Posted by: PG | December 6, 2011

Why Creativity Matters

Creativity knows squalor and Creativity knows opulence.  Creativity openly welcomes all beliefs and appearances.  It knows people from the inside out so it easily honors what they look like from the outside in.  One needs not be such-and-such height, or anything else, to ride this ride.

Creativity is Passionate and Honest.  When we gain an inkling of Passion, it leads us down a trail.  Courage travels in Passion’s sidecar because Passion must machete obstacles to find fuller and fuller, and truer and truer expression. Passion laughs at the specter of denial, revealing what looked real as fear hiding beneath a sheet with two eye-holes cut out.  Passion yawns at this Scooby-Doo specter inevitably revealed as fraudulent, two-bit, and routine.  Creativity places its demands of expression in the form of Passion.

Authentic self-expression, that is, Creativity, comprises beautiful, fulfilling lives.  Fulfillment takes in water and leans towards the Sun.  It is a relentless process of growth measured in moments.  From Passion expressed in thought, word, and action emerges people finding the meaning of existence and making a difference.  It comes in more shades than Crayola has.

To find Authenticity, Creativity invites ruthless Honesty and self-understanding.  Honesty requires digging deep below what appears at the surface.  It is never, never a matter of expedience, economic survival, or recognition.  These always, always safely arise to varying degrees as byproducts of Creativity’s expression, however.  Passion is too pure to care about celebrity and fearlessly takes subsistence for granted.   Passion merely graciously endures these hoodlum cares hanging around outside its chambers.

Creativity is fragile.  It often gets shoved down by the false arrogance of facts, repressed because of perceived idiosyncrasies, and lied to about not being good enough.  It lies dormant through its live burial within many men and women.  Its faint, covered-up presence can often be detected where there are unhealthy distortions of desire around food, the opposite (or same) sex, alcohol/drugs and unhealthy relationships with work.  But just as it is fragile, it ever-so-patiently bears not a grudge awaiting resurgence, revival, resurrection.  The process of its rediscovery can, however, require patience and determination.

Creativity unceasingly whispers at increasing volumes that if you are willing to make mistakes and be courageous, you can truly never “fail”.  It is ultimately about uncovering the individual gift meant to be shared here on Earth.  What we are truly best at is also what we truly want most to share with the world.  Creativity knows what you alone know somewhere within–what is best for you.  Creativity reveals itself during and after recognition of greater possibility, not before. The one demand Creativity makes is faith in its existence.  It is magnificently merciful though and will carefully collaborate to eliminate doubt but much less, ignorance.

Creativity CAN flow through a broom sweeping a floor.  Creativity CAN place numbers in boxes on a computer screen.  Creativity CAN change one’s perspective on a subway ride.  Just as it easily as it could be displaying the grace of the human form on stage.  Just as easily as it could be putting brush to canvas.  Just as easily as it could be the flow of rhythm and melody through fingers on string.  The richness of human dignity can be lived in its fullest expression when Life is an art form.

Creativity is Passionate and Honest.  It can be denied, repressed, and hidden in the name of practicality.  Or it can be honored, respected, and cultivated in the name of practicality.  Fulfillment IS the pinnacle of practical.  Expressing deep longing and sharing gifts and talents is Creativity and it brings fulfillment.  It is possible for all. If you want more Passion and Authenticity, CRE8 would love the chance to help.  If you believe in your Passion and Authenticity, you are already inspiring us and we thank you. The richness of the whole relies on the beauty of each individual contribution and the variety among them. This simple idea is CRE8.

PS-I write this as a tribute to the nonprofit organization, CRE8 Foundation, for which I serve as Managing Director.  We are currently in the process of unveiling a new website which should be available early next year.  We will likely include Creativity offerings for adults as well as children.

Posted by: PG | December 14, 2010

Better Call Back-up

I struggle to come up with the right Adam West/Batman-like onomatopoeia. Kablam? Not right at all. Does hand-skin on face-skin ever make that kind of sound? Braaaagockkk! Not exactly but that’s the closest I can get. The drunk dude receives the smackdown. Picture what Mr. Perfect would do to Ricky the Dragon Steamboat if the Intercontinental belt were at stake, and you are on the right track. Because the perpetrator and the victim are speaking Malayalam, however, I cannot make out what onset the loudest slap I have ever heard. I turn to see the bearded, blank-stared vagabond hold the side of his face in self-pity and bewilderment. (Enough seconds pass in delayed response between the slap and the holding of face to, say, read a short newspaper article.) Whatever he has done, however, the temperature of the water in which my brother Prateek and I wade is at least equally toasty.

We ride in the back of the paddy wagon with a raging drunk and a violently-inclined pig, on a dirt road in a remote part of India at around 11 pm. We were just trying to get on our way to the nearest airport. We feel frustrated and concerned.

The lust is back. (Two people explicitly mentioned it would be a good idea—and my mom isn’t even one of them. I assume pretty rightly those two people, oldest friend and ex-girlfriend who remains close, represent tens of thousands of unbiased opinions out there.) Where else would it start but a police car? I swear I didn’t do anything, other than perhaps look sketchy, over which I have no control. Same problem as last year and this time I wasn’t even dancing wildly. (This isn’t my first run-in with Keralan cops (Wonderlust: Empire (State) Strikes Back)). For a pretty well-intentioned guy, I sure arouse the suspicion of authority figures frequently. Especially pot-bellied, mustachio-ed Keralan authority figures.

When I read any good story, I enjoy the prose, the witticisms, the social observation, and the episode(s) as they unfold. And I am also always curious about where it is going and how it will end. While I am nervous riding down the backroads, not understanding why we have been picked up and what these cops have in mind, this thought occurs to me about books. I realize I am just living a story rather than reading one. And living one is immensely more exciting. I tell myself I haven’t done anything wrong. With the truth, there is nothing to fear or worry about and I change my mindset to one of amusement and curiosity and it does wonders for my perception of the situation. I begin to enjoy it.

We reach the station. This one calls for the chief inspector. This is a big night in this remote village. He arrives to the station bleary-eyed, clearly awoken from a deep slumber. Evidently, the threat we represent requires the local big gun to figure things out. He speaks English and tells us that the security of the nation is at stake. Oh, that’s all. At least we know what this is about now.

While the inspector inspects, through a combination of facial expression and gesticulation, we make the best of it joking with the late-shift cops. One makes an internationally recognized gesture for craziness in reference to my Vibram five finger shoes. Another diligently copies our passports by hand because the copy machine is broken. And the last little (pot-bellied) piggy offers us food, slaps the drunk, and begins petting my brother’s arm, telling him he looks like Sharukh Khan, a big Bollywood star. Prateek’s discomfort at these advances (?) and my schadenfreude temporarily absolve the deep pain I suffer being the shorter, skinnier, less glamorous brother.

When talking about how we were here for a yoga program, I demonstrate a headstand in the middle of the office. One apparently asks me for a contact number for the yoga center when I provide my Indian mobile number. I didn’t have any clandestine plan to pose as a yoga center employee. I simply thought he wanted MY number. He eyes me suspiciously when I communicate this to him. Easy, Officer Hightower. (I see two missed calls from the same number later. Maybe it was the other dude looking for Sharukh.)

Speaking of Bollywood, while growing up our family made Hindi Flicks, home movies parodying 70’s and 80’s era Bollywood movies. In Inspector Sahib (sir), the chief inspector heroically saves the day. We sense such heroic possibilities in the real-life inspector—he seemingly believes our story but decides that we’ll drive back to the yoga center to clear this up once and for all. We aren’t 100% certain this is for the best, however, since the yoga instructor basically told us in no uncertain terms to leave. (That’s how this all got started. Given the time commitment and cost, we had decided to leave at the end of the first underwhelming day. Breaking this news, we were told to pay a 600 euro cancellation penalty or leave immediately. Uh, the latter. While we were waiting for a car and driver we thought we had arranged with locals, they surprised us by having called the cops.) But would she now feel incentivized to somehow exact vengeance through this opportunity? No, I hold the ace of spades. In the rushed departure, I had forgotten to give her the key to our room, unmistakable evidence that we were in fact there. To quote Ice Cube, “and I am yelling domino.” Mixed leisure game metaphors, sure. Everything is cleared up and the inspector facilitates our ride to the airport. Like the protagonist of Inspector Sahib, he is the product of a meritocracy. We thank him. National security crisis averted.

