Month: May 2019

Grace Not Works

60419838_2731930140156763_6268384586737123328_n

 

My Thai wife and I have developed a little game. Mondays are Husband’s day and everything centers around pleasing me (him). Fridays are Wife’s day, and the same holds true for her. Because we are for all practical purposes retired and childless, obligations that weigh us down are virtually non-existent. What we’re doing is really just a way to celebrate our good fortune.

Celebrating good fortune is a way to cultivate gratitude, which leads to increased joy and mental health. Chronic whining and fault-finding is the flip side of that coin. We all know where that leads.

There’s a movie called Diary of a Country Priest which was made about 1948 by Jean Renoir. It tells the story of a shy, humble parish priest in a small French town. Nobody holds him in high regard and his superior treats him like a dog, an attitude picked up by the members of their parish. Eventually, he catches tuberculosis and dies, and his last words are “Everything is Grace!”

Grace, as you might recall from your Baltimore catechism is an “unearned gift from God.” It is not by works that we are saved, but by Grace. If we were all more aware of just how much grace we already enjoy, and will have access to in the future, we could relax and enjoy the bliss of the present moment. But we lack faith and are keenly aware that sometimes the good fortune of others seems to exceed our own. We become bitter and full of self-pity. We blame our unhappiness on our circumstances, even though they are fully sufficient for a plenitude of bliss.

Another movie, Babette’s Feast has the same message. We are awash in a river of good luck, and no matter how poor our choices in life, in the long run they pale in significance to the glories we are due to inherit. So stop your griping and smile.

When you do your best to honor others, even those you disagree with, you’re on the fast track to real peace of mind and contentment. You realize the world is a bigger place than you thought it was, full of more possibilities than you ever dared imagine. Black and White thinking reduces things. Having to be right is a trap. Giving advice that nobody asked for and pointing out what others are doing wrong is a service to nobody, least of all yourself.

Moving to the other side of the world exposed me to entirely different ways of going about the simple business of being alive. Seeing that others can endure and thrive, care for children, support their families, and govern themselves without my advice or permission has humbled me. I keep waiting for them to ask advice, but they never do.

Can’t Sleep. Now What?

46112764_10205348803797057_6253977956461314048_n

 

When you get older, it’s harder to stay asleep all night. Even if you don’t drink caffeine, even if you get enough exercise, it’s still almost impossible to sleep more than a couple of hours at a time. Sure, you could take pills, but then you’d be taking those sleep drugs every evening. If you’re over sixty, chances are you’re already taking daily medicine for cholesterol, blood pressure, and God knows what else. Who wants to add to that burden?

So you learn to live with it. You start to read in the middle of the night, or write on your blog. Scrolling through social media seems an especially empty activity in the wee hours, so you do as little of that as possible. As Kurt Vonnegut once remarked, there comes a time after midnight when even listening to recorded music seems wrong. It’s too much.

Somebody Somewhere

60419838_2731930140156763_6268384586737123328_n

 

Is getting rich doing this. Has gone viral. These thoughts haunt me as I write books to self-publish on Amazon or write for by blogs. But are they? Does anybody who’s not writing vampire teen fiction really sell books? Isn’t everybody writing but nobody’s reading? That’s sure what it looks like from this perspective, and I’m not completely blind or deluded.

 

On the other hand, I’m no longer young. It’s been a long time since I “showed promise.” Nobody would ever guess that I have my finger on the pulse of today’s youth. Still, almost everyday I hear about someone whose making two thousand dollars a month from having his blogs read on Medium, or some lady who writes romance novels and sells them in bundles to addicted readers and who is buying a McMansion somewhere in the States while interviewing decorators.

HUNCHES

49274330_2278613735502391_7655655621731024896_n

 

You can never tell what I’m going to do. Prediction and my behavior are like oil and water. Even I can’t tell you what I’m going to do next.

I once moved to Argentina on a whim. Thirty six hours after I made my decision and bought an airplane ticket online, I was walking the streets of Buenos Aires dressed in winter clothing. It was January in Iowa City when I left, and that’s the hottest time of the year in the Southern Hemisphere. Lack of preparation never stopped me from taking any action.

I once married a woman I met in a bus station in Colombia. Why? Why not? Seemed like a good idea at the time. Later I found that she was deeply involved in Voodoo, and took all direction of witch doctors, who she paid to perform ritual animal sacrifices in order to learn the will of the gods. At almost no point during our three-year marriage did it occur to me that I might have made a mistake.

I navigate by hunches. Almost every thought that pops into my head is as powerful as the one that came before and the one that will come after.

The danger in rejecting thoughts, or preferring one over the other, lies in the fact that true inspiration does not come labeled as such. Some inspired thoughts seem foolish at first. Breakthroughs are at first unfamiliar, illogical, absurd. Nothing new feels comfortable or right at first.

