Timing

We arrived in Thailand on the evening of the cremation of the late, beloved King Bhumibol, one year after his death. We arrived in Vietnam on the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution, traversing the streets of Hanoi lined with the flags of its Communist Party and a standing statue of V.I. Lenin. And in the throes of my internal conflicts of being American in this place, with all of its brutal history, exactly one year to the day after his election to the Presidency, Trump makes his way to, of all places, Vietnam.

Timing is often wrought with both coincidence and imperceptible significance. Reflecting on this today, if not to find meaning where there is none to be found, at least to pause and acknowledge just how fascinating this world, and our timing within it, can really be.

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Heed the Call

I awoke before dawn to a siren’s song.

The prolonged whoop lifted my ears from a state of silent yet overstimulating dreaming and, as my eyes flung open to the dim yellow of the inside of my tent, the concomitant reverberating holler gently floated them downwards into a lull. I laid on the hard ground and listened. Their melody pierced the innumerable sounds of the surrounding flora and fauna dancing in the rising morning wind and beckoned me to rise to the outside world. No need to shake the sleep from my weary eyes. I was awake.

The gibbons were calling.

My entire life has been dominated by a love of the natural world and for the vast diversity of life one can find in it if they can pry themselves from the stronghold of cities and urban life long enough to feel into its rhythm. Trees to me have always been places of worship, and the creatures that dwell in them fill me with an indescribable longing to climb, to explore, to play, to connect. But no creature had captivated my childhood imagination like the gibbon. To me they were as good as myth, ghosts in the canopies of far-flung jungles, vestiges of a natural order and keepers of a wisdom that has been forgotten by our kind since our ancestors decided it was time to divorce ourselves from the protection of the tree-tops and try our luck rooted in (and before long, uprooting) the earth below. Now, waking to their morning mantra in the crisp air of Khao Yai National Park in Central Thailand, I knew that if I acted in that very moment, I could transform a lifelong dream of beholding one of these creatures into a reality.

The other siren at my side still fast asleep, I jumped on our rented motorbike and fled our camp, not knowing where to go, just trying to hear that haunting song over the sound of the wind splitting the weaker branches above. I drove for three kilometers or so, slowing every few moments to make sure I was on the right track. Eventually, I knew I was close enough to park and find the source of the sound, which couldn’t have been farther than a few hundred meters from the road. No trail in sight, I entered the ostensibly impenetrable rainforest wall that towered on either side of the pavement.

I moved slowly, as silently as possible. I had spent days reading about (and in some cases seeing) the other wildlife that inhabited the park – Asian elephants, wild boar, crocodiles, and tigers. I longed to see each of them up close, but not if they saw me first. I had to be careful to avoid the leeches that plagued the jungle, waiting just above ground to latch on to anything that passed by. Their wriggling, blood-sucking bodies frightened me more than anything, but that song in the canopy above persisted, so I knew I had to as well.

Within 60 seconds I had two holes in my shoes from inch-long thorns, and four leeches somersaulting their way up my trouser leg. No blood was drawn, but I was immediately shaken, cursing myself for getting myself into such an idiotic, and possibly fruitless endeavour. Soon I found a behemoth path carved by families of Asian elephants making their memorised pilgrimage for water, food, and salt, providing me with temporary reprieve from the thorns and things itching to creep and crawl up my body. Our previous days’ sighting of a black King Cobra was burned into my mind as I climbed vines and fallen branches across streams and over the dark forest floor. I imagined locking eyes with a tiger and continuously scanned my surroundings for vines that were thick enough to bear my weight should I need to make a vertical escape, but those thin enough that a tiger would likely not be able to get a grip (as if I know anything about the subject).

I thought of turning back, but the song beckoned me forward.

I came to a clearing beneath the towering fig tree that I thought to be the source. I craned my neck upwards. The song stopped.

Minutes passed. Silence.

I was sure I had frightened them away, that they had used the opportunity of me flicking and prying away leeches to make their escape into more distant trees. I waited, standing perfectly still for nearly twenty minutes. Suddenly, movement. The swing of a branch, immediately followed by the sound of something crashing onto another. I couldn’t see it. Nothing but a sound. A movement. A fragment of my imagination. A myth. A ghost.

And then he was there. Hanging from a branch about 100 meters above ground, both arms outstretched, he hung triumphantly, calling a very different call this time, perhaps one of warning to those in the area to not come where this ground-dweller was posing a threat, or perhaps inviting others to come watch it make an ass out of itself. Jet black from head to toe, fur jutting out on either side of his white face, he howled into the air, then took flight to another branch, another tree, and another, and another. Arms, legs and tail all working together in perfect harmony to traverse even the thinnest branches, his movements every bit as magical as I always dreamed they would be.