Besides the spades and the dominoes, I think the real metaphor of the story is the key. Truth was on our side and unassailable. I can’t say the rest of the journey was quite hassle-free but almost 24 hours after leaving the yoga center, we end up at a white sand beach in Goa on the warm Arabian Sea.

PS-I would like to catch up my loyal readership, perhaps numbering in the hundreds of thousands, just briefly. After Peru, I returned to the United States. I regrouped, spent time with friends and family, enjoyed the incredible honor of officiating Brooke and Jamie’s wedding (See “Empire”), and decided on a self-directed study, in the area of the relationship between the individual and society, as a course of action. I had considered Phd programs but decided that for my individual purposes it would be more restricting than enabling. With the flexibility that a completely independent study offers, I am taking advantage by locating myself where I feel most inspired. I went to Colorado for two months and am spending my winter here in India. While studying, I am also continuing the inward journey that intensified during the ten month trip. For some people, I can understand that the uncertainty, the living out of a backpack and the not having a steady address would be a nightmare. All I can say is that other than the occasional run-in with cops, it ain’t so bad.

Posted by: PG | July 22, 2010

Love, Pain, Faith, Joy, Life

I feel the pain in Bernhard’s eyes when he speaks. For many years, Gabi has been his life’s effort, nay, his life. Perhaps, however, a resolution is on the horizon. In the past couple particularly intense weeks, he has relived nearly 30 years of trauma and drama. He has come to understand that with each epileptic fit, she takes on the only defense available to the scared little girl she remains within. As she writhes and flops, she psychologically armors herself against the epic, horror-ridden transgression her father committed so many years ago.

Bit by bit, over a period of days, his story emerges. He held his family of four together as mother and wife Gabi steadily deteriorated. He took on multiple jobs as necessary to support her care. He researched with chagrin and determination the pharmaceuticals the under-caring Austrian doctors baselessly prescribed. (His sensitivity to Gabi’s condition provided more insight than diplomas could.) He stared down her family, ever ready to sacrifice its weakest member, at ten paces more than once.

Results aside, the ability to have complete faith in another human being is one of the finest qualities a person can possess.
–Haruki Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

When I look at Bernhard I see a Saint. Saint Bernhard. I don’t choose that word lightly. But even better is that he hasn’t even a clue that he is. He has greater faith than anybody I have ever met. He sees Gabi for who she is beyond this illness. He sees her sleeping potential and rarely fails to look past her ongoing crisis. He only smiles and shows affection when she occasionally offers nonsensical non sequiturs. It matters not that he disclaims a higher power. (For it may be said, is there a mightier force than Love?) For me, it would be impossible to meet him and not be moved by his optimism and single-minded dedication.

Bernhard and I parted ways in the Amazon before I ever witnessed any resolution for he and Gabi. I have a standing promise from him to keep me updated. But results aside! Faith, it seems to me, isn’t at all about striving for the results you thought you wanted. It is about the ability to see the universal wisdom in all that actually happens.

Bernhard provides inspiration to me as I continue onward in Peru, my last international stop. On a 5 day trek to Machu Picchu (on Salkantay not the Inca trail), I am hit by ailment after ailment. One more course of Cipro? Check. One more tussle with altitude sickness? Check. One more rolled ankle? Check.

I think about wanting to fast forward through the ailments but of course life is in the living and in the experiences, as literally and figuratively crappy as they may be. (As if I had the option anyway. What am I Adam Sandler in Click?) Seeing the wisdom in crap–Golden Poopy returns! (Wonderlust: Golden Poopy) What is it with me and trekking anyway? Some Immodium Brooke gave me back in January and some antibiotics Tammy gave me back in November come through in a big way. I backpack like a squirrel.

Speaking of gold, when Machu Picchu is the gleaming pot at the end of the torn, stretched and hungry, nonetheless rainbow, ailments do not move beyond pesky status. Unlike me coming through US customs back in the days of long hair and facial hair. That was code red all the way. An incredibly, assuredly, in every way possible “random” code red. Although I do in fact have brown skin, I didn’t look anything like that unkempt Indian dude from Lost.

Possibly, no tourist destination on earth is more hyped and as easily capable of living up to the hype. I speak with some knowledge having worked as a janitor at Disney World, another highly hyped tourist destination, one summer. If eskimos have 64 words for “snow” to match the reality of their lives, Machu Picchu has a lexicon with just as many words for “easily surpassing already overhyped expectations”, and zero for “disappointment”. (I once spelled disappointment as “dissapointment” in a regional spelling bee (at Proctor’s for my Nisky peeps), so I always have to keep my eye out for that one. The irony of misspelling that particular word is of course not lost on me.). (By the way, Disney, I believe, petitioned Webster’s to add 63 words each for “long lines” and “overpriced”.) A group of great people, including Scott, Luke, Sarah and Mandy make my aches and pains seem miles away. As with Eric and Victoria on Kili, the lovely Chilean couple Ruben and Andrea get engaged at the climax of the trek!!

With the 63 words in the Disney petition, and the 2nd couple to get engaged on a trek, let me briefly throw numerical spin on Wonderlust:

10–months to the day I traveled abroad. I would say I was returning to real life as my mom has advised, but the fact is I prefer the permanent delusion into which I have nicely settled.

11–countries visited (Japan, China, Tibet [sic], Nepal, India, Singapore, Indonesia, New Zealand, Tahiti, Chile, Peru). Coincidentally, this is also the number of countries in which I either ate or searched in vain for peanut butter in the last 10 months.

6–countries wiped off my original itinerary. I look to these countries for Future peanut butter. Mmm, pb of the future sounds delicious NOW.

34–Walter Payton and Bo Jackson, sure. Also, the number of books I read this past 10 months. Wind Up Bird Chronicle is the latest. Started and ended with Murakami. I would tell you all about what Tibet was like except I was busy reading. I am sure Lhasa isn’t that cool anyway.

6/5/4–number of repairs/number of cobblers/number of countries for sandal repair. Always easy and always cheap. I couldn’t bear the thought of another pair and I always went this route BECAUSE of their durability not a lack of it. Funny thing is that it will be hardest or least logical to repair them once I return to the most developed country.

<10 number of times I shaved myself. (Wonderlust: Barber Shop Shaves) I would tell you what the Taj looks like except I was getting a shave. With my eyes closed in delight.

<$1.30–sad but true, this refers to my weight now. When I saw a scale for the first time two days ago, I responded in horror with a full size pizza, a brownie, a cookie, a sundae, and two caramel filled churros. Past caramel filled churros sound delicious NOW.

3–For what it is worth, I can outeat a man 3 times my size.

As has happened so many times during this trip, I experience a quirk of timing. I hear from Bernhard to say all is well with he and Gabi, as I write this in my comfortable club level hotel room at the Sheraton in Lima. I am immeasurably pleased to hear this. And I am measurably pleased at the surrounds. The hotel room itself is my old consulting career still paying dividends. Past churros.

I think of all the people and all the places, and it breaks my heart with Joy. I am not quite sure when this journey began to…give itself to me. I became simply a detective waiting for the next clue. It unfolded with a beauty I could not have anticipated and all I had to do was flow with the wind. I am grateful for this study in Truth and Misunderstanding. (Wonderlust: Brown or White) Actually, I observe that grateful fails to be the appropriate word at a certain point. In a manner similar to how the word faith fails when one Knows. I am excited to go to Colorado today with the strong intuition towards moving there. Future pb.

