Category: Travel

On Travels and Withdrawal

Is it possible to experience withdrawal from a trip?

It must be, since I’ve been feeling symptoms that I’d label withdrawal since returning from Europe about four weeks ago. It’s likely a combination of things: my partner, her brother, and most of our friends were away at a Certain Desert Shenanigans festival, leaving me plenty of time with my thoughts; and I just started a new job, so even though I’ve got plenty of time to myself, most of it has been consumed with adjusting to the implications of that new role.

But that isn’t an explanation of why I’m feeling the way I feel. It’s the setting in which those feelings have the opportunity to metastasize. To grow tentacles and explore the boundaries of their cage, to prod and test the limits of their power over my day to day.

It might seem strange to bestow agency and cancerous identity to these feelings. After all, you may find yourself asking, didn’t I have an amazing time?

I did. An overwhelming, immensely educational, mind-altering, perception-shifting, notion-rewriting time on my trip. And I came back to my life in the “default world”—as the Burners like to call it—and didn’t have the space I didn’t think I’d need to integrate those new pieces of me into this life.

How can I take the part of me that drank in the community like fuel, that ate up every spark of inspiration, that stoked the furnace that grew in me with reckless vigor, and fit it into the rest of this me, the one with the new commute and the past-due veterinary appointment?

Maybe one of the reasons it’s been more difficult than I’d anticipated is because the farther away I get from that space, both physically and emotionally, the more I think of it as the time I pretended to be a writer. I fooled so many of you, my new friends. Here you thought I was one of you, but I can’t hold a candle to y’all.

Part of me knows that’s absurd, and that I’m breaking one of the more important rules I learned on the journey, but I don’t have you with me to slap my wrist, crew! I’m here with my cats and my thoughts and there’s nobody who can stop this imposter train from barreling through.

So in an effort to stem the bleeding I am going to write about the trip, finally. Maybe it’ll remind me that I am one of you, after all.

###

Up until the minute Krystal dropped me off at the airport, I was terrified. I’d already spent the money—lots of it—on this trip, and I didn’t know anyone who would be there, at least personally. I’d be going to places I had never been, on a cruise for the first time (which I’d had reservations about anyway), to be a Writer in Public for what felt like the first time. (This isn’t entirely sensible, since I had been to a convention and had been working as a writer in the corporate space for nearly nine years. But feelings aren’t supposed to make sense, are they?)

But something changed when the car door closed and Krystal pulled away. I remembered what it felt like to travel, and to travel alone. I remembered that I love it. I was energized and ready to go.

On the first flight, to Copenhagen, I sat next to a young woman who was traveling out of the country for the first time, for a five-month study abroad program in Denmark. Her whole family was with her, but she wasn’t able to sit with them. We chatted a bit, mostly about her studies. When she asked what I was doing I kept it brief. A writing retreat. No, I didn’t know anyone else who was going on the trip. She said the idea terrified her. I told her I’d felt the same way until about two hours before we started chatting, and we laughed. I can’t remember her name.

After about seventeen hours of travel, I was in Kiel, a port city in northern Germany, standing on front of the hotel and deliriously recalling my reservations about the whole trip from the departures curb at SFO. All these new people, and what if my writing is garbage compared to all of them, it definitely is garbage, oh no, what have I done, now I’m Germany with all these people who will take turns telling me I should quit and they’re probably all very tall and this was all a mistake and maybe it isn’t too late to turn around and…

And I walked into the hotel, somewhat unhinged from the journey, and wholly unprepared for what lay in store for me.

I met my roommate, Travis (about whom I’ll share more, later), and went down to the opening event—a welcome and brief tutorial on how we’d go about boarding the ship. I saw people I recognized, but didn’t know personally. Authors I admire greatly, but hadn’t met personally. It was strange, to feel like I knew these people, but to know that because of our our long, asynchronous, one-way conversation, I was a stranger to them. Not for long, though.

That first evening was about meet-and-greets and learning to write through (and despite) fear. To understand that the fears that keep our fingers from putting words to paper can be looked at and analyzed (somewhat) objectively, and that we can develop techniques that allow us to either ignore those fears, or compartmentalize them, appreciate their strange value, and continue doing the work. It was an excellent way to start the trip.

The following day we made our way to the ship, the boarding of which could be called an ordeal, which in turn was overshadowed by the absurdity of walking onto what was, essentially, SpaceVegas.

Let me explain. The cruise ship’s ostentation was more than a little tacky, to the point where I’m pretty sure I laughed out loud when I finally made it through the various stages of boarding and saw the interior for the first time. It was like this Italian cruise ship line took their idea of what Vegas is, mashed it together with a single viewing of a Star Trek episode (for their signage and some of the decor) and said “yeah, that’s a good motif for our vessel, let’s go with that.”

I’ve made no secret of my newfound distaste for cruising (as you might recall from a certain poem published on this very blog), but that’s more a “me” thing than a “cruise” thing, I imagine. See, I used to have chronic vertigo as a result of stress-induced vestibular migraines, and a week on a cruise ship felt like being on the verge of a vertigo episode for nearly 24 hours a day. Not terribly fun. That being said, I will absolutely be going on a cruise again, next year, to attend the 2018 Writing Excuses Retreat. Because it was just that good.

Rather than go into the details of every day on the cruise, and our various stops along the way, I’ll go into what I’ve taken away from the retreat—which I recently did orally on that there podcast I have.

The retreat was unlike anything I’d done before. To be surrounded by a group of peers who’ve all signed up to take part in this creative growth, together, was motivating in a way I could never have anticipated. To hear their stories, both fictional and personal, to see them at work, to understand each other on a fundamental level, was overwhelming. For the first time in a very long time, I felt like I was really part of a community. Sure, I have love, friendship, and community here and in other spaces in my life, but there was something different about this one. Writing is a personal, vulnerable, deeply strange thing, and to share it wordlessly (ironic?) with this group was like having a boulder lifted from my shoulders. I never knew I carried it until it wasn’t there. Instead of hedging my nerdiness in regards to writing, as I often do in the real world, here I was free to be me, and my own aforementioned nerdiness could barely hold a candle compared to the group at large. I had so much to learn from these people, and the only tragedy is that I had but one week to work with.

The instructors were fantastic. Caring, careful, intelligent, sensitive, available people who had no reason to be, other than that we share something outside of our relative levels of success. I got to finally talk to these people—these people—and they treated me like one of their own, no questions asked.

