Brett Howard Sproul

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BRETT HOWARD SPROUL: ASIA TRAVELOGUE 2011 & 2012

 

This travelogue is dedicated to my Father, James G. Sproul, who died 31 January 2012.

 

 

15 May 2011.  Midwest, USA:

 

I turned 40 not long ago, and I wish I was unsure where all the time went, but I know very well what happened.  I continue to chase a seemingly impossible dream; one of being a financially successful artist that will enable me to keep creating what I want and how, and to do so until the end.  Reality and ideals are harshly incompatible, however, and existence tends to be a severe compromise that allows you to see a distant horizon yet never quite grasp it.  I do not know how much longer I can keep trying.

 

I quit my job in October 2009 because I needed to see if I could make a living with my art, which, suffice to say, has not gone well.  That has nothing to do with the quality of my work, just that it is extremely difficult getting people to view or show it, and even more so to purchase it.  That challenge is compounded on the Internet, which I have long regarded as a cesspool of porn, scams, and losers trolling for companionship.  I am desperate, though.

 

Welcome to my new Internet site.

 

Since I have no expectations for this, and the excessive expenditure of time and money is theoretically over, I am going to do what I want, as always.  That is not the best business strategy, but if I can attract like-minded people who appreciate my pictures then maybe this will not be as spectacular of a failure as I predict.  Of course, I need visitors with money, not the poverty-stricken who are just going to drain bandwidth.

 

I intend to give this experiment until the end of the year, after which I will have to find another menial, low-paying, spirit-crushing job, or cease existence; neither of which are particularly appealing, but the odds are even for both at the moment.  For most of that time, however, I will be traveling through Asia disbursing the remaining money I have allotted for this nonsense.  My itinerary is as follows:

 

1 – 17 June: Hanoi, Vietnam

18 – 30 June:  Saigon (HCMC), Vietnam

1 – 31 July:  Vientiane, Laos

1 – 9 August:  Phnom Pehn, Cambodia

9 – 31 August: Siem Reap, Cambodia

1 – 30 September:  Hong Kong

1 – 30 October:  Taipei, Taiwan

31 October – 13 November: Yangon, Burma (Mayanmar)

14 – 29 November:  Saigon (HCMC), Vietnam

30 November:  Bangkok, Thailand

 

During my absence, any sales of prints will be handled in a timely manner by an associate.

 

 

17 May 2011, Midwest, USA:

 

I am sitting in a deserted parking lot as I write this, because that is the only place I can get any peace and quiet.  For the past year I have been living with my parents due to financial necessity, as well as to help my Mother take care of my Father, who is dying.  It has been an extremely difficult time for everyone.

 

I cannot say that I have handled this situation well, just that I have done the best I could.  I once believed I had made peace with what occurred long ago, and was able to endure the continued duress of present interaction in a positive and productive manner, but I have been proven incorrect.  It is a regrettable human failing that the past dominates the present whether one desires so or not, and it is a constant struggle to in some way surmount that.

 

Art remains my primary means of reconciling what remains of my ideals with reality, and an attempt to impel a better existence for myself and others.  I would like people to confront the beauty, ugliness and ultimate tragedy of a world we have all created and continue to perpetuate, and inspire them to care.

 

Experiencing new places and cultures is another way I try to obtain some semblance of peace with society, if only by trying to gain a better understanding of humankind, and I have done that for almost twenty years.  Of course, the constant momentum of travel can also be seen as a distraction and an attempt to try and distance myself from who I have become and what led to it, which is to some degree accurate.  Nevertheless, I believe that the stagnation of being in one place too long is far more damaging, through its increasingly stressful repression and exacerbation of existing conflicts, and the institutionalization of one’s behavior and lifestyle that further prolongs and intensifies one’s problems, perchance resulting in a severe and drastic outcome.

 

That is my personal experience anyway, and I need to depart before then.  I am not proud of abandoning my family, but, regrettably, that is best for everyone.

 

 

21 May 2011, Midwest, USA:

 

The future has always been an abstraction bound to the vagueness of insincere hope and the unfortunate reality that depleted it, leaving a hollow, unattainable ideal that continually dims.  That frequently leads to doubts as to whether being a financially successful artist will bring any semblance of contentment, if only through enabling me to buy freedom more permanently, or merely prolong the emptiness and misery of everyday existence, and likely intensify it through further isolation.

 

I know it is too late to change who I have become, and I do not desire to do so, but I am no more adept at surviving in a world whose egotistic, materialistic and inherently destructive values I deplore, and to which I must adapt if I am ever going to ‘succeed’.

 

I would probably be happy, such as it is, if I was incapable of self-analysis or analyzing the world in general, or merely refused.  I would not be the person or artist I am, though, which would be even worse.  I will not compromise in that regard, and I will not promote or perpetuate ignorance, insensitivity, spitefulness and self-delusion, since they are far too prominent already.

 

 

23 May 2011, Midwest, USA:

 

I do not necessarily believe that people change, just that it is possible, and that it is primarily the endurance of time and its consequences that continually influences how one reacts to the world on an immediate level.  One’s personality is far more ingrained and consistent, and is mainly altered through some sort of physical or mental trauma.  I was certain that occurred almost immediately, or at least over a relatively brief, intense period, but now conclude it can also take years for such impetuses to accumulate and manifest.

 

I once considered myself a kind, even-tempered and caring person, but in retrospect it is more accurate to say that I wanted to be kind, even-tempered and compassionate, and even simulated behavior that deceived myself and others for years.  In actuality, I seem quite incapable of caring about anything or anyone except myself, my work and some possessions, which is why it remains so easy to leave people and places and think nothing of them except what might have been.  It is also what renders me a forgettable and uninspiring person who has never had, or will have, a meaningful relationship.

 

I suspected that for a long time, but mostly ignored it until recently when the San Francisco phase of my life finally ended and it became clear that the last of the people I once contacted, and with whom I tried to remain in contact, no longer wanted anything to do with me, just as the few others had before.  Initially that was painful because I thought I meant something to them and they did to me, but upon further contemplation I found that was untrue on both accounts, and I merely sought to prolong empty, unproductive relationships due to some desperate desire for greater fulfillment, however superficial.

 

I am glad I have finally ceased such self-delusion, but I cannot say that brings any resolution or relief since I would still like to care about someone or something beyond what I do, although that remains unlikely.  Possibly that is a consequence of the life I have led, or maybe it is just part of who I am.  Either way, the results are the same, so it does not really matter.

 

 

26 May 2011, Midwest, USA:

 

This will be my last post before reaching Asia, and it resumes my recording of some sort of end.  I would much prefer beginnings, as opposed to a continuation of a seemingly infinite downward spiral, but such is life, and within six months I have an important decision to make.

 

I do not want to return to the existence I have now, which may not be so terrible in relation to society overall, but its emptiness, futility and misery overwhelm me nevertheless.  I wish I could live a normal life and accept the world and its people for what they are, or at least be more oblivious towards them, but I am too restless and easily affected by the idiocy of most people, whose major priority seems to be destroying themselves and others through their short-sighted, spiteful, ignorant and reckless pursuit of corrupt, materialistic and selfish goals, although the attainment of those ultimately validates and reinforces society’s values and its definition of success.  I have not yet discerned how to circumvent that and achieve a modicum of contentment.

 

As for being an ‘artist,’ which is in quotations because I am not really much of anything, that just means I create what I want and am not concerned about anyone’s response.  That is unlikely to bring material gain, and I do not expect it.  I am doing this for myself, which is a distressing monument to mediocrity and insignificance, but my work remains a pure expression of who I am and my reaction to the world.  Whether it is any good is debatable.

 

 

3 June 2011, Bangkok, Thailand (BKK airport):

 

On 28 October 2005, I left the Trinity Plaza apartment building at 8th street and Market Street in San Francisco, which has since been demolished, and proceeded towards Lands End, an appropriate destination at the tip of the city where the ocean enters the Bay. I did not appear to be someone unusual, much less one who had just thrown all of his possessions in a dumpster and turned in his keys.  The innumerable people I passed that evening certainly paid no attention, nor did I to them.  My face remained expressionless as always, with sadness portrayed only by a slower pace.

 

It was rainy and cool as I progressed, increasingly so near the ocean, which was where I headed upon reaching Land’s End.  There used to be a path beyond the Golden Gate Bridge observation deck close to the entrance, which was lined with wooden railings and the occasional bench, and I took that to a small clearing surrounded by scrubland dropping precipitously into the crashing waves below.  I had no intention of jumping there or anywhere nearby, however, because I was not convinced of its effectiveness.  Instead, I had two razor blades that I had long since taken from my job, which had been terminated earlier that day due to my worsening breakdown, and was ultimately the impetus for my ensuing behavior.

 

Everything had been planned well before then, though, including where I would go and how I would die.  I probably know more ways to properly kill oneself than most doctors, as well as the mistakes many people make, and up to what point the damage can be mitigated or reversed.

 

It is not so much that my quest failed for lack of trying.  Rather, by the time I reached my destination and stopped reaffirming that what I was doing was correct, I was completely soaked and shivering so uncontrollably that I could only hack aimlessly at myself, which I eventually stopped because it seemed unlikely to succeed.

 

Afterwards, I stood trembling and bleeding as the last remnants of grey sky faded to black, and I could hear the foghorns and see the lighthouse across the channel mindlessly spinning, as well as other distant lights and those of the Golden Gate Bridge.  I then sat on a nearby tree branch that overhung the scrubland and cliff because it provided some coverage, and I could better see and hear the ocean.

 

I sat there for a long time, contemplating my future, and never found any answers, merely ideas for prolonging a search that continues to this day, and has regrettably grown less and less imperative.  I surmised as much at the time, but I hoped matters would eventually improve.  I still do.

 

 

Page 1:

 

As always, this is written as much for myself as you.  There are just some matters I did not previously address, and I may as well now since there will not be another time.  I will begin by reiterating my regret for what happened, and how I lost your trust through my foolishness, neediness and general immaturity.  I had sought to be your friend, and you to be mine, since we have much in common and I believed that it would bring us happiness and contentment.  We have each distanced ourselves extensively from the harshness of the world and its mostly insensitive, duplicitous, hypocritical and cruel people, creating very insular lives that we do not share with anyone.  The consequences are ultimately loneliness, frustration and misery, although my withdrawal was accompanied by bouts of severe depression and self-destruction.  Your experiences were traumatic also, but I can only speculate as to what they were.  That is something I wanted to know because I have never been acquainted with anyone who could comprehend such matters, or at least discuss them, which is better than repression because it only distances one further, increasing one’s pain and dissatisfaction and results in overwhelming physical and/or mental distress.  I very much desired for us to help one another, and still do, but I know it is too late.