Life is a poem.

PS-MP, Money Picchu, shots to come

PPS-thanks for following me this far

PPPS-this isn’t necessarily the end of the Lust…consider this the wink at the end of a franchise movie which sets up future installments

PPPPS-i will be in NYC for at least a stretch in September no matter what I decide

Posted by: PG | July 3, 2010

Not the Same Ol’ Song and Dance

In any given wild bout of enthusiastic dancing, the potential for mistakes arises. It comes with the territory. The excitable mover-and-shaker implicitly acknowledges that without taking big risks, he will never earn big rewards. This acknowledgement spurs him towards a dangerous line. On one side, brilliance. On the other, recklessness. But push towards that line he must if he seeks glory. History has shown that those who fear the line are doomed to mediocrity. That is, history favors the courageous who, in the fashion of the popular game show The Price Is Right, come closest without going over.

Let’s check in on one such aspirant towards shakin’-what-his-momma-gave-him greatness. Let’s choose an unusual pseudonym, say, Prashant. Is he a pretender or a contender? While homecoming dates and wedding dance circle onlookers have openly acknowledged him as a prodigy, these endorsements alone are not sufficient to determine the answer. Lamentably, the world is no stranger to wasted talent.

When questioned by journalists seeking answers after “The Incident in Tahiti”, the onlookers and dates universally, inevitably cite Prashant’s fluid “lawnmower” and enchanting “worm”. They mention his grasp of the intangibles beyond rhythm which count in this game. They also universally and inevitably express surprise when told what happened. They shake their heads and realize that on second thought, they could see it coming. They can, in hindsight, see his hubris. It is, in fact, clear as day, they, to a person, say.

What set the tragedy of “The Incident in Tahiti” in motion? Prashant, as we continue to call him, knew that some of humanity’s greatest advances emerged from an inclination towards such derring-do. He would frequently indulge in pleasantly recounting to anybody who would listen the top 3 such acts with fond wistfulness, blatantly ignoring room for debate. He found inspiration in Edison’s naked hokey-pokey just before inventing the light bulb, Mandela’s especially electric slide before dismantling apartheid, and, of course, the enduring images of Reagan and Gorbachev doing an unusual duet macarena before ending the Cold War. Other children had posters of Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky and Pete Incaviglia, but he said his evening prayers with these historical highlights looking on. It is with some surprise that this reporter, well, reports his mother actually encouraged this passion, believe it or not.

In re-creating his motivations, it becomes clear he wasn’t sure whether these historic dances curried favor with the Gods thus causing the events which followed. Or perhaps the brilliance manifested in the dances just served as a harbinger of other outward manifestations of greatness? Either way, Prashant sought his place in history and had a hunch that a wild bout of enthusiastic dancing might be his golden ticket. In his own telling in a recent rare post-Tahiti public appearance, he admitted to getting distracted at the thought of such a ticket because it without fail made him think of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.

Perhaps that was the primary issue on that fateful day in Tahiti. What else but a tragically misplaced focus on simultaneously funny and scary Oompa Loompa songs explains what was to transpire? Oh, the misery of yet more wasted talent. This is incontrovertible evidence of a cruel world. This is the danger in wantonly seeking idle thrills. This is what it sounds like when the doves cry.

Without further ado, let’s examine the event in question. Prashant clearly enjoyed his continued traveling good fortune at: (1) having a flight cancellation in Auckland give him three free nights with all meals included at a fine hotel, a stroke of luck for any self-respecting backpacker (fellow passengers/hotel guests remark that he “devastated” that breakfast buffet every morning); (2) the front and center tickets to a popular New Zealand band, Fat Freddy’s Drop, which emerged from the changed dates and proved a warm up for the night of dancing in question; and (3), the change in dates leading ultimately to having an entire Tahitian nature resort to himself, while only paying for the price of a dorm room. He was seen slapping his forehead in surprise, as he had on the previous occasion of a bank error in his favor (in the amount of $200).

But I believe it is appropriate to conclude that the promise and beauty of solitude led to a changed relationship with the line. The line seemed to lose any imprint of fear as it beckoned Prashant closer and closer. Fear can be an unnatural, unnecessary inhibitor but it can also guide prudent action in appropriate circumstances. An understanding of which form of fear is operational is absolutely instrumental in this game.

The seeds for The Incident were planted when he took an especial liking to sitting on the dock of the bay and watching the tide roll away. He would wile away his hours like Otis Redding. He began to even spend his evenings on the dock watching the sea and enjoying the fresh evening air under the impossibly starry sky.

It was dark out there. Especially when he would excitably close his eyes while dancing to his iPod, dangerously pressing his luck with the line. But on this spin, to press my own luck with another game show metaphor, he earned a big whammy, most certainly not big bucks. WHA-WHA. Yes even high-quality journalism such as this calls on game show onomotopaeia for effect.

Unconfirmed rumors have it that Seal has the ignominious honor of being last song played. But make no mistake, this was no Kiss from a Rose. And like many among us, Seal brought out the best in Prashant. He would have you believe that this was beyond anything he ever did before, his finest moment, that he wouldn’t change a thing. For one pure moment of glory he owned that line, at least until he fell off the dock and into the refreshing salt water.

But do you believe he is really without regret, especially considering TWO iPods AND his camera were in his pockets and no longer function? He stubbornly refuses comment but his countenance was surprisingly unperturbed at the aforementioned public appearance. This skeptical reporter conjectures maybe Prashant is foolish enough to think his second rate travel insurance policy will cover this fiasco. I, for one, don’t put it past him. I have talked to the man. Or maybe he really doesn’t care at this stage of the trip, that what might have been his worst nightmare at the outset has come to pass. Nah, the latter explanation is unlikely. Yes, even high quality journalism such as this uses the word “nah.”

We can also feel free to speculate that he felt like he was missing out on wild bout of enthusiastic dancing opportunities in the form of recent friends’ weddings (he asked me to pass on “shouts” to Wykle, Donato and Bates). But whatever the explanation, one thing is clear, such is the life of an enthusiastic dancer. He invites danger. He lives on the edge. If you think you have what it takes, there is a standing invitation to “come on down.”

What are we to take away from this tale? What is the moral of this story? Is it just a dumb story loosely littered with weak song and game references? Perhaps. Although since it is my work, I would be offended at that conclusion. I would steer you in another direction. Surely enough this portrait depicts lack of success, and it is this reporter’s humble opinion, that, yes, clearly there was a naïve foolishness in Prashant’s dancing. But also, it seems it is better to have danced and fallen in, than to never have danced at all. You can only gain Mastery of the line if you know where it is and that demands respectful approach. I leave you with the thought that it becomes possible to Walk the Line. Yes, even high quality journalism such as this this does call on the Man in Black.

Posted by: PG | May 26, 2010

Bag Size Matters

Ms. Prickle opts for efficiency (shotgun approach) over precision (scalpel approach) in her questioning style. “So I am assuming you have an extra change of clothes, a rubbish bag, a sleeping bag, and food for three days?” My nod delivers completely neither accuracy nor inaccuracy. It does overlook the change of clothes and sleeping bag.

Ms. Prickle exudes warmth of an underwhelming nature. She indulgently lingers through a not-at-all-hidden, skeptical, top-to-bottom once over. Not unlike the competition-assessing “bitch look” one sometimes sees in NYC elevators. Tacit but tangible disapproval suggests Ms. Prickle has seen it all in her day. If you come across her in a dark alley, run. Dear God, run.

Wool socks/sandal-clad feet in the rain understandably invite some level of overt scorn. Still, some degree beyond that is surely superfluous for effect. (Department of Conservation co-worker crush perhaps, Ms. Prickle?) I extrapolate in determining the suggested equipment is similarly superfluous for effect. If Monty Brewster can shut down any team for three innings, I can handle any cold, wet hike for three days. For those who don’t know the movie reference (from which emerges Richard Prior’s outsize significance in my childhood), picture a garish neon question mark hanging over this whole endeavor. Neon is ingenious only when used in front of the word “Vacancy” and controlled by a switch.

