Apr 27, 2005

Flower Blog!

Saturday Elizabeth and I went to the Amherst Orchid Societies Flower show. It was remarkable, but pictures definitely speak louder than words, so without further ado:






Apr 26, 2005

Our Trips Antithesis

Paul Theroux once wrote, 'Travel is only glamorous in retrospect,' which all the traveling I've done has shown to be true. As swanky as it sounds for us to say we're going to 'summer in Central and South America' the reality is going to be a lot grittier. We'll be rootless, frugal, focused on sampling what life is like whereever we visit and generally living well outside of our comfort zone. If, at any point, we feel it is getting glamourous we'll need to stop, take breath, and make sure we haven't morphed into tourists.

Which is why I was terribly amused when the internet showed me 'the World,' a way of experiencing the exact opposite of everything we're looking for. In Dubai they are making a manmade 'world' of 300 Islands, in the rough shape of the countrys on the earth. Each Island will be it's own luxurious beach resort, with hotels, luxury homes, and manufactured terrain. The idea is to populate an entire 'world' with extremely wealthy people who want to experience absolutely nothing but their manufactured culture. With any luck, the next generation of kids on this Island won't really even understand that there is a world outside of, well, 'the world.'

Apr 23, 2005

A New Man

If the lower Americas were a person, she'd be trembling with seismic anticipation. Surely she feels, as I do, the thick, electric tension like two young lovers only just now seeing eachother across the room. Today, I am empowered and invigorated. Today has defined a new man, eager to be thrust into the tender embrace of new lands. I am now under the guidance of a new passion from deep within the guts of me... there is a reason they call it wanderlust!

What brought this on? Today, the doctors began filling my body with holes. They tell me the outside world is savage and brutal. Your mere presence within it forces your body to eat its very self from the inside in a hundred different ways. Their solution to this problem is to fill it with glue. Oh yes, they have all kinds of "medical" names for it, but I know they're gluing all my parts to eachother so that when the spider monkeys or latin women tear great furrows into my flesh, all my organs remain more or less where they were. Besides, if it were something other than glue, they wouldn't need to put so much of it in me.

Today I bear a fresh hole in each arm, and in a week or so, I get another 5 or 6. For those of you who don't know me, this is a big deal. Since I was a wee lil' Tyler, one of my most defining weakness has been the absolute terror I have of needles. I HATE them. I haven't in fact been to a doctor in most of a decade due, in part, to this very weakness. Last time they took blood, I passed out (and they didn't take that much). The time before that, my mother and two nurses had to hold me down.

Today, I tried so hard to be a man and hold my tongue, but in the end I had to quietly share my shameful weakness with the doctor... and the nurse... and another nurse who didn't have anything to do with me... and the two receptionists, a couple of patients in the waiting room, several people in the parking lot... I thought about calling the new Pope, maybe he could get me out of this,... but I dunno, I don't think I'm his kinda guy... y'know, politics and stuff.

Well anyway, I got two shots and with them, a much bigger swallow of humility. I mean, they're like nothing. Literally nothing! I even had to tell the nurse afterward: "You know, there probably isn't one waking minute of my life where I haven't done something more discomforting to myself than what you just did to me." To be honest, the charge I got out of having a pretty woman touching my naked arm far outweighed the other thing she did to that arm.

Of course, the human condition is to always have something to fret about, and today the good Lord provided. Once I got over my needle phobia, I started thinking money. These shots are so minor and small, why do they cost so much? I'll probably end up dropping 300 dollars before I'm done. That's at least a week in Argentina. Here's the real kicker... I have health insurance! My company and I have been paying two hundred and change every month for years now, and I've incurred no (and by no I mean absolutely zero) expenses for them to pay out. And now, the first time I have a health concern, they inform me that it doesn't happen to be one of their concerns.

Hey, I don't need to bitch, my life is beautiful and wonderful in every way. I just figured I'd find out if anyone else feels like someones screwing them too. And they didn't even buy me dinner first! In fact, I bought dinner!

Apr 22, 2005

Land of Z's, the New One.