 

I realized that after we had worked together for several months, which intensified my breakdown.  I do not blame you, since my expectations were imprudent and naive.  Still, I knew, and know, the kind, compassionate and sensitive person you are, and it was difficult to be near you without wanting to truly be part of your life.  I would not call that being in love, which is a vulgar sentiment and pardon me for using it.  I just wanted a relationship on a meaningful and personal level, which is possibly beyond the ideal of friendship, although I cannot say because neither are familiar.  Regardless, despite my errors I feel that my goal was worthy, and anything hurtful I may have said or done was due to the pain and frustration over my own failure, not yours.

 

As for the few letters I sent, I should not have, nor should I post this.  I am not certain I will, since I do not know if I can state precisely what I want without desiring having said more, or wishing I expressed less.  The previous ones were too spontaneous, unsettling, emotional and pathetic, as was my behavior in general, yet I attempted to explain what occurred and why.  I should have only sent a note after a lengthy period, however, so as not to appear more unstable than I was, and probably still seem.  I can only assure you of my recovery; one resulting from reconciliation with the distant years and my desire for someone to care, namely you.  That led to my correspondence, as did my need to apologize and demonstrate that I had grown wiser, leaving what occurred behind me.  The past can never be transcended, though, at least not completely, and its consequences will define my existence until it is over.

 

My writing remains imperative in confronting and tempering negative influences, which is partly why I enclosed my book.  I believe you will understand it and may even like and appreciate it, despite the more disturbing sections.  I am not certain if you ever cared for what I created since none of it garnered a response except for what was shown to you directly, and I am unsure of that too.  Either way, you can judge what I have done for yourself, and whether it is explicit concerning what elapsed long ago.  I believe it is not, and that is something I worked diligently to expunge.  I have learned never to express anything personal to anyone anymore, since the repercussions are too severe.

 

In closing, please know that I am genuinely sorry for what I did, and what I did not.  I hope one day you find the peace you need.

 

 

Page 2:

 

dawn

embers grown cold

crumbling

drifting

lingering smoke

ashes of time

 

 

14 June 2011, Hanoi, Vietnam:

 

I will try to write something less oppressive than usual, which should not be too difficult, although it goes against my rather severe and uncompromising nature since I view art and its peripherals, such as this, quite seriously.  Most likely that is a consequence of my own relationship to art and what it means to me, as well as what it has done for me, and to treat it frivolously is unacceptable.  Perchance in the end that dulls the spontaneity of my work, although only in regards to writing since it requires disciplined precision and logic to be effective, otherwise it disintegrates under scrutiny and the words ultimately lose whatever arbitrary meaning they may have initially possessed.

 

Thus, I will attempt to give an engaging summary of my trip so far, and remove any vitality it may have unintentionally incurred.  Let me begin by saying that Southeast Asia during the rainy season is an ideal place for the masochistic to visit, since it has all the benefits of the hot season but with even higher humidity.  It is like walking into a sauna then dousing yourself in gasoline and lighting a match to get cool.  It is slightly more bearable in the shade.  Overall, I could not ask for better.

 

Traveling is when I feel most comfortable.  I need the stimulation of new and interesting environments for my work and mental health, otherwise my life stagnates and deteriorates into something very unpleasant, much like the situation I recently left, at least in a general sense.  I am grateful that is over and its adverse effects are slowly but steadily receding, at least for now.

 

Of course, I remain weary of an uncertain future, and still do not see matters improving, but my focus remains on producing great work without regard for whether it will sell, which is best because nothing has yet and likely will not.  No one is reading this either, but it is fine if it stays a personal record.

 

As for resuming my journey through Asia, the usual annoyances remain, in particular the unfortunate places I stay, which are not the absolute cheapest because I still need a modicum of security to protect my camera equipment and computer, but they are close, and it is an incredible aggravation to endure obnoxious tourists whose slamming doors and other noises are relentless to the point of severely distracting me from my work and depriving me of even less sleep than my usual insomniac state.  It seems that the already deplorable behavioral standards of the masses dissipates even further on holiday, causing me to wonder why people bother leaving their everyday lives at all, except that the extremely thin façade of civilization apparently becomes too burdensome to be maintained after a certain point.

 

A further frustration of low-end hotels and apartments is their dismal state of disrepair, and the management and staff who are utterly indifferent to it, at least until it reaches a crisis point where they grudgingly have to do something, and even then it is later rather than sooner  For example, during a torrential rain storm a few nights ago, water leaked through the electrical outlet in my room, resulting in an ominous sizzling that I brought to the attention of the front desk, who eventually looked at it with complete disregard and said I could switch rooms if I desired.  That was tempting, but I figured if there was going to be a fire I would rather know about it immediately and run with my packed bags out of the hotel, as opposed to likely being trapped behind a wall of flames in a more distant room.  The matter concluded once the circuit blew quite dramatically a second time and it was determined that the risk of a major conflagration would cost them too much money.  So I am now on a higher floor.

 

I do like Hanoi itself, however, and there is much to see and photograph, although wandering around with my camera equipment for several hours is made rather perilous by the recklessness of the Vietnamese drivers, who are the worst in an Asia with already extraordinarily terrifying standards.  I was reminded of that shortly after I arrived, when I saw a gruesome accident involving a motorbike that merged into another and its handlebars became entangled, knocking off one passenger and dragging another for twenty feet before the offending driver was able to dislodge himself, drop the other bike to the ground, and speed away.  I left quickly too, without taking pictures, and let the scene resolve itself.  That is not something of which I am proud, but it is best not to get involved, especially in a foreign country where the potential consequences are unknown and possibly dire.  I did the same thing when I found a dead body floating in the Han River in Seoul during my last trip, but that is another story.

 

Anyway, I am truly fond of the Vietnamese people, who have mostly been kind to me and graciously tolerate my quest for material, albeit with quizzical looks as I photograph some very unusual subjects.

 

The biggest regret I have when traveling in a developing country like Vietnam is that I am taking advantage of it for my own ends, which is also true of the people and objects I photograph in general.  Nevertheless, I see hope and beauty in adversity, and I try to portray that in an honest and meaningful way, which perchance provides some redemption.  It is something I am compelled to do in my quest to make peace with this world and myself, and I respect the places and people I photograph, especially the marginalized, because I belong among them.

 

 

Pages 3 – 10:

 

“I hoped it would eventually kill or save me.”

“How did you think it might save you?”

“I believed a skewed version of Christian suffering.”

“How so?”

“I thought the more I suffered the greater I would be rewarded.”

“With what?”

“Happiness in this life or one thereafter.”

“How strong was this belief?”

“Not very.”

“Why not?”

“It was mainly something I wanted to be true.”

“Are you a Christian?”

“No.”

“How come?”

“I find Christianity too implausible.”

“In what ways?”

“There are several, but primarily it does not require enough of its followers to reach salvation, such as it is.”

“What do you mean?”

“Christianity does not hold people truly accountable for their actions since they are only required to have faith in a divine being and its accompanying dogma, and follow corresponding rules without ever having to fully comprehend or question them, or repent having not followed them if they want to reach a heavenly afterlife.  That does not result in moral, insightful or compassionate people because it does not force them to understand themselves and the causes and consequences of their actions, or care about either.  Only that would enable them to emancipate themselves from the pettiness of their ego, which has caused, and continues to cause, pain and suffering in themselves and others as a result of ignorance, insensitivity and malice.  Instead, Christians reach an alleged heavenly state through superficial means that are primarily adhered to as a result of convenience, fear, ignorance, cultural pressure and self-righteousness, and I fail to see how that would prevent their afterlife from devolving to secular reality, which would ultimately negate any heavenly bliss.  That is unless their god alters them into something inherently different; an undertaking that would resemble unwarranted convenience rather than earned salvation, and I do not know why a supernatural being would want to expend such effort, much less give humans an afterlife.”

“He presumably cares, and wants humans to know that there are consequences to their actions.”

“Not necessarily, because he does not require that they truly understand those consequences, or what caused the actions leading to them, much less improve themselves accordingly.  He just wants people to accept his definition of good and evil, and act good, and if they cannot, then they have to repent if they want a heavenly afterlife.”

“What is wrong with that?”

“It produces followers who do not take responsibility for their actions because they do not fully comprehend what impels them or the consequences that may and do result, which precludes their consciously acting in a manner that can be considered good and truly responsible.”

“Their god apparently does not expect that.”

“No, which makes him an omni-benevolent being who does not believe that people can reach their full potential as compassionate, moral and insightful individuals, or if he does, why does he not give them that opportunity, which would seemingly require innumerable lifetimes of effort and experience to sufficiently comprehend and assimilate the truth about one’s self, others and the world overall, and develop one’s compassion accordingly.  Maybe that is because he believed he failed when creating them, which seems unlikely if he is also omniscient and omnipotent and molded them in his own image.”

“You do not believe that a divine being exists as defined by Christianity, then?”

“No, and not just for the aforementioned reasons.  I also do not believe that a divine being, if it exists, could ever be understood or defined in human terms because it would clearly be beyond them, and any attempt to do so would result in broad and arbitrary descriptions that are essentially meaningless, although they would be ideal for a religion such as Christianity because it could easily claim a divine being for itself and interpret every event in such a way as to justify its assertion.  Ultimately, however, there is no convincing proof of a divine being’s existence or one that is omni-benevolent, omniscient or omnipotent, and if there was one it would have to be very vain and arrogant to require, or at least desire, human worship.  I do not see why an omni-benevolent being would want or tolerate that since it would view such behavior as fundamentally degrading.  As for those who do prostrate themselves, or at least profess to believe, I can perceive no explanation for doing so except convenience or fear due to societal and/or familial pressure, a desperate and uncritical need to assign human existence some sort of purpose or explanation, a delusional sense of self-righteousness and self-importance deriving from ego, or fear of an alleged hell and a desire to attain a heavenly afterlife, none of which have anything to do with morality or immorality and do not lead towards genuine, non-superficial improvement, because no depth of insight or understanding of oneself, others and the world in general is expected or compulsory.  One just has to have faith in a divine being and follow certain rules to avoid ‘hell’ and reach ‘heaven’, or repent having not followed them.”

“You believe that the Bible puts forth a misleading and ultimately harmful view of reality, then?”

