The Blog

the aric special birthday show [2007]

aricandp

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I have listened to this exactly 5 times.

01. the night of my birthday – in a crowded Nepalese restaurant – surrounded by all of the people you’ll hear in the show.

02. later that night, with Pierre and Scott – out on the balcony – fists full of whiskey and celebration.

03. a year later, while riding on a bus in Indonesia.

04. at his grave, last year in Paris – with a bottle of champagne, some saucisson and cigarettes.

05. as I sit here and type this.

… for those who didn’t know Pierre and I’s relationship, we fought and drank and laughed and argued like brothers. weeks would go by with one of us not speaking to the other, but in the coming months, you’d find us inseparable.

the weeks leading up to my birthday – the same weeks he was busy making this, my special birthday show – we were supposed to be recording our podcast OMKOS, but he was ‘too busy, man’. and I laid into him for it. ask me how much of a prick I felt like when he walked into the aforementioned restaurant with his Macbook open and a pair of earphones attached.

a very, very large part of me wanted to keep this for myself, but that decision stopped the moment he laughed.

it’s something that should be shared.

my frère français is missed daily, and dearly, but am thankful we have this – and a few other things – to remind us of his muchness.

I love you man, too.

-a

[for anyone who'd like a copy of this, I will gladly send it to you.]

things I get asked – part three: my favorite places

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I suppose this should have been the first post – as it is the question I get asked the most – but it was important that we established that I’m a cool guy. with cool things.

let’s get to it.

my Top 10 Favorite Places in the world. ever.

[all photos are mine unless noted.]

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[not my photo.]

1. the West Coast of Ireland – I’d say this even if I didn’t come from an Irish family. there’s magic here, there are ghosts that stumble and men who slur and ladies who twinkle. there’s crap weather and worse food, but… my god, when you spend the day walking across the green near The Cliffs, and then spend the evening trying to play catch-up with the craic in one of Doolin’s tiny pubs, you’ll see why this grabs my top spot. and – just in case those who I’ve appointed are either dead, or too drunk to function – scatter my ashes here, please.

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2. France. I love everything about this country – the wine, the food, the music, the people, even a hint at where The Ark resides [!] … all of it. is there an arrogance? yes. absolutely. they have one of the world’s best countries, a fierce attitude to people who tell them what to do, and a way of life that ensures enjoyment amongst adversity. in my most secret of places, I’ll admit to wanting to find an older wife there… who smokes… with an asymmetrical haircut… and lots of eyeliner… who disagrees with everything that I say.

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3. New Orleans. up until this spring, I didn’t really like New Orleans. truth. the three times I was there before were spent drunk on Bourbon Street, staying within the few blocks of the French Quarter. but this time around, I got to see the real side, meet the real folks, eat the real gumbo, feel the real voodoo, learn about the real attitude,  [think Southern lax with the above French joie de vivre... but, you know, alcoholic] – and when I left, it felt like home. and I still think back on those short few months I called it that. if I had my druthers, I’d spend Feb-May here every year.

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4. Indonesia. what a place! I got nothing but love for this country. some of Asia’s best food, nicest people [seriously], most diverse topography, easiest language for English speakers to pick up… I love all of it. even Jarkarta, the giant shithole that it is. kopi and clove cigarettes, satay and beer. and one of the best meals I’ve ever had – mie ayam – from this guy.

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5. Valparaiso, Chile. when I signed on to do the BBC series, I had one demand. [okay, not demand, it was the BBC and I was homeless], but I had one request: we film one show in Valparaiso. this place has become my South American home-away-from… well, your spare room, but with good reasons. wine [obviously], famous snacks, gorgeous views, a thriving art scene, cheap, fantastic fish, great music and, c’mon, Chileans. best folks on the continent. [and I say this after almost being locked-up... and being caught in a pretty serious riot.]

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[not my photo]

6. Bagan, Myanmar. if that photo above doesn’t tell you why this is one of the most magical spots in the world, then nothing I can say will. but trust me.

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7a. Sicily - I knew it was going to be nice, but I had no idea how nice. are the people nuts? yes. but in the best of ways. the wine and the food and the chocolate speak to that – it’s Italy, sure… but Italy turned up to 11. one of my most beloved towns was found by accident, an eerie Easter spent in the town photographed above, some of the best bike riding and a people whose kindness, generosity were only matched by…

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7b. Greece. I didn’t expect much from Greece – as silly as that might seem. sure, a few nice sunsets on Santorini, taking in the jaw-dropping sites of Meteora [above] … but that’s about it. I didn’t expect to fall in love with Athens, to cycle around a part I still can’t remember the name of, to find the most magical of monasteries [no photos allowed], to meet the absolute kindest of folks. go for the sites, but be prepared to be embraced. a wonderful country, an even more wonderful people.

