Thursday, November 22, 2007

A rose is not a stone

I walk everywhere. But more importantly, I can walk everywhere. Beauty, music, and art are forever seated behind practicality. Like a man waking from a coma, I no longer require a machine to exist.

A breath is wonderful. The intake is cool, moistened air. The skin around your face and eyes are realized as it rushes into your lungs. Sometimes I covet that breath. Sometimes I forget it. Sometimes I long for the breaths I will never take. Sometimes I long for the breaths that I have taken long ago.

But here, I just breathe.


the first of the Four Noble Truths, that all human experience is transient and that suffering results from excessive desire and attachment.

I’ve been thinking about the human condition a lot lately. And, it occurs to me, that whoever wrote this definition for must have really struggled to come up with this exemplification of the human condition. It took me eight pages to approach it in a paper in college. But I could have done with much less. And, of course, I was approaching it from a Western tradition.

But there it is. It is a terrifying, comforting Truth. The castle that I see every day has held prominence for 900 years. But it is nothing. Like everything built, it will fall. Not in my lifetime, but perhaps in a hundred. It is a fresh, moist breath in the ebb and flow of existence. The generals and kings that fought for their ideals and their pockets are gone and may be remembered, but are ultimately transient. They are as transient as the waif on North Bridge, begging for my pence. Pence, power, warmth, or recognition. Security. Permanence. Permanence-desire in the absence of permanence is suffering.

Steps tick like heartbeats,
In a timeless city marked by timely monuments;
A thousand ghosts in the weathered stones
Suck the allusion from the plucked rose.

Here am I and am not,
Here was and never was.
A rose is not a stone.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Once it snowed 15 inches.

My father forayed into the backyard, with me trailing behind, frantically pulling on my plastic snow pants. I was too young to remember why or what mission we were on, but I knew that I needed to follow. My worried mother told me to walk in his footsteps. She knew she couldn’t stop me from leaving.

The footprints were large, rubber-made indentations. The steps to the patio had disappeared in a field of white. There was no sound. Snow makes everything pure and dead.

I could see at the bottom of my father's footprint holes where the tread had imprinted. Everything was white. His steps had sunk into the snow knee-deep.

I hopped from footprint to footprint where the patio used to be, I imagined myself a space man exploring new, hidden worlds, until it became quiet. I no longer saw him. Looking up, I still saw the trail of deep footprints I was too tired and too small to stumble through. My tepid heartbeat resonated in deadness of snow. I was alone and he’d gone too far up the hill for me to see or follow. Stillness was broken only by the occasional snowflake that fell like a careless death.

* * *

Many important men once walked here. They left their impressions that I marvel in and wonder at.

Someone built a part-Parthenon on Calton Hill. I am a part-Parthenon. I am an incomplete masterpiece. Every angle of the original Parthenon was designed to lift and exemplify human beauty. I felt I could have been a Parthenon. But I, like the Edinburgh’s Folly, am just a partial skeleton.

Grace has caressed, but not kissed me. I am destined to walk in the footprints of others. I am the dust brushed aside in the path of the Colossus.

But impressions are vacancies.

Monday, November 12, 2007

American Expats in the UK

I cannot imagine how much more daunting, bewildering, and lonely this experience would be if not for the existence of the cyber community at American Expats in the UK. I have gained more information about how to prepare for relocation to the UK from that group of people than from all other sources combined. Visas and immigration laws - getting our cats into the country - international tax laws - how to get a bank account - rent and council tax... But as immeasurably valuable as their insight and experiences have been, so much greater is the gift of friendship in a strange land.

Friday night gathering of Am Expat members and friends at the Tass, a pub at the corner of the Royal Mile and St. Mary’s Street, with vegetarian haggis, whisky, lager, and traditional Scottish music:

The next day, lunch at the Buffalo Grill in Stockbridge:

After lunch and a walk through the city, taking in the view and the wind on top of Calton Hill:

Status report

One week in. This city is amazing. I might even use the word 'perfect,' except that I have been repeatedly warned by natives and other expats alike about the long, cold, dark, wet winter that looms just around the bend. They keep predicting rain, but so far the rain has not come; it seems we chose the right week to make our first. I suspect that this winter, of which I hear so much, could prove to be Edinburgh's lone fault.

