There’s a point we come to where we realize invincibility
just isn’t a thing. For many people, one of the steps toward that is when they
have a child and they start feeling this responsibility to this tiny vulnerable
But then there’s another phase, the reckoning v2.0.
For me, I’ve had a few friends and such on the peripheries
of my life die in recent years, my parents too. But I remember a moment from
when I was eight or ten or so, when my mother’s best friend, Dorothy, died of
the flu after calling her mother to say she wasn’t well and needed some ginger
ale. She was dead on the floor when her mother arrived, maybe age 40.
I reflected on Dorothy this year as I got ready for a flu
shot, age 45, because I knew I would be on four flights and a train during flu
season in Italy and it was the responsible thing to do. I remembered how alive
she was, how fun she was, then how dead she was.
So it happens that today Luke Perry died, and I find myself
indescribably sad tonight. (I really shouldn’t have watched A Star is Born tonight. Wow. Holy oversight.)
When I was a about 16, 17, Beverly Hills 90210 was THE THING. Jason Priestley was a Vancouver
(but really Tsawwassen) boy and it was required to watch our GUY on what was
the hottest show on TV. And then Luke Perry was cast, and Brandon looked like a
schmuck next to this intolerably cool surfer.
At that time, programming for our age group really missed
the mark. Very little spoke to us, and that show was the breakaway hit that was
to teen programming what The Breakfast
Club was to us nearly a decade before.
And whatever the rest of the cast was, Luke Perry was a complex
character that brought the real. He was a fuck-up that we all related to and we
wanted to see him come out on the other side. Yeah, he was hot, but he had soul,
The next generation got Tim Riggins and Friday Night Lights. We had Dylan McKay.
I remember where I was when I found out that George Michael
died. I can’t remember who came first, him or Carrie Fisher in that Christmas
that sucked, just after my dad’s death, but George was the guy I turned to with
a broken heart. His songs about insecurity and abandonment and loss really
spoke to me, but when he died, I felt betrayed and angry. In a way, he drank
himself to death and sort of lost the plot well before he died.
And other people have died since, but okay, it’s depression,
it’s suicide, it’s alcohol, it’s drugs, it’s irresponsibility.
Luke Perry, though, by all accounts was relatively healthy,
wasn’t known as an addict or alcoholic. He had a stroke. Something people over
45 die from because of age, because they had some butter, because they needed
to jog a bit more or something, or because a blood vessel just said, “oops,
sorry” and the brain glitched. It’s a variation on the death that’s coming for us
all, and he didn’t cause it.
And why I’m sad tonight is, I know he’s not the last. I know
this is when it begins in earnest, when my youth falls away and the people and
fabric of my life slowly slip into the goodnight.
Every generation reaches this point, when it starts, like a
roller coaster peaking before the arms-up-screaming unstoppable descent.
I guess I’m taken aback by this feeling that, somehow, I
lost maybe the last of my innocence today.
And, of course, I’m alone on a mountain in Albania for it
once again, not among friends, not in a place where I can small-talk with others
I know, I’m a writer, I’m supposed to be the one who finds
the words for these strange bubbling feelings inside. But today I can’t, I’m
struggling. It’s about something much bigger than Luke Perry. It’s a kind of
rite of passage that I didn’t want to see coming, a ride I don’t wanna pay
It’s about feeling more grown-up than I ever, ever wanted to
feel. I’ve already buried my parents, so feeling grown-up has been on my mind the
last 2.5 years.
The reckoning v2.0, indeed.
And yeah, it’s about Luke Perry, too. It’s about the guy who
was bad but good, sexy but smart, cool but affectionate. And it’s about the guy
just seven years older than me who’ll be six feet under later this week, all
because a blood vessel stopped doing its job.
Here’s where I come up with some brilliant closing that
makes sense of it all and gives us food for thought and something to make it
all a little easier to swallow.
But no, there’s none of that. No “gather ye rosebuds while
ye may” wisdom or how good it is to burn out than to fade away. Just some teary
eyes, a half-glass of wine left to drink, and dark of night already fallen here
on my Albanian mountain. I’ll sleep, wake, and pretend to be a grown-up again,
going through the motions on my workday. Because that’s what grown-ups do, and
because death is apparently part of my very adult life now.
I fear for the “bubblewrap” generation, raised by helicopter parents, moms and dads hovering in the wings, watching so their kids never get hurt.
From media to games to books to playgrounds, an entire generation has been shaped from the mold sheltering them from all things objectionable or damaging.
Being 45, I’ve watched the evolution of safe-safe-safer coming on since my teens. It’s all around us in North American society, where liability has made our world one of safety rails, warning signs, and adult-content ratings.
It’s the backlash from a generation of latch-key kids. Our parents worked, so we had keys and took care of ourselves. Far too many of my generation grew up vowing their kids wouldn’t feel so abandoned, and then they swung the pendulum the other way.
thing to calm a toddler who fears the fictitious monster hiding under her bed.
It’s quite another to kid ourselves that evil doesn’t exist.
Now, it’s a generation of kids caught between two extremes – on one side, angry they were sheltered from reality while adults fucked it all up, so now they’re fighting for a voice in a world wrested from them that’s in the throes of environmental and political calamity. On the other side, it’s a generation oblivious to calamity, dismissive of real evil, and frustrated that life actually requires adulting, sacrifice, and struggle.
