Where We Were Not
Luang Prabang, Laos - Suppose you were born in another place, another time. Or a place like India, a culture rich with ascetic holy men, where men live beyond the confines that bind most of humanity, where the phenomenal is commonplace, and anything is possible.
Being raised in the middle of America, we didn’t hear that much about ascended masters. That was something a person had to go looking for in somebody’s manual, from another philosophy, from another time.
You are where I am not, and you’re not where I am. From your life, your shoes, your family, your genes, internal life and locality, it is amazing we can even communicate, but for a common language and consensual perception of the world we call reality.
Whose reality is it? Some people close to me say they have The Truth. One person’s refraction is another’s full spectrum.
We are so different, even within the same household, a lineage, a sibling, a twin, a clone, each living within a universal construct of their ego’s design. When we say this is this and that is that, is it, really?
So, everybody’s different. Big deal. We already knew that. Each one of us is where everybody else isn’t. No two things can occupy the same space in time. That’s simple physics. So what?
I don’t know. We’re in different worlds, is all. When I started out, it was going to be about writing tips; you know, discretely and generally speaking, so as not to offend any one person, because one of the common…things…I see in people’s writing is the lack of paragraph breaks, like this right now, not that they’re not good writers with their own expressive way, but like now, jamming it all together in a ongoing flow, which is ok, not taking a breath, writing like you talk, not to mess with your style, but they said whenever possible, look for a way to break up the paragraph, thereby avoiding undue strain on the reader’s tiring eyes and attention…period. like, right there would have been, could’ve been a good place to finally end it, but it continued. See what I mean? Back in seminary school, they said, taking in written material is like eating food. It is best consumed and digested in small bites. You see? My journalistic mentors Martin and Breen told me to go back through the graph and look for ways to break it up. Makes it easier to consume. Think of ‘poor reader,’ they said. Writing is nothing more than transmitting an idea. The easier, the better.
“We didn’t do so well on our English grammar exam,” said one of the monk students as we loaded ‘Troy’ into the laptop in Olay’s room, drawing nine monks for evening English class, all their sandals just outside the door.
“Don’t feel bad,” I told him. “I didn’t, either.”
There weren’t any conditions set on viewing the movie, such as, you’ve got to perform well on your English exam, so we went ahead and watched it after re-capping some of our earlier material.
At one point, during the conjugation of a verb, Olay asked, “Is that the future perfect?”
“Yes,” I told him, my head beginning to swim. Then remembering I shouldn’t lie to a monk, I added, “I think so. I’m not chuah.”
Tonight they perfected, ‘How long have you lived in Luang Prabang?’ rolling all the ‘L’s, correctly making a ‘V’, and enunciating the ‘D’. And ‘English language,’ almost, neary impossiber. ‘Near LEE.’ They can easily say, ‘Bruce Lee.’ I don’t get it.
They can all say, ‘Go head,’ (go ahead) which is funny. Perfectly. They’re delightful, and tonight I asked if the main monk, the senior monk, the abbot?..would object to our watching a movie based on American involvement…‘inVOLVEment’…in Somalia. It would be a lot of shooting, with guns. Would it be a problem?
“The abbot sometimes watches war movies,” said Olay.
Ok, then! “What about your dreams, and your meditation? Would it bother your practice?” I asked.
“We think about good when we meditate,” he answered.
Ok, then! Tomorrow we’re going to watch Black Hawk Down. Oh boy.
English language, Thai subtitles.
Don’t Mess With My Style
It didn’t happen too frequently, but sometimes during the first day of writing classes, particularly creative writing, a student would ask, ‘You’re not going to make me change my style, are you?’
In some ways, that is among the funniest things I have ever heard in my life.
Incomplete, run-on sentence, don’t worry about it. It’s not vague in the cliff notes. Your style? Just go head and be yourself.
In ‘Tropic Thunder’:
“It’s just like in the script. You guys read the script, didn’t you?”
“What’s with the books, scripts? Spit that shit out, man!”
Your Lucky Stars
As luck, coincidence, guardian angels or fortunate birth would have it, I’m staying just around the corner from an internet café and coffee shop. They have one of two free wifi spots in all of Luang Prabang, thereby making it incredibly convenient for me to drink coffee and access the web every day. After being in the backwoods for decades, Luang Prabang is finally up to speed with tourist expectations.
The temple where we have evening English classes is just across the street, the old man Oh-ee player is just down the street from the guesthouse, and the river is a block away. How much easier can it get?
On top of it all, the no. 1 basketball player in the country lives next door, and as a basketball junkie/fiend for 52 years, sometimes I just have to go out under the stars at night, look up, and say, ‘Thank you.’ And as often as possible to the setting sun.
It seems sometimes the universe is set against you, striking against the grain, swimming against the tide, spitting into the wind, and other times, it seems like you’re right where you should be, going with the flow.
And so I was shocked to see a bewildering notice in my email box today, asking, ‘Victor, are you haunted by a past life?’
