Monday, August 30, 2010


I recently hiked into Havasupai with a group of friends.  It was enjoyable, if not too short of a trip.  I enjoyed the company, the beauty, the swimming, and the hiking.  Though the hiking got the best of me, my body feeling the effects of the uncommon exertion.

What struck me most on the whole trip was the connection that was shared between all the hikers, who were complete strangers from different places—some as far as Greece.  Here is what I noticed.  As a suspicious person I always weary of leaving things out in the open, unlocked and unprotected.  But that feeling was non-existent as I left my pack with all of my supplies out in the open while we left for our day adventures.  If my pack were stolen I would have no food, fuel, clothing or essentials.  But I wasn’t concerned. 

Then there was the conversing.  It wasn’t uncommon, actually it was the norm, to say hello to other hikers as they passed.  It was easy and natural to ask where they were from and how long they were staying.  Conversations were struck up at the spring, on the path and at the swimming spots.  On our hike out we joined up with two other hikers and talked for miles worth of trudging along.

Part of it is attributable to the fact that we all are the kind of people who pay the price to enjoy something.  The 11 mile hike weeds out the lazy, weak, overly busy and selfish.  But there is more than that.

What it comes down to in my mind is Camaraderie.  I like the word comrade (aside from its communist association) for what it represents.  It comes from a Latin root camera that means chamber or room. The word simply meets chamber-mate.  The feeling I get from it is “We’re in this together.”  There is a link and a connection shared by two or more different people.  That connection makes all the difference.  It’s the same connection that sports fans share, students from the same school share, those from the same religion share and weird sci-fi movie fans share.

There is power in joining with others in a mutual cause.  The one unifying factor that I wish were more powerful was the idea of American.  For all its potential and past power that idea has become weakened.  It is sad that there are so many forces driving people apart.  I wish that there was more coming-together.

For me I realize the need to do more and be more.  I feel like it is my responsibility to step up and start to connect with others on a level deeper than appearance.  I need to see people and not immediately start looking for differences, to not immediately start judging.  What I need to do is find out the common ground.  I imagine “We’re all in this together” more that we think.

The Year was 2022

The year was 2022.  The wall was finally finished.  It had been a battle to finish it.  There were critics and opponents.  But the project that needed to get done was finally completed.

It spanned from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico between two countries; Mexico and the United States.  There was 225km separating California from Mexico, ­­­­560km separating Arizona, 300km bordering New Mexico and over 2000km along the Texas border.

The fence was designed to keep people out.  Before the fence there was unmitigated migration.  Those who wanted to leave their country and seek a happier life in a more promising land would make arrangements and leave.  They would cross the desert in the more desolate and remote areas.  Crossing near the border towns had become too risky.  Security was much higher there.  Those who were lucky had contacts, friends or family where they were going.  They had a chance.  Those who were less fortunate tried going it alone with out aid and without help.  It was dangerous but worth the risk.  In the years just before the completion of the fence the government had become less compassionate.  The policy of deportation was abandoned and those caught were executed after a very speedy trial.  The system had abandoned leniency and mercy.  It was under those words that the government became week and lost control of the situation.  It became necessary to take harsh measures to protect and fortify.  The new watch-words were immediacy and  severity.

Before the fence had been completed the influx of people was destroying the country in which they sought refuge.  The economy could not support the jump in population, nor the competition for scarce resources.  There were too many people to be housed in legitimate homes.  Large slum area sprang up.  The food produced was not sufficient to feed all the hungry mouths that cried for it.  Crime had risen and the burden on law enforcement was a taxing burden on the government.  The new arrivals from across the border were not ill-intentioned, but they were not contributing to the system, they were draining it.

It was under all of these circumstances that the fence had finally been built.  It was large and imposing.  There were actually three parallel fences.  The first was a 3 meter chain-linked-barbed-wire fence topped with spirals of razor wire.  It hummed as electricity coursed through it with sufficient power to incapacitate most grown men. 