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8. the South of England - I called this area ‘home‘ for the better part of three years. it’s the England of our minds – the rolling hills, country pubs, place of legends. every person who spends more than 3 days in London gets a very stern email from me re: visit the real UK – and this is it. country folks, good cider, better golf, the best snack, gorgeous towns.

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9. Bend, Oregon - I once wrote that this was the best town in the US, and I still stand by that… small place, amazing beer, serious food, great skiing, great hiking, great venues – and the mountain keeps the dreary Oregon rain away. only drawback: the price. but hey.

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10. Berlin, Germany - if I were 10 years younger, I’d be writing this from Berlin – it’d kill me now. no other place makes me want to pull out my camera, my pen + paper, more. brash, cheap, industrial, open, beautiful, drunk … even the sex club people are nice. all of the things that make for an inspirational town.

and there you go – my top 10 favorite places in all of the world.

runners up: Havana, Belgium, Bolivia, Sarajevo, Seattle, Syria and West Texas.

places that I haven’t been, but if I had, would probably make this list: Norway, British Colombia, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Romania/Bulgaria, and Montana.

[end]

things I get asked – part two: tattoos

tats_coverI got a lot of tattoos – all but a few of them being text.

I never set out to have them like this, I just started liking how they were looking. images would always have a shelf-life, in my opinion. sure, a dolphin with ‘CANCUN 4EVER’ makes sense for a few days over Spring Break… but it might not have as much meaning when I’m 40… which is in… 2 years. fuck. let’s move on.

Memento wasn’t a factor, either. I liked the movie, but didn’t walk away going ‘yes. that.’

travel was also never something I thought would be the reoccurring theme, as I don’t jive with people who call themselves a ‘traveler’ when asked what they do. it’s one nauseating step below those who tag their vacation photos with #blessed, but – as it would turn out – many of them do deal with The Going.

so, I don’t know – except that I got really, really lucky with a tattoo artist – the one who’s done 26 out of the 32. he’s in Brooklyn and that’s all I’ll tell you. reason being is that he hates this stuff and is trying to get out of it. ‘if I’m drawing an image and I get outside of the lines a bit – I can fix that. if I do that on you, I’m out of a job.’ so, fair enough. but he still allows me to come in once-a-year with my little list of words. a weird mix of annoyance, coupled with the jealousy of every artist. but god help me if I ever come in with someone else’s work.

anyway. here they are, in a left-to-right-order… of sorts.

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01. I wasn’t planning on getting a tattoo here, but a week before I went in, Brother Jeremy sent me this quote and I fell in love with it: ‘but paradise is locked and bolted. we must journey around the world to see if a back door has perhaps been left open.‘ – from the German poet Heinrich von Kleist. for anyone who’s followed the barrage of FB/I’gram updates, I’m shortly headed on a large adventure on my boat – so this seemed quite timely.

tat_02_0302. to say that ‘I love my nephew‘ is an understatement. and the day he was born, I was hit with the most wonderful and terrifying feeling. I was now an Uncle, and he would forever look up to me. this – ‘d. nephew‘ is short for ‘dear nephew’, as I’m always writing him postcards with little adventure nuggets along the way – in hopes that he too will someday see what I’ve seen. [as a side note, I recently became an Uncle again to a gorgeous niece and was tempted to put her birthday underneath this, but thought it unoriginal. something soon, though.]

03. [I was so scared my mother was going to be upset when I got this back in 2007, that I wore a large ACE bandage over it the entire time I was in Tulsa.] there’s a book that greatly affected my decision to move onto a boat and try to get around the world, a book by the name of ‘There Be No Dragons‘ – a fantastic read by an old fella who sold everything, bought a boat and had adventures – but what intrigued me most about it was the title, and the history behind it. see, back in the olden days, explorers and adventurers were given money by the kingdom to explore the oceans. but of course, back in those days, most thought the world to be flat. so said explorers would never venture too far into unknown waters, thinking they would fall off, or worse. but when they got home, and when the king and queen would ask them why they didn’t go further, they’d cite dragons as the reason and that quote – [rumored to have originated in Portugal] ‘daqui em diante, nao ha dragoes‘ or, loosely translated: ‘from here and ahead, there be no dragons’ – resonated with me.

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4. ‘shut up and play the hits.’ was something the lead singer of Arcade Fire shouted at James Murphy in LCD Soundsystem’s final show – as seen in the captivating documentary of the same name. but it was what it meant that made me put it on my body permanently – a reminder of my place, my role, what I think I was put here to do – which is to show people who might not have the opportunity – the world. my job is not to moan about politics, the weather, gas prices - it’s to stay [relatively] quiet and deliver the stories, the pretty pictures… and I really like LCD Soundsystem, which helps.