“Yes.”

“For what other reasons?”

“First of all, it is not historically accurate.  Its view of creationism is also incompatible with scientific evidence, and there are passages in it that are too unrealistic to be believed, much less used as cornerstones for a religion.  The Bible abounds with uninsightful, intolerant and dogmatic teachings as well, giving a narrow and distorted view of the world that stifles independent thinking and acting.  Plus, it attempts to induce shame and guilt in its readers by threatening them with hell if they do not follow its often vague and highly subjective rules, which can be contradictory.  What is more, the Bible adds that even those who do not believe its contents will suffer in hell, which is presumptuous considering it cannot even prove an afterlife, much less justify reaching its states.  It also cannot prove the existence of its god, which further undermines its credibility.”

“Why would any aspect of Christianity appeal to you, then, even in a mutated form?”

“It was something I wanted to believe, because it was easier than facing the truth.”

“What truth was that?”

“I would have to understand and accept myself and my actions before I could truly begin improving, as opposed to relying on blind faith and convenient answers.”

_____

 

“How long did you behave in the aforementioned manner?”

“Until adulthood.”

“What happened then?”

“I tried to improve my situation because I could no longer endure the misery.”

“How did you begin?”

“I initially analyzed my life to discern why it had become so intolerable, hoping that would lead to solutions.”

“How did that progress?”

“Slowly, because it was difficult to surmount my preconceptions about myself and the world and see the true causes of my actions.”

“What were those causes?”

“Self-hatred and hatred towards others, which arose due to the way I had been treated and my reaction to it.”

“Are you implying that your reaction was subjective?”

“Yes, because I could have responded in other ways.”

“What do you mean?”

“There is an infinite chain of causes, actions and consequences, which everyone influences and by which they are affected.  The only variable over which an individual has no semblance of control or influence is the past, which means that present actions are ultimately an individual’s choice, within the limits of the situation.”

“What does this imply regarding what occurred to you?”

“I should have dealt with it more productively.”

“What happened instead?”

“My behavior ultimately worsened my life and the world around me.”

“How so?”

“I increased the already prevalent hatred and destruction in society.”

“Why was it already prevalent?”

“Most people act similarly to the way I did, and will continue to do so.”

“How come?”

“They are also full of hatred towards the way others treat them, or the way they perceive that others treat them, and full of hatred towards themselves due to the inadequacy they feel as a result of this treatment.  This hatred subsequently controls and leads them to be very self-destructive and destructive towards others, through thoughtless, ignorant and spiteful actions, which perpetuates a cycle of hatred and misery; one that serves to alienate people from one another and incrementally worsen society.”

“What can be done to change this?”

“People should recognize the truth about themselves and their actions, and direct their behavior towards the greater good, namely by improving themselves and trying to help others do the same.  Unfortunately, the truth is difficult to comprehend and accept, and even more so to act upon.”

_____

 

“Did these conclusions alter your life in any way?”

“Not in the manner I desired.”

“How come?”

“I ultimately became more disillusioned and angry.”

“Why?”

“The world seemed more hopeless because I did not think people would ever change for the better.”

“Did anything positive come from your conclusions?”

“Yes, the truth.”

“Why was that positive?”

“It dispelled several illusions.”

“How did your increased anger and disillusion affect you?”

“It eventually led to my decision of suicide.”

“Was that easily reached?”

“No, because I still wanted to live.”

“What enabled you to surmount this desire?”

“Reality.”

“What happened afterwards?”

“I planned my death.”

“That brought you here?”

“Yes.”

“What attracted you to this city?”

“It had a decadent reputation, and I hoped by partaking in its excesses I could somehow be saved.”

“How so?”

“I hoped I might finally be able to enjoy life, or at least find some semblance of contentment.”

“Did you indulge yourself upon arrival?”

“Yes.”

“Was this pleasurable?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“It was too empty, because my experiences did not meaningfully improve my state of mind and merely took advantage of, and prolonged, a degrading situation for all, in addition to encouraging future exploitation, of which I was ashamed.”

“What did you do thereafter?”

“I explored other options.”

“Like what?”

“Careers and activities that I thought might give purpose to my life.”

“What did you conclude?”

“They would not do enough to improve me or my situation.”

“Why not?”

“They were essentially jobs, albeit of some merit.”

“What occurred from there?”

“I contemplated religions.”

“How come?”

“I believed they could possibly bring fulfillment.”

“What did you decide?”

“I wanted to increase my knowledge of Buddhism.”

“Why?”

“I had become fascinated by its ubiquity during my stay, and its humble, positive and calming influence.”

“How did you begin learning about Buddhism?”

“I initially visited Wats, but did not have the proper understanding to get much benefit.”

“What did you do thereafter?”

“I read books about Buddhism and studied various sutras.”

“Was that helpful?”

“Yes, because I eventually attained a clearer understanding of the Buddha and his teachings, which affected me immensely.”

“In what ways?”

“I saw the Buddha and his teachings as very honest, insightful and practical, and potentially helpful.”

“Were any of the Buddha’s teachings coincident with your own beliefs?”

“Yes.”

“Such as?”

“The necessity of attaining insight into yourself, others and the world in general, and using that knowledge for the emancipation of each.  However, I had not previously comprehended the laws of karma and how they influenced people’s actions and their station in life.  I also did not give enough consideration to the true nature of the world, which I eventually saw as ultimately empty too.”

“So the Buddha’s teachings helped clarify and refine your outlook?”

“Yes, but only after much meditation and deliberation.”

“Why was that?”

“I could not unconditionally accept what the Buddha taught, because I first had to understand it, then discern whether it was true, which is what the Buddha encourages.”

“Was the truth you found similar to the Buddha’s?”

“It is, but I am not finished looking.”

“What was the biggest impediment to discovering what you have so far?”

“Dispelling my bias against karma.”

“Why?”

“I did not believe that people were truly accountable for their actions.”

“Why not?”

“I rarely saw anyone face consequences for them, or so I wanted to believe, because it justified my destruction.  I still do not perceive people as suffering real consequences for their actions, however, because they experience positive and negative stimulus on a predominantly superficial, not deeply internal and metaphysical, level, and that does not compel insightful and productive behavior.  For example, negative experiences are viewed as something to be endured and are usually attributed to fate or ‘god’s will’, not to karmic consequences that would lead one to objectively and meaningfully examine his or her conduct in order to improve oneself and lessen future duress.  That is only slightly different from positive experiences, which people may perceive as fate or ‘god’s will’ also, but mostly believe they deserve for being ‘good’.  That does not impel any introspection either.  Such behavior is unlikely to change, though, and it remains frustrating that people predominantly do not take responsibility for their actions and their consequences, nor do they make an impartial effort at self-examination.”

_____

 

“What does enlightenment mean to you?”

“It is a state where one truly comprehends and experiences the emptiness of the phenomenal world and is thereafter freed from its infinite cycle of deaths and rebirths, and all the suffering therein.”

“How is this achieved?”

“By gaining insight into the phenomenal world and the absolute reality to which it is subordinate, then using and increasing this insight and knowledge to where one frees oneself from ego, duality and whatever attachments have arisen from them, resulting in a state of Nirvana upon death.”

“Please elaborate on this state.”

“Nirvana, or Nibbana, is the absolute reality behind the façade of the phenomenal one.  It is formless, objectless, infinite and unbound by any physical or karmic laws, and beings who enter, such as it is, assume their true essence; one that is empty and formless and has always existed.”

“What do you mean that this state has always existed?”

“Since it is impossible to create something out of nothing, the most basic building blocks of the phenomenal world have always been present, and physical and karmic laws caused us to evolve into our current state, which is only temporary.  They also impelled the evolution of the world we see and experience, and these laws continue to result in the constant flux of all phenomena.”

“Why?”

“Physical and karmic laws influence and react to every action, creating a never-ending cycle of creation and destruction that impacts everything and everyone.”

“Please be specific regarding people.”

“People’s interaction with their environment constantly brings physical and mental changes through their responses to internal and external stimuli, resulting in the creation and maintenance of ego, and the creation, maintenance and destruction of their physical bodies, in which ego continually manifests.”

“Does this mean that people are incapable of having an unchanging self or soul?”

“Yes, because their true essence is still emptiness, albeit one hidden by a corporeal form.”

“How can they accumulate karma?”

“As long as a being believes in, and remains attached to, the illusion of ego, he or she is subject to the physical and karmic laws that govern it, and karma accumulates in the inherently empty ego to which one clings.”

“This can only be transcended through enlightenment?”

“Yes, which will ultimately end the suffering caused by ego and its resulting duality, which create one’s positive and negative attachments through interaction with, and response to, others, the world in general, and its physical and karmic laws.”

_____

 

“Do you associate yourself with any particular Buddhist school?”

“No, although I prefer the early spirit of Zen due to its simplicity and emphasis on compassion, insight and self-reliance, as well as its dynamism resulting from an openness to interpretations of the Buddha’s teachings.”

“Is there anything about Zen or Buddhism in general of which you are critical?”

“Yes.”

“Such as?”

“My primary concerns are distortions of the Buddha’s teachings that result in behaviors and practices digressing from the highly objective, moral and detached lifestyle advocated by the Buddha.”

“Please explain what you believe these behaviors and practices are.”

“They are mystification, idolatry and worship of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and general deities; self-indulgent and mystical ceremonies, rituals and rites; mystical doctrines and formulas; overt and self-serving merit making; uncritical sutra study; and the overall institutionalization of the Buddha’s teachings into a generally staid, undemanding, falsely comforting and spiritualistic religion for the masses.  All this creates a deluded sense of well-being, security, accomplishment and importance, and promotes erroneous insight and dogmatic views, which hinders a person’s search for the truth; one unencumbered by any set path.”

_____

 

Regarding reincarnation, life and death are interdependent and inherently cyclical.  Nothing ends.  Nothing begins.  Everything continues, and the world we perceive, perpetual reality, is governed by laws we do not see or truly understand.   Why do they give life and cause death?  Physical laws provide an approximate, albeit vague, answer as to how that occurs, but not why.  People invent gods and religions as an explanation, and their theories, which they proclaim as truth, are similar insofar as being contingent on conjecture and blind faith.  What most people fail to recognize is that why, as with physical laws that govern physical actions, can there not be independent and impartial ones that affect human conduct and the ego that impels it?  Obviously something does, or our actions, intentions and thoughts would be completely random, as would their consequences.

