Friday, December 31, 2004

I am Brian's Acute Boredom

It's almost New Year's Eve, one of the three times of the year I can't stand spending the evening doing nothing. It seems like a special time, set apart from all the other 364 days of the year as being substantially important. It also strikes me as a day/evening during which it is important (for me, at least) to be around other people, especially the people who are an integral part of my life. (In case you're wondering two times are Halloween and, to a lesser extent, Independence Day. Halloween is my favorite holiday, because for one day out of the year, everyone is just as focused on ghosts and terror and the supernatural and haunted houses and blah blah as I am all the rest of the year. I can't explain the Independence Day thing, since I'm not a big patriot, but as a celebration it just demands large get-togethers at the park or beach with volleyball and music or something.)

Anyway, here it is almost New Year's Day and there's absolutely nothing to do, and nobody to do it with. Over the last few years, even though I've lived in Tallahassee during this time, I've met almost nobody local -- even to this day 90% of the people I know and am friends with live on the West Coast! So I'm looking forward to a very boring, very lonely New Year's Eve. Last year I spent with M. in Miami. I stayed with her cool family and her and I went down to Bayside park there along Biscayne Bay in downtown Miami where they were holding a huuuuge outdoor festival. I mean, it was warm, there were palm trees with lights in them, thousands of people, a carnival, a great fireworks display over the harbor, and a huge Florida Orange dropping to ring in the new year. Plus my lovely girlfriend to share it all with. It was, hands-down, the best New Year's Eve of my entire life. No question.

This year I'm thinking of going back to Miami. I love that city. Not as much as Honolulu, but it is certainly my favorite in the continental United States. I'd have to stay by myself, and hotels are expensive. But last night I had a stroke of genius inspiration: stay in a youth hostel! They're inexpensive, and even though there is little to no privacy, every room comes with several young, energetic, youthful and interesting people from around the world who, like you, are on a budget but want to go out and see the town and have bonding experiences. Perfect strangers who become instant (if temporary) friends. I stayed in one in Waikiki in the summer of 2001 and had a great time. I made friends with a fella from Israel, and we split the cost of renting a car to drive around O`ahu one afternoon. On this inspiration, I decided to get a hostel room for New Year's... only to find they were all sold out! I guess I should have expected this, seeing as how Miami is a popular destination this time of year for its clement weather, but it really disheartened me nonetheless, because my brilliant idea was made far less brilliant by the mere fact that it should have popped into my head weeks earlier. Nevertheless, I might still go tomorrow -- stay in a hotel for like $70 for one night, then do the hostel thing for a couple more. I need to get out of here for a few days, meet some people, have some fun. My life is very static and sheltered. I've become a shut-in because I hate Tallahassee and have no friends or interests here and at this point I'm just counting the days until I'm outta here!

I'll let you know how it goes, if I decide to do this spontaneous and expensive thing.


p.s. Oh yeah, and as for Peace Corps-related information... I have no new updates. Still no word from my P.O. I can't stand the suspense... It's like a scene in a horror movie when the protagonist is slowly moving toward the darkened door to see what the odd sound was on the other side, and we know the killer is probably back there hiding in the closet, but the protagonist doesn't know so they creep closer and closer and the camera shot grows tighter and tighter and the music pauses with just one B-flat note sustained until our nerves are stretched to the breaking point and...... well, that's what waiting for your Invitation is like. Except hopefully there isn't a monster waiting on the other side.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Memories of Dominica

The last time I talked to my ex-wife (I think it was October), I mentioned I was reapplying for the Peace Corps. She was supportive, but then asked me, "Incidentally, why do you want to do it again?" I told her some line about curiosity and having no attachments now, but all along I knew she suspected the real reason: because I regret my decision to ET.

In case I failed to mention it in my first lengthy first post, my relationship with my ex-wife was less than stellar. I won't air my dirty laundry here, as much as I would love to, but this is an essentially public forum and it wouldn't be fair. And maybe not legal. Anyway, suffice to say hindsight has shown me I was foolish to make the choice I made... although deeper hindsight has shown me lately I might have only used her as a convenient excuse to get out of something that was scary and hard, to take the easy way out. The fact of the matter was, I wasn't happy with my assignment being switched on me, didn't feel I was qualified to do what they wanted me to do, and was immaturely jealous that the others on my island were going to be living in better conditions than me. In some cases, really better conditions.