5. the lovable deadbeat Charles Bukowski had one thing to say about trying something… and it was this: ‘if you’re going to try, go all the way. otherwise, don’t even start. this could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and even your mind. it could mean not eating for three or four days. it could mean freezing on a park bench. it could mean jail. it could mean derision. it could mean mockery – isolation. isolation is the gift. all of the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. and you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. and it will be better than anything you can imagine. if you’re going to try, go all the way. there is no other feeling like that. you will be alone with the gods and the nights will flame with fire. you will ride life straight to perfect laughter. it’s the only good fight there is.’ – I mean… how could I not have that on me?

6. the word ‘flanuer’ is my favorite in the French language. it’s basically a man who strolls around town, with no fixed destination. it was also the moniker of my brother Pierre, who left us back in 2008. the bottom part ties into that, but it’s also a tribute to my favorite book, the gist of which is a man who is quite happy to lounge and to loaf - something he sees as noble, something most do not.

7. ‘I see skies of blue / and clouds of white / the bright blessed day / the dark sacred night / and I think to myself…’ - aside from the obvious being that this is one of the greatest songs ever recorded [alongside 'Runaround Sue'], it  became kind of a mantra of mine when I started The Bike Trip last year. from the day I landed in Berlin and then set off to Amsterdam, I played it once-a-day. sometimes when I was happy, sometimes when I was sad, but once-a-day, just to remind myself of what I was actually doing – biking around Europe and North Africa. a few days out of Amsterdam, I came upon this little village – with a gorgeous square – and began snapping photos. there was a band to my right and they began playing a song for no one in particular. and that song? you got it.

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8. I don’t really get Shakespeare. I mean… nope, not even going to make an excuse for that. however, when I [attempted to] read Merchant of Venice, and came across the quote from Portia to Nerissa: ‘how far that candle throws it’s beams! so shines a good deed in a naughty world.’ it made me smile. the power of simply being kind.

9. a few years back, when I was living in New York City, some friends and I caught the inimitable Goran Bregovic at Carnegie Hall [!]. his English was good, but he got stuck on trying to explaining how one’s situation in life should never delegate how their nights are spent. ‘it’s like… it’s like… well, champagne for gypsies, I suppose.’ I woke up that next morning and walked straight to the tattoo parlor.

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10. it’s no shock that I’m a Wes Anderson freak. and when Moonrise Kingdom came out, I saw it three straight nights – in the same theater, with the same hidden bottle of wine, by myself, and would go on to see it two more times that month. his entire works aside, this film seemed to speak to the innocence and purity of adolescent  love. the matter-of-fact-ness of it all. and this quote – ‘no… I said… what kind of bird are you?’ – from Sam to Suzy when he first saw her, seemed to sum that up for me.

11. in one of the decade’s best page-turners, ‘Devil and The White City‘, the architect responsible for designing the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, Daniel Burnham, famously defended his strive for awe with this quote: ‘make no little plans, they have not the magic to stir men’s blood.

tat_1212. [I wish my arm weren't wonky here, it's actually a very straight tattoo.] growing up, we weren’t allowed a television, which sucked as a kid, but I’m very thankful for now. what we did have was a free ride to the library as much as we wanted, so – being landlocked, poor and curious in Oklahoma – I inhaled every adventure/exploration/travel book possible. and who mightier than Jacques Cousteau, who penned ‘when a man has an opportunity to live a life extraordinary, he has no right to keep it all to himself.’ – I liked this. and I liked it a lot more when I met his grandson, Philippe Jr., at a bar in Los Angeles and was able to show it to him.

tat_1313. like so many back in the 90s, I got a Chinese tattoo - – for ‘strength’ or ‘power’ or something one gets in his 20s. years later, when I moved to China, someone commented on my ‘incomplete tattoo’. I asked what he meant and would find out that what I got was grammatically incorrect [great], as it was basically a preface to ‘looking for‘, but didn’t have the following subject matter. so – essentially – I was looking for something, but what that was was unclear… which now makes sense. the broken circle around it was one of the first things I ever wrote, an essay on ‘breaking the circle’ – or – how to change up the monotony of life’s routine. [needless to say, I was kind of an asshole in my 20s.]

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14. the best concert I’ve ever seen is Paul Simon. hands down. and Graceland might be the greatest album ever put together. but it’s significance – the soundtrack to my recent stay in New Orleans – was big for me. for some reason, I/we just couldn’t seem to play anything else. I mean – we did, but it always came back to Graceland. there were a thousand quotes I could have gotten, but, with things being what they are, this one – ‘he is a foreign man / he is surrounded by the sound [the sound] / cattle in the marketplace / scatterings and orphanages / he looks around, around / he sees angeles in the architecture / spinning in infinity / he says amen! / and hallelujah!‘ – from ‘You Can Call Me Al’ – begged to be inked.

*the ‘dot’ was my first tattoo. I sat down, they poked me with the needle and I decided I wasn’t going to sit through an hour of that. so I left.

