Paper Towns

There’s a notch in the fence where a board has given way; a three-inch indention in the warped wood; the perfect amount of space to put a beer. Allows one to take a drag from a cigarette whilst simultaneously running one’s fingers through their hair, taking in the beauty of suburbia – that singular moment to contemplate and concern.

Yes, even suburbia can be beautiful, if one merely takes the time to admire.

The euphoria of finishing a book from cover to cover as lazy, gray smoke lists playfully about in the calm air; a feeling with few compatriots.

You can hear the laughter of neighborhood children as they chase one another up and down the block, giving Life to their still undaunted imaginations. Innocence before the misery of Real Life comes crashing through like a maddened bull against a Spanish matador, horns raised, red flashing, cheering crowds, and the abject danger of Man versus Beast as a single misstep can spell either victory or crushing defeat.

Apt.

An apt metaphor for Life.

The beer teeters precariously in a sudden breeze, the old wood shaking ever so gently at the nudging of Zephyr. But it doesn’t fall – of course not. The beer – the stimulus – that can never fall.

Tobacco and paper burn together as they are inhaled inward. In a few moments, the delightful toxins are expelled in a plume of smoke and sigh of satisfaction. A swig of swill washes the acrid taste down.

You can look through the glass door and see the piles. Stacks of them, haphazardly arranged as if Ajax and Hector were tossing their Trojan boulders about, hopelessly aiming to slay one another with but a well-placed stone, always missing their mark and adding to the battlefield Chaos.

Monuments of knowledge and history and philosophy and warfare and womanizing and politics and chivalry and poetry and madness and tales and myths and legends. Thrown about the room as if Katrina had worked her mischievous way to the bowels of Paper Town, New Mexico, her mighty gales picking up each stack and depositing them about the place without reason. What use had Nature – Knowledge – for Reason?

In a structured Life of Order and Balance, the piles were anything but. They represented the face one cannot show the world: this is me.

These, philosophically gesturing to the askew piles, are me.

Where the heretical mix with the orthodox and the deviant with the pristine. Where the drunkard laughs along with the teetotaler, while the Muses sing songs of poverty and richness to the tune of iambic pentameter and spontaneous prose. Where the traveler on the road is met by Logic and Reason but quickly accosted by Imagination and Stream of Consciousness. This unstructured Chaos, this ode to madness, these, these! These very piles – this is me.

Books, of course.

Piles of them.

Books still in boxes. Books in bookcases, in bookshelves, on the coffee table, on the kitchen table, on the writing desk, on the painting desk, on the record player, the laptop, the sofa, the nightstand, the bed, the kitchen counters. Books in piles thrown about the place in absolutely every room, growing here and there by the day, an escape, an outlet, to worlds far more intriguing than the one of laughing suburban children.

Tomes filled with dangerous thoughts and ideas, of sexual deviancy and extreme piety. Books on obscure characters – lost to Time – with even more obscure authors. Books from the modern era and books from before. Spines broken and unglued (the work of many a sleepless night) with pages scribbled upon in minute handwriting. Here and there a few pages – hundreds? A dozen? – missing completely, but others supplemented by indexes of numerous pages.

Now that you’ve read this, they whisper, read that.

It is like hosting a massive party with every person you have ever met. Not everyone at this party will be similar, indeed, even tolerable of one another, but here they are. Gathered under one roof for one mighty bacchanalia of insight and introspection. Every famous and obscure author sending their second to represent them in this dusty hole of a town where the host is just as damningly confusing as his guest list.

Dark now; when in blazes did it become dark?

He reaches for the beer tucked away in the safety of the rotten wood, but it crashes to the ground before he can place his grip.

The contents splash about the yard – overgrown – and the laughter of children has now given way to the still of the night. How long can one be lost in their imagination? Ballast; where is the ballast?

He turns, looking through the glass door. A ha! He chuckles to himself. That’s where you’ve been hiding, my love.

The euphoria of knowledge becomes the best high, the thrill of turning the page the most alluring conquest. The desire for understanding becoming the stimulus.