Those who could get past the first fence—and there were those clever enough to do it—were  faced with the next fence.  The second fence was a rubble pile.  It was composed of boulders, dirt, old concrete fragments, and metal scraps.  It was more of a hill that rose steeply on the north, fell steeply on the south and ran into the indeterminable distance both east and west.  Forty meters past this fence was a stone wall that was a modern desert cousin to the Great Wall of China. It was 8 meters tall and made of granite. The top of the wall was a road along which armored vehicles could drive.  Every 40 meters was a sentry with an automatic rifle.  Their charge was to neutralize any attempted breech of the wall.  The interpretation of neutralize always taken to mean a speedy consultation with the trigger finger.
*          *          *

It was night but everything was bright.  They could see the wall from where they crouched behind a low desert shrub.  They had crossed the desert and were tired, weary and running low on hope.  Their plan had never gotten as far as the wall itself.  They had hoped on divine providence when they arrived.  They hoped for a stroke of inspiration when the time came.  They also relied on the rumor that had circulated among those who said they knew what they were talking about.

There was a rumor that there was a flaw in the system.  They had been told that with luck they could beat the system.  Now was the time to see if it would really work.

One shadow crouching in the dark was a man, the other was a woman.  They were married.  Husband and wife.  They were without children.  They had children, but they had been taken.  Now they had no children.

“Well, it's now or never,” said the man as he looked to his wife through the darkness.  All he could make out was an outline of a face and the whites of two eyes.  He reached out and took her hand that had moved up to meet his.  They gave a mutual squeeze of reassurance, though neither was calmed by it.  They were both terrified and were only acting strong for the other.

“Okay,”  she whispered, “I love you.”

“Forever,” he said to her, which was his way of saying he lover her too.  He leaned forward and kissed her on the forehead.  “It’s now or never.”

“Never,” said a man’s voice behind them.  He spoke in their language but with a heavy accent.  “I’m sorry…”  There was no pity or compassion in the voice.

Staccato blasts rang out in the dark night.  Rat-a-tatt-tatt.  Pause.  Rat-a-tatt-tatt.  Silence.

A uniformed officer stood over the two bodies that he had just mowed down.  The man and woman were dead.  Or would be in a matter of seconds.

The man felt the bullets enter his body with a detached attitude of observation.  I am going to die, he thought, so close, and not quite there.  He moaned, his last audible sound as a living creature.  He had one last thought before expiring.  So close to Mexico, he thought, and here I am dying on California soil, I can’t even die a free man.

“Perdóname señores,” said the man in the uniform as he lowered his gun.

*          *          *

The year was 2022.  Two dead bodies lay within sight of the wall that separated the United States and Mexico.  Their blood soaked into American soil.  The Mexican agents were not concerned that they were patrolling on American turf.  The trespassing was justified in their eyes.  It was part of the cost of keeping people out.

It wasn’t too long ago that the direction of migration was just the opposite.  But that all changed when the voice of the people was overruled by a vocal minority and by judges who thought they were above the popular vote.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Fair's Facade

I wanted to tell him that it wasn’t real. I wanted to tell him that it was all a lie. He wouldn’t have listened and wouldn’t have believed me. It is impossible to convince someone against something they want so badly and have convinced themself to be true.

He was about my age or a little older, about ten. It has been decades since I saw him for the first and only time, and yet the memory is new and clear while many before and after it are worn out, forgotten or discarded. I remember because it was the night that I first saw and understood.

He had light brown hair bright blue eyes that shown. When I saw him his eyes were full of pleading. His fate was that of every kid that came to the fair—he had lived the magic and the joy but then time expired and he had to leave. It was time to abandon what was so powerfully enchanting and perfect and go back to his regular dull life that was full of mundane and common. The pain in his eyes was real; he was being taken from freedom and back into captivity. And the freedom was only so recently gained as he had come through the front gates at the beginning of the evening. With the autumn moon high in the late night sky it was time to pass under the same entrance arch that had welcomed him as a friend. Now, however, that once happy arch was a stranger, cold and uncaring. Under the gate and into the dreary dark he would have to pass. The sign was no longer welcoming, it was an austere judge with a sentence to be meted out, a punishment pronounced upon a powerless victim; exile. The words painted on a small sign were faded and the invitation was hollow, come again soon.

I saw in him every child that had ever come to the fair. They were all the same and they didn’t know it. They thought that their misery was individual, unique.

