A Nomad Returns

bulgaria

I’m back.  It’s not like I stopped writing.  I just stopped doing things here after I was asked to become a regular contributor at Pointless Overthinking, a slightly odd but very international blog that seems to be growing in popularity at a rate that is best described as “exponential.”  Bogdan, the blog’s creator, is Romanian.  Back when I first started writing for him, we exchanged a few interesting emails about the weird train trip I took from Istanbul, Turkey, to Bucharest more than a decade ago now.  I’ve now done nineteen pieces for Bogdan’s PO.

I’m reminded of how much of a wild-haired nomad I used to be.  My trip to Bucharest can serve as Exhibit A.  On a whim, back when I was living in Turkey, I jumped on a bus from Ankara to Istanbul and then climbed aboard a rickety train—there wasn’t a restaurant car or anything of the sort—for a twenty-plus hour zig through mountainous Bulgaria until we came to Sofia and then a zag at the capital that would take us to our final destination.

When I left Turkey, I had no guidebook in hand, no maps of Romania, no list of “must sees,” and not even a room reservation.  I was flying by the seat of my pants.  I was flying while blind.  I was simply flying—high above the clouds—and was probably a touch giddy due to a bad case of oxygen deprivation.

I arrived in Bucharest and somehow bounced around until I took a room in a weird, Soviet-style hotel in the heart of the city.  The place could have been the setting for a Franz Kafka novel.

I spent the next week wandering, stumbling upon things, seeing visions, and was eventually nearly mugged by three bandits posing as police officers.  The three wanted my money, but I wanted it even more than they did.  After a brief bit of wrestling on the sidewalk, I prevailed though I was a bit ruffled and scuffed after the encounter.

I wrote this whole thing because I mostly wanted to come to a point where I could ask the following question:  Why ever travel with a guidebook in hand?  Guidebooks only tell you what others have seen, usually see.  They tell where the herds travel and graze.  Why do what others have done and usually do?

By the way, that’s a very serious question that requires some major contemplation.

Mystery Blogger Award!

mystery-blogger2

Hi, everyone.  You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t published anything for several weeks.  That’s not because I haven’t been writing.  In fact, I’ve been asked to be a regular contributor for Pointless Overthinking (PO), a very international blog started by Bogdan of Romania.  The compilation of blogs I’ve written for PO can be found here.

Today, I’m happy to announce that Davina Lyons, blogger at Davina Lyons Enterprises, has nominated me for a “Mystery Blogger Award.”

The “Mystery Blogger Award” rules are as follows:

  1. Put the award logo/image on your blog
  2. List the rules
  3. Thank whoever nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
  4. Mention the creator of the award and provide a link as well
  5. Tell your readers 3 things about yourself
  6. You have to nominate 10 – 20 people
  7. Notify your nominees by commenting on their blog
  8. Ask your nominees any 5 questions of your choice; with one weird or funny question (specify)
  9. Share a link to your best post(s)

I would also like to thank Okoto Enigma, creator of “Mystery Blogger Award.”  Okoto’s blog can be found here.

What Is the Mystery Blogger Award?

“Mystery Blogger Award” is an award for amazing bloggers with ingenious posts. Their blog not only captivates; it inspires and motivates. They are one of the best out there, and they deserve every recognition they get. This award is also for bloggers who find fun and inspiration in blogging; and they do it with so much love and passion.

– Okoto Enigma

I will edit this post soon to complete rules 5 through 9.  Until then, keep on keeping on…

December 18, 2018

fist

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about Twitter recently.  The direction of my thinking on this social media platform is mostly aimed at trying to determine if it’s something I want to continue using.  (As I write this, I haven’t tweeted a thing for weeks on either of the two Twitter accounts I’ve created.)

Though I haven’t come to any real firm conclusions yet, I’m beginning to feel more and more comfortable not tweeting.  In the beginning, when I first stopped, I felt like I’d gone cold turkey and was inches away from clenching up and breaking out in a cold sweat.  Then the days began to pass and it seemed like I was beating the beast’s hold on me.  I could clearly feel its grip lessening day by day.  As I write this, I have almost no urge to read what others have posted on Twitter, and I have zero desire to tweet.

I guess, looking back, I had seemingly fallen into what I’m more and more seeing as a self-destructive pattern of behavior.  Because I am such a political person, I was mostly tweeting political things.  (By the way, if you were to ask me today why I’m so politically inclined, I’d answer that I studied political philosophy in college—as an undergrad—and then moved on to other things in grad school, but that I’m still obsessed with politics because it is one very important way humans expressive themselves collectively, and there is nothing more fascinating than human expression.)