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15. strange to see a different font, even for me, but this was a] before I met my artists in Brooklyn and b] the closest I could find to the author’s handwriting. back in 2008, while in the city of Rajasthan, India [the city that would end up being my favorite from the entire trip there], I was up late drinking with a few folks and – having been fed-up with everything that is travel in India – I re-quoted some advice given to me when I first arrived: ‘India. you’ll hate every minute of it until you get home… and then you’ll love it.’ the group chuckled and one fella said that it reminded him of the poet Vikram Seth’s passage of: ‘I sometimes seem to wander the world, merely accumulating material for future nostalgia.‘ I made a mental note to have that put on my arm as soon as I got home.

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16. every time I’m home, Mum makes her famous chicken enchiladas for my first and last meal. it’s been like this for years and so, I decided to get that recipe put on my arm. for the record, when I asked her for it and told her why, she refused and I had to snoop through her cookbooks to find it. there’s a very, very good chance she’ll kill me for this.

17.  Tom Hardy’s line to JGL in Inception both made me laugh and made me think.

18. Absurdity. my first boat. oh, how I loved it. but then I got kicked out of England and had to give it to the boat yard and then – recently – got a new one. but you can’t have the name of two boats on you, just as you can’t change the name of a boat. so, to appease Poseidon, I begrudgingly crossed it out, so that I might have safe passage on my new sailboat…

19. … named Odyssey. we all know the book, but it wasn’t until I looked up the definition of the word that I knew this was the boat for me: a long wandering or voyage marked by many changes of fortune. – sounds about right.

20. back in 1999, when I sold everything and headed to Europe with a one-way ticket and an over-stuffed backpack, I reached into my side pocket and found a note from my Father. and it read: ‘dear bud, remember the 4 L’s: live. love. learn. and leave a legacy. -dad’ – and if that doesn’t sum up my old man, I really don’t know what does.

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21. this time last year, I was in the South of France with one of my besties. drunk on 3 days worth of ‘pink wine’, he hugged me and said – in fluent English, but with a French take on it – ‘man, we must do this every year. and then we’ll be old, and it will be perfect; sitting here, drinking wine and laughing for nothing.’ and I said ‘my god, Nico. that’s a tattoo.’

22. of all the greatness that Hunter S. Thomson left us, this – from The Rum Diary – might be the greatest: ‘there’s a thin veneer between the dream and the reality. wake ‘em up, and the people might ask for their money back.

23. I almost got married last year to a girl who’s laugh became my daily objective. when we first met, she thought that the Heath bar I had was for her [her favorite], when – in fact – it was for me [my favorite]. later that evening, I made a crack about loving her ‘in sickness and in Heath‘. a few weeks later, I was in New York and she was having a tough day, and so, I decided to get this on my arm to make her laugh again. it worked. it ended up not working out and this past time in the city, I realized that the last time I was there, it’s when I was in love with her…

24. and while I will always be, it also was something I needed to let go of, so I got a[nother] nod to Wes Anderson’s ‘A Life Aquatic‘ by crossing it out and putting ‘DEEP SEARCH‘ below. if you don’t know the movie, it won’t make sense. but if you do, well… you’ll know why it’s perfect.

tat_26_2725. in ‘A Moveable Feast‘ – possibly Papa Hemingway’s best, he sums up people in the absolute best way I’ve ever read with this: ‘the only thing that could spoil a day were people, and if you could keep from making engagements, each day had no limits. people were always the limiters of happiness, except for the few who were as good as sprint itself.

26. I’m an Otis Redding nut. like… freak. I waited outside his ranch until his family came out, and then, years later, under the guise of National Geographic, I stalked them again. terrible, I know, but ‘go ask Otis’ is all you need for a good day, a sad day, or a confusing day. throw on an album ['Sings Soul Ballads', perhaps?] and you’ll see.

tat_2828. the greatest story I’ve ever read, and perhaps the greatest story ever told… and it goes like this:

‘sunshine was creeping across my rug. it was almost seven-thirty. I sat on the edge of my bed, puffed an old cigar butt, and thought about what Bob Boone had said to Tug McGraw.

it was the World Series. Philadelphia versus Kansas City. Tug McGraw of the Phillies was pitching. it was the fifth game of the series, the bottom of the ninth, with the Kansas City Royals behind four to three. the Royals had the bases loaded with two out. Kansas City had just won two straight games to tie the series, and now they had a chance to win a third and go ahead of Philadelphia three games to two. the game was being played in Kansas City. the ball park was packed. the crowd of over fifty thousand frantic Kansas City fans were on their feet, yelling their heads off. it was bedlam. in the middle of all that commotion, Bob Boone, the Phillies’ catcher, asked the umpire for a time out and walked to the pitcher’s mound. he said something to McGraw, turned, and walked back to home plate. you know what he said? he said, “isn’t this exciting?”

what a wonderful thing to be able to say. – Chuck Barris, Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind, p. 8

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29. and lastly – my ichthus. I’m not a religious man at all, I like gospel. what the Bible and Jesus are to you, The Good Book and The Good Lord are to me. there’s a reason you never see a Baptist Brunch at Stubbs, and what Christianity has turned into disgusts me, and I’m fairly certain the Man Upstairs is looking down right now, shaking His head, going ‘what the hell did you do with my message?!’ – but enough about religion [shut up and play the hits, Queen] I like the story behind this symbol. and, well, I figured Mum and Dad couldn’t get too angry about it. [sorry about the mosquito bites, I live in a trailer.]