I got to pester John Berlyne with questions I never knew I had about agents, and rather than brush me aside he came and found me after his session so that I could ask the rest of the questions bouncing around in my head. I got to see Wesley Chu, delighted at finding his own books on the shelves of one of the best SFF bookstores I’ve been to in the world (in Old Town Stockholm), and I shared in that excitement with him—with a frikkin’ Campbell winner! I got to ask Tempest Bradford about my story, and she gave me such amazing feedback that I doubt I’ll ever forget our conversation. I got to know Thomas Olde Heuvelt and David Samwel, terrific people who shepherded me into meeting some of my idols at Worldcon. I got to sit down for an amicable lunch with Aliette de Bodard, who asked about my work with genuine interest, which lead to a long conversation about the nature of mortality and grief. I got to laugh with Dan Wells and his daughter, Audrey, about the boat-related shenanigans.

And that’s saying nothing of my classmates, who were every bit as stimulating and helpful as the instructors. I especially want to give a hat-tip to Travis Sullivan, my roommate on the ship, whose no-nonsense approach to solving story problems helped me break through on more than one idea that had been plaguing me prior to the trip. Also he somehow got me to go to the gym at 6am, which is a thing nobody has ever been able to make me do. Go figure.

Even if I went through the retreat moment by moment, I wouldn’t be able to do it justice. I think I’ve done a good enough job at showing how meaningful it was for me, though, so I’ll move on to Helsinki and Worldcon.

###

Arriving back in Kiel was surreal. The week on the ship had been both an eternity and a blip, and I was glad to be rid of the boat part of the ordeal. A week is a long time to spend thinking about writing all day, and while I felt ready for a breather, I wished that after a weekend of exploring I could go back to another week of retreat. But I had a flight to catch the following morning, to Finland.

That evening I went for a walk through Kiel with Yvette Keller and Mark Bessey, a wonderful couple from Santa Barbara with whom I felt immediately at home. We had an excellent (non-vegan, sorry) dinner, after which we returned to the hotel for the night. They were heading on the Castle Tour (epic, right?) with others from the WXR group, while I was heading directly to Finland to pretend I lived there for a week.

Helsinki is a wonderful city. It’s like a cross between Manhattan and San Francisco, but with a fraction of the population. Amazing food, beautiful architecture, water, parks, excellent public transit—Helsinki’s got it all. Not to mention that it was substantially more diverse than I’d anticipated. I saw mixed-race and interfaith families happily strolling about, like it was no big deal (because it is no big deal) and was refreshed. Granted, it’s more than likely that I’m applying a certain rose-colored lens to the place, but I was happily surprised by the positive commingling of cultures and backgrounds that surrounded me. I mean, I’m in a mixed-race relationship in Oakland, and I’ve gotten dirty looks walking down the street with Krystal, my partner. Go figure.

During the week leading up to Worldcon I explored Helsinki, eating delicious food and taking long walks, getting a bit lost and finding my way home—the kind of solo travel I prefer. I connected with folks from the cruise as they trickled into Helsinki, hitting up an Irish bar for a bluegrass band (that played R&B covers), or eating literally the best meal of my life (shoutout to Nina and Dan for sharing that with me). Suffice it to say that I had a love affair with Heksinki, and while I would love to return, I have no idea when the next opportunity will present itself.

Worldcon was huge, overwhelming, and as different as possible from the retreat, but valuable for a completely different set of reasons. I had an overfull itinerary planned out, with sessions overlapping each other throughout every day of the convention. But I didn’t account for the volume of attendees, the difficulty of getting into the rooms, and the general anxiety that comes from being squeezed through a fire hazard of a hallway while trying to beat the rush so that you’re not greeted by a “Room Full” sign on the door.

After the first panel I attended—in which every seat was taken, as was the standing room along the walls, and the floor space in front of the standers—I decided to forgo rushing to any other panels. I moseyed down toward the cafe, which turned out to be where I’d spend the bulk of my time over the next four days.

I was immediately greeted by one of the instructors from the cruise, who introduced me casually to the gentleman he was standing with, who turned out to be a Hugo-winning author of an excellent novella. From there, I was walked to a table full of kind folks who were more than happy to have me join them to chat. Only once we’d already been laughing did I learn that they, too, were quite successful authors, all with deals for forthcoming or in-progress series with major publishers.

And so Worldcon passed, with me bouncing from group to group, always feeling welcomed and treated as a contemporary, to the point where Charlie Jane Anders, who must have recognized me from a reading a few weeks earlier in Berkeley, asked where I’ve been published, why I looked so familiar, and if she’d read my work. It was surreal. I met so many authors and editors I admire and schmoozed with celebrities of my world, and it was the most normal thing in the world.

Worldcon had its ups and downs—downs being the somewhat broken mechanism of the event, ups being the incredible networking opportunities it provided—but I credit the success of that event entirely to having attended the Writing Excuses cruise. I felt like I was a member of a secret cabal of writers. Everywhere I turned I saw a familiar face, and was comforted. An environment that normally would have terrified me—an overcrowded convention full of tall people and lines and whatnot—became thrilling. Who would I see next? Who would I meet through them?

Worldcon came and went quickly, and I left with a huge list of books to buy, authors to catch up on, and friends to add to my various social media channels. By the time I was getting ready to fly back to the states, I was of two minds. On the one hand, I felt like I’d gotten a taste of the life I’ve been wanting to live for so long; a Writer among Writers, engaging with the creative content that means the world to me.

On the other hand, I was heading back home, to see my love, our cats, and to start a new job with one of the most exciting companies in the history of technology. A true win-win.

###

I look back on a particularly dark stretch of time, in my early 20s, wherein I didn’t have a clue where I was headed creatively or professionally, living paycheck-to-paycheck despite having a corporate job in entertainment.

I was terrified of settling for a life that amounted to a creative void, an endless chase of the illusion of success that would always move just out of reach. Of defining myself by my paychecks, and not by the substance of my interests. Of seeking the same kind of lobotomy that only substance abuse or self-help cults can provide. I worried that I was stuck on a path that led in a spiral, ever downward and ending somewhere too dark to contemplate.

One day, driving home and talking to my dad on the phone, crying and trembling with this overwhelming fear—as I did on far too many days back then—I set myself an ultimatum. I told my dad that I did not want to be having the same conversation when I turned 30. That I wanted to know what I wanted to do and how I would get there, that I would feel comfortable with who I became, with the plans I’ll have set for myself, that I would be proud of myself, and that my family would be proud of me.