 

I am not inferring that our accountability is the result of possessing a soul, or that some other basic, indefinable entity comprises our essential being, because that would imply something fixed and unchangeable, or at best an entity that is moderately malleable, because its very existence, and inherently static nature, at least on an elementary level, would thereby negate some if not all potential and ability for individuals to become better or worse.  That is because if one’s essence is fundamentally ‘good’, an ultimately meaningless and arbitrary term, then all of one’s actions will thereby have to be defined as such because it would contradict one’s nature to behave otherwise, as it would be for one whose nature is ‘bad’, to behave in any other manner.  Should one’s inherent nature be mixed, then it would be impossible for one to attain the purity of either ‘good’ or ‘bad’, since one cannot change one’s essential composition, presuming that a being, human or otherwise, can be strictly categorized within ultimately subjective and indefinable moral parameters.

 

What if one’s essence, such as it is, merely comprises the potential to be ‘good’ or ‘bad’, and that through one’s actions one develops into a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ person, or one with traits of both?  That essence would necessarily be malleable, and would lack the consistency and coherency to be effectively defined by absolute and comprehensible terms.  Such a malleable essence would thereby enable one to constantly change for better or worse, in a relative sense, resulting in an individual, and a society comprised of individuals, to be in perpetual flux, as is, and has always been, so.

 

This malleable essence is ego, and the impetus for its continual transformation is the unremitting stimulus of the surrounding world and how one reacts to it.  The frequently shifting thoughts, emotions and desires, and the resulting actions and consequences, yield an endless cycle of positive and negative attachments, and it is in this manner that one increases or diminishes one’s ego; an entity that results in the long term consistency and redundancy of most behavior since it does not end in death or begin anew in life.

 

Instead, our ego evolved from, and travels from one form to another, as a result of karmic and physical laws.  The forms in which ego manifests itself are nothing except recycled matter, as evident by the very elements that comprise our being, none of which were newly created, but are composed of what already exists.

 

This is true of the world around us also, and this regeneration continues to shape life and the environment in which we live, because the cycle of life and death is perpetuated by all actions and their corresponding outcomes, which in turn compels further actions and consequences.  The only way to transcend that is to free one’s self from ego; one bound to physical and karmic laws, and the life and death forces propelling humanity’s innate desire to live, create and destroy.

_____

 

The Buddha taught that people impose their perspectives on the world in an attempt to comprehend it and have it conform to their individual values and beliefs.  Ultimately, however, all perceptions and judgments are meaningless because the truth is beyond self-centered and rational description, and can only be discerned and understood by one who has gone beyond the delusion of ego and its resulting subjective duality.  That is because one beholden to ego is constantly controlled and manipulated by positive and negative attachments to self, others, ideals, beliefs, objects, power, money and various addictions and indulgences, whose instability and insatiability results in a constant flux of emotions, thoughts and desires that distract one from clearly perceiving one’s self and the causes and consequences of one’s actions, as well as those of others, and prevents one from confronting them in an impartial and productive manner.  This leads to suffering in one’s self and others through thoughtless, insensitive, ignorant and spiteful actions, which ultimately perpetuates and intensifies humanity’s self-destruction and misery.

 

The Buddha taught that to emancipate one’s self from ego, one must cultivate insight into one’s true nature through observation of self and others, analysis of one’s observations, and objectless meditation in daily activities and dedicated sessions, (where one contemplates nothing and clings to nothing, and is truly detached from the phenomenal world) in order to see the superficiality, meaninglessness and corrupting influence of ego and its resulting duality.  A person should also cultivate strength, moral virtue and even-mindedness through discipline and the aforementioned meditation to reach and maintain this insight, as well as free him or her from whatever suffering and attachments his or her illusions have created.  A person should cultivate compassion as well, through respecting, understanding and relating to all forms of life, thereby impelling him or her to help all beings achieve freedom.

 

 

Page 11:

 

scattered snowflakes fall from a charcoal sky

filtering through barren, skeletal trees

brown and brittle leaves fill the ground

 

a gentle wind drifts between innumerable rows of headstones

most are cracked, crumbling or worn to illegibility

others have been smashed or toppled

all are overgrown with grass, weeds and brush

 

twigs, branches, general debris and rubbish also fill space

 

everything is encased within a perimeter of rusted, black iron bars

occasionally broken, bent or missing

including pointed tips

most are entwined in decaying vines

several have been extensively defaced

 

modest houses surround

their condition scarcely better

 

roads and sidewalks are mainly empty

only a smattering of drivers, passengers and pedestrians

none stopping to look beyond the fence

or through the narrow, wrought iron gate

 

barely open

 

leading onto a beaten, dirty trail

whose travelers are mostly memories and youth

 

 

30 June 2011, Saigon (HCMC), Vietnam:

 

My prostitute just left and I am staring at the Saigon skyline, or at least what I can see of it, and dwelling once more on the past.  I do not mean the nonsense that I have already described, however obliquely, but the people I once thought meant something to me, and I to them, which were not many.  It remains surprising how expendable I am, or rather, I wish it was.

 

I do not believe that honesty and directness are valued highly by people in general, despite what they claim, because most just want their beliefs confirmed, or excepting that, they desire to hear something benign, which I cannot do.  Life is a severe series of contradictions, ultimately resolving itself in an incoherent and brutal mess that people need to decipher for themselves.  To be self-delusional and cowardly about that merely serves to create and exacerbate problems, not solve them.

 

I have always been honest with myself and searched for the truth because that helps me better tolerate the harshness of the world, and I used to make the mistake of expecting others to do the same.  I had, and have, my own unfortunate problems and prejudices, though, obviously, which I was not as forthcoming and proactive about as I am now, and the truth I perceived was only partial and no less damaging.

 

Insofar as that concerns relationships, or potential ones, I have always had a weakness for physical beauty, or at least something approximating it depending on the circumstances, and I erroneously equated that with depth of character.  I suppose that is because I am the opposite of beautiful, inside and out, and it was more logical and desirable to see beauty as thoroughly permeating someone from the outside in, at least in those to whom I was attracted.  I hoped somehow they would elevate my own existence, however marginally, and give my life greater meaning, or at minimal contentment.

 

I stated earlier that I have never had a real relationship, and due to my aforementioned proclivity and other consequences of the past, I can say that I never pursued one either, just those I knew were unrealizable, destructive, or would fail for innumerable reasons.  That is because I am quite incapable of trusting or getting close to anyone, yet would theoretically like to, and my compromise just furthered my self-immolation.  I knew that at the time, but was unwilling and unable to act otherwise because it gave some odd assurance of at least trying to improve my life.

 

That sort of conduct was much worse when I was younger, and eventually institutionalized itself to the point where I merely went through the motions, which, while not an improvement, enabled me to transition into another, more honest form of annihilation.

 

It is not necessary to chase the illusion of human beauty anymore, as it is to rent its superficial and inherently ruinous trappings, which I have done for several years, and now do exclusively.  At least there are no misconceptions regarding its beginning, middle and end, and it requires far less time, money and energy than I would otherwise expend.  There are also no onerous and debilitating expectations or disappointments, just hollow feelings and gestures that dissolve into a more general sense of misery and emptiness, which are far more endurable.

 

 

Page 12:

 

It seems redundant to write this because the impetuses for my actions are not altogether unclear, but I feel further explanation is warranted to dispel any doubts.  I will begin by stating that my life has been in a period of dissolution for a long time, and its predominant emptiness has finally overwhelmed me, or at least I am exhausted enough to end matters.  That was an easy and difficult decision, and one whose outcome has been quite overdue.  It is just too debilitating to wake without hope or expectation that my life will improve, and to endure another day of the same, and finally have those thoughts conclude my night; one interspersed with only brief, sporadic intervals of unconsciousness, which provides yet more opportunity to dwell on the past, present and future, and be overcome by the inescapable misery of each.  I wish I could say I am overstating my predicament, but unfortunately my efforts to salvage my life, if only through attaining a minimal degree of contentment, have failed, and there is no reason why that should not continue.  Society is not conducive to someone like me, due to its self-destructive, self-hating values, and my finality is merely a consequence, although I am not innocent regarding its condition.  That is something for which I have remorse, and an immense frustration at not being able to alter.  My loneliness has impelled my end too, and I do not see that changing either because I cannot seem to meet someone with whom I, at minimum, would like to be friends, or who would like to be friends with me, thereby providing some semblance of fulfillment.  My writing is no longer capable of that because it is evident it will never be published or read, much less make a positive impact on others, which was partly my motivation, in addition to trying to comprehend, and save, my life.  Everything I create is just a record of my pain, frustration and sadness, and I am tired of the redundancy.  Writing is also increasingly difficult because people’s constant barrage of noise prevents me from obtaining any peace and quiet, as it always has, and my nerves and sanity are now strained to where I have no more tolerance.  I am exhausted as well from working a low-wage, degrading job that barely provides rent for my dilapidated apartment and its accompanying expenses, and I do not possess the skills or experience for better, nor any inclination towards careering.  I am simply unable, and refuse, to keep trudging through the seemingly endless days, weeks, months and years, knowing well their conclusion, and why. I apologize for whatever suffering you may experience as a result of my actions, but they were of my own volition, and subsequently no one is to blame but me.  Again, I am sorry.  I wish you all well.

 

 

Page 13:

 

a pale outline stands immobile

sunken eyes ringed black

bloodshot

the right one with a scar

 

a long, thin, sagging face is slightly gouged

large, lengthy, wide nose

deep-set lines

roughened in this late hour

 

short, unkempt, unwashed, receding hair

 

clothes are black

black shirt with upper button undone

untucked into black dress pants

black socks in black slippers

 

open hands

fingers curled with arthritis

 

posture mostly erect

feet close together

arms straight down

 

a worn, empty room surrounds

leading into another

 

dim lamplight

 

shadows rest indistinctly on walls

blinds are drawn

 

echoes of errant noise

 

a cold draft

pushing dust

 

 

16 July 2011, Vientiane, Laos:

 

I do not consider myself as having a home, since I do not really belong anywhere and there are no places I am eager to revisit, although I suppose one exception is Bangkok.  That was my first foreign city of residence, and one to which I am repeatedly drawn due to its constant state of inertia and flux.  I like the Thai people as well, and I appreciate their kindness, optimism and mellow disposition, which calms me somewhat.  It was here I returned towards the middle of 2006 after I had more or less stabilized from my breakdown, and tried to regain the strength and willingness to return to everyday reality.