… and there you go. all 29 + 1 of them.

there’s one more, but… no. it’s bad. so bad. some other time.

-a

 

things I get asked – part one: the bag

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everyone loves the bag – or, perhaps, The Bag.

myself included… you may have seen the hundreds of photos, or perhaps found yourself unwillingly in the middle of a conversation I had with it.

apologies for that, I spend a lot of time by myself, and it’s kind of my Wilson – or, perhaps Wilson Leather.

[that was funny. bag and I are going to joke about that later.]

but where did it come from?

well, last winter, a few friends and I found ourselves in Marrakech, Morocco. some from New York, some from France, myself in the midst of The Big Bicycle Adventure [I'm just going to start capitalizing shit so you pay attention] … it was Dec. 30th and we pushed and pulled our way through the gorgeous, albeit annoyingly in-your-face souq. smells and sights and not all of them good – quick hands extending from old bodies to grab you proving exciting at first, but wearing us down after that. we needed to get out and breathe, it’d be nice to not have to hold all of our valuables with one hand and slap away said extended arms with the other.

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but the problem is finding your way out. it’s a maze, a labyrinth. attempts at giving tourists maps only add to the confusion. finally, after 20 minutes of ‘no, I think we took a right here.’, we saw the light. a tiny little back alley, still peppered with shops, but the kind that seem poised to sell to locals, not us.

and there it was – down a few shops from where I got my beard trimmed. no more than 20′ X 20′. a shop for bags and what was hanging from his store window? a bag. the bag. The Bag.

now, the first rule of bargaining is to act indifferent, right? oh, it’s nice, but I could do without… but – just out of curiosity – how much is it? – type of thing. but it was hard. I mean, put yourself in the very fortunate shoes of mine right now – how would you react, seeing this just… hanging there?

I kept my composure. asked him to take it down so I could put my hands all over it. the stains, the worn-out feel, the smell… it was perfect. but I couldn’t let him know that. so, with my hands still on it – I asked if he had a new version of this, since-this-was-so-dirty.

he looked, there wasn’t. I feigned severe disappointment.

ugh. gross. well, how much is this, then? [not that I wanted it. ew.]

he looked it over and asked if he could get 50 Euro from me.

I didn’t even counter.

50 Euro. $67. I’ve since been offered $500 for it and no-way-mister. this is mine.

… and thus began the beautiful story of Aric and The Bag.

[end]

note: at the chance of my [un?]timely death, the bag shall be passed along as follows:

- to my nephew; when he turns 18, or takes his first trip abroad.

- until then, it will be in the care of Denver Nicks. who will take it on his #tinyadventures and be responsible for a] emailing [not - underlined - texting] photos of it to Corey Wickersham on her birthday, and b] allowed to stay over at Aunt Nancy’s home for long weekends. Jeffrey A. Ward has been earmarked to set up the Twitter/Instagram/Facebook account.

[end]

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side note – another question I sometimes get – back when I had access to a shower and nice things – was what cologne I wear. it’s a very nice smell, but not as offensive as a cologne. it’s also not sharp – that kind of smell that makes it’s way right up to your sinuses. if I’m being honest, it’s a very sexy smell as well. what is it, then? amber. some sort of petrified [?] amber. bought a few shops down from the bag man. you should really smell me sometime, it’s intoxicating.

you’ll sleep here tonight

while this site is reserved for things I humbly produce, when a vignette so well put together as this one I recently did with award-winning director J.R. Heffelfinger is produced, I couldn’t help but share it.

this – one of the more heartbreaking stories from the road I’ve ever encountered.

Europe + North Africa ’12-13 [Instagram]

Vienna’s FM4

a few weeks back – while in Vienna – I was asked by FM4 [most popular radio station in Central Europe, I'll have you know] host [and pal] Riem Higazi if I’d like to come on their show and talk about the happenings I had going on.

never one to shy away from my favorite subject, I popped into her ‘My Reality’ program and talked all things travel, Oklahoma, naked knifefights on this most-recent bike trip and getting an enema in Ecuador.

good times.

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tuesdays with tara – volume sixty-one

“Please don’t go. I’ll eat you whole. I love you so. I love you so.”