I turn 30 in January. I’ve grown my book review blog into a “thing” that has fostered opportunities I’d never have anticipated. I have a new job, working for one of the biggest and most successful companies of all time. My title there is Writer. And I attended the Writing Excuses retreat, which left me feeling like I’d been strapped to a rocket and shot into the sun. And instead of bursting into flame, the great ball of pulsating energy reached out, collected me, and brought me into itself, all warmth and belonging and light.

I can see where I was then and where I am now, but if you asked me how I achieved the goal I set myself those years ago, I couldn’t answer. I don’t know.

But I’m glad I’m here.

A Pivotal Moment, a Wobbly Boat, and Adventure

I’m sitting in a cafe-slash-brewery-slash-eatery on the corner of Frederikinkatu and another long-named street. It’s just about 6pm, and the sun is beaming on a diverse, alive, beautiful city I’m visiting for the first time. Helsinki is breathtaking and relatable. It is ancient and new. Also, it has pulled moose sandwiches, which…like…I mean, moose. To eat.

They’ve also got some fantastic vegan options, but that’s neither here nor there.

The Writing Excuses Retreat ended on…was that Saturday? It’s hard to say, because time has blurred on this trip, but I’ve been in Helsinki a couple days now, and though I’m not even halfway through processing the wonder that was the writing retreat, I do have something I thought would be fun to share with you. As we were preparing to disembark from our ship—and summarily delayed in that, of course—I began writing a poem, inspired by Dr. Seuss, about my experience. While it might be a “you had to be there” situation, it might still make you smile.

Enjoy.

#

“I do not like this boat,” I said.

“I do not like this boat,” I said,

“This shaking goes straight to my head.”

The golden-vested staffer nodded,

Then carried on, ‘till poked and prodded,

I gave to him my cruise ship card

And purchased water, how bizarre!

 

Photographers go to and fro,

Refusing every plea to “go!”

See, they insist on shutter-bugging

Despite our efforts at mean-mugging,

Making dinner time a chore,

But with our company, not a bore.

 

For Writers, we, have a strange power,

To take all moments, sweet and sour,

Transform them into story fodder,

All our darlings, which we slaughter.

Which we learned to do, with glee,

From Cleaver’s sociopathy.

 

The elevators, quelle horreur!

No semblance of any ordeur,

Though push the button, you did try,

The elevators pass you by.

And when they did decide to stay,

Inaccessible were they.

 

See, other patrons were quite different,

From the world over, wide and distant.

With several customs, strange and new:

An inability to queue,

And smoke in every nook and cranny,

Be they near a child or granny.

 

Excursions to fantastic cities,

Copenhagen’s castle, pretty!

Stockholm’s old town, with it’s bookstore,

Tallin’s KGB enclosure,

St. Petersburg was not so droll,

Because of the passport control.

 

Within the ship, we writers learned,

New concepts in our minds were burned,

And challenges came on the daily,

To write—or not, so cockamamie!

Some writers’ fingers were too restive

Those final word-counts were impressive!

 

But let’s go back, friends, to the shaking,

That oh-so-ever-present quaking!

Fantasia bucked and leaned and wobbled,

My brains inside my skull were boggled,

So if I left an odd impression,

Please forgive me. Did I mention?

 

This was my first, my only cruise,

And while the ship, that cursed un-muse,

Did its best to turn me dour,

I was impervious, ripe with power!

Because of you, my tribe, my crew,

My stable point in world askew.

 

You welcomed me, and took me in,

A stranger, one not free from sin,

Unkempt a tad, unbathéd, too,

You forged me into something new!

For I, like you, do not “aspire,”

I’m proud to call myself a “Writer.”

#

 

What a magnificent experience. I still can’t believe some of it actually happened.