My nod also exercises a judgment call insofar as: 1) a loaf of multigrain bread, 2) three apples, three bananas and three oranges, 3) half a small jar of smooth peanut butter, 4) some roasted red capsicum hummus, 5) a small pouch of goji berry trail mix and 6) several processed edam cheese slices, qualify as three days’ worth of food. I did specifically choose a loaf with 18 pieces, enabling a ration of two per meal. (A lot of pretendaz out there with 14 or 16 slices.) But the yellow plastic bag these groceries arrived in, for an extra NZ dime, is an unequivocal yes to the rubbish bag portion of the question.

I successfully pick up the cabin tickets for which I have come. It turns out, however, that I also was supposed to prebook transportation to and from the Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk trail-ends. Much ado about nothing; I can drive to the trailhead. This happens to be the one area of NZ in which the local Maori tribe has not signed any sort of treaty with the government. Ms. Prickle fortunately has followed me from her office to the transportation motor camp, on hand to exude more touching lukewarmth. She is in person to saccharine-sweetly advise me that I drive and park there at my own risk. She shakes her head, under her breath.

When you housetrain a puppy, you sometimes have to shove his nose in it. But for all my willing unpreparedness called into question, the rest of my equipment serves me well. I enjoy more success on the trail than I do driving my rental Corolla hatchback on the left side of the road.

As an insomniac or a potential Freddy Kruger victim would tell you, however, daytime isn’t the primary issue given my situation. I consider jumping jacks but settle on squat thrusts to generate warmth. Rather, actually, the first night at scenic but frigid Panekire hut, I put on 5 layers of clothing. Additionally, I pull my mattress right up next to the old school wood-burning stove. I think Hansel and Gretel cooked their witch in one of these. Not great sleep, not terrible. Cucumbers might address puffy eyes in the morning but who am I, Louis Vuitton? I’d rather dream about that kind of luxury in tandem with hummus in between two rationed slices of mg.

On day 2, I hike to the Maruiti hut. The circa 1963 gas heater coughingly resigns within two hours of use. The new reality presents a choice: hike a couple more hours on fatigued legs in the dark and increasingly rainy evening or brave an unheated night. I readily choose the former. I picture Ms. Prickle’s poignant would-be admonishments for openly disregarding the booking system. What does her coworker have that I don’t have anyway? Maybe not a change of clothes but probably at least a sleeping bag.

Coincidentally in refuting endearment to Ms. Prickle as a barometer, the breaks fall my way. I am surprised to meet brothers Steve and Matt approaching just as I walk back to the sparsely populated trail. We hike to the next hut together. We enjoy the element of adventure in the nighttime, rainy hike. Steve comes razor blade close to an accident, slipping on a wet rock, but catches himself, no damage done. We arrive. My headlamp, trusty boots and Gore-Tex shell have come in handy. The hut, and more importantly the heating system, are downright futuristic compared to Panekire and Maruiti.

Fun and friendly Steve and Matt generously share chocolate, chamomile tea and chana masala, while we play Texas Hold ‘Em. I would have also liked chopsuey, chapatis, and chewy chocolate Chips Ahoy but that’s just being choosy. We don’t have chips of a poker variety either, so we “bet” with points tallied on a piece of paper. An unpaid emergency points loan costs Matt the chore of sweeping the hut the following morning.

Steve’s music is of a higher standard than the level of poker-play. When the music switches from The Black Keys, a band I love, to a catchy hip-hop song, I mention that this must be what “the kids listen to these days.” 24 year old Steve responds (with pity??) that the song is at least a couple years old. I am equally out of touch when I ask about the “new” Wu-Tang album. I go to sleep in front of the toasty gas heater thinking about how I was completely blindsided by this day’s arrival. The inevitable day in any person’s life when he reaches old age simply by virtue of the music he isn’t aware of. Why hast thou forsaken me Method Man?

The day 3 hike is the shortest and wettest. Matt and Steve delay the gratification of warm dry clothing to drive me to my car. Much respect. Thankfully, nobody effed with my surprisingly sporty Corolla. We say our goodbyes and I soon enjoy the glory of cranked heat, the heretofore elusive change of clothes, and some catchy tunes. I excitedly pull into a buffet for a self-congratulatory dinner 3 hours later. I think about how, actually, I overpacked by bringing three days’ food when I only needed 2 and 2/3 days’ worth.

PS- Ah, All-You-Can-Eat.The first signs of civilization returning. When a non-Earl-of-Sandwich-themed dinner option in town first occured to me earlier on day 3, I thought, well, this opens up possibilities. I realized I had the golden opportunity to double up on fruit rations. Listen, we could debate until the cows come home here, but I think we would ultimately agree it is best to pair orange and banana.

PPS-the remote hike was beautiful and rewarding. New pictures of Singapore, Bali and NZ are in the gallery.

PPPS-I leave NZ after a month here for Tahiti on Thursday afternoon. I arrive on Wednesday evening. Beware just in case the world explodes, but make sure to adjust for your local time zone.

PPPPS- only the “dark alley” portion of my characterization of Ms. Prickle was exaggerated. But all of it was definitely for effect (name changed to protect the innocent). To present the opposing point of view, Steve and one guy at the hostel mentioned I am a bad ass for taking on the trail in the manner I did. I think Steve is just more tactful and willing to use euphemism than Ms. Prickle. The other guy couldn’t figure out why the electric coffee pot wasn’t working until I plugged it in. (I was on top of it because I had just made an eerily similar error with the toaster.) Good dude but not sure what his compliment is worth.

Posted by: PG | May 17, 2010

Donate the Difference

At a May 2009 speaking in New York which I attended, the Dalai Lama received questions about some of the biggest problems facing the planet. Environment in tatters. Economy in ruins. Genocide. Poverty. Drugs. Lack of health care. Human trafficking. And other such culprits prominent in the ugly side of the human story. These culprits bear responsibility, of course, for the painful gap between the world we live in and the one we feel is possible.

His counterpart on stage that day was Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and an extraordinary person in her own right. She appeared equally equipped to discuss these monumental issues. She bowed, however, to the intuition that the audience did not seek a political perspective. And with the gracefully ceded stage, His Holiness offered his unique brand of wisdom. He distilled each problem down to its essence. In each distinct case, he unveiled the same root cause operating in different contexts–the disastrous collective results from the behavior and motivations of individual actors.

The upshot accordingly, or discordantly, is that many of us feel victimized. We see toxic billowing smokestacks, filthy rivers, devastation from war, ravages of disease, endangered species, unfair labor conditions, unbridled greed, starving kids, sex slaves, and fear-ridden communities. And for each of these issues, there is a host of others.

So we are naturally drawn to what we’ve been told about how our own individual actions can counteract. How we can shed victimhood and create a new, better world. Be the Change, take responsibility, start with the Man in the Mirror. We see that solutions can operate in similar fashion, the wondrous collective results from the behavior and motivations of individual actors.

And so we try in earnest. And sometimes we realize success. But often we get frustrated. Our individual efforts sometimes seem pointless. In these instances, we feel disempowered; our sense of individual responsibility is compromised. I respectfully submit it is high time we fully reclaim our individual ability to create impact. We need heightened awareness of the significance of our daily decisions. Let’s empower ourselves to honestly decide what type of world we want to live in. We have a responsibility to consciously decide, if nothing else.

A good friend and I recently hosted 100 underprivileged people for lunch at a restaurant serving tasty, wholesome food in Rishikesh, India. Ramana’s Cafe is in my opinion the best, healthiest restaurant in town and, even better, all proceeds benefit an affiliated orphanage. Soup, salad, fresh fruit juice and Indian dal and rice were served. All organic. The cost was, well, free in a way. A simple rearrangement of resources and a slight shift in perspective.