I mean, I knew I had gone into the Peace Corps and that it wasn't going to be easy. I knew this. But having all kinds of unexpected luxuries during training, with a homestay family that had cable, a new car, and a washing machine, I kinda got seduced. When I first applied, I was fully expecting a mud hut in the savannah, eating rice, pumping well water -- the whole nine yards. Then to have all these familiar amenities available made me soft. And then to be given an assignment where those amenities wouldn't be available -- not in general, but just to me... well, I admit I got a little petty about it. During my most honest moments, I believe I really left the Peace Corps in '98 because of those things, not because of my ex-wife.

So anyway, I got to thinking about my previous Peace Corps service the other day, and spent a good long time staring at pictures. I used to languish under crushing feelings of regret and remorse at having ETed so early into my service for such a horrible reason. But going through the application process and having an assignment pending has started the process of erasing the regret. Unlike most situations in life, I am getting a chance to try this one again. It won't be the same; I realize that. It couldn't possibly be the same, because it wouldn't have the same wonderful people, homestay, or assignment... hell, even if I beat the odds and get lucky enough to get a second Caribbean assignment, the chances that it would be on Dominica are nearly astronomical.

And, really, would I want that anyway? If my new assignment was too close to my old one, it would just be weird and creepy. Because, first of all, I should let the past be the past, and to resurrect it by retracing my steps would be like... animating a dead body, or something. The past is done, over, gone. Let it stay that way. Second of all, it would just plain creep me out.

On the other hand, I do sometimes yearn for the chance to literally do it over again. Go back in time and occupy my old body and make new choices. See it through. Let my marriage vanish into the dusty reliquary of unrealized alternative pasts, instead of the Peace Corps.

Oh, man -- and to make things worse: when I went up to Washington DC during Thanksgiving, M. and I went to the Smithsonian's new Museum of the American Indian. It was really crowded that day, like spectacularly crowded, but we saw about half the place. On the third floor there was a section devoted to the native Caribs who live on Dominica. The Caribbean got its name from them, and a few hundred years ago they were the most wide-spread and feared of all the regional tribes. There's a spot on the Northeast side of Dominica, essentially a "reservation" for them, and that's where the last remaining 800 or so Carib people live. THAT WAS WHERE I WAS SUPPOSED TO BE ASSIGNED! Yes, my assignment was to be in Salybia, working with the disenfranchised Caribs, in one of the poorest sections in all the Caribbean.

I spent a long time in that display area in the Smithsonian, watching all three videos, examining the artifacts, looking very closely at the people. If I had been a God-damn man and stayed, I probably would have personally known all the people on the video, since it had been shot recently and was put together with the help of tribal leaders. Interviews and scenes were shot all around the Carib Territory, and in the background one could see the thick palms and undergrowth, the wood-frame houses on stilts, the dirt yards with tubs and clotheslines and chickens, and sometimes in the distance you could see the ocean. I was overwhelmed with excitement, sadness, remorse, fondness... I called M. over and eagerly pointed out all the stuff and told her this is where I would have been. She's originally from the Caribbean as well (Jamaica) so it "looked" familiar to her and made her smile. It was a bittersweet moment for both of us, feeling disconnection and loss.

I'll never totally be over my decision to ET. It was the wrong decision, plain and simple. I've known some people who like to approach life with a "No Regrets" attitude (my ex-wife included), but I feel regret has a useful function: it puts into focus your bad decisions. It's part of the process of learning from the past and avoiding making the same mistakes in the future. Small or trifling mistakes may not be worth the effort to regret, but major bungled life events? Sure. My hope is to lay rest the spirits of regret that have haunted me for years, to redeem myself through this new attempt. Or at least make peace with the past.


p.s. I forgot to include this site in my list of light reading. It's a fascinating read about a woman named Meagan who was assigned to Dominica just two years after me. If I had stayed, I might have met her just before COS as she was beginning her training. She ended up ETing, too, but for vastly different reasons. Her journal is a compelling and fascinating read, but it's a little long -- leave yourself an hour or two. I strongly recommend it to anyone planning to join the PC and wondering what a bad experience is like.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Much Hair Pulling

Another day, another d(el)ay.