The Second Half / What 13 Years Can Do

Hopefully, friend, the last posts were to your liking. This one will be slightly different, as the experience of traveling alone in Israel was fairly different from being taken around from place to place in a bus. Both experiences were completely valid and wonderful in their own ways. A sizable group from the birthright trip extended their trips, most of us planning to head straight for Tel-Aviv, so a pile of us got on the train at Ben-Gurion and headed to the city. I was getting fairly sick by this point (some food poisoning I believe, but I’ll spare you the details) so I spent the next couple of days in a hostel, trying to sleep off the sickness. Once I was up for it, I bid my fellow birthrighters adieu and took the train north, where I intended to spend the next 3 days in my old village, visiting my 100 year-old grandmother. Arriving in the city of Nahariya was as surreal as it had been the last time I visited, two years before. There was significantly less rubble in the streets this time around, but the city is still much dirtier than my childhood memories of it. I decided to get some food rather than hop in a taxi and head straight to Shave Zion, and I knew where I wanted to go. Walking along the Ga’aton, I saw shops I remembered and sights that looked familiar; it was a strange counterpoint to the birthright experience, seeing places I remembered so vividly from my childhood. I made it to my destination, The Pizza Penguin, ordered two slices and a bottle of water, sat with my bags and ate while watching the locals pass by. Then, “Can you feel the love tonight” came on at the frozen yogurt shop next door and an arab family joined me at the pizza place. We exchanged smiles, and the children were so fascinated by a traveler and his bags that they stared openly at me until their food arrived. It was a slightly uncomfortable experience. (Being stared at by children while eating is unnerving. Who knew?) I hopped in a taxi and headed about three miles south, to Shavei Zion, where I spent the bulk of my time in Israel as a child and where my grandmother is currently staying. I had a reservation at the Beit Dolphin Village hotel, about a 5 minute walk from the “Founders’ Home” where my grandmother lives. The woman who runs the hotel remembered me from my childhood and was both surprised and confused that I had made a reservation at the hotel rather than stay with any of the many families who no doubt remember me and would have me as a guest. I was still feeling pretty unwell from whatever it was that I had, so I was glad to have my own space, and I said as much to her, which she understood. That night I visited my grandmother. Seeing her completely changed my perspective concerning my trip. My frustrations, concerns and desires to end the trip early completely vanished when I saw her. Being with her was simply more important than anything else. In that first visit I could tell how much her condition worsened since the last time I’d seen her. She wasn’t speaking much–hardly at all–and just wanted to hold my hand with her eyes closed. At one point that night she spoke only one complete sentence; one of the three or four she had used during my entire three day visit. She opened her eyes, looked at me and said: “I’m so glad you’re here.” It was one of the more profound emotional experiences of the trip without a doubt. Over the next three days I spent a few hours each day with her–all the time she was awake, more or less–most of which was spent in silence, holding hands, listening to classical music while she kept her eyes closed, making small noises with each breath. Since there was plenty of remaining time during the days I spent in Shavei Zion, I decided to call an old friend whose number I had and see if he was still in town. It turned out that a good number of the people I knew as a kid were still there, so we decided to meet and catch up a bit. It was incredible to see the changes that take place in a person over a thirteen year period. No doubt change is an expected result of the passage of time, but that didn’t reduce the impact that seeing the changes had on me. Another result of seeing old friends was further incredulity that I was at a hotel rather than staying with any of the families still in Shavei Zion. A friend’s mom made a quick phone call and my reservation was cancelled; I was to spend my remaining time in Shavei Zion in a guest room of a house across the street. Once I had reconnected with the people I knew from my youth in the Moshav, I started remembering how open the community of Shavei Zion was. It’s incredible, really, how everyone’s doors are literally open to you. I socialized between visits to my grandmother, went to Akko for Hummus (some of the best I’d had on the trip by far), and generally felt very much at home in my old village. The trip had to continue, and I had to make an important stop, so my friend Ronli took me to the bus station in Akko, where I hopped on a bus heading to Nazareth. I have relatives that live in Tzippori from my father’s side, allowing me to completely geek out about being Welsh (more on that later), which was a pleasure. In addition, they own and operate an organic olive press which produces the finest olive oil I’ve ever tasted. I spent the night in Tzippori–after seeing the litter of puppies just born, the goat trying to eat through the fence, the chickens being chickens, and the general relaxed chaos that defines the Noymeir residence–and was given a ride to the airport, accompanying my hosts as they took a young German woman who had been volunteering on their farm to catch her departing flight. From there I took the train back into Tel Aviv, hopped in a cab and headed straight for Rabin Square. I needed to eat at Dabush, an incredible Shawarma joint that I absolutely love. I sat in the square with my bags, eating Shawarma and reading Werner Heisenberg and I thought to myself: “This could be my life. I wouldn’t mind this at all.” After several unsuccessful attempts to reach my hosts for the remainder of my trip, I called Shara, whose wedding I was to attend on the 1st of January. Shara and Eyal are hospitality embodied. I asked if I could come by with my bags while I continued working at reaching my hosts, and they were more than accommodating. In fact, I ended up meeting them at Shara’s parents’ vacation rental apartment where I was promptly introduced to the family. I was never able to get a hold of my hosts, so I left my bags at Shara and Eyal’s place and headed out to meet a friend from Santa Cruz for dinner. It was awesome, sitting in a Hamburger restaurant in Nahalat Binyamin with an old friend from SC and having the whole event feel so natural. I guess that if I had to describe how it feels to be in Israel, that’s what I’d say: it just feels natural to me; like I belong there. I spent that night on Shara and Eyal’s (comfortable) couch, was invited to brunch the following morning, and finally reached Talya, my sister’s best childhood friend, who was to host me in her apartment for the remainder of my stay in Israel. I found out how to get to her apartment and headed out with my belongings. Talya lives with Yonatan (her boyfriend) in a neighborhood of Tel Aviv called Neve Tsedek. It’s a neighborhood with artsy boutique shops, good cafes and restaurants, and a generally awesome vibe. The streets are too thin to functionally navigate with cars, so while there are cars parked along the roads and the occasional car slowly making its way down the street, it’s much quieter than other areas of Tel Aviv. The neighborhood is closer to Jaffa than downtown Tel Aviv, but I was able to walk to both from her apartment on separate occasions during my stay. While I was staying there Talya and Yonatan were practicing a different lifestyle. They were living “unattached,” that is to say they weren’t using electricity in their home. Candles provided light at nighttime, showers were heated by the sun, and the refrigerator became a spare bookshelf, since fresh food could be acquired as needed from the Shuk nearby. It was an interesting adjustment to make, but I found it to be fairly comfortable once I had settled into a groove with them. Being with Talya and Yonatan challenged my Hebrew in a way it had never been challenged before. We discussed topics I find interesting, but expressing abstract concepts with the capacity for Hebrew of an 11 year-old is difficult at best. Ultimately, we were able to understand one another and I found myself greatly enjoying my time with Talya and Yonatan. On the evening of January 1st I headed to Shara and Eyal’s wedding, where I represented the Samuel clan as a whole. It was terrific. I had a great time eating delicious food, dancing and meeting friends of Shara’s, friends of Shimone’s, and relishing the expressions on the faces of people learning about my family and our relationship to Shara. I made it back to Neve Tsedek at about 3:00am in the pouring rain with an enormous smile on my face. After the wedding I had two days in Israel left, which I spent reading my books and eating at Dr. Shakshuka (seriously, eat there), decompressing from the powerhouse of an emotional journey that the last month or so represented. Here it is, (hopefully) condensed into a single paragraph: Being in Israel felt like removing a weight I had forgotten was there. I felt more comfortable being myself than I have in years, more confident in who I am and the choices I’m making, more proud of my achievements and the achievements of my family and more like the real me than ever. Going to Israel reinvigorated me. Remembering who I am in a way is tied to remembering how I am connected with Israel. This is a thing–at least I believe it is–I share with my siblings. The hardest part of visiting is just that: it’s only a visit. I hope some day to live in Israel again. Not necessarily permanently, but I already find myself craving to be back in my motherland. At the same time, it’s great to be back in California. I’m working to maintain the positivity I felt in Israel, and so far it’s going well. I’m working toward goals that will really challenge and benefit me, and I’m very, truly happy. Thank you for allowing me to share my trip to Israel with you. I hope that in reading about my time in the motherland you’ll have the desire to learn more about it and perhaps visit some day. If you do want to visit and are eligible, I heartily recommend birthright and IsraelExperts. Back to our scheduled programming…

Welcome Home

On a cross country flight
At the end of an international journey
At my eleven o’clock

In a Deere Tractor hat
Vest designed to hold spare ammo
One of those neck-bound sensitive document holders

Watched the O’Reilly factor
Pulling out exclusively non-apple gadgets
Tap-tap-tapping away at photos of

Blond haired blue eyed children

We enter California from the west
Promptly pulling out your radiation meter
Snapping photos at 2.6

2.4
0.9
0.2

(January 6th 2012, 12:14 am EST, flying over california)

Birthright: redux / “Be Ready for the Longest Post Yet”

Indeed, dear reader. The previous entry, nigh on half-completed, was lost. The lord of shadowed things saw fit to rob me of my work and by extension you, dear reader, of the enjoyment of reading it. May his days be numbered, that we might again enjoy bloggéd things in the freedom of open sunlight.

Alright, enough of that. Back to the topic at hand.

Birthright!

Wow. What an experience! Birthright ended up being amazing. A time I won’t ever forget. I hope the friends of mine preparing to embark on their own birthright trips have experiences as wonderful as mine.