Helter Skelter is somewhat sensational. I don’t remember the writing or whether it might have inspired me to be a writer, but I remember what it taught me when I read it in college. Evil isn’t just a thing done, it’s spread through words. What most people don’t compute about Charles Manson is, he never killed anyone. He simply twisted people’s brains so hard that they did the killing for him.
important lesson in that: Ideas can be
Why do you think every successful dictator ever has basically attacked intellectuals and libraries first? Hitler burned books. Mao killed intellectuals. Franco banned Basques from speaking their own language or learning about their culture. Today, Trump decries the “elites” while living a gold-plated life. It’s why Hungary’s Viktor Orban has slowly consolidated all control of Hungarian press.
Ideas kill. Education changes the world. What we learn, or fail to learn, shapes who we become as people, as societies.
Oversheltered = Vulnerable
If we’re wrapping
our kids in a blanket of safety and love, we’re failing them.
are good people, beautiful people, inspiring people in the world. Yes, love
moves mountains and makes life worth living. But evil is out there too. Far
less frequent, thank God, but it’s out there.
place we control what the world becomes is in school. By teaching our kids the
reality of what we can do, and have done, to each other, we can help avoid such
behavior ever triumphing again.
One country that knows what hate can do is Poland. In Poland, like in so many other places, there’s a hesitance to be truly honest about that history. We want to teach kids some of what history entailed, but we don’t want it to be so scary-real, so we only pull the curtain back a little, rather than showing the full extent of the horrors it hides.
Teach Them, Or Someone Else Will
I taught English to students between the age of 10 and 17 in Poland during the summer of 2018, and I loved the kids. Intelligent, well-read, kind. One girl’s name escapes me but her face is burned into my memory. Among our conversational sessions was a chat on racism. She told me how sad it made her to hear classmates belittling a Muslim kid.
parents need to do better,” I told her.
the parents,” she said. “The Internet teaches them to hate.”
This is the battle we have before us – if we don’t teach our kids, teach each other, then there are interested parties who will fill that role.
Chaos Ushers in the Unthinkable
The strangely funny thing about Charles Manson was that his goal, he said, in doing the Tate and LaBianca killings, in scrawling “death to pigs” on the wall in blood, was to make the city think Blacks did the murders. He wanted to cause race riots, to send the world into what he called “Helter Skelter” mode he dreamed of. In ripping society apart, it could be put back together again.
During the rise of Donald Trump, Steve Bannon spoke about that too, how they envisioned visiting chaos upon America, to dismantle the Republic as it was, so it could be rebuilt in a way that accommodated their world view in all its racist, hegemonic ways.
Remember, it was in the consequential vacuum and chaos of post-World War I that allowed Hitler to point fingers and create a new political era in Germany. Chaos creates a vacuum, and it’s in that vacuum that the unscrupulous capitalize.
Preventing that disorder and the onslaught of ignorant hate all comes down to what’s being taught in the third, fourth, fifth, sixth grades and beyond.
Childhood Ideals Are Powerful
When I was about six or seven, my favourite book was a story of Nazi gold, Snow Treasure, which told how Nazis were basically bad, and how Norwegian children managed to dupe the Nazis and smuggle Norway’s gold out of the country as Nazi occupation began. I didn’t know it then but it was my indoctrination into a life where social justice would be somewhat of a focus. It probably belongs on that list of mine.
At age nine, I was with my mother when a poor, drunk man begged from us. My mother made me give money to him. He’d been made small by life and time, had rotting teeth, dirt all over. I pressed a $2 bill in his hands, a lot of money for someone in his situation in 1983, so he sputtered his gratitude, got on his knees, and prayed for God to bless me.
I was left shaken that Mom “made me” be the donor and upon asking her about it, she simply said I needed to understand that not everyone was lucky in life. It was a significant lesson about the suffering some endure.
Two years later, my father brought me home a book as a gift, Underground to Canada, a young adult reader about the Underground Railway and those who escaped into Canada to leave slavery behind. I learned a sanitized version of slavery. I didn’t understand why one group of people felt justified in owning another group of people, but I knew it was motivated by greed and evil.
The same year, my Yugoslavian classmate was asked if he understood why his family had emigrated to Canada. He promptly told us of the country’s dictator, Josip Broz Tito, and how he tortured dissidents, how his parents were dissidents, and that the fled to survive. That’s when I learned what a studded “cat o-nine tails” whip was.
So Much to Learn
But for all the social awareness I may have had, I grew up financially ignorant. All the people I knew grew up like me, in nice houses, without wanting for much. My parents hid from us how tight things could be with money and the result is that I grew up without good money sense. I would be in debt by 18, and 27 years later I’m still trying to reckon with that.
We’re doing the same thing to the youth, raising them without understanding what the Nazis wrought, what Stalin wrought, what Mao and Franco and Pinochet and Tito and the Khmer Rouge and the Boko Haram all wrought.
Evil isn’t an idea in books, it’s a reality. The only avenue we have to fight it is in teaching our youth who these people are and why we can never, ever go down their road. Whether it’s the man who shouts racist epithets on a street corner or a president who mocks the disabled, we must teach children that small acts of cruelty often segue into something larger, darker, more disruptive.
The small acts are just a test of what we will abide. We must abide none of it.
There Be Monsters
There are monsters. They’re not under the bed. They’re in offices of power, in dark trucks on lonely roads, in the Catholic Church. They’re in all kinds of places we need to be honest about, lest we allow them to remain.
Evil isn’t an abstract idea, it’s the enemy we must fight every day, in every place.
There’s good news too. Just like hatred can be taught, so can love, kindness, and strength.
But for them to understand how important love, kindness and strength are, we must teach them how insidious and easy evil can be. And if we choose to teach neither, someone else will decide the lessons for us.
I miss writing. It’s funny, because I write all the time, every day nearly, for work. Yet I miss writing.
I miss that feeling of a spark to a fire, the combustion of creativity. If you’ve never had it, well, you probably miss it too. If you’ve had it and it’s been a while, you can’t help but miss it. One never feels as alive, as a creator, as when they create often and well.