People. Work. Taxes. Phones. Electronics. All meaningless. All paper. All blinding him to the crests of the mountains he’s built for himself to climb.

Seeker, he hears – a chilling whisper upon the silent wind. When did you stop Seeking?

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Dangerously Beautiful

He spat out blood.

He wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his dress shirt, grimly admiring the red stains mixed with spittle as it quickly soaked into the fabric, darkening the soft color with a crude, rusty tinge.

There, his lifeforce, coagulating with cotton fibres; himself oblivious to the hustle around him as he quietly took in his precarious situation, ignoring the masses as they jockeyed around the tight corridors, focusing intensely upon the wonderful colors he himself had expectorated from the numerous unidentified sores within his squalid mouth.

Crouched over the dribbling water fountain, he brought himself to drink. With a gentle nudge upon the aged and well-worn plastic button, fresh, cool water came springing forth from the soulless steel, and he dipped low to take a mouthful.

Slowly swishing it about, he quickly identified the coppery aftertaste of a fresh wound. The longer the water remained, the more he could feel his mouth fill with tendrils of blood, the life-giving liquid encouraging the other to flow freely without recourse.

It was a unique taste – one he secretly enjoyed – but one he recognized as something out of the ordinary. This wasn’t normal for him, to be spitting up blood without cause, and a part of his mind feared the absolute worst. Was this how it begins, he thought. The end?

But the more sensible side of his mind urged caution, to not jump to conclusions, and to merely accept that he was ill. That’s all. Sick.

He spat out blood.

He watched as the wine-colored water splashed across the sterilized fountain; a fetid mixture of saliva, water, and burnished blood happily pooling across the fountainhead, a macabre rainbow he himself gave to Creation.

With delicate care, as if knowing he was watching with utmost amazement, the mixture slowly ebbed toward the drain, dawdling as it went along its course – its ultimate demise – to disappear forever down the unhallowed drains of yet another sterile fixture. The only thing living within the dull, polished steel of Man was the very elixir he himself had spat out, an ironic situation not lost upon him.

Pushing once more upon the machine, a stream of water sprang forth; he did not move to meet it.

The unmolested water splashed against his sanguine pool – scattering droplets of scarlet and pink and red and rust across his trousers and sleeves – adding fresh stains to his already dirtied attire. What didn’t collide with his unflinching form spread across the once-pristine machine or fell to the dull tile beneath his feet, another life lost in the misery of a constant shuffle, a dedicated rat race, and he, a bloodied sentinel paying no heed to those around him, merely watching with a mixture of abject curiosity, a tinge of horror, and a zealous fascination to see this latest ordeal through.

The more he pressed upon the lackluster polystyrene, the more ferocious became the constant jet of water, attempting to eradicate him completely from its polished-steel surface, as if the machine itself was crying foul at being used as a crude spittoon. It hummed as it pumped still more water through its spigot, desperately wanting to rid itself of his stains.

Slowly, the charnel mixture began to clear as the machine continued its cleansing operation. Where once a massive, red spatter was splayed across the drainage system – a bloody Picasso – it gave way to the clearness of the swirling water. Before long, the last droplets of blood were washed away from the surface.

He released the button and the process instantly ceased.

Standing straight, his hands still perched upon the fountain, he drew a long sigh.

This isn’t normal, he thought to himself (for the corridors were still crowded with proles, lest they think him mad). What is happening to me?

For several moments he stood there, frozen in pose, reflecting upon what had just transpired.

And there, at the back of his mouth, he tasted the sweet copper once more, feeling the vessels give way to another bout of blooded introspection. He quickly squeezed his mouth tight and sucked the mixture from its barrows, before stooping over the machine – feeling the bulge of his cigarettes as he did so – and releasing a parting shot.

He spat out blood.

He was dying – but he found it dangerously beautiful.

I’m Going Nomad

Hey there folks,

It’s been quite the spell hasn’t it? I have half a dozen veritable excuses I could use to satiate my claims of inadequacy, but in truth, none of them really matter. The fact is I’ve been neglecting my poor blog in favor of the tenuous here and now – and, shame, that just isn’t my proper style. What sort of wandering vagabond am I if I can scarcely keep a blog updated, eh?