I've lived in Zealand, the biggest Island of Denmark, and found Copenhagen to be one of my all time favorite cities. But even then the impatient wanderer in me is always fascinated with the shiny and new. Like New Zealand.

I'm a fan of spectacular natural beauty, trendy citys, low crime and the irrepressible friendliness of every Kiwi I've ever met. So much so that I'd love to live there for a time one day. And I'm not the only one, I've met many restless souls who're curious if to see if the Middle Earth landscape is real. But at some point in our daydreams, we sigh and note that the Kiwis have long since figured out what a great thing they've got going. They don't want too many foreigners crashing their party, so New Zealand is famously hard to expatriate too.

But then, a couple days ago, I found that Bunac had just changed their eligibility requirements. Instead of being only for recent college grads any American 18-35 can get a year long unlimited work visa (via this specific program, there are others). Although most people get jobs in pubs or doing seasonal farm work this work visa allows you to work legally anywhere.

So, for $495 they'll get me a work visa and an orientation. For another $1,300 I've got a one-way (24 long hours, at best) flight from NYC to Wellington, NZ. And finally I'm required to enter the country with a minimum of $600 in pocket money to get started.

So if you share my NZ itch, all you need is $2,500 to scratch it. I'm not going anytime soon, but I figured its not a bad thing to have floating around in the back of my mind.

Admittedly, this doesn't answer my biggest concern about being on the bottom of the earth. Aren't they worried about falling off?

Apr 21, 2005

Marla Ruzicka: something more than a Hero

I have a bad habit of 'preparing' to do something worthwhile but not quite getting around to it. I've got thousands of ideas of things I think should be done, a handful of which seem pregnant with potential to make the world better. But I had to go to school first, then grad school and then get job to pay down some debt and get some real experience. I've felt much of my life I've been accepting more from the world than giving back: from my parents, from schools, from various governments. And now I feel I'm at a break even point, I'm not really taking any more than I'm giving back to the world. I work my job, pay my bills, and spend money on gadgetry (and soon, travel). And my hope is that I'll soon be on the other side of the balance; I'd like to find a way to be a net benefit to the world around me. All of these seem like perfectly good justifications for delaying good works, and it almost seems like no one could get much meaningfully done by my late twenties.

But its not true. It's not even remotely true. Marla Ruzicka, for one, didn't have the patience to wait and so she got busy doing, and she sure did. She had a long list of accomplishments throughout her life, but some that stand out to me are what she did during this War with Iraq. I've gone to a number of protests, argued with hawkish friends and have moped around generally pissed off about the whole thing. When I read General Tommy Franks 'We don't do body counts.' quote when asked if my government was paying attention to innocent Iraqi victims, I was enraged! I wrote e-mails to listserves, posted on websites then went for a beer and moved on.

Marla, in much the same position I was, did things a little differently. She roped together her meager savings, founded CIVIC and went to Iraq. She, herself, started interviewing people whose family members were killed and started creating a record of what was going on. What the situation of the survivors was, and who needed how much help. And she wasn't all gloom and doom. She was a pixie-like blond Californian who organized parties in Iraq and charmed everyone she met with her gleeful smile.

But did it make any more difference? Hell yes. Since she went over she ultimately is responsible for freeing up $20 million to help these people. She literally went into a war zone, found desperate victims, asked them what they needed, and then got it! And we're not talking about one or two people, she personally interviewed over 2,000 and set up a mechanism to take care of even more. Thats more supernatural than just a hero, she was an angel.

And on April 17th, at age 28 (just a few months older than I) she was killed by a suicide bomber outside of Baghdad. And even though I never knew of her, or even heard of her until the ensuing post mortem media blitz I'm feeling inspired in more ways than one.

I'm glad that Tyler and I have been talking about doing volunteer work during our travels from the beginning. We're thinking about working for Volunteers for Peace, Habitat for Humanity International, and a few smaller organizations we've heard about before we're through. And even though I considered it before, Marlas story has made it even more important to me to find a 'net positive' balance with my life wherever I put down my pack next.

But what this story really triggered in me is frustration that I didn't know she even existed until she died. I'd like to make it a point to learn more about people doing remarkable things when they're still around to be learned from. Not just martyred into legends. And I'd like to share who I find with this weblog.