The trouble with working for a living is, well, it’s work. People will say, “if you love what you do, it ain’t work.” Sure, I love writing as a job. Beats the shit out of ringing things in on a cash register, playing receptionist on a phone, banging out deadlines for captioned television, and all the other things I’ve ever done.
But I’m not writing for me.
Photo by Drew Coffmann
Today I aborted work long enough to write for myself when I was inspired, and in a rare show of devotion, I stuck with it long enough to actually post it on my blog. If you saw how many articles I have squirrelled away under a saved title of “IN PROGRESS: ____________” then you’d be impressed I followed through and posted it too.
There once was a time on this blog that I banged out a post daily. It was, without a doubt, the best period of writing in my life. Not just in the act of it, but I think in the quality and diversity of writing too. I long for that kind of steadfast inspiration, daily do-or-die mentality about being creative and getting things done.
I’m 12-13 years older than I was then. And much more employed. Back in those halcyon creative days of yore, I was out of work, getting laid, and percolating with what would become a blow-out with my mental state in the coming months.
Whatever was wrong with me or my life, I had the good sense to write daily.
When I’m not writing like that – which is to say the last decade-plus of my life – there’s really something off with me. I feel it to my core. I don’t complete my thoughts, don’t feel like I’m in the moment, or celebrate the details that make life so meaningful.
Writing is all about taking a magnifying glass to moments, the world, yourself. It’s about peeling back layers until the truth comes out.
And if you’re a writer and you’re not writing, not for yourself and the truth and the mysteries of life around you, then it’s like being a scuba diver without turning the oxygen tank on full. If so, look out. You may not be long for this world.
When I look at my life – as “amazing” as it is to others – and I look at what’s wrong in it, then it’s all about truths and being honest with myself. It’s about failing to live completely in the moment in a way that really peels it all back.
Writing copiously could change that. But writing more would mean piling on top of everything else I do in my life and further reducing my downtime. That’s a hard commitment to make, especially when in the midst of travelling the world for five years.
But maybe I’m on the verge of an era when I can better manage my time. Maybe the idea of taking my trusty laptop onto the rooftop terrace of my Sicilian apartment (where I head to this week) and writing long into the night will feel like anything but work. Maybe there I’ll come into who I really am and what I should really be, not just as a traveller but as a writer in my new, older, wiser self.
Because when I remember what it was like to write every day and the feeling of being on top of it all and dialled into the world, man, it’s like nothing else.
People like Stephen King will tell you writing’s just a muscle and you’ve got to flex it to be using it, and if you ain’t flexing, then you get what you get.
When I think about that crisp, sharp, aware feeling of writing constantly, I can’t help but to think there’s no place in the world that might be better for rediscovering that feeling than when travelling in Italy.
I leave for Bari on Tuesday and then Sicily on Friday. I’m on the cusp of something I’ve dreamt of for 25 years. Italy. The writer, food lover, photographer – She’s going to Italy. For 11 weeks.
What a thing.
Yeah. I guess it might be okay to press pause a bit more there. Who says I need to write an opus daily, huh? Just a snippet. All those snippets of moments and feelings in a storybook place like Italy and Sicilia. Now that’s an idea.
It’s the start of a hot spring day here in Bulgaria, my way-station of the month. Work is chaos right now, and I took a break this morning, a fluke. About to close the Netflix tab, I saw a clip of the movie Kodachrome, starring Ed Harris, a long-time favourite.
And just like that, I’m falling down memory lane. “Kodachrome”? I couldn’t resist.
In college, I took journalism and photojournalism during the days of film processing with chemicals and darkrooms. My skills were proficient enough that I was hired to be a photolab staffer to supervise other students needing a hand in the dark. For $10.85 an hour, a king’s ransom in the day, I helped others with dodging, burning, processing, drying.
This was my front yard for two years in Victoria, BC, Canada. Kinda I loved living there.
That was the first year of my college program, but the second time in my educational career that I was the last class in one campus before the school transferred to a new, expensive building. The first was high school, where we were the last class in the old senior high, built in the ‘30s, and the next year, my graduation year, the first class in the shiny new 1990 building, with the reek of off-gassing carpet glue.
The next year was the flipside to that. I attended community college in an old warehouse row in the industrial district. It was so run down some areas were considered unsafe. In photojournalism, the darkroom work happened in a decrepit lab. Blackcloth was taped to ceiling tiles to prevent light seepage destroying our photography work. The lab, to put it succinctly, was a shithole. Bad air circulation meant the acrid sulphur of developer and fixer would burn the lungs by the end of a long day. But, still, a night lost to the photo lab was magic for me. A shitty push-button tape player bleeding music, dodging photos. Hours got devoted to creating magic on a blank page through light and chemistry.
The next year, we moved to a new multi-million-dollar campus with a high-tech lab. The old lab, only the freaks like me would see daylight bleed away as time slipped through our hands with hours on end of playing with imagery. In the high-tech new lab, where no blackcloth was needed on the ceiling and where fans whisked the carcinogenic air away, one had to book a couple weeks in advance for time on the fancy new enlargers. There was no slack for those too distracted to clear out by the time the next eager photog ambled in to process and print their rolls. It was a tense and greedy place where the photojournalism kids had stand-offs with the new fancy students in the just-launched Fine Arts and Mixed Media programs.
By then, I’d gotten a weekend job halfway between home and school, printing photos in a Kodak lab. It made me picky about film brands. Fuji was great on nature. Better blues and greens. Kodak was fantastic in portraiture, capitalizing on warmth. Lesser-known Agfa could be great at either but needed a skilled printing hand to correct for a predilection toward cyan tones. I stayed on there for two years, graduating and segueing into a full-time printing gig with the shop.
