Worth A Story

Sometimes you tell a story that sucks.

It’s an inevitable scenario stimulated by the warm glow of a loose conversation that knows no boundaries: Everyone is sharing a time when the rain ruined their day. Some are funny, some are tragic, yours doesn’t quite connect.

It’s your turn to tell, but the anecdote that you’re thinking about doesn’t really fit the format of the other stories at all. The rain has never ruined your day. In truth, it’s embellished many of them; you love the smell that announces its arrival, you love the electricity that’s in the air, you love the way it feels on your skin and the way it makes the whole world stand still like Christmas lights strung around an intimate dark room.

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But you can’t quite capture the words to describe all those feelings in that moment – you become discouraged halfway through as it becomes apparent that no one in the room is on the same wavelength as you.

“Yeah, I was walking through my grandpa’s yard when it started pouring, so I ran under the old magnolia tree that we used to climb when we were kids. It was such a cool feeling, like the safest I’ve ever felt, ya know? It was awesome.”

Swing and a miss. There’s a break of silence. Everybody is thinking you’re kinda weird now.

Dispute that.

You’re goddamn right it was awesome.

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I want to tell you why that story doesn’t suck.

That story was a figurative manifestation of your identity, your fingerprint in a story. No other person has ever felt that way, and though there are people that may do a better job at explaining the swells and currents that occur in those minute moments of distinction, you told it the best because it was only yours to tell.

It was a you-had-to-be-there moment. And not just there physically because you still wouldn’t have felt it, either. You had to be there physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, struggling desperately on a feeling to be desperately in that moment with a medley of jubilation rebounding through your vibrating heartstrings. And you know, there was only one person that meets all that criteria for those few minutes of heartbeats quickening into infinity.

You. You know what you know.

You understand what happened from every angle that can be understood – and I understand what I feel in the times that mean much to me more than anyone who’s ever existed or ever will exist. There’s no bridge between two people that could ever hold the freight of these event’s significance because this is seed of the joy in life, deep beneath the surface where eyes can see, far too complex in design, meaning, and purpose to be explained by the blind, muffled voices far above.

So I apologize in advance if I seem kind of shallow when you ask me about my past year. From August 20, 2015 to June 15, 2016 was my moment for which you had to be there, and I would never risk spoiling a single second of it for the sake of being the cool partygoer with the cool stories, because frankly I care more about preserving the memory of those golden days in the East African Savannah, under the Indian stars, cruising through the Vietnamese jungle, much more than I care about impressing any person on earth.

I suppose that I’ve found a virtue in selfishness that way.

I know for a fact that I was the happiest man alive this past year, and attempting to prove that fact to somebody seems to be the most direct route to tarnishing my pure regard for pure days past. There’s great merit in being content with your own story without having to pass it around, adding a bit here and a bit there to make it more appealing to the ears of your listeners while cheapening the experience in the eyes of your heart. Suddenly you forget how the Tanzanian sunset light poured out of the sky like honey, how the chance encounters with hearts and minds very similar to your own made a certain day explode with spectrums of ideas and laughter.

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When you reach the end of your days you will stumble upon a bookshelf, and on that bookshelf there will be but a single storybook. This book will contain the absolute truth as you know it. The most truthful book ever written. More truthful even than the history books, National Geographic magazines, and the religious texts altogether because this one was written in summer sweat, blood from a scraped knee, saliva from the mouth of a lover, tears wiped away on an old sweater sleeve: the ink of living. It was written by the reader.

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You’ve got nothing else to do on your deathbed, so you’ll heft it from the shelf, blow off the collected dust of the decades, open the cover and begin on page one.

As you read the story of your life, the secret story that can’t be shared, will your eyes sparkle over the words with admiration like insurgent diamonds cut from the young cosmic novas? Will your hands reach with blistering anticipation to the next page like a young boy’s to the next branch of the backyard magnolia tree?

Or will you cringe with regret at all the missed opportunities, at the person you could’ve been?

It depends… Is it a good story? How was the character development? Was the protagonist likeable? Was the antagonist injustice?