 

I spent most of the previous six months with my brother in Jersey City, New Jersey, where I did not do much except write, watch my favorite movies, visit museums and read my art and history books, all in an attempt to survive one day and face another.  That was extraordinarily difficult at first, and I am very grateful for the assistance my brother and others provided.  I did not like being a burden, though, and left as soon as I could to finish my rather brief book in Bangkok, as well as explore other options, primarily photography, thanks to a point-and-shoot camera provided by my parents.

 

Upon reaching Bangkok nothing appeared different, however, but it was also late at night and the skyline had dimmed, so I did not think much of it.  In the morning I could see that the World Trade Center had finished morphing into Central World, and one of the unfinished high-rises that had been abandoned several years earlier was now an attractive office building.  The corner several floors below had changed from corrugated shanties and food stalls to a modest department store, and several facades along Petchburi Road had been modernized, in addition to other nearby finished construction projects.  I was glad to be back.

 

My relationship to the city goes beyond superficial appearances, however, because it was here I returned after another unfortunate period, which impelled me to learn and begin practicing the Buddha’s teachings.  That gave me a better way to endure life, although my severe temperament tends to negate its effects after a certain point since I remain incapable of accepting a mostly rotten world and its predominantly rotten people.

 

Art remains my most consistent and effective means of dealing with that, as it did this time.  I primarily wrote at first, though, since it was familiar and I believed I could do it well, but I knew that my work was never going to be published and I needed

 

 

29 December 2009:

 

Dear Dad:

 

I am quite certain that Laos is the same as when you trekked through forty-three years ago, and likely similar to what you saw in rural Vietnam.  Outside of Luang Prabang, where I have been staying for the past month, time has seemingly stood still.  The dusty, dirt streets remain severely pot-holed and lined with sheet-metal and wood/bamboo shacks, interspersed with small food stalls, makeshift general-goods stores and populated by stray dogs, roosters, chickens and a variety of other creatures.  There are also a multitude of people mulling about, who, in general, are quite friendly, or at least indifferent enough to let me quietly pass.  I do not think they see many travelers where I go, which is why I wanted to come here.  All of this is within a short distance of my bungalow.

 

The city itself is across a rickety wooden bridge, and if it had not been colonized by the French it would look the same as the surrounding area, although as far as decay of the colonial houses and buildings it is not far off, and probably resembles what existed in Saigon in the mid-1960’s.  The well-ordered streets and sidewalks are in mostly good condition, however, since it is a somewhat popular tourist destination, relatively speaking for Laos.  There are no real grocery stores, convenience stores, electronic-goods stores, or anything you would expect in a more developed city.  The major roads are mostly lined with a multitude of small, open stalls in decrepit buildings, which predominantly sell the same food/snacks and various sundries, making my stay slightly more challenging and expensive meal-wise.

 

What interests me most, in addition to the outskirts, are the rivers.  The Nam Khan borders one side of the city and joins the Mekong, which demarcates another.  I have walked through the jungle almost every day to see them, primarily on a worn path littered with garbage.  It would have been extremely difficult to find my way otherwise due to the density of the foliage.

 

There is concern about unexploded ordinance here, since Laos was the most heavily bombed country in the twentieth century due to various skirmishes with neighbors, in particular the Indochina War and the CIA’s ‘secret war’ during the Vietnam War era, as you know.  I stopped heeding the warnings after a while because I would not likely spot UXO anyway, and if I stepped on one it would not matter shortly thereafter.  So I went where I wanted in the jungle and around the Nam Khan and Mekong.

 

It was about two weeks into my stay when the true reality and ultimate destruction of war became more apparent, quite unintentionally, while I walked along the Mekong.  Initially, I was surprised by the shallowness of the river, and that it kept falling every day since the rainy season ended, which allowed me to inspect some large sand banks that are usually inaccessible.

 

It was there I found a combat boot lodged in the brambles, which had been submerged for at least the past thirty-four years (when the U.S. left Vietnam), reappearing only during low river levels.  It looked Asian, judging from the smaller size and the treads that almost appeared as if they belonged on a running shoe, not like the ones on your boots, Dad.  It was in surprisingly good condition except for being frayed at the top, possibly due to an explosion that also ripped a large hole through the side, which is difficult to discern in the fold.  That was all I could find of the soldier, the rest likely washed away by the current long ago.

 

There were some tattered clothes much further down, however, which could have been from old army uniforms, as evident by the heavy cloth and thick black buttons, but the cloth was discolored and mostly shredded, so I cannot decisively say.  I could not determine to whom or which side they belonged either, not that it mattered.

 

I found some pieces of what I perceived to be shrapnel as well, or seemed likely anyway, due to the horribly twisted, brutal looking shapes whose edges had dulled somewhat from rust and being submerged in the river.  Unfortunately, they did not photograph effectively, and only a cinema camera could have given an accurate, all-over perspective.  There also seemed to be bits and pieces of boats and perhaps some other sizable entity (helicopter?) that looked like they had been shot at a very high velocity into the sandbar.   I say that because they were buried so deeply I could not dislodge or even budge them.

 

Consequently, the only picture worth including in the letter was that of the aforementioned boot.

 

It became disturbing for me thereafter to think about the armies who had only fairly recently stopped running through this area, and how the men and women could fight in such difficult and severe conditions.  Also, how those who knew the jungle and the Mekong well could easily destroy those unfamiliar with it.

 

It must have been an extremely traumatic, harrowing and life-altering experience for anyone who was forced into such a situation, and it is not surprising that the relentless death and destruction, and the paranoia, apathy and cruelty that could and did develop from it, went on to destroy a significant number of people and essentially end their lives, as well as affect a multitude of others to a greater or lesser degree.  I can only be grateful I never had to live through that, and how wrong and inhuman it would be to force someone else to do so.

 

 

Page 14:

 

ghosts through a pale fog drift slowly past

endless grey, smoky streaks

hovering lifelessly in the cold darkness

washing over everything

 

nothing

 

dispersed by occasional strong gusts

 

waves collapse onto rocks and sand below

exhausted from their lengthy journey

 

boulders in the shallows grind away

tall, thick, wide

into the depths

 

the cliff rises steeply

barren except for scattered gangly flowers, grass, weeds and brush

rain rolls steadily past

a glassy sheen carrying dust, dirt, loose rock

other sediment and debris

 

scraggly, twisting trees hang over the edge

staring at the black sky and water

broken by high cliffs

rolling hills on the opposite side

 

a lighthouse

leading the ocean beneath a dim, hazy bridge

into the bay on the right

 

an indistinct blur of distant lights

tall hills, islands and inlets

 

images puddling on nearby, deeply textured

weathered branches

splash the murkiness below

 

 

Miscellaneous 1:

 

rarely regarded as fine art, except some work by the early avant-garde masters that I did not desire to imitate.  I had no interest in strict reproduction either, since it only entombs subjects, not bring them to life.

 

I saw some tremendous exhibits during my convalescence, beginning with the one hundredth anniversary of Die Brucke, Egon Schiele, Klee, Munch, Neue Sachlichkeit, and the general collections of MOMA and Neue Galerie.  I spent days looking at them, not hours, which

 

 

Page 15:

 

only differentiation arises in the degree and types of actions they undertake to obtain them.  That is because all societies, and the people therein, are inherently materialistic, regardless of whatever ideology or religious beliefs predominate.  That breeds materialistic goals of wealth and power and whatever can be acquired with them, with general disregard for the consequences.”

“I believe you are wrong.  Rationality and compassion do exist in society.”

“I see very little resembling compassion in this world.  As for rationality, people’s ultimate rational act is to justify their selfish and destructive behavior in relationship to the inherently selfish and self-destructive ‘values’ of society, which ultimately perpetuates and compounds humanity’s problems.  That hardly

 

 

25 August 2011, Siem Reap, Cambodia:

 

I would like to believe that by waiting long enough my life will somehow improve, although I have been doing that for forty years and nothing has occurred.  My latest self-imposed deadline is the end of my six month trip, which is almost half over, and I confront the same problems as before with no better solutions.  I mentioned earlier that I will not return to the same situation I left,  or one even worse, nor do I have any intention of resuming a mediocre life in general,  I would like to say that is because I deserve and have earned better, but I can do so with no particular conviction.  I can only say that I am still too mentally and physically exhausted to expend what little remains of myself on a likely dead-end.

 

 

Page 16:

 

a shadow crawls slowly over patchy, uneven sidewalk

a moment vanishes, begins, ends

 

the same moment

 

the same silhouette

 

crowds wander

passing sights and smells of food vendors

people selling common wares

beggars, touts, street and sidewalk cleaners, policemen and guards

malls; enormous, moderate and small, upscale and unassuming

innumerable storefronts, restaurants, produce and goods markets

bridges spanning grimy, debris-laden canals

skyscrapers, luxury, mid-range and inexpensive hotels, apartments, condominiums

dank alleys, shanties

endless construction

beautiful, ornate Wats

humble ones

palaces, mansions, embassies

parks, scattered trees, flowers, bushes

stadiums, shrines, monuments

burlesque clubs, bars, discos, theaters

a bombardment of signs, billboards, Royal portraits

Buddhist imagery

stray dogs and cats

 

a wide, brown river constantly churns with taxis, barges, tugs

loud roads are jammed with cars, motorcycles, tuk-tuks, vans, buses, trucks

a train threads above the maze of elevated highways and chaotic streets

 

overwhelmed by heat and humidity

smog and dust

 

a city living its everyday life

engrossed in the present

 

an eternal, oblivious transience

 

 

Page 17:

 

an old, weathered lighthouse stands vacant

sole occupant of a long, cement pier

its surface also beaten

 

the narrow channel beside is empty

a long, winding path disappears behind large, densely forested dunes

into a modest lake

 

waves overrun both sides

 

nearby beaches are unoccupied

only fallen branches, driftwood, shells, pebbles, larger rocks

tufts of grass, brush and weeds

deposits of vegetation and assorted detritus

cover the lengthy, wide area

 

the sky is charcoal

filling with streaky, billowing smoke

advancing quickly towards shore

 

random patches of thunder and lightning interrupt the distance

growing louder and brighter

 

a cool breeze gathers momentum

blowing dirt, dust, sand

its haphazard gusts mostly returning what it moves

 

troughs continue deepening

crests continue rising

frigid black waves become swifter and stronger

 

the pale moonlight and dim stars remain in retreat

bleeding into the haze

 

the pier is washed clean

its lighthouse circling endlessly

unacknowledged amidst the innumerable, rising echoes

reverberating into the night

 

 

10 September 2011, Hong Kong:

 

I do not believe that people’s overwhelming tendency for self-destruction, and the general destruction accompanying it, is inherent.  It is something one acquires through self-hatred and hatred of others, which are caused by feelings of inadequacy and resentment towards that perceived inadequacy, and those feelings arise for innumerable reasons.  I know why mine did, and it is a constant struggle to deal with that productively:  When I returned to San Francisco in late 2006 that involved trying to become an artist.