Well, honestly, I don’t know. ‘Haunt’ is a pretty scary word, already. Sometimes I think yes, and sometimes I think no. How is a person to know? Those guys across the street at the saffron institute say we’ve been around many times before.
If you want the full past life reading, you need to send these folks, these mystics…seers…Linda down in Ft. Lauderdale…thirty dollars, and she’ll give you the whole schmeer.
But if you submit just a little info, like your birthday, place and time, she’ll give you the cliff notes edition of your sample past-life reading. So I did that.
Reading come back saying some shit like, ‘THE REASON PEOPLE DON’T LIKE YOU…’ is because the moon was some kinda way with Saturn when you were born, and ‘THE REASON WHY YOU FEEL LIKE THE RUG HAS BEEN PULLED OUT FROM UNDER YOU…’ is because in a past life, you shit on people and wasted your talents, or was greedy, or never lived up to your potential, giving the reading a certain ring of familiarity to my high school teachers, and sending me into a dazed depressive funk, much like leaving the career counselor’s office after being told I wasn’t college material, and that maybe I could find happiness in a factory or the Vietnam war.
I only want good news from now on, ok? Just send me the positive astrological forecast, and let it go at that. The negative shit, the haunted past lives, they can keep to themselves. I don’t need haunted stars on my plate right now.
And you could say, he’s looking at the world through rose-colored glasses, or too high, or not seeing it in balance, or only wants the good news, or denial, or head in the sand, the clouds, or whatever. I can live with that. People can say whatever they like.
But still, it was a bit disturbing, and I couldn’t let go of it right away. What if it wasn’t just an anonymous computer-generated readout? What if it was true?
CHRIST! How do you work that shit off? It’s like Tom Cook on the rez, with guys telling him, “Hey Bro, if you can give me a couple hundred dollars today, I can give you some hours next week.”
I mean, how much merit do you need to build up to undo a karmic tangle? Jesus or the pope don’t even deal with it. Splish, splash, you’re forgiven. Sun dancers, either. You go straight to the spirit world unfettered. Ain’t said nothing about no past lives, hell, or karma. But just in case, like insurance, maybe it would be a good idea to teach English over at the temple.
“You guys know computers, right?” I asked a group of nine monks and novices piled three deep in a saffron pyramid on two bunks in their austere quarters. To my astonishment, they all shook their heads no.
Transfixed by the screen, none of them seemed bothered when I told them we were borrowing…stealing…the wifi signal from the internet café across the street from the temple for our computer class.
Turn It Down
In the coffee shop, there was this girl from Germany, on ‘Skype’ I think it was, having a delightfully wonderful excited bubbly conversation with several of her friends back home, wearing earphones and shouting into her webcam and computer, oblivious to her volume, and making her private conversation everybody’s business. You could hear her across the street.
I could hear her from upstairs, where I had removed because her loudness was such an annoyance. Should I be disturbed by such things, or just sit there annoyed and not say or do anything about it?
In almost any situation you have three options; do nothing, change the other person, or remove yourself from the situation, and/or change yourself. That’s four.
And a couple of days ago down behind the baguette sandwich vendors , where chickens rein freely, there was this guy in a red baseball cap from Philadelphia, telling me about his Vietnam experience, and working for the CIA, and how he and Gen. Alexander Haig were tight buddies. The story was interesting, but the man was shouting.
“When you’re loud in this country,” I told him softly, “you attract attention to yourself. The Lao are pretty quiet people.”
The pointed suggestion didn’t phase him. He kept on talking loud enough for people, the vendors, tourists, and others within a fifty-foot range, to look up at the loud-ass American man-in-a-bubble, spouting his impressive, self-important shit that wasn’t making a lot of sense to me, because for one, it was too much a flood of vague information coming at once, and for two, it was too loud.
“Then, how does all that fit into working for the CIA?” I asked.
“Well, I didn’t really work for the CIA. The agency offered me a job since I had all those weapons skills, but I…”
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I backed away from the man as he continued his public barking. He had an elevated shoe on his left foot, telling me a round had blown away a couple inches of his femur, so part of the story must have been true. But who cares? If he had been a bit quieter, I could have been a better listener.
Slow to Know
Sometimes I’m slow to catch the drift. I know that. Sometimes I’ll be the very last person to know what the hell is going on, even when I’m an involved party. It’s just like Manny said, clueless. Like my official title designation on the rez, ‘Policy Analyst’.
What that means is, they ask me what I think after they have already made the decisions.
That can happen in life. I’ve heard, “I’ve decided,” and, “We’ve decided,” after the fact often enough to feel like a non-entity, a marginalized non-related element to anybody’s plan, an inconsideration, an afterthought at best. As we tease on the reservation, ‘You’re on this job only from the neck down.’
Some things can be foreseen, foretold in a dream, a warning from crows and owls, a premonition of a figurative unavoidable train coming down the track, an approaching comet from the Oort Belt or debris field of past lives. And then at other times, you are but an actor, playing a role in a plot beyond your control, written into the script.