Did you work to change your setting for the better? Did you work to make the other character’s stories better?

Was the plot exciting?

Most importantly – was the theme love or fear?

I’m working on the greatest story ever written; I hope you’d pick up your pen and join me. This is the story that I will die in peace with, it’s the book I’ll cling to as I rage, rage against the dying of the light. Your heaven’s acclaim will reckon on the light you shared throughout the pages of days.

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Life is a secret giggled a little too loudly into the ear of a loved one, a best friend, the one person that could possibly get it. Maybe it wouldn’t do well as a story, but I’d say to whomever wanted to know that it’s not worth telling anyway – you had to be there.

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Endia

I left India in an intense rage, and I couldn’t have imagined it any differently.

After a 13 hour bus-ride down from the Himalayan town Dharamshala starting at 7 am I made it to Delhi to await my 6am flight in the airport.

Though sleep was desperately being asked for that night, it was not received on the hard floor of the crowded, blaringly hot New Delhi airport. Eventually 6 am rolled around and I groggily hefted my pack onto the ported plane. My flight left just as the sun was rising on the hazy Indian skyline.

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To Chennai!

Definitely not my favorite city in India – the last time I was there I was chased around the bus station at midnight by a group of teenagers trying to force me to take innumerable selfies with them. And it’s gotta be the hottest place in the world. I can’t properly say it’s the worst, however, because I didn’t catch Kolkata – where faulty infrastructure regularly results in metro overheads becoming metro onto-yer-heads.

But despite even my best efforts not to I had a very awesome, sleep deprived, caffeine loaded day exploring the Capital of Dosa (big gravy and potato filled pancakes)

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Chennai buddy Mano in his tailoring shop

Disclaimer: Dosas were harmed in the making of this day

My last day in India was filled with sentimental goodbyes to the small things that had charmed me along the way. With melancholy I said farewell to the Shiva temples on every block corner and the consequential Ganesha temples across the street.

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I purged every part of myself on the senses given by the birthplace of spirituality. Her crooked sidewalk under my feet, her blistering air on my skin, her kaleidoscope colors like desirous dreams in my eyes, her smells of incense and human depravity, her tastes of nature, spice, and soul. India was as fresh in my mind as it had been every day for the past 6 months.

6 WHOLE MONTHS! Half a year! 1/38th of my entire lifespan had taken place here. And this was the end.

India had held some incredible adventures for me – climbing Delhi temple ruins like a monkey, scouring the crowd-packed markets, sharing the train berth with 12 strangers, biking recklessly through the Ghats, sneaking stealthy past wild elephants, leading an enterprise to investment, becoming an expert traveler/friend maker, becoming strong within and feeling my strength without.

India held some incredible lessons for me as well – I learned many hard truths about life on earth. I saw many things I won’t forget if my eyes see another thousand years. Things that make the circumstances of my own birth seem nearly sarcastic in contrast to others – my privilege would stare me in the face with a grimace every single day, sourly spitting the contempt, “Why are you so special?” over and over. Things that told the true trivial nature of the things all humans make important in our lives – revealing to me that we can only find meaning through celebrating the people that care for us for the stupid, gross, fantastic, goofy people they are.

I thought about the last incredible week I’d had in the birthplace of the Buddha, the Dalai Lama, the Hindu yogis of legend – the Himalayan mountain range. It could be called the greatest of God’s creation – and I would agree wholeheartedly, and wholestomachedly – because Tibetan food is the cat’s pajamas.

Oh – so are the masterpieces of the universe. Here’s a pic of me enjoying both!

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(Speaking of Tibet I’d like call your attention to the terrible injustices that the Tibetan people face under the tyrannical rule of the Chinese government. Take a moment to check out this link: www.freetibet.org. China keeps their terrible doings under wraps by limiting the speech of the people – the more people that know about it the better!

Now back to the story!)

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On a bizarre collision course of fate I met up with a fellow Gap Fellow (the best people in the world) there in the Himalayas (the best place in the world.) Leah and I hiked, camped, marveled, depolluted, and motored ourselves through the white giants, belligerent on the will of becoming and constantly in awe of what we could mold from reality.