I heard from my PO this evening, via e-mail. He said he'd address the issue of my placement after he returns from Christmas break, which he anticipates to be January 28th. This means basically two more weeks where I'll be sitting here, nuttin' to do, just waiting to hear. I'm not doing anything interesting this year. In fact, this will be the first holiday break I've ever spent by myself. Maybe it's good practice for the Peace Corps years to come. I'm trying to arrange plans to go to Miami to hang out with my ex and her cool family for a few days, but things aren't looking good. The problem lies in where to stay because there are already family coming to visit. I can't afford a hotel room, not really. I mean, technically I can, but not if I want to stay comfortable until my next paycheck in late January!

I'll probably spend this break trying to get through some more of my novel. Yes, I'm working on one. I'm actually about two-thirds of the way through it, just beginning "Book Three." I would be remiss if I brought it up and didn't explain the project, I guess, but I'll only do so just a little -- one of the maxims writers live by is not to divulge too much about one's work until it is written, because that robs one of momentum.

But, anyway, it is (in a nutshell) about the secession of Hawai`i from the United States of America. It follows several characters, from a young local girl to the governor himself, as the ball gets rolling from a heinous terrorist act. The plot involves the remnants of the royal family, who work with the compliant governor to set up a political situation that could bring about such a thing, from securing Chinese support, to declaring a plebescite vote. And lest you think it is all politics, most of it deals with some other characters who are only peripherally related, and tells the story of their lives in those troubled times.

It's far different from the other books I've written (and not published, I might add, because they were written in my early 20s and aren't all that... good), in that it is much more ambitious and mainstream. When I started it last February, I announced my goal to have it done in one year. I could have done it in less than that, if I had a little more discipline. I'm a fast writer. I hope now I can have it done before I depart for the Peace Corps, at the very least, so I can start landing an agent and publisher. We'll see.

In other news, I seem to have irrevocably lost the journal I wrote when I was in the Peace Corps in '98. I wrote several entries over those four weeks, and I thought it would be fun to dig around in there and refresh my memory. But it seems to have completely and totally vanished, and I can't imagine what might have happened to it. I went through a period of "purging" a couple times over the last few years, trying to trim down my great volume of personal possessions, and I know I donated a handful of empty journal books I never used, and so I seriously hope it wasn't mistakenly put in with those things. If it really is gone, this marks a tragic loss to me -- I don't remember all those details off the top of my head. Some of the intimate events and thoughts will forever vanish. As Henry Jones, Indiana Jones' dad, said, "I wrote it down so I wouldn'y have to remember." Bah.

Nevertheless, I mean to write a blog entry about that experience, in a little more detail than my first one. Maybe I'll do that over the holiday break, since I'll have two weeks more of anticipation. If any of my readers is curious about something, too, I'd love to hear questions.

It'd be like a writing assignment! Surprise me!


Thursday, December 09, 2004

Anticip . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ation

Hooray! According to the Peace Corps web site, I have now passed the entire application process.The "legal" part went through on Tuesday, so there are now no more holds on my application and I'm open for the invitation. I have an email out to my Placement Officer that explains that A) my nut allergy is not as big an issue as the Medical Office believed it to be, B) the real concern should be my cold-induced asthma, and C) in my opinion the best use of my skills would be in the Caribbean or Pacific. He wrote back only to ask my Social Security number, and I haven't heard since. That was last Thursday. Par for the course, I guess. I need now to just be patient.

During the Thanksgiving weekend, I went up to see my ex-girlfriend in Washington DC. We had a lot of fun, driving to Baltimore to see the aquarium, going to the new Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian, and such. On Monday, when she had to return to work, I had a day to myself so I hopped the Metro downtown. I sorta "invited" myself to the Peace Corps Headquarters. I figured I was in town, and it would be nice to actually meet my Placement Officer in person. Plus I wanted to see what it was like in PCHQ.

Well, right off the bat I knew it wasn't going to happen. Right in the door I had to pass through a metal detector like I was at an airport. (Aside: This whole security thing is getting a little out of hand. Why they would need security for the Peace Corps seems an indication, to me, that something is seriously wrong with the way we are conducting ourselves internationally.) Guards kept people from approaching the elevators. So I went up to the Information Desk -- which was not very accurately named, by the way -- and spoke with the woman there. I told her I was recently Medically Cleared and was in town so I thought I'd speak to my Placement Officer in person. Her demeanor ranged from suspicious to dismissive. It took me several tries to explain to her that, no, I was not wishing to apply to the Peace Corps, that I had already done that, and I had no ulterior motives other than just being in town. Meanwhile a guard strolled casually over to study newspapers nearby. After wrangling like this for a few minutes, she finally called the Placement Office upstairs and had me sit down in a waiting area nearby.