My boss was a narcissist who thought the world owed him everything. He felt like the big shot in town because his shop was the go-to with many pros. But his “nice guy” act was just that. When the shop was closed, he was demanding and cruel. When I got injured in my second year of printing in his lab, he thought I was lying and launched a complaint against the Worker’s Compensation Board, since I was injured on the job and he was penalized during my compensation pay. But dude caused it by leaving a stapler on the ground, which I’d later step on, rolling my foot and shredding every muscle in my ankle, putting me on crutches for nearly two months.
I had doctors on my side. He lost. I won. But I knew I never wanted to work for him again.
Between that and being trapped at home, I began looking for an escape from my life. See, I couldn’t even drive my car without hurting my foot, so I was stuck in my rural home. None of my city friends took the time of day to visit me. I was 21 and felt dead to the world.
Feeling sorry for myself, I considered leaving Vancouver. Within a week, I was at the library, sending letters to every potential employer in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. The north. The land time forgot.
The resumes went out end of day Tuesday. Friday morning, I had a call. Three days later, the manager flew down for a conference in Vancouver. Three weeks later, I drove 30 hours north, through autumnal British Columbia, got room and board in the Yukon, and became manager of a photography lab.
Once upon a time, I lived in the Yukon, and my big brother came for a visit.
I had hoped it would be the start of a life of adventure and photography. But “life”? Not so much. A year? Yes.
A year, then adventure would come to a halt.
Strangled by bad finances and the high northern cost of living, I schlepped back to Vancouver, got involved with an ex, fell into old routines, and began a decade and a half of treading water while life happened to me, rather than me happening on life.
I managed another Kodak lab, but something was already changing in 1996 – the internet had been born and photography was beginning to go digital. My lab, after nearly two years, announced it was closing. Within a decade, most labs would hear their death knell ring.
Time rolls on and everything ends for some other beginning.
This fall will be the third anniversary of me going all-in on the adventurous life I once hoped I was starting. Almost 24 years to the week I drove north, and I’ll be 45, instead of 21. Back then, my life was ahead of me. These days, I’m probably half-way through life. Maybe more. Who knows, right?
And then I went nomad.
After schlepping back to Vancouver, I slowly lost most of who I was. Feeling beat down and without options, in 2012, I decided to leave once again, moving to Victoria, on Vancouver Island. Three years later, I went nomad, which has been a journey back to who I was, and a reckoning of who I’m becoming, as I travel the world.
But I think we all lose ourselves along the way in life.
Sometimes, I think our lives become a whirlpool. Round and round it goes. Spinning, uncontrolled. We get caught in current and can’t get out. It was like that, for me.
Maybe it still is, sometimes. Maybe that’s just adulthood. Maybe that’s why I played such a desperation move in going nomad.
People ask me why I went on the lam. Like there’s some easy reason. “To travel,” that’s the easy answer. “Because I can,” that’s the other.
Time, though. That’s the complicated answer. Too little of it. Too much of it. Stopping it, wasting it, loving it. Time.
But I think sometimes, if you stop, sit, listen to the wind, stare at the world around you, you can’t help but witness time flitting past you, slipping away, falling into the void. Time stops for none of us. We know this. I’m not sure, though, that we understand it. We take it for granted.
I know I did. I do. It’s a failing and a habit, both human nature and a default setting.
There I was, sitting on the sidelines of life – injured back, unhealthy, living removed from everyone I cared about in my little island home, watching life happen through a picture window to the street outside, and online.
All the while, I seemed to be losing my grasp on what world existed. In Europe, right-wing politics and Nazi fervour seemed to be stoking fires in small pockets. At home, we were more divisive than we’d ever been in my lifetime. Around the globe, the environment was out of control. Tipping points were happening in the march toward climate change, points from which some experts said we couldn’t claw our way back.
Portugal’s Porto Ribeira seems stopped in time.
Age seems to be a curse, as we grow older. It takes age to show us that time is a gift, that experiences – good and bad – are precious. Time is a filter through which we see our lives, through which we learn and grow and move forward.
Urgency and fear, regret and loss, those are the sorts of emotions that have landed me here in this sleepy Bulgarian neighbourhood. They’re emotions that clutch onto us as we age. They’re cumulative emotions, compiling steeper as every year passes.
There’s nothing wrong with being moved by such emotions, as long as there’s hope and optimism somewhere down the road too. Of course there are those; one doesn’t pack everything they own in a bag without a little hope and optimism tucked away.
Kodachrome, the film that tripped me down memory lane, has Ed Harris as a celebrated photographer, speaking to some peers, about what it is that drives them to be photographers. Harris says…
“We’re all so frightened by time, the way it moves on and the way things disappear. That’s why we’re photographers. We’re preservationists by nature. We take pictures to stop time, to commit moments to eternity. Human nature made tangible.”
In a way, perhaps that’s why I’m travelling too. The tangibility of who and what we are.
The other day I walked through Old Town Plovdiv and there, just without warning, without signs, was this graveyard of Roman ruins. Toppled, fallen, broken columns, all carved and weathered for the better part of 2,000 years, built in the 2nd century under Emperor Hadrian, once a gate to the city, a throughway on the Silk Road into Europe, en route to Rome.
It stopped me in my tracks. It’s one thing to see ruins that are celebrated – fenced in, paid admission for, documented, touted. But it’s quite another to happen upon the wreckage of time, a reminder of once-great societies that now lie as detritus on a roadside. Just… there. Beaten and eaten by the winds and weather of centuries past.