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We were, in every sense, on top of the world.

Suddenly I lurched from my flashback to find myself drooling into a cup of hot chai on the hottest day in the hottest city, sweating furiously. I was dreaming about the cold I had just left up in Himachal Pradesh, delirious from a lack of sleep.

I looked up from my warm predicament to see my best friend, Koushik, come to see my off to my next gap year leg.

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At the same instant my heart swelled with affection and terrible remorse. How could I leave my bud after everything he’d done for me? How could I leave SustainEarth after we’d accomplished so much?

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I was leaving at the very beginning! Being forced to sell my shares.

I was being Zuckerburged by destiny.

Koushik took me to the airport as I tried to decide if I wanted to sleep or weep.

Good byes do not get easier, friend.

“Bye, buddy,” Koushik said as we stood in front of the airport gate as ritual demands.

“Shut up,” I said – not wanting what was happening to be happening. There was a pause.

“Hey, cheer up, man – you’re going on another great adventure. You’re the luckiest guy I know and deservedly so, enjoy this! I’ll see you again in a year or two, I know it!” said Koushik.

“Yeah, I’m just sad that I won’t be a part of SustainEarth when it becomes a billion dollar success. Put aside a million for me, yeah?” I shot with a little grin.

Koushik tugged my shoulders in a fraternal embrace, “You’ll always be a part of SustainEarth, dude – India welcomes you anytime.”

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“See ya soon,” I murmured as I turned away and walked into the airport as quickly as I could flee the scene with my huge pack in the state I was in.

With an hour left before my international flight I was greeted at the check in counter with a smooth, “You need proof of onward travel to enter Thailand,” which I definitely did not have at the moment. So I bent over, bit my finger, and prepared to be screwed one last time before I left India.

It was only appropriate.

I ended up having to buy a very expensive plane ticket from an obscure Lebanese travel agency located in a makeshift – blue tarp hut just outside of the airport grounds, that I had no use for whatsoever and was unable to cancel or refund.

Hence my fit of rage.

For all of a moment all of my emotions were numbing my spongy, depleted mind and I was experiencing a tangible depression that I could almost look in the face.

I felt like spit getting on the plane.

But if India taught me a single thing, it’s that adversity is not the equal of failure. It’s not a very good reason to be upset ,either, actually nothing that comes to mind quite is.

So before I let myself fall into a corpse-like state of rest high above the Bengali Bay, I celebrated my time in India – the solitude, the alienation, the praise, the grand, and the glory of loving those who were around to love – and paid homage to what I’d learned by practicing my stride that could take anything.

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As you do.

Ba dum.

And then I died as much as the most alive person can do so – to wake up in a new life, in a new world with a new set of rules and new terrors to dispute.

Cued up: Thailand.

4 Ways to Laugh Around the World

They say what goes up must come down – my jokes disagree.

They never land.

*Confusion*

But even when the sun was blotted from the sky by the cloud of my unlanded jokes – soaring high over the heads of everyone who didn’t watch season 6 of It’s Always Sunny or doesn’t know who Joe Pesci is – my laughter still carried and my confidence in my delivery was never damaged.

Because every once in a while I got a couple of chuckles from the homies.

That was in America, though, where knowledge of trivia and references became necessities to salvage our minds from the boring lack of real problems to talk about. Then I left the States and the very few people that actually knew what the heck I was going on about were no longer there to guffaw for the Flawless Guffaw-less. (my nickname.)

At first I didn’t care. This didn’t stop me at all from assuming that everyone everywhere would understand everything I said in perfect context and that I’d be Emperor of Funnytown and also the rest of the world.

Besides some stiff competition from Donald Trump, I knew I was the perfect candidate, but unfortunately for the citizens of Funnytown that didn’t happen. In Tanzania and India no one laughed at my American jokes because:

A: They were very American

B: The tone of speech got lost somewhere in the lingual no-man’s-land, so people didn’t know if                             I was being funny or having an aneurism.

