They are propelled
by a motor attached to the end of a long pole. The
poles resemble gondoliers' poles. The sound of a Thai
fishing boat early in the morning is very distinctive
and dear to my heart.

Samui, January 24, 2004

I stand at the back of the songthaew holding onto the
railing that keeps the luggage from falling off the
roof. The Thai women gesture for me to take the last
remaining place inside. They giggle among themselves
when I refuse. They don't understand why a Farong
(foreigner) would want to stand outside when a seat is
available. It's my chance to convince myself I'm still
alive. The warm tropical wind lifts the straps of my
tank top, inflating the shirt as tiny droplets of
sweat tickle my golden torso. The road is an exciting
dangerous place where no one seems to have a sense of
rules. The speed sign says 40 KPH as we approach 110.
We are passing a slow moving truck. There are three
vehicles abreast, coming at us full speed with no
place for us the go. The driver slams on the brakes as
we sneak back into the space we formerly occupied. The
three vehicles whiz by in the opposite direction, each
one repositioned one second before impact. I lean to
the middle of the songthaew to prevent my right arm
from being separated from my shoulder. My hands are
sweating. I wipe them on the back of my shorts, grip
the luggage pole and brace myself for another go
around the track.

Every place in the world has its unique scents. As I
hang from the back of the songthaew I can taste and
smell the dust from the road, blended with the odor of
smoke and fried fish, the scent of flowers, the stench
of sewers and the occasional breath of salt air. I
watch the blurred images of people going about the
routine of a normal day. I feel a rush of adrenaline
as I become conscious of being out of my element, in a
foreign land. I look at the children wondering what
it's like to be born in a place so unlike my home in
Illinois. I find a sense of peace in knowing that
reality is subjective. It's easier to accept people
who are different when you are the one who is most
different from those you are living among. I have
known for quite some time that my addiction to travel
is augmented by a sense of wonder that reminds me of
childhood, making me feel ageless.

We stop to pick up a young boy who seems to be on his
way home from classes. He carries a small black
satchel I envision holding his books and papers. He is
well groomed with clean pressed clothing and shined
shoes. His smile is only exceeded by the exquisite
sense of excitement in his dark brown eyes. He
positions the strap of his satchel to push it onto his
back, then grabs the pole on the roof and faces me
directly before he speaks. "In the morning we have
much raining!" He seems desperate to practice English,
but that is not the reason he feels comfortable being
intimate with strangers. It's a trait that runs
through the Thai population. We Farong eventually
begin to look foolish as our attempts to prevent human
bodily contact become gross exaggerations in extremely
crowded situations. At first it seems the Thai's are
laughing at us. We ultimately come to understand that
they are simply smiling in recognition of our process.
Although they are a developing country, they have some
things to teach us about being human. Perhaps they are
things we have simply forgotten in our race to become
"civilized." Perhaps they are things the Thai's will
soon forget also. Maybe it's the reason I will be sad
when all the songthaews are replaced with modern
air-conditioned taxis that insulate people from each
other and the smells and dangers of nature and the
road.

Samui, February 1, 2004

Walking Home At Noon

As the shadow of the sundial shrinks, Apollo ascends
to his greatest position of sovereignty. His subjects,
overwhelmed by his pure essence, dissolve into astral
fantasies. His omnipotence requires that no one gaze
directly into his face, lest they go blind. Prana
evaporates into daydreams, with nothing left for
temporal incarnations. It is a time for apparitions,
hallucinations and siestas. Anyone who dares walk in
the presence of Apollo at his eminent moment of power
will surely suffer some great catastrophe.

I escaped to the road that divides the swamplands
because it provides the only shadow between Maenam and
Laemsai. I was sorry I left the small market without
water for the trip home. The trees and the murky swamp
water provided relief from the insufferable heat. I
sat down beside the swamp, determined to make friends.
As I surveyed the water it seemed less hostile than
the impressions I had fabricated from old Vietnam War
movies. The water no longer looked black, but more
like tea that had been steeped to British tastes. I
was surprised the water was translucent. I had
imagined darkness intended to conceal all the evil
lurking just below the surface. Instead I found a
clean refreshing coolness emanating from water I had
expected to repel me with its intolerable stench.
Putting aside all my preconceived notions, I was
finally ready to concede I had misjudged the swamp.
Closing my eyes I felt confident and secure. Then I
heard movement in the water, the distinct sound of
something large moving in my direction. I opened my
eyes on the vision of a small man holding a cloth bag
in his right hand. The bag drooped from the soggy
weight of its contents. Water dripped from the bottom
as he held it away from his body. I assume the swamp
had provided some kind of sustenance. The swamp I had
feared until this day was doubtless his lifelong
friend.