Ruins by the roadside in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.
On the one hand, this leaves me with a sense that nothing I do matters, because it all slips away anyhow. When you look at the care and work that went into creating these columns that once were palatial but now lie fragmented and forgotten, it’s easy to dismiss today’s pressures and stresses as silly obligations we’ve brought upon ourselves. We deem things as urgent, unmissable, unneglectable, but the reality is, it just doesn’t matter. It doesn’t.
Delusions of grandeur seem born of empires. Doesn’t matter how great they become, eventually they’re covered by the sands of time and forgotten, or cited as a curiosity from an age long gone.
But on the other hand, there’s something left of them. Here we are, 2,000 years on, marvelling at the traces they’ve left, the lives they lived, the accomplishments they made. What will remain of me? What legacy will I have left? A hundred years from now, as someone who will never have children, will anyone remember my name? Or will I have blown away on the winds of time too? I like to think I’ve changed a person or two in my lifetime. I like to believe the Butterfly Effect, that I’m a cascading ripple on the pond of life.
In the film Ed Harris scoffs at digital photography. He dismisses our society as taking more photographs than ever but leaving no record of them. We’re making “digital dust,” he says.
Perhaps that’s a reflection of our society.
We are the creators of the “disposable” society. Single-use. Never before in history has it occurred to people that a product’s virtue is that it can only be used once. What have we become? What a strange time.
As I walk through history, through streets cobbled centuries ago, this travel life of mine leaves me caught between worlds. In one world, I panic over the legacies I dream of leaving, and in the other I realize none of it matters… that we’re nothing but memories on the wind.
So I live life two ways. Sometimes, I try to suck the marrow from daily life, enjoying as much as I can, worried that if I sleep, I’ll miss everything that matters.
Other days, I’m blissfully content that nothing matters more than doing nothing and watching the world happen. Those days, I enjoy being an observer in a world that doesn’t need me and won’t remember me when I’m gone.
Sometimes, that’s a sad thought. Other times, it’s downright freeing.
Luckily, life is never absolute. We can be this way, then that. Time may be a construct, but as sure as the sun crosses the sky, the time, like daylight, falls away from us. As your time slips away today, ask yourself if you’re using it as best you can. Not compared to others, not compared to what’s expected of you. Are you using time in a way you enjoy? Maybe that’s seated on a park bench. Maybe it’s staring at a coffee as the sun beats down on you and people brush past in their obligated lives.
Maybe, like me, it’s typing as the day’s heat builds and fatigue kicks in, before, finally, the sofa beckons me for nap time. When I’m dust on the wind, I don’t think it’ll matter that I took a nap at 5:46pm on April 26th, 2018. Do you?
We’ve been betrayed. Zuckerberg and the rat bastards at Cambridge Analytica have done had their way with us.
Listen on Twitter and it sounds like everyone’s freaking out. Rightly so, in some regards. You’d think there was a mass exodus from the social network, but upon monitoring my followers and friends, it doesn’t seem like anyone has walked away from it just yet. The numbers are the same today as they were last weekend, before the bombshell detonated.
I know I’ve tightened my settings up, deleted all the apps that had access to me.
But, beyond that, not much.
I’ve been hip to Cambridge Analytica for over a year. I’ve known that Facebook quizzes were datamining for at least two.
So, I’m not shocked. I’m disappointed that Facebook is so complicit in the situation. It disgusts me that Facebook has had such a hand in manipulating the election. My hint of betrayal began as far back as when Zuckerberg got lambasted by the GOP for what they felt was over-liberalizing the site, and he bent over backward to calm them down. It was around then that content got WEIRD on the social network and shit went sideways. Betrayal began then.
The out-of-control indignation shouted by some people, though, is beyond the pale.
Really? You had no clue you were the product? You didn’t know Big Brother was watching you to see how they could manipulate you? No clue? None?
Seems to me blaming others for such naivete is a bit rich.
The Forever of the Internets
Now, me, I walked out of the wastelands recently to resurrect this blog. The “why” on that is all over the place – so many reasons, so many motivations.
But part of why I stopped writing here was largely to do with some of what’s going on now – too much information about me out there. Too much history, too much background, too much access. I got a little “that’s not for you” about my life and pulled the curtains shut in at least one area.
It was futile though. Let’s not pretend. The stuff’s still out there. Even if I deleted the blog, took a flamethrower to the site, you could claw back through it all on the Wayback Machine, or the Internet Archive, as the normies call it.
Google is forever, man. Don’t kid yourself.
We like to think it’s all so impermanent on Facebook and Twitter. The marketing nerds will tell you the average tweet has a shelf-life of 12 minutes and the average Facebook update something like 23 hours. But, really?
It creeps me out sometimes that people will be combing through my content for days after the fact, and suddenly some follower makes a note about a six-day old tweet, where, for me, it was a throwaway comment in a moment in time.
Awesome illustration by Davide Bonazzi, from http://www.copyrightuser.org/understand/exceptions/text-data-mining/
It Just Seems Fleeting
And that’s how the social networks get us. We think it’s unimportant or temporary, a time-waster or distraction at best.
Oh, look, a quiz about what character you are on Downton Abbey. Great, do that. Really?
I used to routinely comment on these and say, “Well, you know that’s a datamining operation, right? They just want access to your profile?”
Invariably, I’d get “Yeah, I know, but it’s only Facebook.”
Part of why I brought this blog back from the dead was because I’ve had kind of a reckoning of identity here in Greece. It’s one of those times where I’m in the middle still, so I can’t really see around me yet, but… things are changing in me, in my mind, in who I am. And while that’s happening, I’m also taking ownership of who I’ve been and from whence I’ve come.