C: I’m not actually funny (unless you consider my physical attributes, in which case I’m about as funny as a sad clown.)

I also didn’t understand any of the jokes told to me. I’d be in a conversation with a friend and their jokes always seemed like a prom that nobody came to because there was never a punch line.

This time it was their joke that didn’t land, cluttering the sky even more.

So I went on telling jokes in a foreign country to blank faces and crickets. But as that inevitably lost its appeal, I also lost my voice. Nobody got me. Once again I was misunderstood – the voice that I too recently found in high school was gone again. I saw that laughing with people was something I need – a form of communication that no words spoken can take the place of. It’s a subconscious exchange of information like ‘I like you,’ and ‘you’re cool to hang out with,’ and it’s a necessary practice for fulfilling relationships and even individual contentment.

Without laughter the world is blank, a forgotten coloring book left to the moths. We must color it in. Unfortunately I had only the colors of red, white, and blue to fill it out – colors that look great to some, but lacking and out of place to most. So through hard work I completed my palette by understanding universal humor, and here I’ll let you peek at my paint stash.

This is how to laugh round the world.

  1. Be dumb.

Good laughter is actually pretty difficult to come by in America. Unless you’re dumb, that is.

Sure, people chuckle politely at colloquial garnishes and exhale sharply through their noses at the irony of the latest Facebook meme their mom just shared or at lucidly self-aware blog wit. (nudge)

But they don’t laugh.

There’s just too many rules and people taking themselves too seriously to dance around for real laughter in the real world. The only way you can achieve the real CRUqsVlWIAAxm3nbone-shaking, cheek-burning, gut-clenching, silent convulsions is on an apartment living room floor at 11:00 p.m. by biting a raw onion like an apple or in the backseat of a beat-down Sedan flying down the highway over a well-timed fart. Dumb laughter.

And I may not know a lot of things, but I know how to dumb.

I had made it too complicated. It’s not about making jokes at all – laughter isn’t that narcissistic. Laughter is recess from the classroom, a chance to bond with those around you by just going with what you feel. It cuts through all the ropes in your head that you dangle from, that bind you – and lets you fall free into an oblivion of simple understanding.

In Tanzania it’s so easy to be dumb, especially for an American. There’s no margin for action that isn’t practical – and, boy, are we impractical.

Wasting precious energy by going for a run? That’s dumb.

Being on time for things? Dumb.

I can be dumb there without even trying!

Once, in boredom, I began skipping rocks in a nearby lake. Out of nowhere a very angry man approached me, chewing me out in Swahili. My Tanzanian friend was quick to jump up and apologize for me. The man grimaced and stalked away before an avalanche of apologies gushed from my mouth like projectile vomit.

“What were you thinking!” my friend laughed. Tears were collecting in his eyes like dramatic irony in the situation.

“What… I – huh?” I was trying to organize myself when a boulder emerged near the shore of the dark green water, which only confused me more because according to my previous experience with The Entire Physical World, rocks don’t float.

My friend grabbed my arm and hustled me away swiftly – shaking with laughter the entire way. Eventually he suppressed his fits long enough to point out a sign that literally said, ‘No Throwing Stones’

“That’s a nationally protected Hippopotomas lake, you idiot!” he managed through seizures of laughter. My head drooped a bit under the weight of the pieces falling into place, “Oh… oh… ohhhh…”

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As he laughed I just sort of stood there, not knowing what to make of the situation. Then slowly I felt it bubble up under my skin, into my throat. Another wave hit me and I couldn’t help but be swept away by it. We both stood on the hill laughing till our bodies ached. I am an idiot, I thought.

Which transitions me smoothly to my next point.

  1. Laugh at yourself.

So you think you’re dumb, huh? I wanna hear you say it, “I’M DUMB!” Scream it to the world – “I’m dumb and it’s clutch!”

Now that I proclaim that I’m an idiot at least half a dozen times a day my quality of life has improved significantly. Honestly, I can’t see myself ever not being an idiot, either. It’s just too fun.

If you’re not laughing at yourself you’re missing one of the greatest comedies ever written.