I don’t know why he stuck in my mind the way he did. I don’t know why it was with this boy that I first saw things as they really were. But as I finished the night shift all I could see was his face and his eyes. Maybe it was that I had seen him right before his father had told him it was time to leave. One moment he was the happiest person in the world. His face was full of light and his smile was natural. Then in a single moment it was all taken from him. A few words drained all the energy from him. Nothing changed in his surroundings, but it was as if his most prized possession had just been stolen from him. He should have been happy and yet he wasn’t. He had friends, he had two parents and they had money to spend on a night at the fair. In reality he wasn’t unlucky.

Really he was lucky. It’s best when kids leave while the party is still going. They are torn away from the magic and so the lie remains intact. The illusion persists because they left wanting more, never really seeing the truth. If they stayed longer they would see the crowds thin out as others left. Then everyone would be gone. Then the booths would close and they would see the trash that littered the grounds, they would see the fair in a new light, less light. All the colored and sparkling lights extinguished. They would hear the silence, the absence of the music and prattle of hundreds of children, the noises that are easily mistakable as the sound of happiness.

Those that were torn away too soon continued in the lie. They could still believe in the perfect place. It still existed in their imaginations and it could live in a corner of their minds as a retreat in moments that needed cheer. Unfortunate were the few that stayed too long and saw the unraveling of the dream. They saw things as they were and the image would be seared into their brains not to be forgotten. For them the sweetness gave way to a bitter aftertaste. What was supposed to be something above the plain of normal bland life lost its towering heights. Mount Olympus where the gods lived was reduced to nothing more than a hill and a handful of skillful illusions.

The boy’s pleas rang in my ears as I packed up my family’s booth. I was a glad that he didn’t know the fair the way that I did. I was also a little jealous of the oblivion he had, as if it were a tangible possession that he could have given me, but wouldn’t.

I saw past the facades. I knew that behind the colorful building fronts and the canvas tents there was the reality. The fair as a place was something normal dressed up in a costume just like any of the performers that worked in it. It was a continual Halloween costume. What is a costume if it is the only thing ever worn? Does it make it reality, or a gross lie?

I finished my work at the booth and headed back to my family’s trailer, back home. I ducked behind a wall that visitors never saw behind and into the truth beyond. Everything was exposed, wires, pipes, trash bins, old broken equipment, and props. The path to my trailer was a narrow and winding one that would have been confusing to a newcomer, but I had walked the path so often I could have done it in the dark.
I realized that the fair was a beautiful exterior to nothing. I rounded the last corner and saw the trailer that I had known as home for as long as I could remember. It was ugly. Ugly and worn. The paint was faded and peeling. It was covered in dents and dings. It had random graffiti on it and old carnival posters in every condition from new to shabby.

To my nine year old mind it seemed like a shambles. I felt poor when I looked at it. I felt cheated and left out of luxury. I walked up, opened the door, and stepped in. And I realized that my home was telling a lie as much as the fair. It was the same kind of lie but the exact opposite. It was the lie of contradiction—the lie of appearance. My trailer told the lie of the fair turned inside out.

It was only my father and I that lived there and we were poor. Poor and yet we had everything that we needed. We were happy and home was home because we felt comfortable and safe there. It was where I was truly myself, not a performer in a costume. My dad wasn’t some juggling entertainer, just dad. We could talk and dream and plan for the future we wanted.

The fair ugliness was clothed in beauty. My home was happiness clothed in ugly.

The boy with blue eyes and brown hair would keep the image of the fair for a long time but I had something much better. How much better I didn’t realize at the time. Since then I have grown up. I have seen more and I understand more.

I wondered what the boy’s life was really like. I had assumed that he had everything. He had a mom and a dad, they had money and things I assumed he had lots of friends and, well everything. My generalizations were formed in the shadow of immaturity.

I said that I first understood that night I saw the boy. That is only partially true. It took much longer. The memory was kept fresh in my mind until the time came that it could really be understood. That boy held on to the idea of the fair because it was beautiful. There wasn’t enough of that in his life. I imagine that his life was like my trailer. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t inviting. The difference was that it wasn’t a lie. What was on the inside exactly matched the outside.