The lunch emerged from a decision about where to stay my last night in Delhi. In India, I sometimes supplement my normal backpacker travel style. I am able to do so thanks to inconvertible Rupee proceeds from the sale of a small sugar cane farm my father bequeathed me and my brother a long time ago. Because it is a luxury I can thereby afford only in India, I planned to stay at the exquisite Shangri-La.

A friend pointed out to me the extravagance of this choice. I laughed it off at the time but I somehow could not bring myself to make a booking afterwards. And the reason was obvious. It is hard in my particular individual context to justify an indulgent stay when poverty is so readily evident right around each corner in India. I chose a more typical backpacker option instead.

I could have chosen to keep the difference of costs in my own pocket. Naturally the money was mine, any benefits of saving accrued to me. This is where a shift in perspective comes in. Rather than a spend or save perspective (“whether to pull the trigger”), I shifted to how to spend once I had made the decision to do so (“where to aim”). As I had already prepared myself to outlay a certain amount of cash (the price of a night’s stay at the Shangri-La), the choice was then about determining how that amount could best be spent. It occurred to me the number of people that could be fed in India for the price of one night’s stay. I like comfort as much as the next guy but I realized that I would be far happier choosing the backpacker option and feeding 100 people for the afternoon and supporting an orphanage.

That’s what this is about ultimately–happiness. This framework of resource allocation can be applied far, far more broadly. If enough of us shift, we could start a world-changing movement.

Economists generally assume rationality, that we make purchases with full awareness of alternative uses, in the name of maximizing utility or happiness. But how many of us actually consider the entire world of possibilities when we make an impulsive purchase or even a well-considered one? Every time we make a decision to spend, we also necessarily make a decision not to spend it elsewhere. How we spend money is a reflection of priorities.

Would you happily make do with generic orange juice instead of name-brand if it helped stop rainforest decimation? Could you happily choose chicken or vegetarian instead of steak if it meant your daughter and granddaughter could see a Bengali tiger not doomed to extinction? Leave that shirt on the rack if you could enable a month’s schooling or vital vaccinations for a child in South America? Bus instead of train can make a difference. Brown bag instead of salad bar can make a difference. Used instead of new can make a difference.

Donate the Difference. Once you shift from a pulling the trigger perspective to a where to aim perspective, each difference you save is the difference you make. Once you determine that you are comfortable spending a certain amount of money on a good or service, take an extra moment to reflect and perhaps you will find a cheaper alternative and a donation to a worthy organization will make you happier. Resources will naturally flow through our collective decision-making to our most vital causes. Let’s not be naïve. This is of course about limited resources.

What I am proposing is considering how you allocate your hard-earned dollars, euros, rupees every time you pull out your wallet. This isn’t about guilt. YOUR money is still about YOUR preferences. You have worked hard for your money and deserve to spend it how you like. Simply, you should get from your money what Economics has always assumed you get–maximum happiness.

In practice? Donating the Difference can be an entire lifestyle or a one time thing. It is all money the world needs that it is not otherwise getting. As a one-time thing it can be the 40 cents you save on Cookie Crisp because you decided to use a coupon, the $50 you saved against your April 2010 budget, or it can be the ten grand you saved getting a Prius instead of a BMW. Maybe Prius + Donation supporting hunger aid > BMW, according to your system of preferences. A lifestyle choice would not mean anything more than a commitment to look at purchases with awareness.

You can also use a Donating the Difference spending framework as a way to reward yourself. Those on stretched budgets might find this idea appealing. You could, for example, set aside 50% of your Differences for Donation and 50% for yourself. It can be 20/80 or 10/90. It doesn’t matter. You can adjust how frequently you “trim the fat”, the percentage of Difference you decide to Donate, and any other variables you see fit. You might implement Donating the Difference in your life just as much to find a new saving mechanism as a way to do good for the world. This is just about you expressing your own preferences, with awareness.

Perhaps you will find that Donating the Difference is something you would like to do. Perhaps it is an idea that states who you are in relationship to this world and what you stand for. If so, decide on the causes that move you. Decide how you will keep track of your Differences saved. Decide how regularly you will Donate your Differences–perhaps once at the end of each month or perhaps after each time you aim. Your choice, of course.

The potential is limitless–legal expenses, government defense spending, every dollar everywhere should be examined in the light of awareness. It all starts with each of us. Start looking at your own purchases more critically and see if you are getting what you want out of them. If you aren’t, make a commitment to Donate the Difference. Collectively across all of your decisions and those of everybody else, envision the resources flowing towards a more beautiful world. Let’s close the gap between the world we live in and the one we know is possible.

Please don’t chalk this up as a nice idea and place it on a shelf. This is a direct plea to YOU to the extent it resonates. Start simply, with just a change of how you see your spending. Donations can follow or not. (My guess is they likely will if you adopt this change of awareness.) Our problems and our solutions start with us. Let us vividly demonstrate the wondrous collective results from the behavior and motivations of individual actors. The difference you save is the difference you make.

PS-I wrote this while the lunch idea was still in the works. Ultimately, because Rishikesh already has free kitchen facilities, I decided to use the money to fund a charity art-exhibition at an orphanage. (Wonderlust: Not Worth the ConsternAsian) The idea remains the same–maximize your happiness.

PPS-I intend to explore the role materialism plays in society after return (which is getting closer and closer!). This may be in the form of advanced studies or some other opportunity that has yet to present itself. If you have any thoughts, tips or advice, I would love to hear it. Thanks!

PPPS-This one is a bit different than my typical post. If this idea happens to resonate with you, I respectfully request you email the link to a few friends or post it on your facebook page. I appreciate it.

PPPPS-Thanks to those friends who offered their invaluable feedback.

Posted by: PG | April 19, 2010

Not Worth the ConsternAsian

I came out with guns blazing. I wrote 5 entries in my first three weeks in Japan. I have since written 5 entries in the last 6 months. Blame Asia. Candidly speaking, ninjas distracted me from the keyboard every time I tried to write. (All that I actually verified was that they wore black and were lethal with nunchuks. With that, I just assumed since this is Asia afterall. On reflection I guess they may have been stagehands or goths.)

My seven months on this continent end in just over a week. It feels strange writing that. Too far east is west and I will cross that line when I soon leave Bali for New Zealand. Before culture shock disorients me, it seems like a pretty decent time to reflect…

As I ate the best muesli, fruit, yogurt and honey of the trip at The Office in Rishikesh, India, I picked a random co-diner Steve’s brain about Laos. I got excited. Maybe just as much for his description of the country as the fact that he did most of the talking. That allowed me to do most of the eating. I squeezed in questions between bites. As a rule of thumb, when push came to shove, I forewent questions instead of foregoing bites. I figured convenience of bite timing dictated whether I was “meant” to hear the answer to any given particular question. Mouthfuls of pomegranate and pineapple proxied spectacularly for fate.

His positive details corroborated what I have heard many travelers say about Laos. I set my heart on living out a favorite video game from my childhood called Toobin’. I got into some pretty vivid imaginings. I borrowed an inner tube from some dude’s truck and started practicing on the Ganges. (I hope at least 3 of you got the Toobin’ reference. I’ll buy you a chocolate bar if you didn’t.) But just two days later, I changed my flight and decided to extend in India by another month. Ultimately, two planned months in India turned into four actual months. Plans for Laos, Malaysia, Cambodia, and Vietnam fell by the wayside. With some consolation, I read in my current fascinating book, “A Fortune-Teller Told Me: Earthbound Travels in the Far East” by Tiziano Terzani, “Laos is not a place, but a state of mind.” I buy it because it is convenient to do so.

Maybe I sampled just a small piece of Laotian mindset in the relative peace of mind India bestowed. As I look back on Asia, it is pretty glaring that four months of the seven were spent in India. Jamie, with whom I traveled India along with Brooke and the Srig for two fantastic weeks (Wonderlust: The Empire (State) Strikes Back), wrote me at one point, “I’m not surprised that you are still there; it’s such a sweet spot. And India is tha muthaland [sic], so you are inherently drawn to her.”