 

Confession of a Restless Drifter

 

detour-2

 

I have come to believe that there’s something wrong with me that prohibits me from settling down. I’m always of the opinion that somewhere other than where I am would be better. More interesting, fun, emotionally rewarding. I would finally know peace and contentment if only I lived somewhere else.

 

I don’t know anyone who has drifted as far and wide as I have in these last ten years. Even before I reached the age at which I could draw social security, I was chomping at the bit and trying to find somewhere cheap and interesting to live. In the years since then, I’ve found quite a few such places. They all have their advantages and drawbacks. The places I’m most attracted to make the least sense for someone like me to call home. This is because I’m confusing fantasy with entertainment. The act of really living in a place without electricity, among neighbors who have a third-grade education at best, where the only foreigners who might occasionally come by are just passing through and will be gone again by tomorrow, is not as interesting as it might sound to an impressionable and uncritical ear. “Cool!” a young person of privilege might exclaim.

 

Thanks to social media, enormous numbers of young people are drifting around the world writing travel blogs and posting pictures to arouse envy in their friends back home. “Wow, you’re really living the dream” posts someone who has a real job and can’t just wander off at will. But are these drifters really doing something noble and brave? Or are they trapped in someone else’s bucket list, playing out a tired fantasy that has no pay-off in the long run?

 

I’m too long in the tooth to be part of their crowd, or if I am, I’m their eccentric Uncle, the one who never fit in. I turn 69 next month. I think it’s too late for me to change my ways and do a right about face. No University will ever offer me tenure. Neither the MacArthur Foundation nor the National Endowment for the Arts have the least interest in knowing where I hang my hat nowadays.

 

Nope, this is probably as good as it’s going to get. So it’s got to be good enough.

Running Cow Field Beach

75049-Chumphon

 

Our last full day in Chumphon. We rented a motorbike and drove up the coast to a beach town called “Running Cow Field.” I swam for a while in the ocean clean water, though the “Beware of Jellyfish” sign on the beach spooked me. Had a couple of cups of coffee with a guy who could have been my brother, a retired professor from America. I didn’t envy him his loneliness. He had been sitting at a table with a couple of bossy women our age who wouldn’t make eye contact with me, probably because I was with a Thai woman younger than me. They were glad to see him move over to our table.

It turns out we had both been here the same amount of time, and we both had made an effort to learn Thai, which is rare among expats. He got around by bicycle, lived alone, cooked for himself.

Running Cow Field is a pleasant spot, full of inexpensive restaurants and motels that I’m glad I didn’t stay at, because there’s nothing happening up there. A couple of cups of coffee and a swim was enough for me. The beach is OK, like the rest of the gulf of Thailand, it’s as boring as the Gulf of Mexico. No wave action. A bath tub. It was a pleasant drive up from the city on a small road that was made for light traffic only, bicycles and motor scooters.

You can see where all this is headed, though. Palm Oil plantations and tourism. Not a place I’d want to visit in twenty years, even though I’m old enough now not to worry about such outcomes.

Chumphon Reverie

 

IMG_3276

 

Today it is hot and muggy. Clouds threaten rain. We came from the North, where it was dry and smoky and we prayed for rain. Eventually we gave up waiting for our prayers to be answered and came halfway down the Malay peninsula to this place. Now I find the humidity and heat so oppressive I can’t walk around the block!

So we lurk around the food courts of shopping malls, which are loud and full of fat teenagers eating pizza and gulping down soft drinks. But these place are air-conditioned, and they have chairs and sticky tables at which you can sit.

Went back to the hotel and hid in our room. The TV yacks away.

A boy in a tree house yells for his mother to help him when a witch on the ground tries to seduce him with a snake. When his mother finally arrives, the witch has already walked down the road, taking her snake with her. The witch laughs scornfully, knowing full-well that in the long run she will succeed in stealing the boy from his mother.

This is a scene from a Mr. Bean movie on TV back in our hotel, Contrasting realities! I just rode around on a loaner bicycle from the hotel. It was too small for me, as most thing are here. Couldn’t find much to photograph except palm trees, and when you look at a bunch of pictures of them, they all look pretty much the same.

The streets here are alive with people. People on scooters, people in cars, people everywhere. Nobody here walks for exercise. Walking in Thailand is strictly for losers.

Even though there’s little architecturally beautiful here, the place is growing on me. I wish I had a reason to live here. The people are happy and full of life. There’s no lack of rain and smoke isn’t nearly the problem it is up North. There are, however, few foreigners, and those that are here are probably in transit to Koh Tao and will only be here one night.

So I would be lonely. Chiang Mai, where I no live, has thousands of foreigners who are long-term residents.