Samui, February 6, 2004

The rains have returned the last two days:

Rain in the Jungle

Into my dream, the constant sound of soft percussion
incorporates itself. I am not yet aware of the source
of the beautiful music. The feathers of majestic palms
catching raindrops seem to be whispering among themselves.
In the background, pearls can be heard dropping from the
eaves, bouncing onto the floorboards of the verandah as
though they have fallen from necklaces of the thousand tiny
women dancing pirouettes on the rooftop. A phantom bride
and groom rush through the narrow path of my imagination
as tiny grains of rice pelt the wide banana leaves in
celebration of their love. The palm trees bow in their
honor as the mighty wind announces the great crescendo.
Torrents of regenerating liquid flood my imagination with
visions of waterfalls cascading into crystal clear springs.
Then, the conductor abruptly brings his baton down and
there is total silence. But the audience appropriately
holds its applause. The baton rises slowly again as the
conductor deliberately points his magic wand to each
individual soloist in the choir. One by one their
beautiful a cappella serenades reclaim the silence
left after the storm.

The air smells fresh as I lie upon the top of damp
sheets without cover, protected by an invisible warm
moist envelope. I allow my body to sink into the mattress.
There is nothing cold or forbidding to force me to put
up barriers. I find myself walking down a golden pathway
where I am embraced by the light of the full moon.
Its platinum light holds me suspended, timeless,
between the temporal and spirit worlds. Here my memories
walk together, without the constraints of time and space.
The vast library of my subconscious mind floats to the
surface, mixed together like alphabet soup. I awaken to the
dawn, unable to open my eyes for fear of forgetting the
lessons Iíve learned. I resolve to stay conscious when I
stand up to walk. If only I could remember how to bring
the same infinite possibilities into the waking dream,
I could remain as happy as I have been during this night.

Samui, February 9, 2004

I am getting some valuable work done while I'm here,
besides reading and practicing my writing skills. I am
involved in organizing Thai women to defend their
right to be free of secondhand tobacco smoke. Less
than 3% of Thai women smoke. They have one of the
lowest smoking rates in Asia. The major problem is
getting European tourists to understand Thai laws and
customs. Thailand passed a law that forbids smoking
inside all air-conditioned buildings. Many Thai women
have decided to extend the ban to their shops which
are not air-conditioned. Germans and French are the
biggest abusers. In their own countries they can smoke
pretty much anywhere they please. I have designed
signs written in German and French to instruct the
tourists about Thai laws and customs. My signs are
polite, but laced with lots of guilt building stories.
It seems to be working.

Samui, February 11, 2004

This time on Samui has been one of the most beneficial
escapes in many years. I've come to terms with a lot
of things I used to struggle with. In the beginning I
wanted to be angry because I was so isolated from the
possibility of socializing. Out of habit I wanted
someone to talk to. I wanted to sit across a table at
dinner and laugh at someone's jokes or reminisce about
times gone by. I eventually realized I was in exactly
the situation I wanted to be in. I wanted to heal, to
go inside myself to understand things that require
meditation and introspection. After the first few
weeks people in the outside world began to take on the
qualities of grotesque, overbearing demanding spouses.
I found myself amused at people's "concern" that my
life was not a carbon copy of theirs. Why do you do
this? Why don't you do that? I finally understood the
answer. Because I'm free!

I have been free to read, to study, to be creative. I
have had time to do yoga each morning and each
afternoon. I have had time for slow walks through the
jungle. I've had time to stop and smell the flowers.
I've had the freedom to do nothing for entire days.
Those are the days that are filled with so much
valuable experience I wished they would never end. I
have time to dream. I have the energy to pursue
dreams. I have enough time to reject snap judgments
because I have the time to think things through. I've
had the time to be alone, to understand how it feels
to take full responsibility for every decision made.
Most of all I've had the time to understand the
concept of "wanting" and its relationship to
happiness. The best way to be happy is to want what
you have. The best way to stay happy is to realize
what you have is what you have created. At the moment
I have created paradise! After all, what more could
anyone want?