A minute later, the courtesy phone rang. It was someone from Placement, and happily they understood where I was in the application process and why I wanted to visit. I said I was rapidly coming to the conclusion this type of visit was unorthodox. "Yeah," he said. Unfortunately, it doesn't really work that way." He then answered my questions pretty closely, telling me a January departure was unlikely anymore, and that I should look more for a May departure, and he also told me the e-mail address of my Placement Officer. Finally, some direct information.

I left feeling a little strange -- I was worried for a while that my unannounced visit would circulate the PC and would somehow stain my chances of an Invitation. But then, I thought, certainly I can't be the first person who has ever dropped by like that.

One of the things many applicants complain about is the way the Peace Corps can be very bureaucratic and faceless, even cold, when one is dealing with them. I have some ideas about how they could rectify that. And I think they should. Sometimes I fantasize about doing my service, maybe extending it another couple years, then going to work in the Peace Corps. I think I have some excellent ideas that would help personalize it and make sure it survives another 40 years. But that's for another post.

Hopefully very soon now I'll get an invitation...

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Those Are the Rules, Man

The following was created by members of the Peace Corps Eastern Caribbean as a way to put on paper, to get some finality, to the issue of online writing. Blogs are catching on quickly as a good way for Peace Corps volunteers to share their experience, or just record it electronically for themselves. It's a great medium because it is easy to use and instantaneous. But that's where a lot of the trouble comes in. I think most of the rules listed below are sensible; I don't really agree, though, with the "urging" to not mention exactly where you live. The odds are so incredibly long that terrorists might see your web site and decide to kidnap you, if that is the basis for the Peace Corps' concern. Far more likely they'll spot you going about your daily business, because they stick out like a sore thumb in-country! But it's only listed as an "urging," so it doesn't seem mandatory. I have every intention of discussing where I live on this blog in the future. To protect others, though, I'll be more discreet about where friends and colleagues live and work.

So, via the Peace Corps Yahoo Group, The Rules (please forgive the length):

Peace Corps-Eastern Caribbean Website Policy
As in the Volunteer Handbook

Electronic Communication and Volunteer Websites: Volunteers must use discretion and judgment when using Peace Corps and non-Peace Corps-owned computer equipment. This is of particular importance when communicating via e-mail and the Internet, which has potential for mass distribution. Volunteers are free to discuss their role in the Peace Corps with any individual or group, but they should recognize that ill-considered statements could be used to embarrass themselves, the host country in which they serve, the Peace Corps, or the United States. Material that might be viewed as disparaging to the host country or as politically sensitive by the host government could create significant problems for the Peace Corps program in that country. The care taken in private communication should be no less than the care taken in public utterances; messages to friends and family or the contents of web pages may be passed to the press or others and become a public issue. Volunteers should take into account the Peace Corps policies regarding publication of materials, political expression, and other related issues in this section above when they use IT systems and services, such as e-mail and posting material to the Web. A violation of such policies could result in administrative separation or other disciplinary action.

In addition, Volunteers should be aware of the potential for violation of U.S. privacy, host country, or other applicable laws if they include in any electronic communication (via e-mail or a web page) detailed personal information about others, such as full names or addresses, without the specific prior permission of those individuals. In addition, Volunteers could potentially violate such laws if they transmit information that could be defamatory in nature regarding another individual. Similar restrictions may apply to the unauthorized transmission or posting of a person's photograph or likeness. Social security numbers should never be posted on a Web site or transmitted via e-mail, under any circumstances.

Volunteers who create their own Web sites, or post information to Web sites that have been created and maintained by others, should be reminded that (unless password-protected) any information posted on the Internet can probably be accessed by the general public, even if that is not intended. Because search engines regularly index most sites on the Internet, it is possible that members of the public could locate a Volunteer Web site by searching for information about the Peace Corps or a certain country. This is possible even if the Volunteer does not actively promote his/her Web site. Given these realities, Volunteers are responsible for ensuring that their IT use is consistent with the following guidelines:

• Notification: Volunteers who create their own Web sites or post material to Web sites created by others are responsible for discussing the content in advance with the Country Director to ensure that the material is suitable and complies with this general guidance as well as any country-specific guidance.