I have been in the office throughout this past week, except for 1 day which I took off. The newly constructed, window-lined building is excellent, as is its location at the border between the neighborhoods of New Town and Leith, and as are my friendly and jovial new coworkers. From my desk on the third floor (the second floor by British reckoning) I can look up cobblestoned Gayfield Place; the uphill street opens my view through the Georgian buildings toward Calton Hill in the distance. In the mornings, tendrils of steam drift from vents into the chill air, children make their way to St. Mary's Primary School (across the street), and seagulls meander past my window. By mid-morning the sun slants through, so I must lower the blinds; after a few hours, the glare has passed and they can be opened again.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Over the Atlantic

We are currently flying over the Atlantic. Despite a few delays, we are on our way to what some have called an adventure, some have called an experience, and others have called crazy. I don’t think too deeply about these decisions. I am afraid of talking myself out of such things. Negative thoughts can be poison, and we fill our heads with enough poison.

But the, “I don’t think we can (should) do it,” poison of the mind never really put up much of a fight this time. Usually, with decision rises doubt. Decision implies permanence. And, since nothing in reality has permanence, contradiction inevitably arises when permanence is declared. We don’t look at it as permanent. It is change. It is frightening, it is exciting. But it is only permanent if “home” and “proximity” become fixed ideals. And any fixed ideal is immediately poisoned by contradiction.

We were delayed in St. Louis, and again in Newark, New Jersey. Newark was where I saw my first brown sunset. Kelly, looking out the window at the haze of brown below us inquired, “is that Fall, or is that pollution?”

Beauty could not be Beauty without poison. In the immortality of the moment, Cleopatra, Socrates, and Hitler took poison. They became the ebb and flow of what we were. And what we are. And what we can be. We can be beautiful or we can be horrible. We even have the power to be or not be. It is all within our power of decision. We can decide to decide.

The rush of wind beneath wings guides an iron bird that can not exist without years of science, centuries of the mountain that crushed the iron, or the millenniums that magma furnaces grew the mountain. Despite whatever force now pulls us thousands of miles from our birthplace, people are comforting to people.

We fly on a plane that is comprised primarily of Scots. The syncopated accents and the orders of alcoholic beverages are a dead giveaway. When meeting new people I like to listen. I deciphered from the family behind us, that the little blonde boy wanted to keep a stray animal that had wandered into their Scottish house. He kept asking about a “gaaaayte” for the stairwell. His mother called the animal “little orphan Travis,” and brushed most of his questions aside with a hearty laugh.

That conversation could happen in any accent in any place in the world. The boy sees the faith, the companionship, and cuddly comfort. The parent sees the problems, the responsibility, and the shit. Somehow, we muddle through it. Neither were what they were. If the mother gets her way, or if the boy gets his, they will each be a bit changed. A bit wiser. A bit hardened, or a bit softened.

Each person is just a sum of his or her perceptions. No one exists without everything that has gone before. Everything is change. Nothing in reality exists that is not constantly changing. The mother’s heart softens to the innocent inquiries and logical constructions of the boy. The boy grows and learns that love is maintenance.

The sunset may be Fall or pollution. Death is not particular. Even as the cells in my body are dying and birthing, I change. The sea life stirs and dies and devours thousands of feet beneath me. There is not sadness in change. It is what is.

But I am no fool. I am lucky. I am luckier than 90% of the people who exist, or who have existed in their ebb and flow of toil. I could never write these words without family and friends whose sum I am the culmination of at this moment. These relationships and chemical equations that have created me and stretch back into infinity are the Truth of existence.

I, the sum these relationships, will grow, change, and metamorphose. I will never be “I” again. But this “I” never really was and never is. The Truth that fuels these relations is the connections that remain no matter how many miles separate. No man is an island and no man can exist without everything else that comprises reality. Love, hate, happiness, living, dying, and sadness are all a part of being. But the most important part of being is sharing.

Only by living together and sharing together can we die alone. It is the only thing that gives us comfort and truth in an otherwise distant, lonely, and conceptualized world. As strange as it sounds, I hope I grow closer to those I have left by leaving. At times my heart will ache, as it is designed to do, but those moments of joy upon rejoining… will not be unlike the astronauts who thought they were lost from the earth forever, feeling its gritty dust upon their feet, hands, mouths, and tongues. Truth is all around. But pettiness prevents me from appreciating it.