I am aware it is partially a concept, not totally a
physical manifestation. There are plenty of people
around to remind me of how to be unhappy if I chose.
They want all the things that aren't available here,
the comforts of "back home." They are convinced the
entire Thai population is involved in a grand
conspiracy to deceive them, to rip them off. As they
wallow in their lack of self-esteem they convince
themselves they are better than anyone who is
different than them. All the time they are surrounded
by unparalleled beauty, by gentle people who find it
difficult not to smile. I wonder what it is that
Thai's have that we don't have. As I pass the average
home I understand I am asking the wrong question. I
can see the simplicity of the rooms containing only
bare necessities. What is it we have that they don't
have? The answer is, too much!

Samui, February 17, 2004

I have one week left before I go back to San Francisco
for two weeks, then off to Hawaii. I will try to take
a few more pictures and tell at least one more story.
If the air is breathable, I may go into Bangkok for
the day before my flight. For the next few days
though, I'm off to a Buddhist monastery to fast and
meditate. I feel it helps me to become more centered.
Being surrounded by people who dedicate their lives to
peace and love is very infectious. Even in paradise,
dredging up the past can take its toll. Until I had
memories of violence revived, my dreams here were
healing and supportive. Now I dread going to bed each
night because of the nightmares.

Let me tell you a few things about my experience with
Thai Buddhism. I feel it's responsible for the gentle
nature of the Thai people. When I first came here I
was really surprised by the absence of worrying about
other people's business and lives. Here is really the
example of the motto, "live and let live." There is so
much love and compassion that is felt with each
encounter. People look you in the eye and bow with
their hands in prayer position. There are no greetings
that are spoken without deep meaning and a sincere
smile. The act of placing hands in prayer position is
a way of saying, "the God in me salutes the God in
you." In the experience of daily life the fear of
violence or even the sound of voices raised in anger
is conspicuously absent. In the posters I distributed
to educate the Germans about Thai smoking laws and
customs, I warned them not to take advantage of the
Thai's gentle nature. The Thai's are seldom
confrontational.

Sometimes riding in the songthaew I am brought close
to tears when I see a young boy place his hand on a
strangers knee as if it were his own father. Sometimes
an old woman will sit on one of the small stools in
front of me and place her hands on my legs for
support. There is no fear of intimacy or the need to
ask permission. They just assume we are all part of
the same family and treat everyone accordingly. I
enjoy watching some of the more stoic Germans recoil
when touched by a stranger. It reminds me that even
within many of our blood families we do not have the
kind of love and intimacy Thai's show to complete
strangers. Instead, we have walls of fear.

Everyday I meditate to Benedictine monks chanting. My
Austrian friend Stefan thinks I wouldn't be able to
meditate to these particular chants if I had gone to
Catholic school with him in Austria. I can make a
comparison to Thai monks chanting. When I listen to
Benedictine monks they sound methodical and
disciplined. When I listen to Thai monks chanting I
feel I'm listening to birds, singing in a forest. It
sounds like one continuous flowing note. I will be in
good healing hands for the next few days. I'm sure the
nightmares will end.

Honolulu, March 13, 2004

One of the things I love about being an early riser is
the peace and solitude of sunrise. Most people are
either still in bed or in the bathroom preparing for
work. Not so in Honolulu! The streets are filled with
joggers or retired persons enjoying an early morning
walk before the sun becomes too intense. As I walked
over the bridge on Kalakaua Avenue I caught a glimpse
of a dark slender man in a kayak sliding quietly
through the still water of the canal. I turned to the
right to watch him emerge on the other side of the
bridge. Dark clouds were clinging to the mountains,
feeding the rain forests with their gentle warm
showers. The streets glistened with the reminder of
their passage through Waikiki a few hours before. The
fresh scent of negative ions, the lush green landscape
accentuated by the sunrise reflected upon the dark
clouds assaulted the senses with positive uplifting
energy.

I was in search of a supermarket outside of Waikiki.
The evening before I had paid tourists prices for a
few necessities. At the end of Kalakaua Avenue, a 25
minute walk from my apartment, I found a Foodland.
There I requested a Maika'i card which allows me to
buy at discounted local prices. For one item I paid
$3.89 in Waikiki . The same item with the Maika'i card
was $1.69. After traveling for so many years I've
learned how to take advantage of being a "temporary
local" instead of a tourist.

On the way back with my groceries I walked into a
flood of people with name tags and briefcases on the
journey from their Waikiki hotels to the convention
center. In passing I heard Dutch, Japanese, German,
French, English and Italian. I was happy to play my
role as a temporary local walking home with my
groceries. As they sit through boring meetings I'll
take a casual stroll down Waikiki beach toward Diamond
Head.