I'm tempted to say 'God Bless you Marla.' But I think it more accurate to say:
Marla, God blessed us with you.

Apr 20, 2005

Location, Location, Location

One thing I keep thinking about with this impending change is how much I'm going to leave behind. So, as the inspiration strikes I want to write about some of the things that make it so wonderful. The greatest part about my life in Massachusetts is without hesitation the people I've met here. But writing a blog post about them, gets me so caught up in emotion that I can't type more than a series of grateful adjectives before I get lost in daydreams and wistful ponderings. So, although I'll get to them sooner or later... I'll start with something a little less difficult to write about: Geography.

The Pioneer Valley, the 'Happy Valley', is nestled comfortably in the Connecticut river Valley of Western Massachusetts. It's a smattering of towns and small cities in a vast patchwork of greenery.

In 1864 a painter named Thomas Charles Farrer painted this view from the top of the Northampton State Hospital thats now at the Smith college Museum of art:

Which, even though it was painted 140 years ago, doesn't look too much different than this picture I took from the top of Mt Tom last summer:

Perhaps not much has changed since then even though that was in the final throws of the US Civil War. At that time Massachusetts was fiercely fighting for it's idealistic vision of American Freedom. It was a stronghold for the newly formed Republican party when that party fought hard to end human slavery. And today, Massachusetts was the first state in the union to legalize same sex marriages which is a major battle for human rights in todays American culture Wars.

It's funny how history can have a kind of poetry.

PS) Earlier this year Sam and I braved a blizzard, a harrowing trek through a haunted building and a breaking and entering charge to try to take a picture of the same view Farrer had. The huge castle-like State Hospital is still perched proudly overlooking Northampton although it's been abandoned for decades. This is what I saw:

Apr 19, 2005

A Backpacking Geek?

Is 'Backpacker Geek' an oxymoron? We shall soon find out, because I'm afraid I'm becoming one.

When I first started backpacking in Europe in '96 I proudly wore gigantic frame pack with full camping gear, a couple weeks worth of clothes, a small library of books, several pairs of shoes, a CD player and a few dozen CDs. I saw people trembling in awe at my skinny body with a small house strapped to its back strolling through narrow ancient streets. It was only a later I realized they were suppressing their peals of laughter.

Since then, every successive trip found me carrying less and less. The external frame pack shrank and then didn't have quite so much hanging off of it. Then it became an internal frame bag, then a smaller one, and then even that wasn't full. And finally I to a point where I could comfortably do a month with a pack the size of a large book-bag.

But since, my undeniable geek nature has reared it's head. I've now got a slew of electronics that I feel should join us on the journey: a GPS, a digital camera or two, an Iriver MP3 Player (and recorder/radio/Harddrive), and a couple walkie-talkies. And then, if all of this is to be documented to you, my dear reader, we'll need someway to write and post along the way. There should be plenty of internet cafes, but they don't help out so much with the posting pictures or do anything we'll need to run programs on. If you'd like to see pictures from the road, alas, we'll need some way to do some sort of downloading and editing. Which, I'm reluctant to admit, might be to bring my tiny 12" powerbook computer.

On one hand it'd be great, and much easier to write, tweak photos and make this blog groovy from a tiny cabana in the mountains during the regular afternoon thunderstorms (has anyone else noticed we'll be in Central America during hurricane season?).. But then, of course, are the myriad of issues with traveling with a delicate, heavy and expensive piece of hardware. As we'll be traveling simply in a developing country we'll likely not often be able to leave stuff safely at the hostel or campground. Which means we'll need to have it on us most of the time. And as much fun as it sounds to carry a five pound block of burnished aluminum to a beach or a danceclub it doesn't exactly follow my minimilistic budget backpacker ethic of yore.

So my backpacking hippy and geeking engineer personas are engaged in a psychic battle to the death over the contents of my backpack.

a little late

I had this realization the other day. It wasn't so much an enlightenment as it was one of those points where I land both feet down on the game of hopscotch that my thought (notice the singular) plays in my head.