In my experience these are the three funniest things in the universe:

-Roasting the boss behind his back

-Children saying the darndest things

-My own misfortunes

Oh, and that thing where you connect your sleeves, put one hand under your shirt, and pump. Forgot about that one.

It’s important to accept our own faults and to find humor in unfortunate coincidences that find us. Why would you let it beat you up if you could obtain knowledge and laughter, the two greatest currencies ever bought or spent, from it? It’s your payment for living life.

  1. Let them laugh.

In Delhi I made the observation that city-life is tough. So many people living amongst one another makes them hard like the sidewalk they walk down. We go through the metro station, past each other again and again with all our defenses up. What’s the point?

You get the bad parts of people over and over, the fearful parts, the apprehensive parts – completely bypassing all the things that make them great. Their smiles, their humor, their tone of voice when they speak of their passions – all hiding like words in a pen.

So I asked: What would happen if I let those out? If I put down my defenses and let myself be free, what would happen? Would my flight inspire their own?

I experimented with this thought and I found something incredible. From the seed of a smile blooms a smile. From the ripple of a laugh, several more crash on the shore.

All I did was risk showing the light within myself to people, and found that they would do the same if I just gave them a reason to.  Suddenly I had a superpower – I could make people present their best selves to me just by going first.

Here’s a secret: People want to laugh, LET THEM!

Number 2 and 3 were put to the test in Cochin by the antics of a black bird.

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My audience was ripe:

If you’re as ghostly and giant as I in India, you can bet that everyone and their grandmother will be watching your every move, (especially the grandmothers.) So in Fort Kochi when a crow dropped a slimy fishtail smack on my forehead with a sickly splat and then immediately peed on me while I was walking through the park, everyone in the area caught a broomstick in their spokes and turned to see the grand show of my reaction.

I could practically smell the popcorn as the spectators took their seats – or was that crow pee?

In that moment I realized the important difference between humility and humiliation. I also realized that everyone was going to laugh whether I was with them or in front of them. So I decided I’d be with them.

Quickly, I peeled the soggy fishtail off of my dome like a misplaced strip of paper mache and pretended to take a bite out of it.

“Thanks for lunch!” I shouted up into the tree before I threw my head back and laughed until I nearly became even more saturated with urine.

Yeah, it sounds really dumb, but that’s the goal. (See point 1)

People met my eyes with looks of sympathy, I met theirs with nonchalant shrugs of laughter. One of the aforementioned grandmothers who saw this folly approached me in a ‘you-poor-thing’ sort of way, with laughter in her eyes and a clean wash cloth in her hand.

Everybody in the park laughed along with me and I think I had about 50 new friends by the end of the day, each of which I hung out with later, creating indefinite branches of experience that I never would’ve had had a bird not treated me as a garbage disposal and a toilet in the same instant. Those people remembered how I made them laugh, how I made them feel.

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I don’t know why it’s such a secret that the effect we have on people is the most valuable thing we own. A feeling you give someone is something that’s never ever, ever forgotten, so give good ones.

  1. Not to be funny, but…

Don’t be. Just let it happen. To give you the truth of it, most of the time that I laugh and see laughter is the result of laughter, not the result of something funny – life just brings up laughter like bubbles in a glass of pepsi.

I’ve laughed the hardest I’ve ever laughed when life just seems too good to me. When I was standing under a waterfall on Mt. Kilimanjaro; when I was flying down a curvy jungle road in the mountains on a bike; when I was cheering on a lion as it pounced on a gazelle in the Ngorongoro crater; when I was standing on the highest peak in the Ghats and seeing the world sprawled out below me. I swear I almost cracked a rib when I watched the kids use a slip-n-slide and ride a camel for the first time – the joy in their eyes made all the beams and bolts that assemble me lose friction and slide apart.

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It’s the precious moments that’ll never happen again that shake us up the most. It’s spontaneous as an avalanche – a sudden gasp of direction, a glance at color in the everyday gray. It’s locking eyes with the nearest person in a blurry moment of high passion and experiencing a fleeting connection strong as the Golden Gate Bridge.