It had been one hell of a year.  Really, it was just the cruel punch line at the end of the three that preceded it.  I am talking about more than a bad breakup.  I am talking about watching a wrecking ball tear through everything that you thought you ever knew.  By the end of it, I dangled dangerously off a precipice; solid ground slipping out from underneath me.  I wasn’t sure what I knew anymore.  Did I really know anything about love?  Did I really understand what I was worth as a person?  How had things gotten so out of hand?  How did I lose perspective of how I deserved to be treated? How did I ever come to such a place in life?  Wasn’t I stronger than this?  Was that really the question I should have been asking myself?  Why do we always try to blame ourselves first?

I am not a victim.  That is not a role I want to play in life.  I stand before you accountable for my own actions.  There are certain things that happen to us in life that never could have happened had we not allowed them to occur.  There are doors that we walk through, either willingly or blindly, but we are the ones who do the walking.  We open that door and what we find on the other side of that door is the result of that choice.  We may not like what we find there.  We may not deserve what happens to us on the other side, but we have to acknowledge that we opened the door.

I am guilty of so many things.  I am guilty of ignoring the signs.  I am guilty of not being able to see what was right in front of me all along; of seeing what I wanted to see, and not the reality.

Here’s why I am not asking you to feel sorry for me, why you must not.  I knew he was bad news.  From the first moment we locked eyes, I knew he was trouble.  I read him completely from the first time we spoke.  I could see that he was wild, passionate, and out of control.  Unfortunately, his arrival in my life corresponded directly with an irrational need I felt for danger.  I had fallen into a rut of sorts and I needed some shaking up.  Sometimes it just happens like that.

The thing is that we hear the same advice all the time:  “You can’t change anyone.” and “You can’t save anyone.”  I am sure there has come a time when you have sat down someone you loved and told them these very words to their face.  I guess it’s what you might call tough love.  You may even believe that these are words that ring true.  Maybe you know someone who eventually had to leave a spouse with a drug addiction.  Maybe you said these very words to that friend. The fact of the matter is:  it’s easy for you to say.  Even if you have been down a similar road in life, you cannot judge another person’s love or pain.  You cannot weight it or chart it or begin to imagine it.

The fact of the matter is that until you are able to make sense of your own mind, you may as well be underwater.  No matter how many people sat me down, no matter what they said to me, it fell on deaf ears.  I can see my pattern of behavior so readily now in hindsight.

In the beginning, there were the justifications.  This is the part that I was born to play.  I suppose the reason why I put on such a convincing show was because, at first, my heart was really in it.  When I defended him, when I made excuses for his behavior, I was steadfast.  My well-meaning friend was forced to retreat, to back down.  “Well, alright, then.  As long as you know what you’re doing.”  I heard that one a lot.  I knew that I had not fully convinced them all the time, but I had also managed not to get tied to the chair until help came, either.

After giving so many of those performances, even I had lost the will to keep them going.  I realized that the cracks in the façade were spreading at an alarming rate.  Now when I faced my advisors, I had to hang my head.  It was hard to look anyone in the eye.  I even felt deeply ashamed of my tears.  Nobody dared say, “I told you so”.  Nobody had to.  I was fully aware of the fact that I had been asleep at the wheel and had caused my current demise with that reckless behavior.  I had run out of excuses.  All that I had left were my rationalizations.  So instead of cutting my losses, as any rational person would have done, I dug in the trenches.  I had convinced myself, was attempting to convince everyone around me, that I was fighting the good fight.  Look at all that I had sacrificed for this love.  How I had altered the entire course of my future to be with this one person.  How my love was the force that would lead him out of the darkness.  How my support and care would be the stabilizing elements that would lead him to himself.  I believed in these justifications with all that I was made of.  I clung to them, drank from them, cried myself to sleep with them.  I had become a martyr for this love.  I was willing to sacrifice my own health, safety, happiness, sanity in order to repair this broken person.  I had convinced myself that no one else on earth could do this job.  I was the only one who truly knew his soul, the only one who loved him enough to bother.

All of these were nothing but delusions of the most treacherous kind, but I allowed them to permeate my being because, quite simply, I felt that they were all I had left.  I thought that if I walked out, if I gave up, I would be thrust into some kind of terrifying personal limbo.  I hadn’t just moved to another part of town.  I had moved to another country on the other side of the planet.  I was partially submerged in a culture in which I was an outsider, a blunt and convenient threat that was leveled against me when it suited.  If I walked out that door, who was I going to be?  Where was I going to go? How was I going to find the strength to pick myself back up?

It was the second incident of physical abuse that finally woke me up.

The first time it happened, I had believed the grief that he felt by causing me such pain.  I believed him when he said that he would never be able to forgive himself for hurting me that way.

I managed to stay in that house with him for four days after the attack, and I marveled that it was that long.  Of course, he bent over backwards to play the afflicted man.  I don’t know how many tears were cried on my lap, how many apologies were choked through those tears, but something had grown inside of me.  A seed of fear had been planted.  When he came near me, I flinched.  When he raised his voice, I backed away.  I realized that I was behaving like a victim.  The trust that I had placed in him had been demolished.  The promise that he had made to me, to my family, to look after me, to protect me, had been broken.