April 18, 2004

Had Rob lived, today would have been our 24th
anniversary. At this time each year I have a period of
intense reflection and clarity. Many times it leads to
writing. Yesterday morning I awoke to an
uncontrollable urge to go to my computer and let my
fingers speak. I love this process because it's as if
I am allowing someone else to speak through me. I am
always amazed to read what is written, as if it is the
first time I have seen the words. When I am writing
there is a clear absence of thought before. My
meditation on my 24th anniversary.

For Rob:

Each person has an inalienable right to choose their own life.

Each person has the right to make choices free from fear.

Each person has an inalienable right to make their own rules.

Morality is defined through the heart. Conscience is the heart speaking.

Each person has an inalienable right to define erotic expression.

Making love is the act of two consenting persons touching each other.

Each person has an inalienable right to define their own boundaries.

Boundaries defined through fear create prisons.

Happiness is the sound of the heart singing.

Life is the process of defining, then expressing one's creativity.

Spirituality is found in silence, not in books.

Love is the supreme expression of the understanding of the source of life.

The temporal world is a dream made real by the belief in dense objects.

Materialism is the supreme expression of denial of everything that is real.

The human body is merely a vessel designed to carry the spirit through the temporal world.

Sickness is a symptom of the absence of truth, the denial of true spirit.

Healing is the process of awakening to truth.

The truth is, we all have supreme power over our own lives.

Everything we have, we have personally chosen.

God is the source of all truth defined through as many perceptions as there are living beings.

Each person has the right to define their own understanding of God.

War is the supreme act of the denial of God.

To kill another human being is to kill oneself.

Struggle is the process of climbing out of darkness into light.

Peace is the place where truth and light reside.

Family is any group of persons invested in each other through the heart.

Ignorance is a place that exists somewhere between the innocence of childhood and the wisdom of experience.

Hatred is expressed through the fear of growth.

Violence is an expression of the fear of love and forgiveness.

Heaven is the dream of peace.

Humanity is a soup, boiling with the expressions of everyone caught in the dream of temporal existence.

June 6, 2004

You are not the first to wonder why I am so
passionately involved with politics. Sometimes the
universe puts things in your path in order to keep you
on the right path. I have a passion for both politics
and history. I feel blessed that I have had personal
experiences that have enriched my passions. When I
lived in Washington, D.C. I worked in a book store a
few blocks from the White House. Our customers ranged
from politicians, diplomats, an occasional movie star,
students and just plain folk. In my years in the
bookstore I saw Ted Kopel of ABC news, James
Schlesinger, Nixon's Secretary of Defense and Henry
Kissinger, Nixon's Secretary of State. Henry had an
ugly dog that resembled him in some ways. He was
always preceded by two secret service agents even when
walking the dog. One always knew when Henry was home
because an agent was always stationed outside the
front door of his Georgetown home.

After leaving the bookstore I started my own business.
My first client had connections to the White House.
Soon I was working for many in the Democratic National
Committee. I relished the early morning conversations
with White House lawyers about domestic and
international affairs. Soon I was being invited to
parties with people who opened an expansive unique
view of the whole world. I remembered something my
Aunt Ethel had told me when I was a teenager. She said
I would be comfortable wherever I would go, whether it
was among the rich or the poor. I'm not sure if she
was a prophet or someone who knew how to instill
self-esteem in the young. The important thing for me
was I believed her.

One of my Democratic clients had invited Merle Miller
to dinner. Merle was a famous author who wrote one of
the first books on homosexuality I read as a younger
man. My mother was thrilled when I was able to get her
an autographed copy of his biography of Lyndon
Johnson. I believe one of my sisters has the book now.
The point is, I wasn't reading about current history
in the newspapers. I was among the people who were
making it and writing about it. It was exciting for a
boy from Danville, Illinois.