I stood there, watching him for as long as he would allow me to, a jaw-aching smile plastered across my face. The ghost was real, and he let me take a glimpse into his life, if only for a moment. Soon, as he passed to another cluster of trees, I saw the rest of his family waiting for him, and watched them disappear, just like that. I did not touch my phone to take a photo, I just let the moment unfold. And it was, in essence, perfect.

Countless tourists and adventure-seekers flood Thailand each and every year in search of pristine beauty and enchanting wildlife. They book tour packages, arrange guides to take them to where they are most likely to be able to snap a picture of these animals they have only seen in YouTube videos or, for those of us who still own them, in pictures in a book. For me, this uncertain pursuit, which left me winded, scratched and filthy, was something more. It was an opportunity to share a moment with a creature who spoke the language of trees in a way that me and any member of my species are no longer able to do. He was in pure communion with his surroundings. When I returned to the road to get back on my bike, I didn’t feel that connection with the pavement my kind had laid down before me, and while my love for hiking and trekking takes me to many incredible soils and terrains, I long for that intimate relationship with the trees that have captivated my heart and soul for so many years.

For me, this moment with this ghost, this myth, this ancient spirit, was a glimpse into the unknown reaches of the natural world, and I felt like I understood the trees that for so long have sent me trekking through forests and jungles the whole world over in a way that I never have before. This year has brought me from the ancient baobab’s of Tanzania to the mighty redwoods of California, to the tenacious yucca trees of the Mojave Desert and finally here, to the jungles of Southeast Asia. As my quest for rootedness in this earth continues, I remain grateful and deeply humbled by every form of life I have encountered, and particularly grateful for that morning.

It is a powerful reminder of how important it is to answer whatever it is that calls to us, no matter how long or what it takes. It’s a great, big, wild and magical world out there. How much of it we see is entirely up to us.

Nothing.

We’ve been dreaming of this moment for months. Sitting at a guesthouse cafe, listening to the sounds of tuk-tuks crawling by outside and a drum set being tuned across the road in preparation for tonight’s open mic, books in hand, reading. Just reading. Here in Ayutthaya in central Thailand, there are dozens of ancient ruins and temples to see, monuments of the last kingdom before it was sacked by the Burmese. Yesterday we rented bicycles and lazily crawled from one temple to the next, then treated ourselves to twelve hours of solid sleep.

Today, we’re reading. Just reading. No one to visit, nothing to rush to see. This isn’t the kind of town our Lonely Planet book recommends we spend more than a day or two in, but we just paid for yet another night. Because we can. Because we can afford to do absolutely nothing. And that is the greatest treasure we could ask for right now.

After over three months of visiting family, friends and natural wonders across the United Kingdom and North America, we’re completely burned out. We’ve been completely burned out (I guess for about three months, ever since we packed up our house and moved far, far away from our lives in Uganda). When most people think of traveling around Southeast Asia, they think – as we did last year – of packing in as many temples, beaches and jungle treks as possible in whatever limited time they have in the region. For us, there is no deadline, no end-date. We are simply here.

We are simply here.

It’s hard for us to do nothing. It’s not in our nature, and thus does not come naturally to us. Our families told us time and again that we were packing far too much into our time back in the West, which we fully recognised, but we felt that we needed to see as many people and sights as possible. It was beautiful, but exhausting. We longed for this moment, when we could look across a table at each other in some wholly random place, smile, and know that we had nowhere to be, nothing to do, no one to report to.

Freedom. Absolute freedom.

Sure, the need to secure an income will come before long, as it always does in today’s world. A “money-less life” is a luxury and a privilege, and virtually a fool’s hope in our modern world. But for now, we are blessed to be able to put it on the backburner. We are blessed to simply eat and nap our way through the day. This is not a vacation, it’s just life. It’s just now. It’s just here. It’s just us.

And we couldn’t be more grateful.

To burn out, or to fade away

London, Kent, Oxford, Bournemouth, Madrid, Ibiza, Hollywood, San Diego, Sacramento, Santa Cruz, Big Basin, Florence, Umpqua, Redwoods, Humboldt, San Francisco, Joshua Tree, Los Angeles, New York, Ontario, home, family, friends, craft beer, BBQ, fast food, concerts, night clubs, birthdays, hikes, storms, wildfires, mountains, forests, beaches, deserts, rivers, lakes, city lights, sleepless nights, reunions, goodbyes, old friends, new friends, drink, smoke, laugh, cry, planes, trains, buses, endless drives, up, down, back, forth, here, there, everywhere, everything, go, go, go, go, go…

Jesus…did that all just happen?