Things have been quite tumultuous on my end, what, with the moving back to Lovington, taking up residence as a local English teacher, and trying to juggle my new work schedule, academic career, and personal Life all in one go. And here I thought I had mastered time management. Joke’s on me, because time is a fictional concept and you cannot master fiction.

Despite my faults (which exist purely because of my own machinations), I am acclimating well to things I reason. Forsooth, I heartily enjoy teaching English – that should’ve been a given considering my penchant for arguing and being a pompous ass when it comes to literature and opinions. And Lord knows if you’ve ever argued with me I don’t back down in the face of Reason too readily.

Yet my writing Life has certainly taken a most severe blow within these past few months. To be fair (which it isn’t), moving back to Lovington was a burden. But that was accomplished in little over a week (thanks, Po – you’re the best). And acclimating myself to the new teaching gig has been rather touch and go at times. Just when I feel I get the hang of things, the local Umbridge brings the thunder and I’m back to drowning in a heap of acronyms, paperwork, and children with banal questions. Yes, you put your goddamned name on every assignment; stop asking.

Even as I write this post, I am unsure of its completion. And if you’re reading this, hot damn, that means I finally finished a fucking draft for the first time in months. True, my personal journal is stained heavily in fountain pen ink (with my distinctive script), but it is indeed a far cry from keeping up with my blog. I’m paying for this damned thing, right, so I might as well write something worthy of note.

And here we are, for something has compelled me to write tonight, or rather, some people.

A couple weeks ago, a Camino Comrade of mine happened to be in the area on account of business. And by in the area I mean within two hours of me, which, as any red-or-green blooded New Mexican will attest, is close by. Despite it being a school night (still getting used to that again) and having a slew of grading, lesson plans, and my own academics to fret over, I saddled up after classes let out and made my way to the grand city of Andrews, Tejas. Despite my reluctance to ever visit that dread land of faux-Cowboys e’er again, this woman was well worth the voyage.

And so the two of us – having last met back in April in Missouri – dined over steak fingers and Cokes (no booze; damned dry city) and caught one another up on the shenanigans we’ve been up to since attending hospitalero training way back when. And I must say, how delightfully refreshing it was to simply spend a couple hours with an old friend. Truth, we had only spent about a week together in person, but Camino, as we all know, is simply like that: making eternal friends can take as little as a chance buen camino.

We sat in her car, chain smoking and bullshitting, reminiscing about this and that, and speaking of our desires to once more rejoin the Way and how we planned on achieving that. We spoke of our mutual comrades with whom we had both visited this past year, of our singular encounters with others from our hospitalero group, and the significant moments in our respective Lives from encounter the last.

She remarked upon the blog, how she really enjoyed my “sermon” to the Presbyterian flock of yesteryear, and I recall beaming with pride in the darkened vehicle, the ember of my cigarette dangling from my lip the only tell-tale sign of warmth across my face. Though my biggest critic and always downplaying praise, it touched me to know I had made an impact.

“You should write an anthology,” she said. “I think you’d be great at it.”

I’d be damned if I said my heart wasn’t aflutter at that kind suggestion.

Forsooth, comrades, there is something to be said in the mere innocence of it all. To simply sit there in plumes of smoke, watching the night sky take shape as the sun sets, and speaking from one soul to another. As I drove the hour and a half back to my new lodgings, how I wished I could merely keep driving and continue the great journey ever onward, to forever seek out such companionship and understanding, to keep the high.

Stephanie, I am eternally in your debt for shaking me awake. For reminding me that my Life isn’t meant to be forever in one place tied down to any single notion of reality. For indeed, reality is what we determine it to be.

And my reality has always been on the road.

But that moment of friendly bliss was soon swallowed whole by the new Life I had crafted about myself. Schooling is no joke – my evenings are oft dedicated to keeping ahead of my classes. My days are entirely devoted to my newfound charges – they may curse my name and workload at the present but I’ve hope for the future. And my personal Life – that damnable thing I can never quite put right – goes through the motions of ups and downs.