And that’s the truth. He called it. Maybe the first and last time “tha muthaland” and “inherently” will be used in the same sentence. That’s my boy! As I wrote in “Brown or White”, I came to India with high hopes regarding Truth and Misunderstanding. That is, Fudgy and Rainbow Chips. But it would have been hard to anticipate exactly the extent.

Staying in India enabled deeper inward journeying. As Marcel Proust says, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” I received unforgettable guidance from an enlightened Sage, the type for which mother India is renowned. Good new friends Yanara (Wonderlust: Golden Poopy and Natives are Restless) and Ole shared amazing experiences and meaningful personal insights. I got my sandals repaired three times, totalling thus far five times by four cobblers in three countries. All of them except one ripped me off, some in a more kindly manner than the others. But I always pretended I didn’t know any better, grateful for a good deal because these trusty things are holding on, living to see a non-DestinAsian (i.e. non-Asian destination). Saw that one on a billboard. Man, if you haven’t figured out I love wordplay by now, you haven’t been reading closely enough.

And I learned from orphans and NGO work. At 26 years old, Ole is a talented professional artist and filmmaker from Germany. He has set aside for now his established art career to focus on his NGO, CRE8 (cre8foundation.org, website still under construction), which undertakes collaborative art projects with children around the world. When I planned this trip, you may remember that I hoped for opportunities to volunteer my business experience in a nonprofit context. I couldn’t have scripted better than working with Ole.

We staged an art exhibition at an orphanage that featured kids’ and professional artwork, a “realistic” alien drawing contest, musical jam sessions, and a theater performance by the kids among other highlights. The organic veggie taquitas at the cafe affiliated with Ramana’s Garden Orphanage contend for favorite “other highlight”. Between cafe activity and artwork sales, we raised funds and awareness for both the orphanage and CRE8. The over 500 guests left with big grins and full bellies and the kids wore proud faces.

Promotion helped. We wore down the local magistrate for permission to post a huge banner over the most famous bridge in Rishikesh. We really turned on the charm and the willingness to grovel just as we sensed his resolve weakening. We also partied the streets of the ‘Kesh walking around with 10 or 12 young orphans, who blew noisemakers and raced around to every person in sight, handing out fliers. My favorite, Pinky, continuously tried tickling my underarms. She has some sneaky tricks.

The exhibition took place towards the end of my stint in India. It was a nice note on which to conclude. I have since joined Ole in Bali to spend a few weeks developing his organization. It’s a working Bali-day. Yea, wordplay again. Worse puns out there and places to be for sure. He has flattered me with an offer of the CEO position, with my choice of location. It excites me but I am just going to let this trip play out for now.

And that is one of the major lessons I have learned on this continent of chopsticks which I somehow wish were sparkly and chapatis which I always find tasty. There’s a million, maybe a billion with a “b”, variables and time has made me look foolish when I have rushed decisions. For example, I spent a major portion of one night in a bathroom after some dodgy streetfood, alternating visits with Yanara. THAT rearranged some plans. On second glance, it was fortunate that our bathroom visit timing alternated smoothly like that. Not quite like the fruit muesli and my questions for random co-diner Steve (where questions were frequently compromised for heaping spoonfuls). Sadly, no logical video game references came out of that night either. (Not unless there is one about pukin’ and poopin’ and bland soup and toast and a week’s worth of antibiotics that I forget about.) So I merely set about learning one of Fudgy’s many simple lessons. Take your time. Toobin’ in Laos is a state of mind. I buy it because it’s Truth.

PS-Bali has the best bananas I have ever tasted.

PPS-if I somehow mistook a charlatan for a wise Sage, the laugh is on him because he forgot to ask for cash or pints of blood. I write that jokingly out of gratitude for his Purity and to gently address skeptics.

PPPS-Thanks to those of you who encouraged me to write again.

PPPPS-our bathroom night led indirectly to receiving a teaching from the Dalai Lama in Dharamshala. Not terrible.

In “Golden Poopy” I mentioned Yanara’s writing talent blew me away. Well, Yanara-ji received admission notification from a highly competitive Phd writing program at the University of Denver toward the end of our time in India together. That timing was pretty perfect.

Our unibrowed friend in Jaisalmer would now have additional material for his reverent songs. Birds migrate south when he furrows his brow into v-formation. He beckons peace when those two furry fingers go skyward at an acute angle. I think the top of his nose gets better reception when those bunny ears are set just right.

Posted by: PG | February 28, 2010

The Natives Are Restless

Dommy and Tommy return to Hungary from ten months’ travels in one week. Like an excitable Kindergartner’s first day outfit, their top travel tales are raring for attention. Dommy’s common thread: we-nearly-died-but-it-made-a-good-story. (She likely passed up themes such as “maiming-be-damned” and “worth-the-nub.”)

Her finale, told around a desert campfire under a Van Gogh-ian Starry Sky, involves unscriptably bad luck rather than prospective death. She relays an ill-fated day of snowboarding which entailed: 1) two mid-air collisions, one with an ice wall, providing a black eye and another with a fellow snowboarder, registering a badly bruised shin; 2) an errant or precisely aimed ice ball blackening and bloodying her other eye; and 3) a fainting spell (nearly blind and dragged to a club by friends, she limps out to the dance floor only to offer a round of drinks when a disco ball falls on her head and she faints. You’re generous to a fault, Dommy.) The absurdity strains my belief to near-breaking point like a delicate chewing gum isthmus. While I could comfortably stomach another mid-air collision, a second disco ball incident would definitely raise questions.

Emboldened by Dommy’s finesse, Tommy jumps out on the story-telling highwire. Tommy describes the godsend it is for them having an uncommon language. We all see the utility and encourage him to continue. At Macchu Picchu, an overweight woman backs into him while taking a picture. He says to Dommy in Hungarian, “this fat dude needs to watch out!” The woman’s sharp look and gesture immediately indicate Hungarian origins. Tommy processes this but falls a touch short on follow-through–he exclaims further, in Hungarian, “oh shit that’s not a fat man, that’s a fat Hungarian lady!” He subsequently apologizes in English.

Before gaining inkling that memorable characters will theme our Indian Rajasthan trip, Yanara (Wonderlust: Golden Poopy) and I meet Yogi. Yogi, a gracious guesthouse owner in the blue city of Jodhpur, is inexplicably drawn to sharing personal secrets and details with me. He encourages me to pretend I am his cousin with his friend Veronique in NYC. He adamnantly claims she will give me first row seats to concerts. Why, Yogi? “I love her like a mother and treat her like a girlfriend.” Yea..uh..hmm. Impenetrable like an armadillo. A motherly/girlfriend-y armadillo.

Yanara encourages me to get more creative in answering the frequent questions about my heritage. I have my first opportunity when long-haired, 40+, visibly intoxicated Ian asks at the Artist’s Lodge in Jaisalmer. I give my habitual answer however, “I was born in the U.S. Parents born in India.” It occurs to him rightly or wrongly that this makes me eligible for the Indian presidency. Well, Ian, actually I am traveling the country to canvas receptivity towards my potential candidacy. “You’ll be president in less than 10 years. Believe. No bullshit. Believe. No bullshit.” Sometimes he catches me off guard with a second “believe” in a row, just when I figure a “no bullshit” is coming. Judging from the extent and length of the ongoing, nightlong pep talk, I exude uncertainty. What must be a very presidential brand of uncertainty.

He suddenly expresses dismay at whether I will even remember him when I win the presidency. He loses his buoyant boyish ways. Cheer up, Ian! Little does he know he is top contender for campaign management.