Our heads spinning, our bodies in overdrive, our ability to plan and make sense of schedules stretched beyond their breaking point, we somehow made it through three whole months in the West. We left Uganda with intention, with purpose: it was time to leave an easy life, time to leave our comfort zone, time to throw ourselves into something entirely new, time to do this big crazy unforeseeable thing, together. Just the two of us. It was time.

And time didn’t seem to stop.

We may have done too much. We may have overexerted ourselves. We may have tried to see too many people, too many places. I’ve spent the past 3 months plagued with a constant feeling of guilt, guilt for not spending enough time with each and every person that I love, guilt for not having more of myself to give, guilt for not being enough. Some understood, some didn’t. Depending on when I saw you, you all spent time with a very different me (for those of you who saw me in New York, you got stuck with me at my most depleted, my most burned out, my most inept, my most worn down to the bone). I certainly didn’t get to see everyone. Some of the souls that mean the most to me were, in the end, for one reason or another, just out of reach.

I could only handle so much. I feel I owe so many an apology, but also know that, in the end, I needed to honour myself and my own stability. Whether I did that at all is a question that may one day need to be revisited. Too many days and nights spent forcing a smile and forcing a conversation, ultimately ending in tears in bathrooms across the country, barely able to hold myself together. It was surreal to come back to places I once called home, having changed so much, reuniting with people who had changed so much, in their own way. It was all a bit too much for me to handle in the state I was in, too much love perhaps. Transitions are hard to describe to those not in them with you. Anxiety is hard to describe to people that aren’t attacked with it on a regular basis. We all relate how we can, when we can, to whom we can.

But it was what it was, and it was something magical. For now, I am simply grateful that we saw as many beautiful souls as we did, as many beautiful places as we could.

For now, I am simply grateful.

Thank you to everyone who welcomed us with open arms, to the friends and family that came to love the woman that I love as much as I do, to those that offered their couches, their beds, their gardens and yards, their time, their energy, their hearts, their shoulders, their beauty.

We may have burned ourselves out, but that was so much better than simply fading away, from one corner of the world to another. Somewhere in between a life in East Africa and a brand new life in Southeast Asia, you were there. And I love you. More than I could express when I was sitting right there in front of you. More than I could ever express in words. I hope my actions showed some small sliver of that love. I hope it was all enough.

That’s all we can all hope in the end: that our actions, our words, our beliefs, our resolve, our dreams, our achievements, our selves – that all of it was enough.

I dedicate this next chapter to reimagining what “enough” might look like, to exploring new heights and new depths. For those of you who can share any part of it with us, we are here, waiting for you. With open arms.

Solitude for the Mind

An article in The Atlantic found me just when I needed it this week. As I lingered in a moment where I longed for little but the opportunity to retreat into myself and build walls to barricade me from the rest of the world, where the over-stimulation of our modern age feels to be crushing upon my very soul, The Case for Solitude amalgamates an insightful compilation of reflections on solitude – it’s merits, it’s pitfalls, it’s creative potential.

From Thoreau to Emerson the article dissects what solitude means in our increasingly interconnected societies and begs the question: how do we strike a balance between engaging with the newly fabricated fabric of human connection and communication and giving ourselves space to turn inward and observe how our unique minds fit within the human experience?

The moment I found myself reached it’s breaking point two nights ago, when I fumbled over forum after forum for tech support to try to revive my Pioneer DDJ-SB2 controllers that Serato DJ no longer recognized. Sitting there, brain swimming with creative potential to blend sounds into sets and compilations to perform for the dancing masses of Afrikaburn next month, I was confined to a seemingly endless battle with technical difficulties, following a week where my iPod broke, my iTunes wouldn’t let me edit my music library in the way my O.C.D. needed to format it, and where planning for the coming desert adventure required me to drive home through a chaotic city after a long day of sitting in front of a computer, and once again sit in front of a computer screen and a phone screen to coordinate plans for my festival family. I reached my limit: I closed the computer, buried the decks in my closet, and shunned the opportunity to hold the woman I love in my arms to instead sit in my living room alone, with nothing by the flickering light of a candle and my ceaselessly swimming thoughts.

Over-stimulation. This is the word that has been hanging over my head of late, and the word that swirled around it as I sat in the rare silence that the nighttime can afford. I felt like I had no choice but to plug myself into this system of gadgets and devices in order to be a part of the modern world. At every turn in any given day, I find myself tangled in wires and cords and straining my eyes to focus on the artificial light one of several screens radiates in my direction. I feel this black mirror burning a hole in my pocket, weighing on me like Frodo’s ring bearing the weight of an ever-watchful eye, conjuring apocalyptic images from The Matrix of human beings being grown by machines, plugged into a Panopticon network whereby we can all be watched, preserved, harvested. Slavery to corporate influence and technological advancement has become the new global religion – we worship the dollar and the latest iteration of the iPhone on scales rivaled only by age-old adherence to the dogma of Abrahamic faiths. I look at our education systems valuing HTML coding over foreign languages, at books slowly becoming a thing of the past, at the tech industry convincing us that we need every piece of conflict-mineral ridden crap they churn out.