Before getting into it though, I should like to open with an admission: I did not go into birthright totally open-minded. I assumed I wouldn’t connect to the experience or to my traveling companions, and that my purpose in going was to travel to Israel on a free ticket, with the ultimate goal of visiting family and friends. There you have it. I went into birthright thinking it wasn’t for me.

The experience ended up being one of the more thought provoking, deeply powerful and enjoyable experiences of my life. I met and spoke with a slew of interesting young people, discussing a very challenging set of ideas: identity, conflict, hate, fundamentalism, faith, history. I won’t go into a discussion of philosophy here though (or perhaps “yet”), and I wish to share with you now simply the 10 day journey as a set of experiences, unadorned by excessive warbling.

We already talked about my flight, so we needn’t get into any part of it again. Upon landing we started traveling straight away. At Ben-Gurion we met Shachar (our guide), Uri (our medic and armed guard) and Tziki (our bus driver). These three were something of a “dream team”. I believe that, since we were the first IsraelExperts group of the season, we were given the best-of-the-best.

From the airport we headed north, to see the town of Zichron Ya’akov. An early settlement, visiting it (and its cemetery) was an interesting opening to the trip. Shachar openly admitted that one of his favorite means through which to learn history is cemeteries. An interesting fellow indeed. From there we headed further north and east, to Kibbutz Farod, where we spent the following two nights.

The next day we started by heading to Meron, where the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (the fellow responsible for the Zohar) is located, but we didn’t see the tomb. Instead, we went to the site of an old synagogue. A 1500 year-old synagogue, to be exact. Shachar discussed etymology (a subject which most reliably sets me joyfully frothing) and how changing the names of places is an exceptionally effective way of colonizing a place (New Amsterdam, anyone?)

From there we headed to Tzfat–birthplace of Kaballah!–where the purpose of our visit was less to sightsee than to hear Shachar’s info about the changing of the treatment of Shabbat on the part of the Rabbi known as Ha’ari (the lion). I am personally thankful, since it is to him I owe the notion that it is celebrated as opposed to treated mournfully. אחלה קיף.

(Noteworthy: Tzfat has very small alleyways. Tziki navigated them in a BUS. It blew my mind.)

From there (yes this is one day, and yes it is ridiculous) we headed north, to another cemetery, but this time to a cemetery honoring a period of time before the formation of the state of Israel, when independent militia groups fought off attackers to defend kibbutzim. A famous statement “טוב למות בעד ארצנו” (it’s good to die for our country) was uttered by Yoseph Trumpeldor near the place. Heavy stuff.

We then skirted the border of Lebanon on our way to Mount Bental, where we entered a bunker and discussed military culture a bit. Once again, Shachar was awesome about clarifying which statements were opinion and which simply historical fact. Our day filled, we headed back to Farod for the night. (Also to party a bit at the Kibbutz’s pub).

The next day we started out by heading to a different Kibbutz (I’ve forgotten it’s name) to get a basic overview of the history of the land and it’s occupants. The woman who presented the history to us was pretty even handed about the whole thing (not as good as Schachar though), and then told us about her projects through which she fosters communication between Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel. Also they have a multi-denominational circus.

From there we headed to Sakhnin, an Arab town, to talk to some young Arab women about their experiences as Israeli Arabs. A very interesting and informative experience. I was impressed by the raw honesty that they displayed. Women of different religious groups who were friends, capable of believing entirely different things and of believing that their “friend” is destined to suffer eternally because of their religious differences. Fascinating discussion.

We got back in the bus and headed south to Tel-Aviv. We spent the rest of the day exploring Jaffa, which is always fun but wasn’t a new experience. If you are ever there, go to Dr. Shakshuka. Seriously. Go and eat the greatest Shakshuka ever. We spent the night in Bat Yam (south TA) and had a night out on the port, during which I met with Shara and Eyal for dinner. (More on them later.)

The next day we went into Tel-Aviv and met our Israeli companions, who joined us for 5 days of our trip. We started by heading to Rabin Square, where Shachar talked about the assassination of Itzchak Rabin. This was particularly hard for me, and to be totally honest I don’t really want to go into it on the blog. If you’d like to talk about it, let’s go out for coffee or something and do so.

After Rabin Square we headed to Dizengoff and were given free reign to explore for a bit. Sam–a new buddy–and I just walked around looking at the graffiti in Tel-Aviv. Some of it is great, some of it is less-than-great, but all of it was interesting. Retuning, we entered the Independence Hall, to discuss the declaration of the state of Israel.

It had been a while since I’d sung Hatikva (Israel’s National Anthem), but listening to the recording of Ben-Gurion’s declaration followed by an emotional rendition of the tune, I felt compelled to join in. Looking around, I saw others doing the exact same thing.

We then went to Nahalat Binyamin, the artist market and bazaar (in Israel they’re known as Shuk) with further freedom to explore. Sam and I left the Shuk completely in search of more graffiti. (Note: if you’re there and like Bourekas, right at the entrance of the Shuk a few doors down on the right side is the BEST Boureka I’ve ever eaten. Thanks To Shara for introducing me to it a few years back.)

After shopping around, we got on the bus and drove down into the desert, where we would spend the weekend at a Kibbutz called Mashabim.

Mashabim was great because it provided us with some much-needed downtime. The amount of information we had been receiving was beginning to overwhelm some of us, and Shabbat meant less activities. A free day to take it all in. Friday night we had our own little Shabbat ceremony, ate dinner and partied at the Kibbutz’s pub.

Saturday was excellent. Uri, Sam and I walked around and ended up sitting on the grass with a group of local kids (on break from the army), smoking hookah and swapping stories. (Sam is a veteran and was taken in most familially by all Israelis who learned of his service in the Marine Corps).

That night, after Havdallah, Shachar did one of most impressive things I saw on the entire trip–he constructed a gigantic map of Israel and the surrounding countries on the floor of a building using only masking tape. Honestly. I was really, REALLY impressed. He then led an interesting activity through which he taught the group a bit more history of the countries in the region, specifically their Sovereignty and timelines (turns out a lot of the group thought the Arab world had control over itself for much longer than the actual truth. Good thing we came on birthright to learn, right?) After the lesson we headed back to the pub, which was a roarin’ good time yet again.

Sunday morning we left Mashabim and headed to שביל הסלט (Shvil Ha’salat – the road of salad), where we got a chance to see some of the ingenuity of Israelis. (Agriculture in the desert? WTF?) It was here that several wonderful things happened: I ate the hottest pepper I’ve ever eaten, the most delicious bell-pepper I’ve ever eaten and the best carrot, too. (Noteworthy: the fruits and vegetables in Israel might ruin fruits and veggies for you when you get back to the states. Just warning those who are heading there soon.)