So, as part of that, about 8-10 days ago, I finally undertook the task of getting my first blog – it’s this shitty little Blogspot blog I called The Last Ditch – archived because I lost access to it years ago and Google, who own Blogspot, are completely useless. That’s how I came to pay some dude on Fiverr $20 to archive the whole site.
I’m thinking, “hey, in two or three days, I can finally stop sweating about this site crashing and me losing a few years of writing.”
But nerd writes me back. “Okay, wait. I will be done in a few minutes.”
Seriously? Six years of blog posts, scraped and archived in an Excel sheet in just a few minutes? But, yeah, that’s what happened.
Now, suddenly, I feel so naïve for all those times I thought, “Hey, I’ll just quickly take the quiz and delete access to my account immediately after I’m done.”
Because, well, obviously if some nerd on Fiverr can scrape my blog on in five minutes with the archive buttons broken on it, then clearly some high-end analytics and hacking company can do a whole lot more than that on Facebook.
We’ve Always Been the Product
There’s a whole world out there that lives and dies by information alone, because information spurs whole markets. We’re the commodity. We’re the meal ticket. They need to know about us, and the more they know, the more they profit.
This is the world model now, and it’s not just Facebook. Facebook’s just who got caught. Are you kidding me?
Our radio habits, TV habits, reading habits – they’ve been scrutinized for nearly a century. From the Nielsen Ratings to Facebook “likes,” it’s all the same. We’re just bigger participants than we’ve ever been, giving them more and more data sets by which to judge us, watch us, learn from us.
Opting Out A Little at a Time
I’ve gone nomad, so I live out of my duffle bag. I can’t buy stuff, ‘cause I got no place to put stuff. Do you have any idea how categorically life-changing it is to have nowhere to put stuff, to not be a stuff-buyer anymore?
Think about all the times you browse shops mindlessly with friends. The last time I did that, it was August 2015, and I realized how this wasn’t a thing I could do, or wanted to do, anymore. Why look at things I can’t buy? Why browse? I distinctly remember standing in that Chinatown shop with my friends J and B, and their two kids, as they all pored over the knickknacks, and I stood looking out at the street, realizing I was no longer someone who could browse and impulse-buy. My life was designed against that.
Now, when I visit towns, people invariably tell me about some cute shop or consumer district I have to browse. Why? Nothing’s coming with me when I pack up in a month. I might as well just throw my time in the garbage, because there’s nothing for me in those shops. To browse is actively opting into feeling a sense of loss and desire, neither of which I can quell, because buying shit ain’t my solution. It can’t be. I gotta weigh in at another airport soon, and there’s nothing else I can take with me.
You’re Becoming Fuller, Not Fulfilled
Through all this when I started to realize how much of life is designed to make us unhappy with what we have, so we spend more. Because, face it, life on Planet Earth is about spending money we don’t need to spend, so we can buy things we don’t need, all so that industries that don’t care about our happiness can stay flush with our cash.
The advertisements, the commercials, the product reviews, the featured technology – it’s everywhere, all around us, and all of it designed to do one thing: To distract us from the fact that modern life is not fulfilling.
We don’t make stuff, most of us don’t see anything created from our day-to-day jobs – we see code. We see numbers. We see saved files. But we don’t make anything, we have no sense of creative pride. It’s just cogs turning on a wheel.
“Happiness” For Sale!
So, our Facebook trackers track us as we mindlessly browse the web, looking for some momentary sense of fulfilment or spectacle. Soon, a pop-up advertisement says, “Hey. Remember those Fluevog shoes you were browsing? We have those. Buy those! Come to our site! You’ll feel better with new shoes in your life. Because Fluevog!”
But do you? Do you feel better? Or is it just another hour or a day of distraction that you’ve rented to keep from being aware of how little you’re really satisfied with in your life?
Unfortunately, we’ve created a world where nearly all of us are cogs in this machine. We’re all involved in the conspiracy to make people buy stuff, acquire stuff, need stuff. Without them getting stuff, we’re out of a job. Quite the cycle.
And industry, it wants more ways to make money off us, and that’s where Facebook and social media come in. Never has marketing been able to watch us squirm under a microscope, but now they can.
But we’ve also never had a megaphone for our discontent like we do now, either. So, now people like me can speak up and say, “Whoa… whatcha doing? You don’t NEED that. Stop buying things. Stop being a part of the big machine.”
For every voice like mine, there’s another machination going to work to make sure you don’t listen to me. Algorithms. The matrix. It’s a thing. Of course you need a new phone. Pfft, no you don’t have enough shoes. How could you ever be happy without that sunflower jacket? Come on, spend a little, live a little. Buy joy!
Put your money where your happy is, little proletariat. Do it. Do it!
And God forbid you actually feel happy. Happy people are the worst possible outcome for business and politics.
If you’re happy, you’re content, and if you’re content, you don’t need anything, and if you don’t need anything, you’re not spending money, and if you’re not spending money, then industry can’t profit off you, and if industry can’t profit off you, the local politician can’t woo them to open a factory so they can employ locals to make more shit to sell to more people.
Am I oversimplifying? Pfft, of course I am. But I’m not far off the mark. The unhappier you are, the better it is for society, and when Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest can stoke the fires of discontent, it’s better for the bottom dollar on everything but you.
Saying No, That’s Also a Thing
Being content? It’s nice. Not buying shit? It’s good for the morale. Not having clutter? Great for the soul. Not racking up debt? Good for the sanity.
Unfortunately, we’re in the age of outrage. That’s a whole ‘nother post for another time. We’re far more likely to feel rage than joy, sadness than happiness. I’d like to say that’s all a choice, but it’s more complicated than choosing life, choosing joy.