• Disclaimer: Any web site maintained by a Volunteer during his or her Peace Corps service must reflect the fact that it is not an official publication of the Peace Corps or the U.S. Government. The site, therefore, must be labeled clearly and prominently with an appropriate disclaimer such as: "The contents of this Web site are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps."

• Use of the Peace Corps Logo: Because use of the Peace Corps logo is reserved for official activities authorized by the Peace Corps Act, the logo cannot be used on Volunteer Web sites.

• Cultural Sensitivity: The thoughtful and accurate insights that Volunteers convey in their communications with others can contribute substantially to bringing to the United States a better understanding of other countries. However, given the broad access to Volunteer-posted material on the Web, both in their country of service and elsewhere, Volunteers should remain culturally sensitive with respect to the material they post to any Web site. Volunteers should be reminded that people in their host countries and members of the U.S. public may make inferences about the Peace Corps or the Volunteer's country of service based on the material a Volunteer posts to a Web site. Volunteer-posted material on the Web should not embarrass or reflect poorly on the Peace Corps or the countries where Volunteers serve.

• Safety and Security: As a safety precaution, Volunteers are urged to omit from their Web sites information about their precise living location or those of other Volunteers, as well as information about events to be attended by a large number of Volunteers. For example, Volunteers who live in remote areas should use care before placing the name of their towns or villages on their Web site and, instead, should refer to the general area of the country where they live. For their own protection, it is also advisable not to provide information about Volunteers' personal possessions. Volunteers should be aware of the risk of identity fraud and other security concerns connected with the posting of any personal information about themselves, family members and others on Web sites.

• Publication Policies: Consistent with Peace Corps' policy regarding publications, Volunteers may not accept payment for anything they write or photograph that appears on the Web. Articles, manuals, teaching materials, and other work-related products developed in connection with Peace Corps service and/or financed by Peace Corps funds are considered part of the public domain and may not be copyrighted or used for personal gain. Volunteers should be advised that posting materials to the Web that they have not authored or created may violate U.S., host country, or other applicable copyright laws.

• Volunteer Contributions to Peace Corps' official Web Sites: The Office of Communications, which oversees the Peace Corps' official external web site (, welcomes the submission of essays, stories, and photographs from Volunteers that will assist in highlighting Peace Corps activities to prospective applicants and the general public. All submissions should be reviewed by the Country Director and forwarded to the Office of Communications for consideration.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

The Southern Cross

This song by Crosby, Stills and Nash has been haunting me lately. The lyrics really capture my increasing wanderlust, my need to get the hell out of dodge. My disconnect and lack of belonging to the country of my birth has been getting more and more obvious over the years, certainly one aspect of my interest in joining the Peace Corps. This song has a sort of troubled, unfulfilled drifter quality to the "persona" of the songwriter that speaks to something in my soul. Read, and enjoy (and if you can, get a copy of the song and listen to it).

Got out of town on a boat going to southern islands,
Sailing a reach before a following sea.
She was making for the trades on the outside,
And the downhill run to Pape`ete

Off the wind on this heading lie the Marquesas.
We got eighty feet of waterline, nicely making way.
In a noisy bar in Avalon I tried to call you,
But on the midnight watch I realized why twice you ran away.

Think about how many times I have fallen.
Spirits are using me; larger voices callin'.
What heaven brought you and me cannot be forgotten.
I have been around the world, lookin' for that woman, girl,
Who knows love can endure.
And you know it will.

When you see the Southern Cross for the first time,
You understand now why you came this way.
'Cause the truth you might be running from is so small,
But it's as big as the promise, the promise of the coming day.

So I'm sailing for tomorrow; my dreams are a-dying.
And my love is an anchor tied to you, tied with a silver chain.
I have my ship, and all her flags are a-flying.
She is all that I have left, and music is her name.

Think about how many times I have fallen.
Spirits are using me; larger voices callin'.
What heaven brought you and me cannot be forgotten.
I have been around the world, lookin' for that woman, girl,
Who knows love can endure.
And you know it will.
And you know it will.

So we cheated and we lied and we tested,
And we never failed to fail. It was the easiest thing to do.
You will survive being bested.
Somebody fine will come along make me forget about loving you
In the Southern Cross.