There was no way to undo what had been done.  There was no going back from that place.  When I packed my bags that time, he didn’t try to stop me.  He loaded up the car with them and drove me to my safe house.  He knew that he was responsible for what had become of me and he knew that he could not change any of it.  As we drove in silence, I remember thinking to myself, eyes closed, almost a prayer, “You’re still alive.  You’re still alive.”  Aside from a few suitcases, it was all that I had at the time to hold onto.

I am about to appear certifiable by revealing to you that I went back.  I don’t think I will ever be able to reconcile such a lapse in intelligence.  There must have been a thought process involved, but I can’t tell you for the life of me what it was.  All I know is that a week after I left, I was moving right back in despite the pleas of the friends who had given me safe harbor, even against my better judgment.

This is why I stand accountable for the second incident of abuse.  This is why I cannot be considered a true victim.  I am not saying that I got what I deserved.  I certainly believe that no one has the right to abuse another person.  I am simply stating that I put myself in harm’s way.  I have no one to blame but myself for that.  Anyone in their right mind would consider the possibility of a recurrence of violence, or even a pattern of it.  I can’t claim to be someone who was abandoned or neglected at a young age.  I did not bounce around the foster care system or end up in juvenile detention.  No, I was raised very well.  I had a good head on my shoulders by all accounts.  My parents didn’t worry about me unduly when they set me out into the world to find myself as an adult.  They took stock in the knowledge that they had done their job.  Therefore it stands to reason that the fact that I had allowed myself to be in the line of fire a second time was entirely my own doing.  It was a clear-cut case of me not taking care of me.  It had to stop.

I staggered out of that dark, horrible place.    I suffered, and I did most of it alone.  I was too embarrassed, I think, to cry on anyone’s shoulder at that point.  What had happened in the end was no surprise to anyone in my life.  I know there was a huge collective sigh of relief when it became clear that it was all truly behind me; that I was not going back.  It would just be a long time before I had healed enough to join in the celebration.

Here’s the amazing part, the coup de grace.  All of the pain and loss that I experienced, all of the torment that I was subjected to, none of it killed me.  In fact, once the ragged edge ebbed off of the sorrow, once I passed through the tunnel of debilitating anger, I realized something very important about myself.  I was still standing.  I was still there.  Had I allowed my past to become my future, there were no guarantees about what I have just said.  This deeply traumatic experience was responsible for beginning a new and beautiful process.  Like the tender young shoots that spring from the ashes of a forest fire, I was starting anew.  I was not only going to get back to myself, but I was coming full-circle into the woman I was meant to be.  It’s the best gift I have ever given myself.

I am not suggesting that it has been an easy road.  There are no convenient answers, no quick fixes.  I know now that this process may very well occupy me until the end of my days.  Somehow I’m alright with that.  There are things in this life that are worth finding; yourself, chiefly among them.

tuesdays with tara – volume sixty

Sat me down, had a chat. Men are men but we’re all half alley cat.”

 I really loved you. You meant something. I left you like you didn’t. It’s an albatross I will always wear. You are forever gone and there are no amends forthcoming. What may have appeared as indifference was pure naked fear. You were dying and before our very eyes. It was a burden that swallowed me whole. And when you asked me to help you die, well, the distance I put between us become a chasm that could never be crossed, never be filled.

 You were what people like to refer to as “a character” ; an individual of the highest caliber. You were an eccentric blue blood living on the fringe of acceptability. Cast out of your family because of your sexuality and your brazen lifestyle, you carved out an extraordinary life and made no apologies for who you were.

I was in awe of you. You were most likely in love with my husband. You never came on to him to my knowledge, but it’s possible my then husband was too polite to tell me about it, knowing how it would affect our friendship. Our bond was a found object that I treasured. Something I would reflect upon and feel a swelling in my heart. You were like no other and I loved you for that fact alone, but you gave me so many other reasons.

 You took us out to fine dinners. We were poor, but lively company. Our friendship was a fine mix of charity and genuine adoration. You opened the un-likeliest of doors for us.

 One night, we walked into a building on a block of boarded-up row houses. It was dark and desolate. There was no signage to speak of. When we walked through the door, it was like falling into a C.S.Lewis story. This was Maurice’s, a speak easy French bistro. The room opened up and we were greeted with a packed house illuminated by tabletop candles, Miles Davis on the sound system and Maurice himself, a diminutive man who resembled Pablo Picasso. Your good friend,it would turn out, he hugged you and shook our hands mightily, any friend of yours, etc. Maurice was a brooding difficult man who lived above the restaurant with his ailing mother. He learned French cooking when he was stationed in France during WWII. His pate nearly made me want to weep. It was a gem so deeply hidden, so exquisite in its underground perfection, and it was a gift that you gave to us. All you ever asked for was a little company.