 

First, however, I needed a place to stay, which led me to rent the same apartment as before, albeit one floor lower.  That was mostly done for practical reasons since the building was cheap due to rent-control and being in a blighted area, and only offered month-to-month leases.  I also hoped that by existing in familiar conditions it would hasten my end, or strongly impel some sort of beginning, in as much as that was possible, or perhaps do both and yield an expedient and typically contradictory conclusion.

 

That is also what led me to acquire another menial, dead-end, low-paying, miserable job in a similar company, although I would have had low-end employment wherever I went since I am not qualified for anything else.  Still, it was not too bad because people mostly left me alone, unlike before, which freed my mind to concentrate on more important matters, namely teaching myself about photography and how to use various computer programs.

 

I began doing that most intensely once my apartment and job situations were settled.  I initially concentrated on Golden Gate Park and Land’s End because they were so vast and I was exposed to an extensive variety of form and color, notably flowers, trees and general vegetation, as well as the ocean.  It was difficult to revisit Land’s End, however, since that is where my life almost ended, but I forced myself to keep returning since I believed my future was more important than the past.

 

I focused almost exclusively on these areas for nearly a year, after which I had an elementary competence with my camera and computer, and desired a new challenge.  I also realized that I am not a nature photographer, nor does the subject hold much interest, although it was conducive to my purposes.

 

Afterwards I studied San Francisco’s abnormally large homeless population because it would give me experience with human form and movement, as well as how to work efficiently in an urban environment.  That began quite awkwardly, however, since I was far too polite and anxious about the consequences of violating someone’s personal space and privacy, as well as using the results for my own gain, but I willed myself past that too and finally started producing decent work, or so I thought.

 

It was towards the end of my one year study, and four relatively inexpensive cameras later, that I determined I needed professional equipment to achieve the high quality performance and images I desired, leading me to purchase a Nikon D3 shortly after its introduction.  I purchased an 80 – 400mmVR Nikkor lens too, which was not professional, but had an ideal range and superb optics.  (It unfortunately malfunctioned almost two years later during the first month of my Asia trip due to excessive heat and humidity, and was immediately replaced by the just-released 70 – 200mm VRII Nikkor lens, which I have used almost exclusively since.)  It was this combination of camera and lens that enabled me to consistently create at a high level, and I consider this period my true beginning as an artist.

 

I still had not found my ideal subject matter, though, and after a few more months of photographing homeless I concentrated extensively on the urban wasteland of SOMA (South of Market Area), and the objects and general decrepitude therein.  This was especially productive because I enjoyed wandering amongst the decaying and empty streets, buildings, bridges, parks, canals and waterfront, and I had enough time and freedom to comprehensively study and portray the area, although I have since discarded most of the images.

 

 

27 September 2011, Hong Kong:

 

I am not sure if, in general, the expectations for one’s life are ever met or exceeded, provided one actually desires something worthy, or if hope remains precisely that, and people ultimately need to settle for the reality they have unless they are compelled to make themselves miserable dwelling on what could have, or should have, been.  I cannot say I yet belong in the latter, embittered category, because I am still trying to achieve my goals, but I am not far.

 

When I returned from my last Asia trip I had grand plans for my future and was almost deluded enough to believe they might succeed, or at least I thought they had a better than average chance.  That average is exceptionally low, though, and the place to which I returned was, and is, a wasteland as far as culture and competent tech people are concerned, ultimately negating my efforts to launch an Internet site, hold an exhibit and submit to local galleries, which was something I knew well from having endured my first eighteen years there.

 

I was determined to try, however, and my best chance of garnering interest, much less selling pictures, was holding an exhibit during a recently launched art competition, which awarded bloated cash prizes based predominantly on popular vote.  It did attract international and domestic entries, though, and one’s work could potentially be seen by four hundred thousand people, which was an opportunity I could not neglect.  Nevertheless, I was not an official entrant since I had returned to the city too late, but I still rented a desirable space and proceeded to plan my exhibit.

 

One of the necessary tangents involved hiring a designer to build an Internet site to promote my show and potentially sell pictures on-line, but I was quite ignorant and the results were not worthwhile, although they were temporarily sufficient due to time constraints.  I then submitted work to local galleries and invited them to my exhibit, believing they would be more interested in the originality and high quality of what I did than the dreck they sold.  I also sent promotional packets to the local media, museum directors and whomever else I believed might appreciate my images.

 

Nothing worked, however, since my show immediately careened into oblivion, attracting perhaps fifty people who viewed it entirely, of whom maybe ten liked it.  The exhibit was a bit extreme, though, beginning with the work shown in the large front and side windows, and what people could see upon entering the door.  Also, very few pictures were framed, with most being double-hung in groups held by t-pins and binder clips, with no descriptions, creating a very intimidating and stark atmosphere that grew more oppressive the further one ventured.  That was precisely what I desired, because it effectively conveyed my work’s unsettling content and forced people to confront and contemplate it, which is what an exhibit should do, although apparently not where I did.

 

My show was in brutal contrast to a city that looked like it had vomited the worst and tackiest art/decoration, and smeared it over every available street corner, window, parking lot and wall, giving the impression of the world’s ugliest art fair.  Still, people in general seemed to like it, and the ‘artists’ who won were quite pleased.

 

Needless to say, I failed to sell many pictures or get any interest from local galleries, media, or anyone, and after three weeks everything ended.  I did not see my experience as a failure or something regrettable, since I learned how to best and most strongly display my images, and to view them even more objectively, leading me to improve and discard several.  I also learned that I liked explaining my pictures to the few people who would listen, because it created interest and appreciation, although not to the point where I wanted to post essays, titles or descriptions.  I concluded as well from my peripheral Web site debacle that it was prudent to associate myself with people who knew what they were doing and from whom I could learn about e-commerce, which led to my redesigned site and slight increase in professionalism.

 

 

Page 18:

 

grey clouds hang motionless above

seeping through barren trees

thickly entangled

 

patches of snow slump over brown, matted grass

newly brittle

 

twigs, branches, rotting leaves, trash, other debris

scattered sparsely beside the road

a blur of mile markers, reflectors, signs, overpasses, distant towns

barely discernable in dusk

 

broken yellow lines split empty pavement

bordered by white stripes

oncoming headlights are engulfed in a ditch

 

hour after hour

memories upon thoughts

 

a steady rumbling

towards a receding horizon

 

 

Page 19:

 

Art has always been a savior throughout my existence, whether studying, experiencing or creating it, since the best transcends the harshness, indifference and pettiness of the world and its people, and enters the realm of the sublime, where pure thought, emotion and the infinite, fragile transience of life and its overwhelming force truly exist.  It is only within these rare, fleeting moments that I encounter genuine freedom, and have full comprehension of what it means to be alive; an acute awareness far beyond the limitations of arbitrary words, and one for which I can only express gratitude.

 

That is not a world in which I can permanently reside, unfortunately, and I am unduly affected by my interaction with the other.  That was something I was able to endure until 28 October 2005, when I became overwhelmed by misery and hopelessness and my life almost ended.  It was then I had to begin again, in as much as that is ever really possible, and I did the best I could to make some semblance of peace with my past, and stopped the self-destruction resulting from it.

 

I also ceased writing, which I had been doing for twenty of my thirty-four years, and searched for a new means of expression; one that would immediately capture reality as I perceived it.  My pictures are my prose and poetry now, and they convey the inventiveness, severe and subtle beauty, and underlying emotional and concrete truth I have always sought.  They also help me find hope and meaning in society, as well reconcile my ideals with reality.

 

The subject matter that interests me resides primarily in the ordinariness and banality of daily existence, one where the truth about humankind and the world it continues to shape manifests itself in ways that most people tend to neglect, either through an apathy arising from continuous exposure or an initial lack or interest.

 

Such concern arose amongst the innumerable industrial wastelands of my Midwestern youth, which remain my foremost artistic and humanistic influences.  The suffering, neglected and battered soul of these areas, as well as the futile, materialistic dreams that created and destroyed them, manifests itself in every picture I have created and ever will.

 

Other significant influences include Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity), a movement prominent in Weimar Germany, which highlighted the tediousness of everyday existence and those who lived it, ultimately disintegrating society’s façade into subtly subversive and insightful art.  The bold colors, forms, intensity and inventiveness of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, the German Expressionist filmmakers, Jean-Luc Godard, Wong Kar Wai, and the cinematography of Christopher Doyle also influenced me, as did the bold and subtle forms, colors and elegant simplicity of pre-modern Chinese, Japanese and Zen Buddhist art.

 

I ultimately strive to present a challenging and diverse view of society in hopes that it may inspire others to perceive it differently, and perchance care.

 

 

Miscellaneous 2:

 

ultimately finish the process of disassociating myself from a society that had further marginalized me.  That level of vitriol and bitterness was obtained during my breakdown and after, when almost everyone abandoned me to die, including those I believed cared.  Any semblance of trust and compassion I had was severed, radically advancing a process of becoming a significantly harder, stronger and generally indifferent individual, who found no particular contentment or meaning in anything except my own creations.

 

 

30 September 2011, Hong Kong:

 

Greetings from Hong Kong.  I am currently in a room about as large as a prison cell.  It is maybe six feet wide and ten feet long, including the bathroom.  The walls are extremely thin and I am beside the front door, which people constantly slam day and night.  There is a sign asking otherwise, but apparently it is a matter of pride to ignore requests for courtesy, especially after being confronted.  Suffice to say, it has been an extremely long month, albeit a potentially productive one.

 

I leave on 1 October for Taipei, which I liked last time and am returning to the same apartment.  I do not expect to produce any photographs, however, because it is difficult to find material.  I primarily need a place to refine the images I have created, and to work further on my travelogue.

 

There are several new pictures on my site if you would like to view them, although none are from the last month and a half because I need to evaluate those more objectively.  Of course, I am unsure if anything will be worth saving until I do further assessments and print the ones that hopefully remain, which will not be for a while.  I do not like posting work so soon for that reason, but I am trying to garner interest by updating regularly.  I have not sold anything yet, but there have been some visitors.