So I am very progressive and I was using Twitter to declare my version of Holy War on regressives.  (I won’t refer to them as “conservatives” because they aren’t trying to conserve anything.)  In fact, they want to take us back to a time when WASPs effectively owned the country because they suffer from a kind of white angst.  Of course, there’s great irony in the fact that political regressives feel this way since they think America suffers from what they call a “culture of entitlement,” meaning that too many feel like government owes them something.  At the same time, they want the rest of us to unquestioningly recognize their preeminence and to behave appropriately subservient.  If that isn’t acting privileged and entitled, then I don’t know what is.

Back when I was still tweeting about politics, I had a few favored individuals I liked to seek out and clash with on a daily basis.  I began to realize, though, that these Twitter wars weren’t helping me to feel better or victorious or good about myself and what I was becoming.  In fact, the more I engaged in these skirmishes, the more spite and anger I experienced.  A kind of red-face rage began to fill me, and I started feeling disgust with both those I was tweeting against as well as myself.  Despite the fact that I often “won” these Twitter conflicts, I didn’t feel like a winner.  I felt hateful, mean, and petty.

I really feel so much calmer now that I’ve walked away from Twitter and have stopped tweeting nasty things to those I disagree with.  I like to think of myself as someone who eschews violence.  But there is more than one way to attack a person.  One can pick up a weapon and inflict physical pain, or one can login to one’s Twitter account and send out hurtful messages which leave ugly scars that are invisible to the naked eye.

The self-reflection I’ve been doing mirrors the self-reflection our nation will eventually have to engage in once it moves past this moment of anger and brutal tribalism.  We will have to come to terms with how we’ve treated our political opponents.  This reckoning is likely to be painful.  It is likely to be instructive as well.  Let’s hope our nation learns an important lesson from this difficult historical moment.

 

 

December 11, 2018

cover your cough

I’m in the clinic, the one I always visit when I need something medical done.  Exactly one week ago I was in this same waiting room, awaiting the commencement of a physical exam.  I was hungry that day because they’d asked me to fast.

Last time I was here my name was eventually called.  I stood up, walked toward a nurse who asked me for some urine which would have been a strange request to make in any other context. (I remember how warm the plastic container felt as I peed into it.)  And then she drew some blood.  She made me walk down a hallway, opened a door at the end of it, showed me a large machine that could peer through my skin and look deep into my body.  She directed me to remove my shirt, stand just so with my arms raised above my head.  She then let the contraption shine its magical light on me so that an image of my inner workings could be captured and studied.  Finally, she attached some electrodes to my body to learn more about my ticker.

Today, I am back to get the results of all those tests.  I am sitting in the waiting room now.  There are others here.  Some are coughing and some, although certainly not all, are covering their mouths with handkerchiefs.  One man has an odd coloration and makes me think he might be a touch jaundiced.  Two young women have comically large bellies on their otherwise insubstantial bodies.  (The way they keep smiling and whispering together makes me they think they feel a special bond and are cherishing the fact that they’re carrying life within their protuberant abdomen.)

I felt persuaded, after no more than five minutes of listening to those folks coughing up their lungs, to move to a more distant part of the waiting room.  Who needs to be near those airborne germs?  If I have anything to say about it, I won’t allow that sort of sickness to get inside my body and fiddle around.  Sitting any closer than I currently am—now that I’ve put distance between me and them—is really asking for trouble.

I have a book with me, so I take it out and start reading.  Its title is The Awakening of Intelligence and it’s written by Krishnamurti, an Indian philosopher and all-around swell guy.  I’m drawn to the words of wise people, mostly because I’m so lacking in the wisdom department myself.  A dumb guy can never go wrong spending a few moments reading what a smart guy has to say.

I tried to concentrate on the book but there was too much coughing and talking and such.  This caused me to put Krishnamurti down and look across the room.  Being around sick people usually makes me think that I’m about to die myself.  This happens because the ill remind me of my own vulnerability.  Actually, we’re all just flesh and blood and gelatinous, pulsating organs inside a wrapping of flesh.  There’s not much more to us than that.  It’s amazing any of us make it any time at all.

I’m reminded of a video that they showed us back when I was in middle school.  It was a videotape of a surgery.  (I still find it shocking that she showed such gruesome footage to a bunch of fifth graders.)  So they showed the patient being cut open and what his guts looked like. To this day, I remember being shocked at what the insides of a human being look like.  I was not impressed and almost immediately became a hypochondriac.