Especially when social media is basically the harbinger of the winter of our discontent.
John Steinbeck wrote, in The Winter of Our Discontent, “Money does not change the sickness, only the symptoms.” Maybe the same can be said of Facebook and other forms of social media.
Social media didn’t change my sickness, just my symptoms. I spoke up, shouted, said my piece, and things never got better, things didn’t change. I wrote and raged and roared, but still I was unhappy. I was locked into a lifestyle. Like Billy Corgan sang, despite all my rage I was just a rat in a cage.
In a lot of ways, going nomadic probably saved my life. I wasn’t suicidal or anything, but I’d fallen into such a state of apathy and discontent that my life felt meaningless and soulless. It wasn’t until I walked away from the status quo and told myself “I am not my stuff” and sold everything that I began to plug into the matrix a little less.
I still had my plug in the wall. Just not as many of them.
Choose Better (At Least Some of the Time)
As time goes on, I realize this nomad life I’m living – a simple life where I collect snapshots of times, moments in different lives, in different corners of the world – helps me find my contentment and my joy in different ways. It’s in a sandwich or a coffee, a glass of wine as I watch the sun sink over my latest city. It’s in picking up a bunch of papers knocked over by an old Greek lady who can’t pick ‘em up, but who flushes a string of Greek gratitude for my momentary act of kindness. My fulfilment comes in small, strange ways every day, and nearly none of them are breaking the bank or filling my bag.
And yet I’m on Facebook. I’m on Twitter. The Mueller investigation kicks sand in my face. My friends with nice cars and boats and new beds and comfy homes make me realize I have this but want that too. So, I’m not fully content. I’m not completely happy with the life I live. Will I ever be? Is anyone?
Meh. I don’t know.
But in the meantime, Facebook will know if I am. You probably will too. Twitter will. The datamining motherfuckers crawling beneath it all, they’ll know too.
At least I know they know, and I understand their motivations. Maybe, in this brave new world of the winter of our discontent, that’s the only kinda winning we’ll achieve. Take my victories, however small and fleeting, where I can, right?
And I can keep clicking on all the ads on Facebook and Twitter, choosing to “hide ad” and then say the reason is, “it’s offensive.” Because, hey, man. It is. My happy ain’t for sale. Not anymore.
Three or so years ago, when I last wrote on this blog, I never could’ve imagined the next time I posted would be in Crete, Greece, where dogs bark and a breeze blows under a warm sun. Life’s good in the Greek Islands.
But here I am and there you are. Much has happened in that time. Hence the whole “Crete, Greece” thing.
Why did I stop writing here? Mm. Lots of reasons, I guess. Getting stereotyped, feeling done. Being spent. Working too much. And the most cardinal sin of them all, I had nothing to say. I’d become exhausted from being angry, shouting in the wind, being a rat in a cage. There’s only so long you can be angry before you realize that maybe, just maybe, the problem is you.
So, I stopped writing at The Cunt. I kept writing. But, for money. For credibility. For a whole lot of reasons, but I no longer wrote for the hell of it.
Looking back, I wonder if I was trying to outrun myself, to leave this place in the distance. Maybe if I wasn’t this, my life wouldn’t be that. I’m not sure. But I do know I ain’t outran anything. Truth is, there’s never only one reason our life isn’t what we’d hoped it would be.
And the further I’ve gotten, the prouder I am of where I was. The big pictures is easier to see when we get space between it and us.
The Clarity of Then and Now
In the hazy light of getting older, it feels like this blog and I have been through hell and back. Hyperbole? Only a little. This place and I know where we’ve been. From getting 5,000 to 10,000 visitors a day and crashing down to 50, from being interviewed on national US radio without credit through to being stalked by would-be employers, and, later, fired from jobs. From making my dating life impossible to getting judged based on what was, at times, a persona I affected… well.
Yeah, The Cunt just stopped being fun. If it ain’t fun, man, don’t do it. And sure as shit don’t do it when it’s that hard and you’re not getting paid.
It’s fitting that, on my walk through Heraklion after writing this first draft, I passed graffiti that read “Love the life you live, live the life you love.” It’s like I called 1-800-Dial-a-Graffiti to get something special for me. The graffiti you need, when you need it.
Two and a half years of travelling the world is a hell of a long ways to go to learn a very simple lesson — that I gotta go my own way. Again. Shot by me in Albania.
Love the Thing You Do
I love being a writer, but for a while, I didn’t. I didn’t want to be your guru, your voice in the storm. I didn’t want to shout about injustices anymore.
In a way, I rediscovered some of who I was in writing a piece about Jian Ghomeshi that spread like wildfire in October 2014. By then, I’d already been not writing here for a couple years. It felt good to write that article and smack that jerk down. But because I picked up that mantle and ran with it, suddenly I became that girl. That’s what people wanted my writing. Advocacy, shouting into the storm, giving a voice for the voiceless.
Whoa. No. That’s a big load for an unpaid blogger. I advocate, but I’m not an advocate. Verb, not noun. I write about the world, not one subject, hence writing stays fresh and fun for me when it’s going well. I loathe a one-note writing life.
There were many reasons I needed a clean break from this place… to figure out who I was again, to tap into things I am and things I’d been before I became “this” – and I’d take that break again. In a heartbeat.
Lately, though, I’ve found myself wanting a place to let loose, where writing is fun. Fun for me. Maybe fun for you. But, honestly, my enjoyment is the priority. If it’s fun for me, though, I bet it’s fun for you, too. That’d be a double-win. Yay!
My Life-Long Journey: Self-Acceptance
Nearly 13 years later, deep down, I’m still that girl who giggled mischievously upon thinking of the name “Cunting Linguist.”