I think most of the thought is a continuation along a sequence of of existing thoughts. The impetus for said thought I think is a realization of the impending doo... I mean glory that Micah and I face in the nether-Americas. Rather than give you the sequence chronologically as it appeared in my head, I figure it would be more fun to throw it out into the world naked and unembellished.

Now that I've nearly finished the process that Micah so artfully defined as "severing the ties that bind", I realize that the most important thing we can do for ourselves is form lasting, meaningful connections. Its not always to a person or even people. Its simply increasing your awareness of the connectedness of all matter and energy, and your essential part within the process. I'm really starting to think that's the goal. Toy with this idea; Every negative moment or feeling you've had in your life is very directly connected to a forced separation of the bond between yourself and someone/thing. Usually the process is self-pity. It usually sounds a little bit like this: "Why am I the one getting screwed here... Its always me... what did I do to deserve this... whatever." What you're doing is forcing a perception of you somehow being separate from the rest of the universe. Its not the screwing that's bothering you, but the separation you're imposing upon yourself. Now think about every moment you percieve as positive. It always has to do with establishing a connection with something or someone. A good joke between friends, getting that job you wanted or maybe just that feeling you get on the top of a mountain when you realize you never comprehended how tiny you were in the grand scheme, but how absolutely essential you are.

Well, that's what this site is about. Making and keeping connections. I'll reach out as often as I can, and you catch up when you want.

Apr 18, 2005

Um, Shouldn't Someone Warn Latin America?

The brothers MacAllen have slowly, and methodically, been cutting free of the ties that bind. We've started charting a path to Colorado, by way of Central and South America. This summer we are going to start moving, and won't stop 'til we find the fall in the Rocky Mountains.
We're coming at it from different places and for different reasons. We're both looking for answers that we suspect might be abroad, but we're sure we will find together. We've got a long history of going on ill-conceived ventures that, after going awry, work out spectacularly well. We've gotten hopelessly lost on mountains in NY and in the Colorado, and found both hope and laughter on our way back. We've taken Scandinavia by storm, smiling, seducing, strolling and sunburning along the way.
We really have no idea what we're in for, other than the adventure of a lifetime. And there is no one I'd rather do it with.

Apr 15, 2005

The birth of the brothers MacAllen

Its been a long time in waiting. The MacAllen brothers have each spent the past twenty some odd years carefully cultivating their own distinctive voices. It's taken ten years of rarely finding harmony with the world around us to realize that our voices resonate most richly with the voices that we've been avoiding, eachothers.

Micah and are as different as two brothers can be, as will probably be illustrated throughout time. We've both known that difference as long as we've known to know. The things that we've had to struggle with are precisely the things the other has found innately. Add difference to proximity, and the result will invariably be warfare. The brothers MacAllen did war! Bless our loving parents, as the Herculean battles between us rarely lastingly damaged eachother, but usually had profoundly distructive inpacts upon our immediate environment. Imagine if you will a dragonball z-esque scenario..., and later on in the series, when all the guys are jacked up on zen meditation and pissed-offedness!

As we gained the freedoms of adulthood, Micah and I fled from eachother furiously and as differently as our personalities befitted us. Micah, the driven, shed himself of all dead weight and skimmed across the surface of the globe like a flat stone skimming the surface of a pond. I, the builder/repairer, in turn constructed and fortified a towering castle of connections, obligations and commitments. Walls so thick, only a fleet of yellow trucks would likely reach me, only to find me crushed by my own fallen stones.

For both of us, I think, the farther we fled, the more exhausting the task became. Micah's mountains were each taller than the previous ones. My castle began to sway, and I found myself continually needing to lift the whole thing onto a bigger base. Somewhere, separately, in our exhausted states, a realization dawned. For me I realized I needed the destination-minded goal-seeking skills that Micah'd been cultivating to plan my castle before I put the pieces together. Micah I imagine realized he needed the "dig-in"strength I've developed throwing around castles, to push up the highest mountains.

We each spent our time in our respective safe places quietly, and futily trying to develop the others skills, and gaining only understanding and respect.
Reborn unto ourselves, the MacAllen Brothers present themselves to the world. Micah, I know I'm a considerable weight in your bag, but it's for you that I leave my castle, gates wide open.