&&&

So I’ve just been called into the clinic’s inner sanctum to meet with my doctor and get what I hope to be good news—that I don’t have cancer or the palsy or the bubonic plague.  I don’t have to wait long.  He comes in and I stand and shake his hand.  (He’ll certainly hose himself down with disinfectant as soon as I take my leave of him and this room.)  He gets right to it and tells me that all my tests look good.  They haven’t found a single thing to worry about.  And then he informs me I’m free to go.

I step out into the waiting room and the coughing people are now gone—perhaps dead?  Despite their absence, I hold my breath as I head to the door.  I get to it, push it open, and step out into fresh, germ-free air.

 

 

December 6, 2018

lost cat

Earlier today I was doing something that is pretty unusual for me.  I was walking on the far western side of campus, in an area I’m not all that familiar with.  That’s because my office, the writing center I manage, and those places I most often frequent are located on the east side.

Suddenly, in these strange surroundings, I found myself face to face with a student.  He was a tall boy who had to look down on me.  His mouth opened and out came a question:  “Can you tell me where Brazos Hall is?”

When students ask me things—and they often do in my line of work—I almost always have a satisfactory answer for them.  In this case, though, I was dumbfounded.  I sort of cast a frantic look about and said, “I’m sorry but I don’t really know.”

At that precise instant, a coed who’d overheard our exchange stepped up to us and said, “It’s over there.”  Then she pointed in a northerly direction.

The young man smiled, thanked us both, and took off toward his desired destination.

On my way back to my office I started thinking about this encounter.  The more I thought about it, the more upset I became.  Why hadn’t I known where Brazos Hall is?  After all, this is the place I work!  It’s like the world I inhabit five days a week!

I like to think that I’m a kind of explorer, but in this particular instance, I seemed not to know much about this campus.  And this made me feel really disappointed with myself.

The key phrase in the previous paragraph was “I like to think.”  I like to think that I am curious and explore a lot, but this most recent experience, where I didn’t know something that I clearly should have, raises doubts about the veracity of the way I talk about myself when others ask me what sort of person I am.  Does this mean I’m not the person I claim to be or think myself to be?  Do I need to reassess what I think I know about the sort of person I am?  Have I gotten lazier?  More accepting of the idea that I know so little?

There is certainly some evidence to suggest that I get around and have discovered a lot about the world and my surroundings by exploring.  For example, I have lived in five countries—often under very difficult circumstances—and that takes guts.  Cowards don’t move off to live in countries like Poland, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and Egypt, and they don’t travel, as a tourist, to as many off-the-beaten-path places as I have without having at least a bit of moxie.  But that period is now in my past.  I returned to America about three and a half years ago and haven’t left since.  I’m starting to think I’m beginning to look like the kind of person we think of as “rooted.”

I’ve had this job for nearly a year and a half and I still don’t know where Brazos Hall is!  Clearly, when it comes to this college, I’m rooted in my little part of campus.

While writing all this I’ve made a vow—to get out more.  To go to places that are off my beaten path.  To find Brazos Hall all by myself and to go inside the building and look at it closely, to know its every nook and cranny.  I want to know how many floors it has, what color its walls are painted, how it’s laid out.

If I don’t do this with Brazos Hall and with all the other places I haven’t yet seen—despite having been here long enough to know the place backwards, forwards, and sideways—then I’m going to feel like a failure.  I’m going to feel like I’m no longer the Troy I once was.  And I’m going to wonder where he’s gone.  (Is he dead?)  And, if he is, might he somehow be resurrected?

 

 

December 4, 2018

fear

For many years I suffered from “white coat hypertension,” meaning that my blood pressure would spike when I went to see a doctor—any doctor—for any sort of reason.  This happened, of course, because I found going to such places–where the smells of illness and disinfectant hang heavily in the air–to be very frightening.

You might think this sounds like a pretty weird phobia to have.  On the other hand, a little cursory reading on the internet shows it to be a fairly common one.  I suppose that makes a whole lot of us pretty weird.

Fear of doctors and going to see them is rooted in the fact that we mostly only go to talk with such people when there’s something amiss in our bodies.  Thus, the physician’s office is a place where one goes in mostly expecting bad news and is usually not disappointed in this respect.  Plus, one does things in clinics and hospitals that one almost never does in any other context.  For example, how often is a person asked to pee into a tiny plastic cup or is approached by an individual with a syringe who then proceeds to inserted said sharp object into one’s vein to suck blood—a vital fluid—out of one’s body.  Or how frequently is an individual required to stand partially or completely naked in front a complete stranger to be squeezed, poked, and prodded by fingers and a variety of cold, metal instruments?  To top it all off, nurses and doctors have a long history of asking really embarrassing questions.  As a matter of fact, I recall going to a clinic a few years back for a bit of a stomach problem and having a lovely woman with a stethoscope hanging around her neck ask me, with a perfectly straight face, “Are you very often flatulent?”