A tabla. With the Indian drum in front of him and a menu and a quandary in front of us, he realizes an opportunity to sing an apropos melody. That is, in song, he guides Yanara and me towards his suggested dessert. “Apple strudel. Apple strudel. Apple strudel. AND CUSTARD!!” Think twinkle twinkle little star AND MEGADETH!! As a matter of principle, I embrace passionate dessert suggestions.

Ian fades to black as a spectacularly unibrow-ed, bowl-cutted harmonium player enters the scene while we enjoy our CUSTARDy dessert. Adding a “ji” as a title of respect, he alternately serenades Yanara-ji and Pushana-ji, who I assume is me. I have video of this and hope to upload it soon. In the meantime, it suffices to say his deeply inspired and loud singing enchantingly harmonizes with his Ripley’s believe-it-or-not unibrow. The look of heavy concentration on his face beautifully v-shapes it, like birds migrating south.

We somehow decide to skip Artist’s Lodge the next day. We instead seek out Desert Boy Dhani. It apparently has floor cushion seating. I like to recline while I eat. Maybe even more than getting serenaded with a name vaguely resembling mine. So I ask around how to get there. At a tea shop, a guy provides a loose indication. We thank him and head that direction.

No more than 2 minutes later, he shows up beside us on a motorcycle. He tells us to hop on because he works at Desert Boy Dhani and heads that way. Maybe we reminded him that he was late for his shift. Or maybe we reminded him that he worked there in the first place. Either way, he apparently chugged, shotgunned or funneled his previously leisurely-paced tea, conjured this bike from nowhere and spared not a second in tracking us down. He may have been concerned that time’s passage would lead to trouble contextualizing where we had seen him before. In any event, we decline the polite invitation. He drives off a different direction than the one he told us and never appears at the restaurant. Weird he would just blow off his shift like that.

While in Jodhpur, I asked Yanara whether she thought traveling is more about the people or the places. Their inseparability makes it a pretty academic question, we concluded at the time. It’s probably best to simply enjoy how they complement each other. Traveling with a friend for life met while traveling, and coming across a motley crew of interesting types, through the magical desert of Rajasthan, is a prime example. I love it like CUSTARDy apple strudel and treat it like a fat unibrowed Hungarian on a motorbike. Maybe I’ll make it my campaign headquarters. Believe. Believe.

Posted by: PG | January 15, 2010

The Empire (State) Will Strike Back

“And there will be contests and special prizes tonight. The first will go…[suspense building] to the baldest gentleman. Who is the baldest one? [Using the sugary voice she typically reserves to beckon her cat, Fluffy Mittens Gabor] Come on now, who is the baldest?” While the outcome of this Bourne-esque nailbiter hangs in the balance, Jamie, Srikant, Brooke and I informally wage another contest– outcringing each other. Our New Year’s Eve dinner emcee figures on social acceptability because she calls baldie a gentleman AND bestows a prize. But, Mr. Clean, you settle this. Does that voucher for a free night at a hotel of your choosing take the edge off the dinner-wide attention called to your less than ideal hereditary circumstances? Sure, I can wait till you read all that fine print to answer the question.

Psst. PSST…hey Warbucks. Yea, you Curly. YES! Yes…Listen, an afterthought. Just between you and me, you can get something done about that now, in 2010. This is the future and your genes are the same but the toupee has evolved. Anyway think about it. Because the roving spotlight might find you before you bravely volunteer yourself as baldest next time. And you don’t want to be on the business end of her excitedly drawing attention to the blinding glare. Think about the hair thing so you don’t have to worry about the glare thing. If you’re interested, meet me by the river and bring a nondescript briefcase, not a canvas bag with a dollar sign on it. It’s legal…but shady. Otherwise, the bag would be totally cool. Someday.

Sometime after the highest heels contest, and in between acts by the anti-Dangerfield/anti-Copperfield hybrid entertainer, Jamie and Brooke jointly join the rarified air of prize winners. They place 2nd in a timed contest in which Brooke runs back and forth ~10 yards placing each time a single additional clip in Jamie’s hair. 6 clips. That gets you into the bonus round. Do it again! Well done, both times. Here’s your voucher! (I officially allege cheating–multiple clips per trip–by the first place team but it falls on deaf ears. I had hoped for def ears. Cahoots? I don’t know but suspicion certainly lingers–I’ll tell you that much.)

Jamie and Brooke deserve even MORE credit than their impressive showing alone merits, for three reasons: 1) they hang with the likes of the Srigg and me after the winners’ ceremony–they could afford to be more exclusive; 2) they accept the cheating with more grace than I do; and 3) in their participation, they effectively take the fall for our table’s wild, enthusiastic support of our gracious hosts. They were “rewarded” for our table’s efforts in managing to drown out the crickets.

We head down to the clifftop bar area overlooking the beach as soon as I finish my third dessert plate. Nobody says it, but I feel it: put down the Yule log and let’s go already. I consider protesting. I run my best argument through an internal filter first. “But we’ll miss the hybrid entertainer’s third go-round!” This contention ends up caught in the filter, unlike my idea to suggest egg-and-spoon and/or potato sack and/or two-person/three-legged races to the emcee. So instead I grab a yule log and make a break for it. I strike a chocolatey-faced Heisman once I get off hotel grounds, having evaded would be tacklers. Mid-pose, I note to myself the yule log makes a surprisingly good substitute for a football. No, truthfully, the triumphant choc-face idea got caught by the filter too. So we part, only one among us reluctant. (For the record, if anybody is unclear: I wanted a fourth piece of yule log not a fourth showing of the Rodney/David Anti-Field double threat)

2010 arrives to much fanfare and fireworks. A relatively unlubricated fanfare. Jamie observes with some chagrin, “Finding a beer in Varkala on New Year’s is like finding a Cabbage Patch Kid in a toy store on Christmas Eve in 1984…I thought under communism* everybody gets the same amount.”

The communist cops cane locals to keep them away from the tourists. Yes, like that Singapore thing with that American klepto in the 80′s. Pretty strange. As I dance my way down the streets, I exclaim my sobriety and my western origins as a policeman threateningly glares and raises his cane in my direction. In MY direction. As if. All the makings of an international incident. Srik has my back, “I know that guy, dude. I am from Jersey; he’s from New York.” Which is met with a response of a classic Indian head waggle**, a huge grin, and an accented recognition of Jersey but not New York. Still, he shoos me on. And I was just turning up the heat on that par-tay.

Thank God for the Jerz! That cop is the first ever dude to appreciate B&T. If I had known how much weight Jersey carries over here, I would have mentioned it first. I have a legitimate claim–Srik took in my homeless ass the last 3 months I was in the New York metro area. The Srigg accurately notes, “man, 20 minutes into 2010 and you’ve already faced a caning threat.” Jamie dryly observes how I have taken the heat off the locals temporarily, “An extra glint in their eye…an extra hop in their step. I am sure they feel extra triumphant for not being caned for walking along the beach.” If you know these two, you know how funny this all is. Maybe even if not. I’m not paying attention though because my head is on a swivel looking out for the fuzz. He got to me.

When I am not on the lookout, I reflect and appreciate. Especially in the midst of this trip, it is amazing to celebrate New Year’s Eve (which means a lot to me (Wonderlust: Barber Shop Shaves)) with two friends I have known for a combined 45 years. And Brooke, Jamie’s fiancee, fits in perfectly. The fairly familiar faces and some time away from hostels are welcome. (No hostel could have put on that kind of dinner.) We travel together for just about two equally ridiculous weeks.

“This might change international relations but the story has to be told.” Yea okay Jamie, but be careful what you wish for. This entry will almost definitely compromise your free night at the hotel of your choosing***. Don’t let that take away from the 2nd place finish though. And there’s no shame in 2nd place. I happened to notice 2nd baldest looked pretty happy about it.