My interest in the CIA and covert operations came
about from two sources. One was a man I worked with in
the bookstore, Kramer Books, now famous for refusing
to release the customer files on Monica Lewinski. The
second was through a student of my spiritual teacher
Joseph Campbell. His name is Bill Moyers. He has one
of the best news shows on American television called
"Now" on PBS. Bill was special assistant and press
secretary to President Lyndon Johnson. So there is
that six degrees of separation connection to Merle
Miller. Bill Moyers had a view of American politics
that most never get to see, as did many of the people
I met during the Carter days. What most people could
never imagine is that there is a secret government
that exists below the (democratically elected?)
government. It obtained its biggest infusion of power
with the creation of the National Security Act of
1947. Since 1947 it has grown in power to the point
that even the President of the United States and both
Houses of Congress are unable to know its deepest
darkest secrets. Bill Moyers wrote about the Secret
Government in the late 1980s and no one was listening.
He even presented an excellent documentary on PBS and
no one watched. My friend Carlo from the bookstore
created news stories for cable television exposing the
illegal covert operations of the CIA in Central
America, but again no one seemed to be watching. When
some of those stories were eventually exposed through
the Iran Contra scandal no one seemed to care. There
were a few slaps on the wrists and life went on.

When I moved to San Francisco my best female friend
from Washington, Martha Bari, came to visit us soon
after our arrival. She brought her sister Judi along.
The first time I saw Judi she was seated on the
sidewalk across from our victorian sketching the
house. Judi was to the environmental movement, what
Martin Luther King was to the civil rights movement.
She had a unique quality that allowed her to cross
barriers and get people of all walks of life to
understand what the environment means to all of us. At
one point in our relationship Judi told of an incident
where her car, with her two children inside, was run
off the road by a logging truck. No one believed her
story. Then in 1990 her car was bombed as she was
driving through Oakland, California. The FBI held her
under house arrest in her hospital room claiming this
advocate of nonviolence was actually transporting the
bomb that exploded under her seat and shattered her
pelvis. Judi died a few years later and was unable to
see her suit for false arrest against the FBI and the
Oakland police department finally settled for $4
million.

In 1984 my partner Rob and I became involved in a
meditation group in Marin County every Tuesday. There
we met an Apache Indian woman named Sasheen
Littlefeather, who had accepted Marlon Brando's Oscar
for the movie The Godfather in 1973. Brando was
protesting Hollywood's treatment of the American
Indian. Through Sacheen we got a first hand view of
how America still treats its first citizens. When Judi
Bari was hospitalized in 1990 those Native Americans
came to help in her recovery. Rob and I felt at home
among the ceremonies performed at her bedside.

In 1991, while living in Nairobi, Kenya with an
Argentine diplomat I was taken to a Safari camp just
below the border of Somalia for Christmas. There were
a group of Americans on holiday from work at an oil
company in Yemen. I'm a writer, so I tend to interview
people. This was the first time I learned of the
concept of running out of oil. That was more than 13
years ago!

My fascination with politics and history is unending.
In my current life in California I am friends with the
widow of Dr. Benjamin Spock who has a wealth of
stories to tell about visits to the White House, trips
to Cuba and beyond. I see Mary and Cuban Classical
Pianist, Javier Gonzalez on a regular basis. Through
my former roommate (a chef) I learned of René Verdon,
the White House Chef for President Kennedy. He and his
wife Yvette live in the East Bay and I have spoken
with them on the phone. When I first heard of the
concept of "six degrees of separation" it resonated.
Sometimes I believe it is more like two degrees of
separation for me.

July 4, 2004

I have very special memories of the Fourth of July. It
was my father's birthday. But there is one
Independence Day that stands out more than others. I
was about six years old. My parents had given each of
us children small American flags to celebrate the day.
When it came time to go to a picnic to celebrate my
father's birthday I couldn't find my flag. I was
sitting on the stairs crying because everyone had a
flag except me. My father came and sat beside me to
explain why I should not ruin the day by being sad. He
told me that a flag was just a piece of cloth with
stripes and stars and colors placed in just the right
order to remind us of something else that is much more
important. My father told me I should never be sad for
the loss of a material thing. When something is a
symbol I should concentrate on what the symbol
represents, not the symbol itself. He told me I had a
lot to be proud of on that day regardless of whether I
had a piece of cloth on a stick to wave in the air.

To be truthful I don't think my father thought much
about the impact that little talk would have on my
perception of life. He was just an honest intelligent
man who spoke his truth. He was a decorated W.W.II
soldier who had volunteered. He carried memories and
secrets about his life in the military that changed
who he was when he came back to his wife and family.
In the last month of his life he shared many of his
secrets with his children. So on this day when America
celebrates its birthday, my family celebrates the
birthday of a true patriot who happened to be a member
of our family. Each one of his children carry the same
passion for the kind of truth and freedom he risked
his life to protect.

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