 

Most people do not like my new images so you do not need to be polite, or at least that has been the opinion of family.  “Interesting” and “unusual” do not qualify as positives except at a freak show, but that is fine because I like what I am doing.  As for the pictures themselves, before I left on my trip I sorted through a postcard collection in my parents’ basement with the intention of finding something saleable, which was not the most noble gesture, but in the course of doing so I grew rather fond of the old Edwardian and Victorian Era hand-coloured, usually German made, postcards.  The ‘white border’ and linen ones were fascinating as well.

 

I also liked the non-representative colors of old photographs I encountered while sorting through various boxes and albums, especially the washed-out look from the nineteen-sixties and seventies, including the photographs my Father took in Vietnam.  I saw a similar finish, as well as black and white, at the Requiem Exhibit in Saigon, where there was extraordinary work by combat photographers on both sides of the Indochina and Vietnam Wars.

 

Those sources partly explain my new pictures, and are not something with which most people are familiar.  Silent movies, and cinema in general, remain strong influences, in addition to avant-garde painters and graphic artists from the early twentieth century.

 

What happens after my trip I am uncertain.  I may change my flight from 1 December to something later since my Father remains alive and has become even more insufferable, although I cannot afford the expense.  I am hoping that my brother will let me stay with him for a while so I can look for a job, which is doubtful.  Either way, I do not want to return to the way things were, or worse, but that will most likely occur in the short term.

 

There is not much to say otherwise.  I hope things are fine with you and that your winter migration goes well.  I apologize for rambling.

 

 

28 October 2011, Taipei, Taiwan:

 

Having been raised in a conservative, religious, narrow-minded and insular cultural wasteland in the Midwest was not conducive to much except severe depression, destructive behavior and general ignorance, occasionally with accompanying prejudice towards the unfamiliar and vaguely threatening.  It was not an auspicious beginning, although it did strongly impel me to leave, especially the circumstances of my home life.  I am not sure where I would be now, provided I would even be alive, if I had not attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and discovered a better reality.

 

It was there that I consider my true education about art, history and the world to have begun, although none of that occurred in a classroom.  Rather, I spent countless days wandering through libraries, new and used bookstores, and new and used record shops, learning as much as I could about whatever I could find, although after a semester, upon encountering a book of Bauhaus photography errantly left on a desk, my energies became more focused.

 

I had vaguely heard of the Bauhaus before, but only slight references from pretentious people who had no idea about what they were speaking, and after viewing the unusual and oddly compelling pictures I decided to explore further.  Perhaps it was my age and the circumstances of my life that attracted me to its utopian aspects, or some necromancy regarding an idealized, or at least what I perceived to be slightly better, past.  Either way, it instilled, or at least reinforced, an attitude of purity and greater purpose for art, which I more concertedly tried to fulfill through my writing, although it ultimately remained as self-serving as it is now.  Nevertheless, it provided a better sense of direction and an insatiable curiosity for continued research into early twentieth century avant-garde art.

 

After the Bauhaus I learned about Russian Constructivism and De Stijl, which shared a certain productive idealism, before moving backwards to Dada, Cubism, German Expressionism, Fauvism and Post-Impressionism, then forward to Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism.  (My encounter with Neue Sachlichkeit did not occur, fittingly, until after my breakdown.)  This world was extraordinary; one elevated from the vulgar into the sublime, although it did not yet inspire me to create visual art.

 

I taught myself about music too, beginning with Classical, Jazz, Blues, Pre-Punk, Punk and Post-Punk, using a variety of written sources as well as buying and trading used compact disks.  This was an important influence on me as well, because I found kinship in the history, aims and execution of the best artists, in addition to appreciating their work.

 

I also view writing as inherently musical, since it has a definite flow and rhythm, and I always try to stay on the beat when I write and edit, albeit one of my own.  Learning about music helped expand and refine that, although I went from being attracted to predominantly dissonant and avant-garde music, to greater appreciation for the structure, general calmness and civilizing influence of Classical, as well as the unstructured, unrestrained, yet mostly civilized Jazz from the late 1940’s to early 1960’s.

 

Suffice to say, I did not study or sleep much during my college years, which I did not view as too great of a loss because I did not like my economics studies, however marginally practical, and I am an insomniac anyway.  Of course, I could have majored in something of actual interest, but I find that school tends to deplete any semblance of life from a subject in order to render it quantifiable, and thereby assessable, which only leads to superficial knowledge.

 

I much prefer the pace and depth of independent study, as well as the freedom to learn about what I want and how, which is far more enjoyable and has resulted in a life-long quest for knowledge, as well as an open-mindedness, tolerance and level of education that I would not have otherwise acquired.  I doubt I would have taught myself about Ancient Greek, Hellenic and Roman art and history, or Chinese, Japanese, Zen Buddhist and Southeast Asian art and history, or the history of film if it had been made detestable by school.  I may not have continued writing or started photographing either, and I certainly would not have done any of that had I stayed in my hometown.

 

Unfortunately, though, the past and its consequences always remain with one, and it is up to the individual to discern a positive and productive way to surmount them, inasmuch as possible, which is what I have always tried to do, although not very successfully.  That continued to make my life miserable during my college years and the ones thereafter, due to the overwhelming destruction I experienced, and the resulting self-destruction.  My time at the University, however, was essential to finding a means of offsetting that, which undoubtedly saved my life, or at least prolonged it, until I became the person and artist I am now, for which I am extremely grateful.

 

 

Gallery Essays:

 

Due to my inability to lead anything even remotely resembling a conventional existence, I have spent the past eighteen years living and traveling throughout the United States and the rest of the world.  It was not until five years ago that I began creating art as the result of a personal tragedy.  This is my work so far:

 

Is San Francisco one of the most inviting and beautiful cities in the world?  Possibly, but my career as an artist commenced shortly after I almost died there on 28 October 2005.  Art is a way for me to confront, comprehend, and make peace with my past and what surrounds me.

 

For four years I worked primarily in the decrepit South of Market area in San Francisco and concentrated on the abandoned, ignored and generally marginalized aspects of society because I saw them as a reflection of my own tenuous existence.  I did not save any work from the first two years, however, because it was mainly a period of teaching myself how to use a camera and a computer, and none of the images were satisfactory.  It was a time of great experimentation, though, and it generated ideas that I still develop today.

 

The pictures in this gallery document the most difficult period of my life and I see them as very beautiful, as I do all of my images, because they capture the substance, superficiality, attractiveness and repulsiveness of life, and the inherent contradictions therein.

—–

 

During the worst economy since the great depression, I quit my job in San Francisco and traveled through Asia for nine months.  Perhaps that was a misguided quest, but I needed to relinquish the past and undertake new challenges.

 

I have always had great respect for Asian culture, which was partly developed through living off and on in Bangkok, Thailand.  However, I had never traveled extensively through the region, much less from the perspective of an artist, so I made my way through Chang Mai, Thailand, Luang Prabang, Laos, Hoi An, Vietnam, Siem Reap, Cambodia, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Beijing, China, Taipei, Taiwan, Kyoto, Japan, Seoul, South Korea, as well as Bangkok, Thailand.

 

It was surprising how similar, yet different, every culture is from one another, and my trip was as educational as it was humbling.  I am extremely grateful to the countries that let me visit, and for the experiences I had.

—–

 

Having been raised in the Midwest, United States, it is with tepid vehemence that I conclude it is not one big trailer park, beholden and inferior to the East and West Coasts.  No, it is more like a gigantic no-man’s land with an even more gargantuan ‘no-trespassing’ sign; one that if breached will result in incomprehensive stares and infallible politeness.

 

It is this with which I am most familiar and comfortable, and it is the innumerable industrial wastelands therein that are my preferred subject matter; ones I consciously seek wherever I travel.  I have grown to appreciate the silence, desolation and decay of these places, as well as the futile, materialistic dreams that created and destroyed them, because I am an inherent part of that whether I want to be or not.

 

It is the suffering, neglected and battered soul of these areas that manifests itself in every picture I have created and ever will.

—–

 

I have always attempted to comprehend and find hope and meaning in society through my photography.  I also try to reconcile my ideals with reality, which is never easy.  Asia has been integral to this process.  That was particularly true during my second Asian trip, which occurred under very challenging personal circumstances.  I am extraordinarily grateful to the countries I visited and for the experiences I had, which helped me continue maturing as a person and an artist.

 

 

12 November 2011, Yangon, Burma (Mayanmar):

 

I am acutely aware that my writing is too academic, oblique and generally unreadable, with sentences that approach, if not obtain, run-on status.  That is fine because I am in no way concerned with people’s opinions.  If I was, I would not expend the time and effort to generate something so unpublishable.  Rather, I continue doing this for myself, and time can determine whether it is worth archiving.  Of course, due to the extreme obscurity of everything I have done and likely ever will, history has perchance rendered its judgment already.

 

Regardless, I need and appreciate the challenge of creating this, whether or not I have the talent and intelligence to do it successfully.  That is true of my writing in general, or at least was until I stopped five years ago when I no longer believed it would amount to anything.  I have gained a new appreciation for it, though, as I have re-edited my book while compiling this.  I have not needed to change much, since I had reviewed it intermittently over the preceding years, which was a pleasant surprise.  I cannot remember the last time I worked on it, however, much less many past details regarding my writing in general, which was somewhat disconcerting.  So I decided to convey what I can recall, while I am able.

 

I believe I began writing seriously at age thirteen, inasmuch as one can really make such a commitment then.  Most likely I wrote something for school that somehow encouraged me to continue.  I remember being highly satisfied with my first attempts, to the point where I believed that my talent and ability were far greater than what they were, which provided a modicum of self-esteem I otherwise lacked.  I thought my writing might somehow yield a better future too, or any future, which was important because I never saw one before.  It slightly lessened my general state of depression as well, and the self-destructive behavior accompanying it.

 

As usual, however, I exhibited my proclivity for over-exuberance towards matters that provided even the faintest glimmer of hope, and I worked obsessively on my writing to the exclusion of almost everything else.  I certainly had no friends or social life, which was not necessarily due to writing, but it did not help either, not that I particularly cared.  As for school, I attended public ones in depressed areas, and showing up and shutting up usually conferred top-of-the-class status.  Thus, I had time to develop my opaque style, which did not reach maturity until several years later.

 

This quest continued while I attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where for some reason I majored in economics, probably because mathematics and its bastard tangents are easy for me.  I did not spend much time in class, however, and only studied for tests shortly before, which resulted in a surprisingly adequate B- average by the time I graduated.