When we laugh with someone, I don’t know how it happens, but it’s as if we’re plugging ourselves straight into their brain, undiluted. That’s why it’s so important. We’re getting the direct output of who they really are deep inside. The brick walls of our brows smear into singularity while the empty spaces between are filled with the limitlessness of converging souls, leaning on one another, leaving no space for acoustics to amplify the echoes of anxieties and misunderstandings.

For just a moment you’ll feel yourself bursting from the back – your skin will be trampled underfoot by dancing blood, rioting at the end of a millennia of uselessness. Veins will hit the air like baseball bats. Eyes will shimmer like a river against blacked out pines in the setting sun and life will know meaning…

then it will end as quickly as it happened.

You don’t know who you’re asking but you are begging – do it again, like a dizzy child on a swing.

 

***BONUS ROUND***

These are just a few of the things I’ve found funny on my gap year, thought I’d share.

Kaka means ‘brother’ in Swahili

We made the connection that if you were getting in the way of 2 guys becoming friends then you were effectively ‘kakablocking’

***

I drilled a particular Lynyrd Skynyrd song into the orphanage conscience by having it be the grand finale of my nightly concerts for the kids. If you’ve read my other blog posts you probably already know which.

When it was time to go to bed, the children would chant for one more song, and I would do my best Van Zant voice, “What song is it you wanna hear?!”

Collected from the broken homes in the villages of rural Tanzania, sitting on a muddy orphanage floor – in this moment these kids were instantly squished up against a stage barricade on some farm in Indiana in the early 80’s extending their arms and voices out desperately for their favorite band. Every child in the building, without fail, would scream at the top of their lungs, “FREEBIRD! FREEEEE BIRD!!!”

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I did it every night for months, never got old.

***

The Danish language

***

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Guy on the left: Which country?

Me: U.S.A.!

Guy: Ohmygodohmygod. Oh. My. God. I LOVE EMINEM! Here’s some sunglasses – Dude, quick, take a picture of us!

*Gives me the sunglasses off his face while pulling out another pair of sunglasses*

*Just before picture snaps*

Me: Oh… Dude, are you sure?

Guy: *while putting on sunglasses* Don’t worry, Chicken Curry.

***

Dala dala’s are the main form of transport in Arusha. They are small buses with 2 operators – a driver and a ticket collector that yells things.

The entire time I was in Tanzania I was looking for a ticket collector named Bill that yelled ‘y’all’ a lot, for… reasons.

Near the end of my time there I was afraid that I’d never find him. I mean, what are the odds, right? Kinda silly for me to even be looking for him. I had become hopeless, then one morning in Dar es Salaam, I heard a distant, “Y’all!” flying down the highway…

“No… it can’t be…”

I flagged it down and as I was going whoknowswhere I asked the guy for his name.

“William, rafiki.”

I couldn’t believe it… There he was…

Dala dala Bill, y’all

***

When two guys from America came to Tanzania to volunteer in Arusha and live in the same house as Iddi and I – we found it compulsory to teach Iddi the ways of “That’s what she said.”

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He couldn’t quite get it at first,

“What she says?”

“She said that!”

He slowly got a grip on the concept and over the next few days he made many feeble attempts to set himself up for the one-liner that ruled our middle school careers.

“Hey look at that building, it’s pretty big, right?”

“Wow that hole is pretty deep, right?”

“What’s your favorite part of an Oreo?”

And so on.

Seeing through these, we neglected the setup – to teach our prodigy to do better. Eventually it was forgotten. Months passed, the Americans left. It was time for to leave as well.

Iddi came to the airport to see me off – it was a heartfelt moment. Iddi had been my best friend, my kaka and kakablocker for the past 3 months. I didn’t want to leave him.

“Bye dude. Thanks for all the good times you’ve shared with me. I really love you, man – you’re my kaka. I hope one day I can return here and see you again.” I was holding back tears.

“You’re going to do big things.”

A moment passed where he stared at me, his own emotions were surfacing. He took a shuddering breath, looked me dead in the eye and said,

“That, she said.”

I laughed all the way to India.