Monthly Archives: April 2016

Renegade childhood pen acquisition

This morning I woke up in my friend’s apartment in Osaka, happy to be here. I made some coffee and decided to write by hand in my journal, to add to the 3,000 or so pages I’ve filled with fodder for future stories in recent years. Pen selection of every entry is a delicate process, subject to several variables. The thickness of the ink is dependent on my environment—am I on a bumpy train and require greater precision? Am I writing while leaning on one arm on a bed and need something with low resistance so my hand won’t get tired? Or is there a desk so I can use a thicker, felt-tip pen with a feather-light touch?

I picked one from the arsenal and decided yes, it would be the one for today: a Pilot P-700 Fine with a marbled pattern on the pen casing.

When I was in elementary school in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the school would host seasonal sales. Cookies, wrapping paper, and other various items from catalogs, the school would give to the children to peddle to our families, neighbors, and whoever else we could convince to buy, in exchange for points that could be redeemed for prizes. An ideal American business transaction: convince child laborers to flip stuff that had no value to them to adults, in order to receive things kids would actually want that were of exceedingly less monetary value. But I was never allowed to participate. These sales were, my mother explained, a scam, exploitative, demeaning, or some other reason (she never really explained her decisions for such things in a way I could understand as a kid), and she wouldn’t have me involved in that racket.

Every year I would watch with jealousy as the prizes came back to reward the burgeoning entrepreneurs of the class. I wanted some fucking prizes too. By fourth grade, I decided to take things into my own hands. I can’t remember what I sold or to whom, but somehow I snuck that catalog behind my mom’s back and sold enough goods to amass approximately 500 points by the end of the allotted time period. I turned my order forms in to my teacher after scouring the rewards sheet for the thing of most point value to my 9-year-old self.

When the day came for the prizes to be delivered, I waited patiently while the big ticket prizes were delivered to the kids with hyper-competitive parents who probably dumped hundreds into the catalog just so their kid could be the class winner. When the small package was placed on my desk, it was a triumphant moment. I unwrapped it and my little hands, for the first time gripped that which, 20 years later, would help to draft the culmination of my life’s work: a Pilot P-700 Fine pen with a marbled pattern on the pen casing.

That pen, nobody could borrow. I had my decoy pens for that, and still do. No, the Pilot was my professional tool. It signified sophistication and professionalism. I remember the feeling when it ran out of ink after pouring its contents on the pages of my notebooks: the slow death of an old friend. I kept that empty pen in my desk for years even though it was useless; it became its own memorial. Whenever I use the new version, I remember what it meant to me back then: defiance, self-sufficiency, creative endeavor against all obstacles.

You may classify my association with this pen, something many would easily discard, as overly sentimental. But if the objects in our lives are symbols, what better reason to posses them than the direct memory link to the moments in which they were acquired?

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Advice to prospective travelers

There is much envy directed at the perpetual traveler. I get messages from people all the time wishing they could live like me, moving “freely” across the globe. But sometimes, the highlight of your day is finding a roll of toilet paper where the perforation on the two plies line up exactly, instead of being offset so when you try to tear it with one hand while you hold the strings of your temple pants in the other so they don’t drag along the dirt floor of the hole in the ground you are pissing into, it rips vertically in thin strands like a cheap packing tape you pick at for ages just to find the proper edge again. 

Everyone who travels wants something, even if that wanting is to give. I do it for that, but also because I want, I need, to understand what places are like. It isn’t a vacation. Places aren’t always good, and some places are rarely comfortable. They just are. I will feel what I’m inclined to feel about them from moment to moment, given the world from which I came and the body I inhabit, how my body is different from the bodies around me and how that shapes the perception of the me and the them. But my feelings won’t change the place around me. It’s neutral. It just is. People adapt to any place over time. That’s how we made it this far.

You might look at the pretty pictures from around the world and think you want to go there, to consume the vision with your own senses. Maybe you should. But maybe you also shouldn’t. Just remember: often times, that picture is the crown jewel of a laborious experience. Unless you’re willing to sit in the dirt and eat bugs with people, if that’s what they do, to understand why the thing in the picture means anything to anyone, why not just look at the picture and appreciate it for its aesthetic value? Appreciate your own life and all the comfort you have in its stability as well. So many people would kill for that in this world, and they do. If you would trade it in pursuit of all the unanswered questions in the world, even if it means being attacked by a swarm of dragonflies on a 105 degree train while fluorescent lights beam down at you at midnight, maybe it is time for a change. Nothing ever changes unless the cost of maintaining the status quo outweighs the benefits. But do the potential benefits of the lifestyle you fantasize about outweigh the potential costs? 

For me, they did and do. Even as I lie happily in a room the size of a coffin typing this blog post on my phone in hopes the internet will transmit it where it needs to go, I’m content with this wild life I’ve chosen. You don’t have to decide right now what you want to do. In fact, you don’t have to worry at all. Just be. If you do one thing a day to move your life along in a positive direction, that is enough.

While I’m out here though, eating bugs and eliminating 10 liters of water a day through my skin, and finding paradise and writing a novel sometimes in between, I hope you’ll think about how to really support the people in pursuit of the unanswered questions in the world, so they can share with you what they know. I’ve had a lot of support along my journeys, and I’ve got a lot of stories to tell as a result. So, ya know, show your favorite castaway you care or something from time to time, virtually or even by paying them a visit.