From Shvil Ha’salat we headed to Sderot. That is when the day started getting heavy. For those who don’t know it, Sderot is a small city very near Gaza which has suffered roughly 11,000 rocket attacks from Gaza in the last few years. The potholes in the street, the inexplicable shrapnel scars littering the homes of families, the fact that a person is always less than 15 SECONDS away from a bomb shelter by foot. These are the realities some Israelis live with. We met an American woman, a documentary filmmaker, who had decided while working on a piece on Sderot to move to Israel. She was a fascinating lady, and I think that for most of the people the discussion we had with her presented a huge turning point. We went to see Gaza. Not from the inside, of course, but from a hillside nearby. We were probably no more than 2 or 3 miles away.

It was pretty heavy to look at. To see how close the Arab cities and the Jewish cities really are was pretty unbelievable. To be honest, I have no witticisms on the subject. It just silenced me completely. After looking at Gaza we went to the Sderot police station to look at the recent haul of missiles that had fallen in the area. Each is marked for date and location. It didn’t take much time find one that had fallen barely a month before we were standing there.

(Folks interested in the raw data: Google QuassamCount. A website that streams rocket activity from Gaza.)

After Sderot we headed to the desert for our “authentic Bedouin experience”. While it was nice to learn about traditional Bedouin culture, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was among Museum Fremen. It just seemed too much like an attraction. Of course, going to a real Bedouin village would probably not have been the most positive experience, so it was good we were able to do what we did. We ate dinner there and all slept in the tent after having some quiet time in the desert to think. ‘Twas quite dusty.

The following morning we went on the requisite camel ride. It was actually quite pleasant, though it lacked a certain mystique, being lead on a 15 minute camel ride within site of a road that busses frequent. That concluded our Bedouin experience. We got back on the bus and headed to Masada.

The walk up Masada was nice, and the story of Masada an interesting one, but all I could think about on top of Masada was how disappointed I was–my camera’s battery was about to die.

Walking down the snake road from Masada was also enjoyable–a pretty intense upward climb, no doubt–at the bottom of which we hopped on the bus and headed to Ein Gedi.

The walk to the pool at Ein Gedi is fairly short, and the place was crowded, so I stayed behind with some of the Israelis and we put our feet in the water a little distance from the main pool.

From Ein Gedi we went to the Dead Sea for a quick float, which is fairly self explanatory. We hopped back on the bus and headed to Jerusalem.

Our first day in Jerusalem was an intense one. We started off by heading to the cemetery on Mt. Herzl. Seeing the tombs of key figures of Israel’s history was intense, but nothing compared to the graves of the soldiers who died in combat. Some of our Israeli friends shared stories, which made the experience even more powerful. Then we went to Yad Vashem, Israel’s holocaust museum.

About Yad Vashem I have this to say: it is so difficult to conceive the existence of such reckless and deep hatred that after a certain point, one cannot help but partially shut down and discontinue processing further information. This, I believe, happens to some visitors (at least it happened to me) in Yad Vashem. I know the basics of the history and the statistics, but no matter what, facing the imagery in rapid succession in a building DESIGNED to render the visitor scared and shrunken has a deeply disturbing effect. Some people think this is the purpose of visiting the museum, others think it isn’t a good way to promote awareness. I won’t argue the merits of the rebuild. I’ll simply say that after a certain length of time I was incapable of handling any more information, despite attempting to read and take more in. I just couldn’t take anymore without a break.

But there are no breaks. That, I think, is the point.

Exiting the main hall of Yad Vashem, we went to the children’s memorial which, while equally heavy, moved me in a different way because it was a simply breathtaking feat of architectural design. A haunting and gorgeous room.

We went back to the hotel for dinner, to light Hanukkah candles and to decompress a bit from the day’s experiences.

The following day we headed to the Old City of Jerusalem. We started by visiting the active dig site of the city of David, then walked (through the west bank, le gasp!) back around to head into the old city proper. Near the Kotel we we’re given free reign and a time by which to return.

The last time I visited Jerusalem I decided to not visit the Kotel (western wall, wailing wall for those who didn’t know), and I was working under the assumption I wouldn’t visit it this time around either, so I walked with a small group of friends into the exciting part of the Shuk we were told not to enter: the Arab quarter. After buying pitas full of an as-yet unidentified meat and waking around some more, we ended up mulling over the idea of heading to the Kotel. I believe my exact words were “fuck it. Let’s go.”

We walked through the security checkpoint and into the large courtyard, which was filled with Ethiopians wearing traditional-esque garb that was covered in images of Jesus. It was truly a bizarre sight. (Turns out there were several “Ethiopian Christian heritage” tours being conducted in the area). We then tried to enter the Kotel grounds through the women’s side, which didn’t work out so well.

When we finally entered the correct side of the Kotel grounds, Kippas firmly in place, I decided to look up at the wall. As soon as I looked at it, I felt a sense of the history of the place. It practically washed over me like a giant wave. My father and I constantly talk about the “tribal,” “ancient” and “ritualistic” aspects of Jewishness and in seeing the wall I felt a deep connection to the ancient, tribal people to which I belong.

I walked back to the table of Chassidim pestering people to put on tefillin, and asked a gentleman to assist me with the Phylacteries. (Turns out this guy knew the Chabad Rabbi in Santa Cruz. Small world, no?)

I didn’t do it because I felt some metaphysical/spiritual/religious need to do it. I did it because of an overwhelming sense of my genetic heritage. For just a moment, I was the Kwisatz Haderach, looking back in my mind through the generations, connecting to an ancient past…

(Can you tell I reread Dune while I was on the trip?)

We headed back to the hotel for dinner and Hanukkah lighting, then went to sleep and prepared for the last day of our birthright trip.

In the morning we packed the bus and headed our for a great morning: we were going to conduct a bar/bat mitzvah ceremony for those travelers who wanted one. An awesome thing, to be bar/bat mitzvah’d in Jerusalem, in sight of the old city! I was truly honored when John (a new buddy) asked me to provide the blessing. Once again, regardless of my personal sense of belief, I felt compelled to participate in a tribal initiation right of my people.

During the ceremony, two segway tours went by. This, you might think, is one of the funnier things that has ever happened. You would be right in thinking that. After the ceremony, the group started a typical bar mitzvah dance party. It was hilarious.