Back then I was jealous of him, that boy at the fair. Now I feel sad for him. I feel pity. I wonder who he is and what he has become. I wonder if he has found beauty in his life. Wherever he is and whoever he is, I hope he is happy. I hope that he made for himself a life that doesn’t make him believe the pretty lies.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Story Weaver

“Is it true?” the storyteller asked, repeating the question that he had just been asked.  “Hmmm…” his voice trailed off.  Slowly he closed his eyes and bowed his head, thinking of an answer that would be adequate.

He was an old man and it showed on his hunched and frail-looking frame.  He sat leaning slightly forward.  With his eyes closed he almost looked dead.  Only his breathing showed that he was alive.  His shoulders moved up and down ever so slightly.

His skin was sun browned and wrinkle worn.  His hair was white and fine, like wispy clouds that drifted in the afternoon sky.  It hung over his temples and ears but was swept away from his brow, showing the furrows that were the result of his focused thinking.  He wore simple clothes.  A linen shirt and leather vest, a green and brown coarse canvas cloak with the hood thrown back, trousers with patches on the knees, and a pair of leather boots that looked comfortable though worn and durable yet old.  His sleeves were rolled half way up his hairy forearms.   His hands were large and sat atop his gnarled walking stick, fingers intertwined.  The stick was no decoration.  He was obviously a traveler.  He looked frail, but in reality there was strength hidden under the façade of frailty.  He could out-walk most of the youngsters that sat around him on the grass in the little clearing.

The crowd of children and adolescents were a common ornament to the man.  Wherever he went he attracted them.  They came for the excitement, to see something new and for the stories he told.  He was a master of storytelling.  He opened his mouth and out came the stories.  The audience was always drawn in.  It didn’t matter what kind of story he told, it was captivating.  He told of adventures, love, mystery, magic, and struggle.

His eyes were closed.  He was not using them to see what was around him.  Instead he was creating an image in his mind.  He saw a man strolling through a green wood.  He recognized the figure as himself.  He watched as he stooped and picked something up from the ground.  It caught the sun and flashed for a moment before being deposited into a leather pouch hanging from his waist.  The man continued walking, picking up objects from the ground; stones, pieces of glass and metal, twigs, a lost coin, and other odds and ends.  Then the scene shifted and the man was sitting at a work bench.  Before him were scattered a thousand small bits and things.  He was arranging them. He was putting them in what looked like a randomness, and yet he took such care.  There was order though.  The man leaned back and took in the whole of his work.  He had been making a mosaic.  There was order to the arrangement after all, there was an image formed out of chaos.  It was the image of a small smiling child with outstretched arms.

No, thought the story teller, it’s not right. With a mental swoosh of the hand he cleared the image from his mind.  The idea of myriad pieces was right but the assembly was wrong.  He created a new mental image.

He was looking at himself again, still sitting but no longer at a work bench.  Instead he was on a low stool sitting before a large wooden frame.  On the frame was a work of fabric.  On his lap, on the floor around him and next to him in a large overflowing sack were pieces of cloth.  They were of every color, pattern, size, material and shape imaginable.  His figure was taking loose pieces and adding them to the tapestry-like material.  With nimble fingers he was sewing it all together weaving and intertwining it into one whole.

Even though he was looking at fragments of cloth he knew that they were really representing snippets of stories. Some were true, having happened to himself, others were stories of those he had known or had heard about.  Some of the pieces were his own thoughts and ideas, others were invented anecdotes and the such.  It was an artistic act to fit and blend so many different pieces together.

The scene changed and he saw himself standing in front of the finished work.  It was beautiful.  A single large work.  Looking closely he could discern the small parts, but they were only visible under scrutiny for their working was in concert.

Yes, he thought, that is right.  A story was the creation of many pieces.  Some literally true, others true for the principle they taught even though the details were fabricated.  Some pieces mimicked the truth though weren’t it in reality.  Other parts were plain fabrication for the sake of beauty or to help hold the story together.