 On a lark, you took up with a randy gang of hobos. They were squatting in an old row house in a shady part of town. Their days consisted of panhandling, purchasing cheap high octane vodka and lying about swilling it. There was an Irishman prone to shouting out sea chanties. There was an Appalachian woman who made stew with weeds that grew in the cracks of the sidewalk. It was unadulterated bohemian madness and you loved it for what it was.

 You had an aversion to water and french fries. You announced they were “common”. If served water in a restaurant, you waved your hand in disgust and said, “Take this away!” We judged the cool factor of our server based on their reaction to this performance. You weren’t rude. You were eccentric and there is a difference.

 You started to fall apart. You weren’t just sick anymore, you were leaving this world. There came a time when you decided the process wasn’t fast enough for your liking. You asked me to take your life. What was left of it wasn’t worth having, you said to me. You asked me if I would smother you with a pillow. It couldn’t have been an easy thing for you to ask of me. It scared me so much, the very thought of such an act, that I started running and I kept on running until you were already gone.

 My husband spoke at your funeral. I spent the whole day crying. Not only did I rob myself of the chance to say goodbye to you, but I never told you how much you meant to me.

 It’s an albatross I should be forced to carry.

tuesdays with tara – volume fifty-nine

“I’ve got soft skin. Are you gonna’ let me in?”

It was Jacques who brought her around. He was the Kerouac of our group, swarthy, gregarious and slightly dangerous. A bit overly verbose and strangely wound, he was tolerated because of the gifts he gave the house. His father was a diplomat and Jacques was forever pinching things from his office: bottles of cognac, Cuban cigars, a rare first edition of a book. He said his father was an elitist shallow man who regarded such prizes as mere bribes from sycophants, people who expected favors in return. This lessened our guilt and aided in our enjoyment of the contraband.

She came in on his arm and barely stirred the breeze. She was like a tiny bird flitting from room to room. She was small and thin to the point of appearing gauzy. She had alabaster skin generously sprayed with sandy freckles. Her long red hair was ropy with hopeless tangles for lack of care. She was clearly a duchess and she was slumming it with us. But because she was only in high school, because she listened instead of spoke, nobody took her seriously.

She never contributed much when she was around, save for proximity. Her casual elegance was such that she classed up a room simply by being present. I watched her once in the kitchen as she poured tea. She had the studied mannerisms of a geisha. It was moments like this when she took a bit of my breath. I was certain that she was marvelous and just trying to keep it a secret from everyone.

Years after that bohemian cooperative had broken up, we would see her around. She showed up at my husband’s art show. She bought a piece because she could. She came to the after party and turned me on to gin and tonics; told me that I had strong beautiful legs.

Her mother was very powerful and important and had one of the best loft apartments in the city. They threw fantastic parties. At one of these, I had a conversation with David Byrne’s parents, at another, I beat her in a drunken wasabi-eating contest on the balcony. Her friends were contrite and oddly sophisticated the way rich and beautiful children often are and it never took long for me to feel uncomfortable enough to want to leave.

She seduced me once. I was home visiting my parents and her campus was an hour’s drive. She was naturally attending some over-rated liberal arts college suitable for her ilk. I missed her and so I agreed to do an overnight.

She had a small gathering of cohorts upon my arrival. They drank wine, smoked clove cigarettes and talked of Nietzsche and Zen Buddhism with the passion and purpose of newly awakened beings. I felt too old all night. Felt like petting heads and pinching cheeks. I felt chagrined and steeped in cynicism.

After they had gone, she put on Henry and June, citing my love of Anais Nin. I knew then that she had been planning this. I was flattered though I felt the device was rather clumsy. I knew to her, I was June. I knew that she wanted to climb into my lap and whisper into my hair.

She drank just enough to maintain her courage. She put her feet in my lap and that was fine. She edged next to me and looped her arm through mine and that was fine.

At some stage, I think she was concerned about what she perceived as a lack of escalation or reciprocation on my part. She began to slam the wine back in angry gulps. She occasionally punctuated the air with weary pointed sighs. When she finally announced that she had a terrible headache and was going to bed, I felt rather relieved.

Feeling callous, I went into her room and sat on the edge of the bed. I caressed her cheek and asked if I could give her a scalp massage. As I did so, she moaned and smiled up at me. I looked down at her and was so saddened by what I saw lying there. Gone was her almost Victorian beauty and what was once feminine and gauzy had just turned skeletal. She had lost some vital spark and she just looked fragile and brittle in a way that made me sad for her. She grabbed my wrist and asked me, “Are you going to kiss me?” I looked at her, smiled compassionately and with tears in my eyes, shook my head no. She threw her head into my lap and wept. “What did I do wrong?”, she cried. ‘What did I do wrong?”

She fell asleep there in my lap and I woke with my back against the bed frame and a terrible ache in my eyes, fingers threaded in her copper knotted mane.

It was the last time I ever saw her.

-

[written by Tara Noble.]

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