From there we went to our penultimate activity: walking through an old neighborhood towards Mahane Yehuda, the large Shuk in Jerusalem. We had almost four hours of free time there, most of which I spent walking back and forth through the Shuk with friends, taking photos of fruits and veggies for sale.

Finally, we hopped back into the bus and drove to the Knesset. In my opinion, it was an odd way to end things, but ultimately it was another interesting moment in the trip. (Sam and I spent the bulk of the time there performing A Capella tunes.) We watched the sun set, got back into the bus and headed to Ben-Gurion, where we would ultimately be split into those heading back to the states and those staying in Israel.

We’ve passed the 3000 word threshold, which might be officially too long of a post. In proof reading, it seems I warbled a bit towards the end, but c’est la vie. This is, after all, a collection of warblings.

I skipped a healthy amount of detail in this post. If any of you has any questions about specific locations or events, I would be happy to answer them. Comment away!

Stay tuned. Now I head straight into the next post, which will concern itself with the second half of my trip…

A Return to the Motherland / An Open Letter to the Woman Who Sat Next to Me on the Plane

It is almost 10:30 PM here in Kibbutz Farod, due southwest of Tzfat in Israel.

I’m back in the motherland.

I’ll get to the time leading up to this moment, but I have to get something off my chest before I start. I was somewhat nervous about taking this trip. I felt unprepared and unsure about it. Arriving in Ben-Gurion, hopping on the bus and seeing Israel through the windows, it all melted away. I love Israel. It feels like home.

The first step of the journey was the red-eye I took to New York on Saturday. Getting a chance to spend time with Amira and Steve is always a pleasure, and this time was no different, though it was a little difficult arriving and feeling like this.

Amira was busy in the morning so I got a chance to hang out with Steve and discuss some philosophical matters over 30 chicken wings and some pints (glory.) Later, Amira met up with us and we ended up going ice skating in Bryant park which, while somewhat stressful, was an enjoyable experience.

My cousin Matthew is a waiter at a fancy/hip restaurant modeling itself after traditional Jewish food in the 50’s. The meal was excellent, the company was good, and I partook in a drink infused with habanero for the second time in my life. Altogether a successful evening, in my opinion.

I managed to fill the hours before sleep with the requisite amount of stress, and headed to the Airport the next day.

Getting to the airport and meeting the group was easy enough–everyone seemed equally nervous and excited, so there was (and still is) quite a bit of small talk going on. We were told to be there very early, and as a result had very little to do in a huge amount of time.

The sunset was beautiful, and made for a great send-off from the good-ole U.S of A. Unfortunately, however, we then had to board the flight.

We weren’t seated as a group, which struck me as odd, but no matter. I figured that given the fact that about 5 separate Birthright groups were on this flight, odds were I’d sit next to some people I could call my peers.

Alas, it could no be so. I sat in the middle seat and was first to arrive in my row. The gentleman in the aisle seat arrived next, Tzitzit hanging stainédly from his bulk, sweater dripping crumbs and foodstuffs from meals which might have been had that day, but were most probably from some time earlier in the week. I had him tagged, based on his insistence to halt the flow of passengers aboard, as the one to look out for, and found myself pleasantly surprised when we casually chatted about the professions of his sons and daughters. (Quite varied, but I won’t bore you with the details.)

Then she arrived, and what follows is an account of the almost 12 hour experience in letter form:

Letter to the Woman Who Sat Next to Me on the Plane

Hi there,

I am being totally honest when I say I didn’t want to profile you when I saw you. It’s a natural instinct humans have: we try to define the world we perceive according to information we have gathered as individuals, and if we can’t, we make judgements based on the first data we collect–often visual stimulus.

I didn’t want to believe you were going to do exactly what I would have thought you would, and now I find myself in the awkward position of wishing you were the rude image I had created of you, since you turned out to be much worse.

Saying it’s poor manners to boss strangers around on El Al is like trying to explain to a dog why it shouldn’t pee on every tree along the walk. A futile effort. This woman, however, was something special.

You told us to get up, because we were in your way, and you proceeded to leave all of your bags on my seat. When I asked you to move them, you looked at me like I asked for your only remaining lung. As a response you put your belongings under the seat in front of me, where they promptly unloaded their crumby contents onto my jacket. Yay. Thanks for that.

Without pause, you asked me if I had a phone. I said that I did, and you asked to use it. I told you that I had turned it off because of the flight and you said to me “Nu, then turn it on again. I can use your phone?” I complied, because I figured it couldn’t do any harm. You impatiently waited for my phone to boot up, and when I took you to the dialing screen you attempted to make 5 calls, 2 of them to Israel. For some inexplicable reason, it didn’t work, so I took my phone back and turned it off again. This, of course, wouldn’t do, since when you asked for my phone again and it was off, you said ״נו, למה סגרת את הסלולר?״ (“why did you turn it off?”)

5 more call attempts, none successful.

Then your phone rang.

(Starting to see where I’m going with this?)

You answered your phone as if nothing were out of the ordinary, and began speaking at an excessively high volume inYiddish about a wedding or eight while the plane began to taxi. As we are in the plane, moving, you place the other calls you were hoping to place and were still on the phone after the plane took off.

(The gentleman to my left, at this point, is shaking his head in disgust.)

Skip ahead an hour, and I find myself having gotten up twice to let you pass. I’m trying to close my eyes, but every time I feel myself begin to drift into an uncomfortable sleep, something happens. You kick my foot. You reach under my seat to get your stuff. You shift your weight, throw your blanket over your back, not caring whether any part of me is trapped under it with you.

I give up and try to read my book. No? You don’t want the light on? But you aren’t asleep, you’re reading over my shoulder. Okay. Fine. I’ll use my iPad to read. What’s that? I need to explain to you what it is, how much I paid for it, and if it was worth it? Fine. Maybe I’ll just close my eyes.

(The gentleman on my left has pulled out his own tablet computer and has begun reading Torah on it. Not joking)

I could go on but I’ll skip forward to the “better” parts.

You lifted the armrest and backed up fully into my seat. In fact, part of you is sitting on my lap. This is making me uncomfortable. I try to move away without touching you, but I can’t since the gentleman’s bulk is leaking into my seat from the other side. You throw your blanket on my face.

I sleep for 10 minutes and wake up to the strangest feeling on my leg. Oh? You were actually farting on my leg? Really? I’m honestly impressed, at this point, with your lack of tact and consideration, and I wonder how it could get worse.