How to answer a question that has so rigid?  The story had true parts and parts that were not strictly true.  It was not wholly true nor wholly false.  It was somewhere between the two.  But the boy who asked the question would not understand it that way.  The boy liked the story but didn’t really understand the scope of it.  He was the type who thought a story was simply the telling of events chronologically.  Those who think that way find that others aren’t captivated when they tell stories of their own.  There were others like the boy with the question wherever the storyteller went.  It gave him a tinge of sadness.

It was only a moment that he had his eyes closed.  It only took that long to see what he imagined.  He took a deep breath and opened his eyes.  The frame that had looked nearly dead only a moment sooner came to life.  The eyes were the energy of his whole body.  They were eyes that saw deeply and clearly, they sparkled a brilliant blue as they met those of the boy.

“Is it true?” he repeated again.  “Yes, it’s a true story.”

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Destination vs. Journey

I try to avoid clichés.  With such a versatile language that offers such a large word choice like I feel like I can do better to create my own ways to expressing myself than to simply parrot a phrase that has been in circulation for, well forever.

One cliché is, “It’s not about the destination; it’s about the journey.”  When I hear that I understand the point that is searching for expression.  And yet I can’t help but to mentally criticize.  I have been making a mental list of those who have said that phrase.  At some point I will invite a few of them on a road trip.  I’ll tell them that we’re going to San Diego.  I think that is a nice destination. I hope they share my enthusiasm.  We’ll meet on the determined day and the set hour and load up the car.  We’ll have our bags, pillows, books and snacks.   We’ll hop in the car and start driving.

I’ll head out East on the I-10 through Phoenix.  We’ll drive to Quartzite on near the California border.  We’ll then head south on the 95 arriving eventually at Yuma.  From there I will take the 8 west and eventually get back to the I-10.  At that point it is a simple northbound hour back to the Valley where we started.

I will announce triumphantly from my driveway where we started that it was a successful road trip.  When the protests arise that I am crazy and that we never got to where we were going I will simply reply that it’s not so much about where we did or didn’t get, but that it was the journey that was important.  I will feel a petty sense of victory over those silly cliché users and will go my way feeling like I did the universe a favor by throwing their words in their faces.

And yet.

Perhaps they have reason.

Yesterday I heard the phrase, “See the end from the beginning.”  It is a phrase that I only recently understood.  Initially I understood it from the perspective of looking down upon a planned course, like a map.  I could locate my starting point and I could find the destination.  I could easily connect the two dots with a bold red line.

More recently my understanding changed.  My vantage point moved from being on an elevated plain looking down, to being confined to the actual starting point, more like the one that I experience in my life.  With that perspective seeing the end from the beginning means to know where one is going despite the fact that vision is limited by many obstacles.  This means to see not with the physical eyes but to see with an eye of vision.  Arriving at that level of clarity often is the result of clairvoyance or tapping into a source above our own.

And it is here that my journey-promoting friends may have reason.  Because my thinking may still be too map-like in its understanding of travel.  My notion retains its from A to B confines.  What if after all it is from A back to A, just like my silly destinationless road trip?

Life may be a series of journeys that take us back to our departure spot.  We travel in full circles arriving, to our surprise, back where we started.  When we find ourselves again where we started we may curse ourselves, others or a higher power that we blame for taking no interest in our well being.  If we do, we may have failed to see the end from the beginning.  We may not be seeing with an eye of vision.  When our setting seems familiar perhaps we should take a look at ourselves to see if there is any change.  It may just be that there was truly value in the journey and the real destination is a better self that has grown, matured and improved.

And to echo Job’s words which themselves have become cliché, we come into the world with nothing and leave with nothing.  Life then is a journey with no real destination, unless of course that destination has been to arrive at a better version of ourselves.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Purpose of this Blog

My passion is creation.  One outlet for that passion is in writing.  For years I have written as a means of expression.  Mostly I write short story because of my love of the intrigue of a good story.  I also write thoughts and ideas, essays, and articles.  For the most part my writing is seen by few.  It's not that I consider it private or personal, I simply have not had an audience, nor have I gone out of my way to make it available.   This blog will serve as my form of publication.  I am now making my work public.  I will post some older work as well as new pieces that are written with the specific end of posting here.  I look forward to the practice I will get not only by writing more frequently but for an audience as well.  I look forward to any input from those of you who read my work and want to comment.

Welcome and thanks for reading.