As a dark cloud swallows the sun in the encroaching storm, so too was my brief moment with Stephanie in danger of being eclipsed by my own machinations of realistic defeatism.

Yet Fate, comrades, had yet to abandon me completely.

Today, as my red pen flew across scores of comma splices and words in need of capitalization, my phone chirped the familiar sound of a message received. And there, though she didn’t know it at the time, came a familiar face with some much-needed words of encouragement.

“Hey Bruno!” she began. “Miss your posts!”

My dear Stacey – how powerfully wrought were these simple words.

We chatted for a bit – apparently, I may be considered a Subject Matter Expert on all things Grado (adding that to the resume) – about her upcoming writing responsibilities and the Gathering of Pilgrims outside Atlanta next month. Although I didn’t tell her at the time (indeed, I wasn’t quite so sure of it myself initially), her innocent comment had knocked something loose. It reminded me of my brief dinner with Stephanie, of the potential I had to actually put pen to paper and write.

To write, dammit.

That inspiration. That nugget of wisdom. The kernel of truth. Whatever euphemism you need, whatever you call it, to begin writing. And to write in earnest. And here we are now, dear reader, a full 1000 words later, writing about things that may seem trivial to the casual observer, but which mean oh so much to me and my flying fingers and racing pen.

Perhaps it’s the copious amounts of booze I’ve ingested. Maybe the plentiful amount of cigarettes smoked. Or the thought that tomorrow I could very well be hungover in a highly stressful job but without a single care to my name. Maybe the reverberating sounds of angry Finnish death metal within my addled skull. Whatever it is – whatever name we wish to call it – some cobwebs have been batted away, the dust scoured clean, and the writer once more unleashed unto himself.

Indulge me, comrades, for your Nomad has returned.

In parting, may I recite my absolute favorite bit of Passion Proof Power, a casual reminder that I am my own Fate, and that no matter what: I am fucking crazy, but I am free.

I Am
You Are
No One’s Slave
No Man or God They Have Made

Sermon

Hey there folks,

The following is a talk I gave today at the First Presbyterian Church in Lovington, New Mexico. It’s a long wall of text, so power through it, eh?


On Thanks

Ellen told me that I have to keep this short, that I could not ramble on for an hour like I did last time. So hopefully I’ll stick to this document and not stray too far from the message I’m trying to impart. I’ve had about two months to pen this – naturally, I waited until the last minute.

Earlier this year, after what seemed less than a month of planning and forethought, I embarked upon my second international solo journey. Yes, I had certainly kicked the idea around many a time afore, but it wasn’t until late January that I decided – impulsively – that I needed to once more take to the road and see the world as only a lonesome pilgrim can.

Continue reading “Sermon”

Full of Hot Air

Hey there folks,

One of the many exciting things about Albuquerque apart from the high murder rate and unsolicited slaughter of bums is the world-renowned

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta!

And having been a lifelong New Mexico citizen, it was high time I attended such a festival. And I must say, reader, it has its charm, but it isn’t something I’m keen on attending in the future.

Armed with the foreknowledge of my brother and his charming wife, the family set out to finally attend one of New Mexico’s greatest attractions.

balloons
That wasn’t even a third of ’em

Continue reading “Full of Hot Air”

On the Road

Hey there folks,

I started (re)reading On the Road by the infamous beatnik, Jack Kerouac, once again, and I must say – it’s even better a second time around.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve accomplished two Caminos and many travels since I first read it years ago. Or perhaps in my current state of longing for the road it speaks louder to me these days.

More so because it’s a timeless American classic. And, yes, I will fight you if you believe otherwise.

Moving on – it’s a brilliant book and one I think every person capable of reading needs to have a go at. Caused quite a stir when it was first published, what, with all the sex, drugs, and disregard for societal expectations. Young men should be getting jobs and raising families, not chasing their head-in-the-cloud dreams!

And how doth the latter speak to me.

Continue reading “On the Road”