*-the state of Kerala is unique in India and the world for that matter. It is the world’s only freely-elected communist government. Interestingly, it has India’s highest literacy rate and life expectancy.
**-in between a nod and a shake, with a circular sort of motion. It can mean either depending on context, but in an agreeable manner even if it means disagreement, which is much less frequently.
***choices extremely limited

PS-I know Jamie and Srik from home in Niskayuna (field of corn in Iroquois–big ups). Meanwhile, as I post this, most of my best friends from college get together for our 9th annual Working Man’s Mountain Weekend. Or palindromically, WMMW. I’ll skip the many ridiculous stories I could tell. A fake squirrel trophy, losing streaks and the hope of ’06, a certain bell at Arby’s, the Price is Right at Wal-Mart, altitude sickness, a full Yankees uniform (with stirrups) and a bet, a Chris Paul tank top and an ill-placed microphone, creative facial hair, 20 red cups, sub sandwiches hidden in garages, mustard in shoes, a rag oily from deep fried turkey (eaten with hot sauce) later figuring into a wrestling match, uncooked ribs and noxious fumes, Christmas Miracles, a broken angel, snow, political debate, wet beds, and an un-doored toilet stall might figure prominently if I didn’t.

In addition to my friends Henry, Will, Anthony, and Jeff getting married to their fantastic fiancees (Fantastic Four? I used “fantastic” before that occurred to me) during the course of my trip, WMMW 9 is the event I will miss most this year. I humored myself by looking up last minute ticket prices for the weekend. Shocking what it costs to get from Delhi to Asheville on short notice, or Houston even with a month’s notice. Would buy me a lot of piping-hot Jalebis. Or yule logs, depending on mood.

Fortunately, I make it back in time for Jamie’s and Brooke’s wedding in late August. I fly in the day before. Don’t tell Brooke and Jamie but I am flying in the hybrid entertainer as a surprise wedding gift. Hope he doesn’t upstage the band.

Posted by: PG | December 16, 2009

Brown or White (Not a song by Weird Al)

My parents emigrated from India in the late 60′s to ensure greater opportunity for their children. Leaving behind their land, culture, and people, they gained an especial sensitivity towards raising my siblings and me with Indian values. As we reached school age they increasingly shared influence, however, with teachers and friends. Moreover, my parents’ intentions softened as they engaged in American life.

Indians commonly refer to Indian-Americans as “coconuts.” Brown-on-the-outside and white-on-the-inside. It isn’t derogatory–just a different mindset. Labels aside, I feel more connected to India than ever. Illustrating varying levels of connectedness over time calls for a montage!

Among the first instances in which brown and white fought for inside supremacy was my first sleepover birthday party. It featured local fave Homestyle Pizza and birthday cake. Home video of little kid antics was recorded on a cutting edge camera the size of a little kid. If I recall correctly, and I am pretty sure I don’t, marketing strategies shifted and Lou Ferrigno replaced Martin Scorsese as spokesman. Camera sales rocketed with the switch. Of course; everybody loved the Hulk. But who remembers the actor who played alter ego Bruce Banner? Google, that’s who. Instead, I Google Scorsese and learn that he turned out okay.

As the evening progressed, my friends tore open my new toys. Upset, I hid upstairs. Here’s why: 1) The brown inside me advocated dutifully regifting those toys to save family money. (My reasonably well-to-do professional parents successfully maintained the illusion of scarcity.) 2) The white inside me was with my friends, “Yea, let’s play!” (It was quite a war. I suggest picturing this as a tiny 8 year old brown me and a tiny 8 year old white me standing on the opposite shoulders of a full size 8 year old brown me, dressed in choice, fashionable hand-me-downs. They shoot each other frequent dirty looks. Lots of mudslinging.)

Regardless of inner conflict, the upshot was that they–my friends not the mini-me’s–understandably got scared and called their parents for rides home in the middle of the night. You might think that one boy saved me from a battle in the war by UNgifting a Nerf Unidentified Floppy Object (U.F.O.) and Go-Bots. But he didn’t. I had big plans for those particular toys. I wouldn’t have paid them forward. All options are on the table as I still seek distance. Drop a line if you know anything about hypnosis.

(The rainbow chip icing on the cake, if you will, is that I hadn’t yet discovered Carvel’s Fudgy the Whale ice cream cake. Ignorant of Fudgy, we tragically settled for a much, much lesser cake (hint: it had rainbow chips). Sadly, Fudgy, we were destined to meet later so that I can’t even call on you as a redeeming quality of that birthday party. Yes, Fudgy, of course I like you better than rainbow chips. No, Fudgy, I am no Marty McFly; I can’t rewrite history even if you do want the rainbow chip cake to gradually disappear from that home video.)

My first and last trips to India further the montage of my travel of the spectrum from a cocoa-ish to ivory-ish interior. Some of my first memories are as a 3 year old in India. I speculate that at that age I was about the same person I might have been had I been born in India. Pretty brown inside. But in eight subsequent trips, as I grew older and further away from early foundations, I saw India with increasingly Western eyes. This little coconut was progressing.

I took pictures which illustrated obvious differences between India and the West in my last trip here in 2004. This included: a beautiful ROYGBIV shop display of vibrant saris; heart-wrenching poverty stricken kids; the street-side art of making hot Jalebis (deep fried batter soaked in syrup); and my personal favorite, the Indian mini-van (family of 8 riding a two-person scooter-uh, yea, I think that’s another leg.). I told my mom that India was no longer me. I saw only differences. She tactfully ridiculed that suggestion.

Returning five years later, momma Goel’s wisdom shines. I feel a strong connection to the land of my heritage. I spend more time on this trip here than any other country for a reason. Reasons actually. Reconnecting with warm, loving extended family (almost all of which lives here). Learning fascinating Indian philosophy (which I may choose to study more extensively and formally when I return). Trying to gain a better understanding of rural India through work with NGO’s (have been privileged to see the great work of two, Lend-a-Hand India and ODAM). And exploring India’s rich spiritual side through its powerful places, meditation courses and yoga masters.

I offer two brief episodes from this trip to India, 2009-2010, as the last in the montage.

#1

I start with Ananya, the adorable four year old daughter of my cousin. (I can never remember if that makes her my second cousin or first, once removed. Because I’ll forget anyway, that potential Google search is going the way of Bruce Banner.) She recently moved here from the UK where she was born, returning with her Indian-born parents. She is a tiny living bridge between East and West.

Nonetheless, shifts between brown and white can occur more rapidly at a young age. More malleable insides. My cousin Prerna laments the rapid loss of her cute British accent and manners. Still, she is the politest girl in her pre-school class, her new Indian teacher informs Prerna.

Like a few days prior, we play the game where Ananya announces the word’s initial sound, “Gah-Gah-Gah.” This time instead of animals she wants me to guess the gift she has generously decided to give me before I leave for the airport. I am stumped. “God. He will make your mind more true,” she says precociously and matter of factly as she hands me a small figurine.

#2

It proves relevant that his terrible English is marginally worse than my weak Hindi. I barely realize it’s happening or that my actions could inspire such violent intent. He runs after me. Snarling, he unveils his red paan-stained (Betel leaf with areca nut and tobacco) teeth as he grabs a rock and raises it in pure fury. I note even in shock my good fortune that he doesn’t instead pick up the nearby glass bottle.

My body alight with fight-or-flight, I disgustedly throw the 30 rupees (~65 cents) in his face. Despite the gross insult, rage drains from the auto-rickshaw driver. He scrambles to recover the three notes. I withheld the 30 rupees on principle because of a destination mistake. Within minutes, however, I learn I am mere blocks from my phoophaji’s (respectful title for paternal uncle through marriage) home. We ultimately communicated just fine.

In my relationship with India, a new spectrum has emerged. It isn’t about brown insides or white insides. What a stupid framework. It is about polite little girls and rickshaw drivers trying to make ends meet. It is about gifts and insults. It is about God and violence. It is about true astonishment and remarkable embarrassment. No I can’t rewrite history. But I can view things through a new lens. This journey through India is my much-needed study in Truth and Misunderstanding. It’s a degree in Fudgy the Whale and Rainbow Chips.

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