In an age of false, perpetually-obsolete idols, where does our humanity end and our imprisonment begin? And how long has the line been so blurred?

Most importantly, how do we disconnect, while remaining accountable to the social (and arguably moral) universal imperative to connect with one another, to exchange new ideas, to uncover new innovations, to work together to eradicate social injustice, to stand side-by-side in the face of tyranny and environmental degradation and global annihilation.

How do we unplug ourselves from the system without denying our basic human needs for belonging, for safety, for love? Do we intentionally cast ourselves aside like the Christopher McCandlesses and other hermits before us, wandering through what is left of the great unknown before our ultimate destinies find us frozen and alone? Or do we develop wholly new ways to coexist in a chaotic modern world that allow us to maintain our innate symbiotic relationship with the natural world around us?

I sat there wanting to walk away from it all, in the way that I always fantasize, living off the land and abandoning capitalist systems, fending for myself, ideally with one or more people that I truly love. At the end of the day, that connection is critical – when you live 10,000 miles from most of the people you care about most, modern technologies are invaluable, and can add to life rather than detract from it if used properly. Sometimes it just gets to be too much.

I eventually opted for connection. When I made it back to bed, I curled up safely next to the woman I love, the final moments of the glorious revival of Planet Earth flickering light over her sleepy face. There, as I closed my eyes, shutting out the glow of yet another technological gadget in front of me, the words of Sir David Attenborough gazing out at a cloudy London skyline guided me into my night’s sleep:

“Looking down on this great metropolis, the ingenuity with which we continue to reshape the surface of our planet is very striking. But it’s also sobering. It reminds me of just how easy it is for us to lose our connection with the natural world. Yet, it’s on this connection that the future of both humanity and the natural world will depend. And it is, surely, our responsibility to do everything within our power to create a planet that provides a home not just for us, but for all life on Earth.”

I counted myself lucky and recognized how grateful I was to be able to leave the city when I need to (not as much as I would like), and to have a lovely garden and yard space to stare out at and pretend I’m away from all the hustle of the modern world. These moments away from it all are critical for our minds to process our human experience without incessant distraction and needless noise.

But at this rate, where are we heading next? And what will be left of our minds when we get there?

A pause…

I began writing again late in 2016 in an effort to work through a lot of unpacked learnings from the last few years…maybe the last few decades. I’ve taken a break. One thing I’ve learned is that reflective processes have to remain dynamic and fluid, and what guides our spirit in one instance may suddenly cease to be our guide in the next.

So I’m going to try guiding myself.

Thank you for the outpouring of support this year, you are all beautiful human beings. Have a blessed turning of the new year, hold your loved ones close, and try not to push those you do not too far away. You never know what people are going through.

Reach out, reach in, reach higher, and above all, LOVE.

Thanks.

I’m thankful for rainy days…they make tea and coffee taste incredible.

I’m thankful for all the girls who have broken my heart…they freed up space for someone better.

I’m thankful for every cut, scratch, burn, bruise and break…they taught me not to do stupid shit (or showed me that I must have had a good time).

I’m thankful for traffic jams…they always inspire me to listen to more Bob Marley.

I’m thankful for growing up poor…it taught me to appreciate more important things than money.

I’m thankful that my uncle passed away when he did…Y2K would have scared him to death anyway, and his soul went into my sisters and me and made us cooler.

I’m thankful everyone sold out and Disney bought Star Wars…George Lucas wasn’t doing it any favors and J.J. Abrams is a boss.

I’m thankful for the obnoxious, never-ending construction on the road outside my house…this is development in action and it’s allowing Kampala to grow and thrive.

I’m thankful that my phone screen broke last week and new screens still have not made their way here…the horrendous cracks are a great conversation starter.

I’m thankful for boda-boda crashes…they taught me to wear my helmet more.

I’m thankful for my violent, sociopathic father…he showed me exactly who I didn’t want to be, and I’m a more compassionate man because of it.

I’m thankful for my depression…it allows me to deeply understand other people’s pain.

I’m thankful for all the tears I’ve cried…my ability to release them is rare for my gender and I count it as a gift.

I’m thankful for the darkness…it makes the light so much brighter when it comes.