 

Instead, I occupied most of my days writing awful poems, fictional short stories and novels, all of which I now disown.  I tried to get them published too, which for obvious reasons was unsuccessful.  I still deluded myself into believing I was some great, unappreciated and misunderstood genius, however, and continued this charade for several years.  That took me through innumerable temporary occupations all over the United States and even Bangkok, where I still devoted my free time to mostly writing rubbish.

 

I cannot say I ever cared about my fictional material, though, because I was too detached from it.  Rather, I believed in the vision of my non-fiction, using the term interpretively, which was far more daring and original in form and content, and ultimately evolved into my final book.  I like being able to use and integrate various forms of writing because I find life too disjointed, diffuse and contradictory to be portrayed linearly and rationally.  I also believe that there will always be far more information in the omitted, negative spaces than can ever be filled with words, and that is where people need to find meaning, using text as a guide.  Unfortunately, that has resulted in extremely brief and even less publishable work, which is fine because that was never the objective.

 

I did not relinquish the fictional material until the early 2000’s, though, when I finally acknowledged its inferiority and futility, and attempted to leave a better artistic legacy, relatively speaking.  After my breakdown in late 2005, however, I discarded most of my early material and wrote the last version of my autobiography.  I view my book as personal and impersonal, since it conveys the insubstantiality of my existence through mostly vague details, offered within a dense and impenetrable format that mimics and disintegrates into the transience of life itself.

 

 

17 November 2011, Saigon (HCMC), Vietnam:

 

Once on the observation deck I peered down the trail towards the nearby entrance, and the dim, empty, perpendicular road winding beside the coast.  A public golf course lay beyond, bordering a neighborhood twenty yards to the left.  Immediately in front, and extending to my right, the dirt path merged with the darkness, as did almost everything else due to the thick foliage and dense tree-line.

 

For several moments I peered at what passed for civilization; an artificial, fluorescent wasteland beckoning only with its blackness and pale, creeping shadows; a world into which I had long since disappeared, and headed towards again.

 

I did not get far before glancing back, perchance hoping for more definite answers, or merely to acknowledge some sort of end.  That was when I saw them.

 

There were five or six coyotes mulling on and around the deck, their outlines clear against the faintly illuminated sky.  I do not know if they appeared after I passed or I meandered through them, or maybe they were not there at all.  Regardless, I was too weary and exhausted to react.

 

I observed them for a long time, lazily strolling, oblivious to my presence.  I wished somehow they would acknowledge me, that anyone would, but I knew that was not going to happen.  So I turned towards the blue lights once more, and kept walking.

 

 

30 November 2011, Bangkok, Thailand:

 

 

 

 

Page 20:

 

a lone candle flickers

convulsing in a drafty room

 

shadows lurch erratically

straining

failing

 

time stands immobile

caught between past and future

regretting, anticipating

ignoring

 

beading slowly onto dirt

 

an eternal light

all-consuming oblivion

bound to emptiness

 

 

1 June 2012, en route to Asia:

 

I am currently undertaking a final extended excursion through Asia, visiting familiar cities and some new ones, after which I will be faced with the usual decision of what to do with my life.  I have not found an answer in forty-one years, however, and will not likely this time either.

 

 

3 June 2012, Bangkok, Thailand (BKK airport):

 

persisted caring for him through most of my last departure, until he had to be rushed to the hospital in late November.  I returned home to witness the final stages of my Father’s death.

 

That put life in irrevocable perspective, because the final two months of my Father’s demise were extremely slow, painful and brutal.  His body gradually shut down until he could no longer do anything except remain cognizant of what was occurring.  To watch my Father being bathed, fed and changed like an infant, and seeing the unbearable pain and humiliation in his eyes that he could not verbally express, were the most horrible and agonizing moments of my existence.

 

I made peace with my Father during that time, and will always feel regret, sadness and frustration that I could not do more.

_____

 

There were a few hours before my Father entered hospice when he was alert, humorous and acted with a wisdom and benevolence that exists in all of my fondest memories of him.

 

That is how I chose to remember you, Dad.

 

Thank you very much for being a part of my life.

 

 

10 June 2012, Hanoi, Vietnam:

 

People’s lives are inherently shaped by the experiences they have had and their reactions to them, which also defines one’s character.  It is too simplistic to categorize events and outcomes as either positive or negative, or good or bad, since the truth encompasses a far broader, and ultimately contradictory, spectrum.  Such absolute terms are also inherently subjective, purging them of any real meaning even for the individual user.  It is with this premise that I approach the most formative experience of my Father’s life; the Vietnam War.

 

Since I did not know my Father before then, and never really knew him after, I can only speculate at to what occurred.  Looking through photo albums, and especially at the picture boards my Mother, Brother and I made for my Father’s memorial service, I saw a distinct change in my Father’s demeanor.  One can perceive a progression from a happier, youthful vigor to a more somber, weary adult, most acutely in the pictures taken of and by my Father during the war itself, or at least the ones he saved.

 

I know that my Father destroyed most of his war photos because they represented something too disturbing to directly confront, yet that did not abolish the memories or their consequences, which to my knowledge he rarely addressed.  Perhaps he could not, or just refused.

 

To face the fundamental questions of life and death, and why they occur, is not easy for anyone, especially one who has experienced them so intensely.  Some turn to the convenient, superficial answers of most religions, but my Father lost his tenuous belief in any sort of god during the war and replaced it with a mostly impenetrable emptiness where life had no meaning and purpose, and was merely something to be endured.  There is an overwhelming selfishness and sense of self-pity, entitlement and anger in that, as well as corresponding self-destruction, as if daring the world to prove you wrong and ultimately hoping it does.  Suffice to say, it will not.  Far more effort is required for personal salvation.

 

The truth about the world is not that far off from what my Father believed, however, since it has no purpose and meaning; only what people give it.

 

 

17 June 2012, Saigon, Vietnam:

 

When the extreme becomes everyday reality, everything else seems alien, alienating, superficial, pointless and impossibly dull, and thereby unbearable.  Once my excursion is over I dread returning to the mediocrity I left, whereupon I will attempt yet again to assimilate into a society whose corrupt, materialistic, inherently selfish and self-destructive values I abhor, and for the majority of whose people I have little or no respect, because they have little or no respect for themselves, as evident by the fact that they do not care about the causes and consequences of their actions, and subsequently about themselves and others.  I have never made my peace with that and likely will not, which ultimately sustains and furthers my anxiety, misanthropy and misery, and the perpetual restlessness that results.

 

 

23 June 2012, Saigon, Vietnam:

 

I empathize with the struggles of people trying to give purpose and meaning to their lives, or simply just survive, and I attempt to convey that in my images, which document my own efforts to do the same.

_____

 

exhausted from fighting to stay alive every day

 

always angry, fatigued and stressed due to people’s relentless noise that prevents me from getting any peace and sleep

 

 

26 June 2012, Saigon, Vietnam:

 

My nervous, manic energy derives from an inexhaustible rage and hatred towards a rotten society and how its mostly worthless people have treated and persist treating me, as well as how they treat one another.  I try to use this negative force productively, and improve myself and this world through positive, meaningful, didactic actions, as opposed to adding to the overwhelming destruction and self-destruction that saturates society and is inherent in its corrupt, selfish and materialistic values.  That is extremely difficult, however, because I am unable to ignore, much less accept and find peace with, the rage, hatred and resulting damage I observe and experience every day.  If I ever do become inured to it, then it will be because I no longer care, which is highly unlikely.

 

 

29 June 2012, Saigon, Vietnam:

 

Since I failed to achieve my dream of being a self-sufficient artist, or having obtained any material success in life at all, I am considered a failure by society’s standards.  That is fine since I am not, nor have ever been, a part of society anyway.  I hardly fulfill anyone’s definition of normal, and have usually been repulsed by what does, which created a disassociation from a very young age.

 

I have always sought the truth about myself, others and the world in general in order to accept the unrelenting harshness of everything I see and experience.  I once believed that my emptiness, pain and disillusion would somehow lessen if people’s, and thereby society’s, self-destruction could be discerned and rationalized, or that such knowledge would perchance lead to a means of avoiding it all together.  Unfortunately, the more one understands about this world and its people, the more hopeless one becomes about improving anything.  One can only accept the world and its people for what they are, primarily materialistic, selfish and short-sighted, as well as ignorant, indifferent, petty and cruel, and try to remain as detached from them as possible.

 

Ultimately, one needs to find peace with one’s self if one is to survive, which still entails discovering basic truths of existence, but also engaging in ruthlessly honest self-assessment regarding one’s behavior and the causes and consequences of all of one’s actions, so that one can improve as a person and react more productively to the immediate sources of destruction and self-destruction.

 

These sources are the selfish and materialistic values of society, and the long-term cycle of alienation, apathy, greed, malice and hatred, and the devastation of individuals, communities and society itself, that results from trying to fulfill its goals.

 

The only way to surmount such negativity is to truly care about how one’s actions affect oneself, others and the world in general, which consequently separates and elevates one, morally and spiritually, from the inherently destructive impulses that consume the masses.  Granted, that may occasionally provide only a stoical sense of transcendence, but it is a significantly better alternative to making society and its inhabitants even worse.

 

Such personal change and the inner peace that accompanies it are extremely difficult to obtain, insofar as they require courage, strength and insight to repress illusions about one’s self and others, and to critically evaluate one’s self.  It is even more challenging to alter one’s entrenched negative behavior and mode of thinking, and replace them with something more positive and productive.  Sometimes that requires extreme and ostensibly drastic solutions, but one’s that are no less imperative if one considers the consequences of not doing so.

 

I wish I could say that I have made the changes proscribed above, but the process of genuinely trying to improve oneself is continuous and requires constant diligence.  Still, I am pleased with the person I have become, although I know I can be much better.

 

I am also encouraged by my progress as a writer and an artist, and I will continue trying to improve along those lines too, albeit more privately in the future.  I am not going to prolong this farce of posting new pictures and writing more travelogue entries since I have no audience except myself, and would rather spend my time, money and energy creating new work, which remains the only thing that gives my life purpose, meaning and keeps me alive.

 

For now, I have approximately four months remaining until my Asian trip is finished, after which I will attempt to return to the existence I left three years ago, which I do not anticipate being successful since the reasons I abandoned it have not changed.  Nevertheless, I will keep doing the best I can and see where that takes me, which so far has been a worthy journey.

BRETT HOWARD SPROUL: ASIA TRAVELOGUE 2011 & 2012