A Better Bench

Spain 3 Comments »

The square in front of Sea Point Hostel is a big stretch of flat grey stone tiles that ends at the beach which goes a bit, then dips quick, hiding the place where Barcelona touches the Mediterranean. People walk in all directions drawing an imaginary mess of paths. A few tables stuffed full with lingering groups remain scattered far from each other. It’s closing time and as each group gets up the waiter comes quickly and takes their table away. The sun is setting and long shadows cast the grey ground dark, but things with height stay golden and the calm sea, still bright, moves left against the warm shaded sand.

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A Strange Goodbye

France 4 Comments »

Living at Shakespeare & Company was good although not in the ways I’d expected. Having to be there to help open and close at noon and midnight, in addition to a two hour shift at some point between, really broke up the day. We all found it difficult to spend any substantial amount of time reading or writing. I had some conversations with the 93 year old owner, George Whitman, while cleaning his apartment and he was very bold in explaining how writers staying there never had to work when he ran the store (his daughter runs it now). The point was to be hospitable and to foster creativity and learning. However, I did find ways to make the time constructive. I tried getting my shift as early as possible, then would take off to a café where they’d let me sit with one cup of hot chocolate all afternoon. I didn’t get too much reading done, but I’m currently in the middle of four fictional short stories, so all time was not wasted.

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My Autobiography for George Whitman

France 9 Comments »

The ninety two year old and wildly alive owner of Shakespeare & Company, George Whitman, requires a one page autobiography be written by everyone who stays in his library. Below is the one I wrote. George lives in a small apartment above the store. The place is a clutter of books, newspapers and autobiographies written by the 70,000 plus others who came before me. He was sitting on his bed reading when I walked in and handed this to him.

I’m told I was conceived in a Las Vegas hotel room. My mom’s small, four feet eleven inches, so they had to cut her open to get me out. I was chubby and healthy and grew up on Cheerios and Sesame Street. I asked “What if” about everything. What if the car broke down? What if the sky was green? What if dinosaurs were still alive? My first grade teacher made my mother cry when she told her I was a maniac and would never amount to anything. I had to take home behavior notes for most of my early school years.

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Oooo La Laaa!

France 2 Comments »

When I got off the plane in Paris I had one thing on my mind; finding a hotel where I could watch David Blaine hold his breath for nine minutes and escape from chains inside a water bubble. I spent about four hours on foot searching hotels near the airport and in the city, which was an hour train ride away. It started raining and my plans sank, but so did David; I couldn’t find a hotel with ABC and he lost consciousness at seven minutes. What a couple of bum magicians.

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Taj Mahal

India No Comments »

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Shakespeare & Company

France 4 Comments »

When I told my uncle the lawyer I’d be traveling and writing, he told me if I wanted to know how to travel and write and how to write about traveling, then I needed to read Hemmingway. So I’ve been reading lots of Hemmingway lately. My uncle’s been my toughest critique growing up. In school my grades were never good enough and I never tried hard enough, but I must have liked it because I’ve always gone back for his advice. He reads more than anyone I know, except for my friend’s wife who reads a book every two days and you can hear it when she talks. I’d like to know that many words, but I do too many things and don’t have the time.

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From the Taj to the Eiffel

France 6 Comments »

The plan was to go to China next. Last week I booked airfare from Delhi to Hong Kong on Bangladesh Airlines that departed on the eleventh of May. The price was $330 and I put down a $100 deposit. I also bought a bus ticket from McLeod Gange to Delhi for last Friday. I’ve always wanted to see that half of the world and I’d have about two months if I was to make it London by the good weather in early July.

When I went to pick up my tickets on Friday, they weren’t in. Evidently there was some mix up and they wouldn’t be available until the next day. The travel agency offered I pay the balance in Delhi and pick up the tickets at their office there. I’ve heard plenty of stories of proof of deposits in India suddenly becoming invalid, so I insisted in getting my money back. They gave it to me on a handshake. I gave the travel agent a $2.50 tip and told him I’d pick up the tickets in Delhi.

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Ten Days at Tushita – Part 4 of 4

India No Comments »

Another entire dimension of the course was the teaching in Tibetan Buddhist Philosophy. I was impressed with the basic ideas of Buddhism. There is too much to write about entirely, but there are some things that really struck me. The biggest is the idea that all humans are in a state of suffering, which sounded negative at first, but eventually I liked it. Everything we do that makes us happy, eventually fades and then we need to do more. Thus our normal state is suffering and we’re constantly trying to become happy. Someone suggested that it was a glass half empty kind of thing. I found a better way of looking at it as the glass itself is suffering and the water inside is happiness. We do things to keep water in the glass, but it’s sitting on a picnic table and the sun is always out.

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Ten Days at Tushita – Part 3 of 4

India 1 Comment »

I’d been practicing meditating here and there for a month prior to the course and for the morning meditations I had much the same experience. The idea was to follow the breath, labeling the in-breath as “rising” and the out-breath as “falling”. Any time the mind would wander, the thing to do was label wherever my mind went and then go back to breathing. If I was distracted by a sound, I’d say (to myself) “hearing, hearing, hearing”, then go back to my breath “rising, falling, rising, falling…” And if I caught myself daydreaming…”thinking, thinking, thinking…rising, falling, rising, falling…” The technique is to take an observers point of view of the activity in the mind and what happened was slowly I’d start wandering off less and less. I’d follow my breath longer and longer and the thoughts in the background would fade. It was as if my cognitive mind wasn’t getting any attention from my focus or awareness, so it would just give up. After awhile things in my body would start to feel different. There were twisting sensations, which often felt like I was bending my head to the point where my right ear was on my shoulder or my left arm was twisted completely around. Sometimes I couldn’t tell which hand was which and a couple of times I felt like I was being stretched ten feet tall. Once it even felt as if I was completely outside my body.

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Ten Days at Tushita – Part 2 of 4

India 1 Comment »

By the Gompa was an area with stone walls and gardens. It was a good place to sit and read and good for the monkeys to play in. I couldn’t believe how many there were. Twenty, maybe thirty. I had seen them at zoos but never that close. I forgot how much like people they are and for a long while I watched them eat and leap from trees to power lines to flag poles and roof tops. I was jealous of them too. A monk came by and seeing me watch them she said “they do attack you” as she kept on by. ‘Do attack’ was kind of matter of fact, I thought. It seemed so causeless and definite. I thanked her with a smile and figured her English must be off.

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