I’ll always have that spitfire that makes me an acquired taste and a button-pusher. Some people will just never, ever like me, and that’s okay. I’m sure it’s mutual. Fresh out of fucks to give for people who think my brand of authenticity is jarring. Do you. I got me covered. We both fit in this world.
So, beyond the taking a break thing, in case you’ve been out to lunch or totally missed it, I’m in the middle of travelling the world for five years. At the end of this month, I roll into my 20th country in 31 months. I write about that here. I’ve twice circumnavigated the globe, yada, yada. Ditched the house and the domestic dreams. The leather furniture’s gone, the years of collecting and amassing of stuff has given way to me living out of a duffle bag with raggedy clothes. Sometimes I write for people like Washington Post and Yahoo! and Canadian Traveller. My life has become a mix of crazy and amazing and so damn tiring.
One of the problems with travelling the world for five years is that I’m always making a first impression. I’m always a guest. I’m an ambassador, a diplomat, an outsider looking in.
Sooner or later, my being a tactful, diplomatic person had to reach a breaking point, and this is that.
Now I need a place to let loose, rant, fume, grumble, snipe, mock, provoke.
I need a button to push.
Then it occurred to me: I have one. I’m The Cunting Linguist, y’all.
Been A Long Time Coming
In the nearly 13 years since I first hit “publish” here, the world’s changed. They’ve finally added the word “cunting” to dictionary. Joy! The world’s changed in other ways. We’re angrier. More divided. We’re on the cusp of bad times, if we’re not there already.
The world needs people willing to wade through shit and hold reason up to the light, pointing at it, shouting, “LOOK! REASON!”
But have you heard? The blog is dead.
I stubbornly refuse to believe that. Blogging just got boring and omnipresent, but boring never lived on The Cunt when times were good.
So, what will my resurrecting this place mean? Mm, I’m not sure. But the great thing about The Cunt was that it was my catch-all. It was anything I needed it to be, because it reflected so many parts of who I am – including my antagonistic, confrontational bits that should never, ever emerge during these travels I’m on. Writing here was comfortable, easy. I usually wrote and published something in under ninety minutes because it just exploded out of me. I wrote solely when I wanted to, but then I stopped wanting to write.
I can’t find the quote now, but I remember some passing interview with a great Canadian writer like Robertson Davies or Mordecai Richler where they said, “a writer ought not write until the thought of not writing becomes unbearable.”
Tough way to get paid, Mr. Dead Writer Guy, but I see what you’re saying.
Well, I don’t know how often I’ll post here, but I know the thought of not doing it anymore has now become unbearable. I’m fit to burst. I can’t post much; I have too much work in my life, a world to visit, things to see, a book I’m writing, travels to plan, books to read.
But The Cunt is a part of me that I’ve been missing – a big part. It’s my inner-instigator, my agent provocateur. My flame-thrower and my magnifying glass. My inquisitor.
Writing for The Cunt wasn’t ever hard. I made the rules, I didn’t have to please anyone. I had no fucks to give and didn’t acquiesce no how. I plan to unleash that again, because it’s part of who I am, I guess, and denying it isn’t doing my soul much good. In the years since I started this joint, it’s become trendy to be confrontational, to throw around words like “fuck”. But I was doing it on the web long before it was commonplace.
Look, ma. I don’t make up no words. Validation, baby. Good thing I kept the URL, eh?
To Get it Together, You Gotta Come Apart
Unfortunately for me, I had a very tumultuous, scary few years where employment was forever shaky, and life got hard, hard, hard. This blog became a liability to my lifestyle. In every way.
Somewhere along the way, between 2008 and now, I started caring what people thought. Before 2008, this was one damn fun blog. After that, in those troubled times, I lost my way, both personally and existentially, and I lost my way in writing too.
Caring what people think is no way to live. For a writer, it’s death.
In some ways, I’ve found myself again. I’ve connected with this bad-ass chick travelling the world alone, who doesn’t give a shit what conformity is supposed to be, who’s making her own way on her own time. But, somehow, that travelling bad-ass version of me doesn’t feel wholly authentic, because I’m also the ambassador first-impression-maker tip-toeing through cultures in which I’m a guest. I never feel at home in the world anymore, and that, too, is sometimes no way to live.
I love being that travelling ambassador, but I also want to be the bad-ass who says what she wants when she wants to say it. I am the queen of duality and can easily straddle being the erudite, thoughtful writer of travelogues over at FullNomad.com as well as being this, and I know now, that’s the mix I want. More importantly, it’s what I need.
The Cunt is… me. Who the hell have I been kidding?
I Had to Leave Home to Find Home
For a long time, I’ve been proud of the direction in which my writing is going. But, of late, I’m realizing I have much to be proud of where my writing’s been, too. Fuck the naysayers.
If I dig deep on this blog, I’ll realize I was a hell of a lot more brave and fearless than I give myself credit for being, and it’s time I accept that all of this – the hellion, the rebel, and the provocateur are parts of me that I don’t ever want to water down. The world needs some of us people who have no fucks to give, who speak truth to power, and who are proud to shine a light on how out of whack and weird we all are.
They say that the longer we travel, the more likely we are to come full circle, and maybe that’s what I’ve done. I may no longer have a home, but maybe this blog is my coming home in a different way.
Maybe this is all the home I’ve ever needed.
I got no promises for you, friends. There are no guarantees, no timelines, no assurances. I’m back, The Cunt is open for business, but you’ll get what you get when you get it.
But it’s something, and it’s a start. That’s the only promise I got: This is just the start.
Me and an elephant, just hanging in Thailand. Sure, he’s concrete, but he’s still got cred.