Our in-flight meal arrives and you visibly scoff that I’m eating it. It probably didn’t match your standards for Kashrut, but hey, to each their own, right? The food is cleared after you rudely refused to take any of it, and you reach under my seat to grab a Bodega sandwich from one of your bags. The egg salad smell begins to waft in my direction and I’m stunned into something between chokes and crazed giggles.

Cut forward to breakfast. You somehow again managed to lift the armrest and sit slightly on my lap, an experience made only more uncomfortable based on your more recent dietary choices. I bring my tray down, and you get in its way. I, however, am still in the wrong.

Eating my breakfast of fruit, you decide to turn around. I’ve made it through 3 grapes, a piece of pineapple and a piece of grapefruit when suddenly your blanket lands on my breakfast. Awesome. I didn’t want that. I’ll just eat this yogurt.

Only 3.5 hours left. We can do this!

Time passes with similar events, and I’ve slept no more than 10 minutes at a time 3 or 4 times on the whole flight.

We finally land, and as we’re still taxiing to the gate you ask why they haven’t let us out yet.

Because we’re still moving, I say.

Because we’re still moving.

Far be it from me to leave you, dear reader, with the impression that I’m not overjoyed to be here. I am so, so very happy to be in Israel. I can’t wait to do more. Today we went to Zichron Ya’akov, a town south of Haifa. It was an absolutely beautiful day. Here are two pictures I took while in the town.

Thanksgiving / 36 Arguments

Visiting my parents in southern California used to give me a strange paranoia. Returning to LA, for whatever reason, made me feel like I was regressing. (That is, of course, ridiculous.) Since college, however, Santa Monica has been a source of some much-needed emotional recharging and re-invigoration of my inspirado.

I count myself among the very fortunate for having such an open, loving, supportive, hilarious family. Thanksgiving seems to me to be a necessarily stressful time, what with family, food, drink and close-quarters, but we manage to pull it off year after year. I display a certain level of unease at the whole process, but by the end it’s usually all smiles and sad goodbyes. This time around it was particularly hard leaving my sister–she and I are very close and New York is very far away. Being with my brother, sister-in-law and my nephews is always a pleasure (did you know the best word a baby can learn to say first is hi? I didn’t either.) My parents are just awesome people. I’m proud to be a member of my family.

Thanksgiving dinner was delicious. My sisters are badass cooks. Seriously.

I got a chance to hang out with friends in LA, too. I ran with an amazing and creative crowd back in the day: Dan Miller, Tony May, Max Wittert (more Max and some more Max,) not to mention my other good buds David and Tiimo. (Not to mention new bros-here’s lookin’ at you, Bowling.) Every one of those guys is excellent. Truly a privilege to have their friendship.

Back in my room in Oakland, I’m thinking about creativity. I’ve been writing a bit and playing guitar more and it’s amazing what a little bit of creative expression can do to settle my mind and mood. The months before finding housing in Oakland were stressful, tumultuous and frustrating, and I imagine that had I been channeling that energy into creative outlets rather than alienating people who were trying to comfort me, I’d have some pretty interesting fiction to share.

I took some photos with my phone while in LA. Here they are.

I’ve been meaning to write about this book for a while, so here’s a little bit about:

36 Arguments for the Existence of God

by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein

36 Arguments for the Existence of GodI resisted reading this book for some time not because I had other potentially better books to read, rather because it had been recommended to me by my parents and had some obvious Jewishness about it (clearly I still have some issues to work out, n’est pas?) Puhleez, I won’t read that because it’ll probably be some guilt trip or something, right?

Wrong.

I finally sat down to read it after months of my parents talking about how great the book is, and after gobbling it up voraciously I slapped myself on the forehead for my ridiculous rigidity. 36 Arguments is, in a word, is fantastic. Once I got past the first chapter (which was beautiful,) I couldn’t put it down. The book follows Cass Seltzer, a professor of Psychology who wrote a book which earned him the moniker “the atheist with a soul.” Goldstein (a MacArthur fellow and 2011 Humanist of the Year) elegantly places Cass in a variety of circumstances in the novel’s pages, some comic, some tragic and stressful, some almost fantastical. At several points of the novel, I found myself physically moved to the point where I had to just put the book down, take a deep breath and hold myself together. (The way she puts you inside the Synagogue at New Walden is totally overwhelming and incredible.)

One of the themes the book deals with is religious identity and one’s responsibility for one’s self balanced against one’s responsibility for the community. The most amazing thing happened when I discussed my feelings on the book with my dad; we both enjoyed the book immensely and found it very illuminating, but ended up on opposite sides of the argument, both sides equally validated by the text.

Goldstein is a Professor of Philosophy, and an essence of that frequently bleeds through into the novel, but not in a way that damages the reading experience. On the contrary, it enriched the characters and provided bite-sized moments of profundity within the fiction.

I talked about the book every day for a few weeks when I finished it, and I thanked my parents profusely for recommending it. I’ve recommended it to just about everyone I know, and recommend it again here: please read this book. Even if you’re not a Jew, it’s a wonderful reading experience.

★★★★★

The Pacific Northwest! Or: Winter is Coming…

Those who know me well know of my passion for a certain Max McDaniel, now further augmented by the zest that is Moorea Seal. (The irony, of course, is that Max and Moorea are 2 of the 6-8 of you who might read this.) Max and Moorea live in Seattle, to which I’d never been before May of this year. My first encounter with Seattle was enough to know that I love the city, and my second visit only strengthened that fondness.

For some reason I don’t yet understand, I’ve had difficulty expressing exactly why I’m infatuated with Seattle. I can articulate some of it though, I suppose: it has both big-city appeal and smaller-town comfort. I felt comfortable in my own skin in Seattle, as if I were totally in my element. I watched the local folk interact and noticed more and more that their interactions felt honest. I went to a concert on Friday night with Max (Minus the Bear with The Velvet Teen; it was great) and while there the standard events occurred: spilled drinks, feet stepped on, people milling about, etc… The difference was that people were acknowledging they had disturbed one another and subsequently offered apologies for whatever they’d done (most of the time.) This may well be a case of the grass being greener but I felt a certain warmth everywhere I went in Seattle. The people there simply have a very different attitude toward one another. What’s more, I find the physical environment in Seattle to be stunning; the mixture of reds, oranges, yellows and greens of the trees that are everywhere in Seattle was absolutely beautiful.

We ate, drank, worked, mellowed and generally enjoyed one another’s company.

I count myself among the very lucky to be able to visit a beautiful place and visit such good friends. I had an excellent time. I can’t wait to go back for more.

What follows is the set of quick iPhone photos I snapped over the weekend.

 

Oh, and we also watched quit a bit of Dual Survival, which I recommend you do immediately.