Just back from Fiji, where there was scant chance to upload my latest stories … but it was so refreshing to be in a place where I couldn’t check my email! Anyhow, the dispatches are going up — there will be two of them — and you can find them, as ever, on the Seacology website.
Why is it so difficult to keep up with these entries? When does it become a chore, like flossing? And how do some of my friends, like monologist Mike Daisey, manage to write two, three, eight entries a DAY?? Go figure.
For six weeks, my inability to simply sit down and compose a blog, any blog, has weighed on me like … like … like a giant head. For a number of reasons, my mid-April trip to Rapa Nui – aka Easter Island – landed me in an existential funk. The moai, the famous stone heads, are everywhere; there are nearly 900 of them. And while some visitors are spellbound by their mystery and grandeur (which are hard to resist, even though we’ve seen a thousand pictures of them), I found that they, well, put me in MY head. The obsessive manufacture of the moai – enormous projects which exhausted a culture and its resources — were an uncomfortable metaphor for the pitfalls awaiting a solitary soul with artistic pretentions.
But enough about me. It’s a lovely place, Rapa Nui, reminiscent at times of Point Reyes National Seashore (my favorite place in the world). Much of the island’s landscape (which was completely deforested, perhaps to build the moai) consists of broad, grassy hills, rolling from the crests of ancient volcanoes toward cliffs that tower over a cobalt-blue sea. The people are beautiful, the dances are wild, and the mangoes are the most luscious gold you’ll ever see.
My next port of call will be Fiji, on a final assignment for Seacology. I’ll be visiting two village projects – one on Vanua Levu, the other on Taveuni – and filing dispatches from June 22nd ‘til early July. You’ll be able to read them, as ever, on the Seacology website.
Another reading recommendation: Mockingbird, by Walter Tevis. Tevis may be the most famous writer you’ve never heard of; his books include The Hustler, The Color of Money, and his science fiction classic, The Man Who Fell to Earth. Mockingbird is also sci-fi, more along the lines of 1984 than 2001. (Hey, it’s an open secret that my real literary passion is not travel writing, but science fiction.) It’s a beautiful novel about a distant future when the world is run by caretaker robots, and people no longer know how to read – except for one man, who builds his vocabulary by watching an ancient cache of silent movies.
Tevis, who wrote and taught in Ohio and New York, died in 1984. I wish he were alive, so I could buy him a drink. The least I can do is launch a Tevis revival.
And so I wrap up this long-delayed blog, and slouch into June — always rough seas for me. My brother Jordan’s birthday was June 6th. He took his life in March, 1990, at 33, overwhelmed by the drama and despair within his own monumental head. This Summer I’m unusually focused on that event: a San Francisco filmmaker has asked me to work with him on a short film about suicide. It’s in the early stages, but I’ll provide details as they emerge.
And for those wondering about Strange Travel Suggestions – look for one-off performances late in the Summer and early Fall, at SF’s Mechanic’s Institute, and Berkeley’s Freight & Salvage.
It’s funny; I wrote the title line for this blog without thinking, then realized two things. First, it’s also the title of the late Paul Bowles’ autobiography. Second, it was exactly twelve years ago, during the epic journey described in my book The Size of the World, that I spent Passover with Bowles at his home in Tangier, Morocco. I brought the bedridden Bowles raw honey from the local souk, which we ate with round matzohs (unleavened bread) I’d received from the Tangier Synagogue. Bowles and I raised our wineglasses, and I toasted “to liberation.” “Oh?” Bowles raised his eyebrows. “Do you believe it’s possible?”
In fact, I do. Maybe that’s why Passover has always been one of my favorite holidays – in any country, religion or culture. Recounting the tale of the Exodusfrom Egypt, the “Feast of Freedom” may well be the longest-running ritual in human history, having been observed every year for at least three millennia. The entire Passover Sedar, with its sweet apples and bitter herbs, is simply a vehicle for story-telling: something that has become more and more important in my own creative life. (more…)