As far as I can recall, she was the first and only person to ever ask me, pointblank, about farting.

I am thinking about doctors and my fear of them because I had the first part of a physical examination about one week.  As is normally the case, it was a pretty unsettling experience.

Of course, a variety of exams were given, including an EKG.  Before the test took place, I was asked to remove my shirt and undershirt.  While doing so, I became painfully aware of how hairy my torso was.  In addition, I looked down, once I was half naked, and took note of the flabbiness of my midsection.  I considered, for a split section, sucking my gut in but wondered how long I’d be able to hold it like that before my face turned blue, raising additional medical suspicions.  I had been left all alone in the examination room to ponder my physical imperfections.  After five minutes or so, a nurse wheeled in the EKG machine, asked me to lie, face up, on a terribly cold and elevated examination table.  She started sticking what felt to be suction cups to my hairiness.  To pretend that none of this was happening, I stared up at the ceiling and began to fixate my gaze upon the light fixture. The machine was turned on and something started happening, although that something made no sound or gave any other signs that it was operating.  Luckily, after a very short time, the exam was completed, and she told me I could cover my embarrassingly white flesh as she wheeled the contraption out of the room.

After a few minutes the doctor came in with my file in hand.  He began to thumb through pages of information about me.  I was acutely aware that he likely knew more about me than I know about myself.  I’m pretty sure my white coat hypertension came back at that moment, but not being hooked up to a sphygmomanometer, it was nigh impossible for me to know for sure.  I could feel my face flushing, though, which was a pretty clear sign.

 

November 30, 2018

cars and buses

During the entire time I lived abroad—nearly two decades—I never once had to own a car.  Today, in San Antonio, my wife and have two.  It’s not that we want to live this way; it’s that we have no other choice.  There is certainly a bus system in San Antonio, and I have done research about how I might use it to get to work, but it’s not practically possible given where the stops are located, the number of bus changes I’d have to make, and the infrequency of these multi-passenger vehicles.  When I lived in Poland, in the city of Tarnow, a place with a tiny fraction of the population of the Alamo City, there was a more sophisticated public transportation system than what I find in this monstrously large metropolitan area.

So Europe kicks America’s butt when it comes to having figured out transportation.  I have lived on the continent and been a tourist in just about every European country and can provide firsthand experience to bolster such a claim.  Americans like to think that they live in the freest country in the world, but how much freedom do they actually have when it comes to daily travel?  Freedom is about having choices, and the average American has almost none when it comes to how he or she gets to and from work and such.  We have the automobile and that’s it.  The car industry, along with its buddy Big Oil and Gas, seem to own the country and have disproportionate power in determining how we live our lives.  We all know these powerhouses have played a pivotal historical role in having prevented America from developing a European-style public transportation system.

So my wife and I own two cars.  Of course, we have to insure these vehicles and register them and pay yearly inspection fees.  We have to fill their bellies with gasoline.  This means we literally spend hundreds of dollars, if not more, on a yearly basis to keep these two machines legal and in working order because we have no other choice.  This is money we could save or spend in much more meaningful ways on our home or on travel or what have you.  Of course, every American is in the same boat.  That’s one of the reasons the middle-class is being squeezed to death.  How much richer would Americans and America be if we could invest in affordable public transportation and ween the nation off the automobile?

Because of everything I’ve said in the previous paragraphs, I don’t think it would be strange for me to conclude that we don’t actually own these cars.  Instead, they own us.

I don’t especially like being owned by two high-maintenance mechanical divas.  Their moodiness drives me bonkers.  Not long ago, for example, I went to our garage and tried to start our Nissan.  I inserted the key into the ignition and turned it.  Nothing.  I tried again and again but the thing wouldn’t fire up.  I eventually ended up having to have my wife take me work.  As it turns out, there was something very minor having to do with the battery.  The mechanic looked at it for a few seconds, made the tiniest of adjustments, and the thing started up and purred like a contented kitten.

Because I am an American, I have had to learn a lot about how to find a good auto mechanic.  I have also learned that they speak their own indecipherable language, have their collection of secret code words.  They are the mystics we mere mortals turn to when our garage beasts get sick or simply want to make our lives a bit more complicated than they already are.