A Cup of Jasmine Tea

vintage_old_full_ying_mee_tea_co___jasmine_tea_box_contents_1_lgw

About an hour and twenty minutes ago, I sent off the last paper.

The last paper, of the last class, of the last semester of my Bachelor’s degree.

I walked the walk back in June. That was a ritual, a rite of passage, one of the few American culture grants. But tonight, about an hour and twenty minutes ago, I earned it.

I’m done.

When I was a teenager, we had a box of Ying Mee loose-leaf jasmine tea. It was from all the way in Hong Kong, from a shop I would later visit and a city I would later love. But this artifact of a wide world, from far beyond Morro Bay, from distant China…it was special. And so I saved it. I only took a few pinches of that jasmine tea when I had something to celebrate.

When I got my High School Equivalency certificate.

When I graduated from Cuesta College.

When I got my first job.

I used to think that celebration, that accomplishment, meant food and beer and loud driving music. I spent years trying to make it so, wondering what was wrong with me that throwing a big party always made me feel hollow. Celebration isn’t, not for me anyway.

It’s some music that’s subtle and rich, Yoko Kanno or Blade Runner or Pink Floyd or Miles Davis, and a cup of jasmine tea. And solitude, to let the old quietly drain out and the new seep in. It takes me time to come to grips with it.

With finishing a novel.

With coming back to China when I thought I was exiled for good.

With completing school.

I felt like I was sending myself off. That part of me, the college student, who’s been going to school or avoiding going to school since I was fourteen, was going away. And it makes me sad, and wistful, and glad at the same time…but those are all too blunt descriptors. The emotions blend together like the colors of a dawn or the flavors of a cup of jasmine tea.

Good bye, student. It has been an honor. It has been such an honor.

Thank you, everyone who stood by me, and with me, for however long, on my way here. I could not have done it without you.


The Short, Strange Life of Comrade Lin

My N3F-award winning story, “The Short, Strange Life of Comrade Lin,” is now available for sale on Smashwords!

ComradeLin_pixlr

You may remember Comrade Lin when I won second place in N3F’s 2013 Short Story Contest with it.This story, one of my China stories, follows Comrade Lin Hong as he follows the eerie music of the wilderness surrounding his home city of Shanghai, into a past he thought he had killed…

Go! Download! Read!


Magnificent Bravura

“As a Baby Boomer, it was my generation that first encountered a hypocritical and cynical government that was not trustworthy…” – Progressive Power, Florida

Continue reading


Five Wednesdays

The only thing I knew how to do was to keep on keeping on, like a bird that flew,

Tangled up in Blue.

For the last five successive Wednesdays, I have not slept in the same city twice. Wednesday the 3rd, I was in Hong Kong, saying my tearful Goodbyes For Now to Asia, to China, and to Diana Hsu. The 10th, the rhythm of the rails was all I could feel, steaming out of Chicago. Wednesday the 17th, I slept after setting up a meeting in Sacramento. And this Wednesday, the 25th, I was in Portland, and drunk. I haven’t moved around this much since that climactic November of 2006.

Last Friday, I saw an American doctor for the first time in three years. I pointed to my strained bicep and asked when it would heal, why it hadn’t yet. When I told her that I got it over the May Day holiday, wiping out on a cursed bicycle in the hills outside Yangshuo, China, the doctor replied “the fact that it’s healed that much in only six weeks is already a miracle.”

It seems inconceivable to me that it was only six weeks before that I was on that May Day trip with Diana. Only six weeks since contributing our underwear to the ceiling of Bad Panda, since meeting the old farm couple who mended the bike, since riding atop an ammo crate back into Yangshuo. A year in China is like three years outside, that is true, but still…

So much has happened. And I feel like the only thing that’s really changed has been me. My parents still take money from the government to shoot politicians. All my friends back in China carry on with their lives, all my friends here in America carry on with theirs. I am no longer a player in anyone’s dramas, so I am a trusted audience and confidante. After all, I’m leaving with the Peace Corps come autumn, I must be safe. I find it strange to be back here, in a thousand little ways – worrying about jaywalking, the ease with which I can get things repaired, remembering that twenty dollars actually is a lot of money, being quietly shocked to hear people having political opinions, how many pairs of amazingly blue eyes there are.

It’s an eerie thing, coming home. “Home” is at once alien and familiar. And every time I do come back to Morro Bay, it feels less and less like my home. It feels like someone else’s, like it belongs to Shawn Clark next door and to Jade Roberts my first crush and to my father, who’s adopted the town as his own. I’m not sure where home is for me any more. Maybe that’s why I keep moving around.

I wonder where I’ll be this Wednesday.


Ordinary Day

Weigh hey hey, it’s just an ordinary day
And it’s all your state of mind
At the end of the day
You got to say
It’s all right…

Today, I woke up.

This was a good start, really. I like starting my days that way.

However, as I was an hour late, I got my face splashed and teeth brushed and hair combed in record time. I had a date for ten o’clock, so by ten after I was in my deceased uncle’s 1970s station wagon, speeding through the mountains.

I met this girl, Margaret, on OKCupid, and after extensive chatting on meditation and writing, we agreed to meet up at the Templeton farmer’s market. When I arrived, I noticed one thing immediately – Templeton farmer’s market is full of farmers. In Morro Bay, it’s the domain of olive oil venders, butchers, specialty soap sellers – and one sharp-tongued vegetable merchant named Maria. In Templeton, all across the green, vegetables as far as the eye could see.

The second thing I noticed was Margaret. I don’t know if she’s copper-bottomed, but she’s “clipper-built and just me style and fancy,” as the old song goes. M exudes an aura of quiet, earthy strength, she could stand up in a headwind. We wandered the fair, making shy commentary, and I finally caved and bought an extensive set of herb seedlings to grow.

She hefted the seedlings back to my car with me, while I toted the meat I’d bought. M then took me to the little cramped cabin-size lending library that Templeton has instead of a public library, and then to coffee. On the wall of the coffee shop, they had a huge map of the world. I told her about China and about Senegal, she told me about the Dominican Republic and about Madrid, Spain. The conversation really loosened up after that, and she opened herself up.

Margaret’s cobbled together an income from teaching English and music, her darling love. She ran off to teach music in Santo Domingo under the care of an entire nunnery, in fact. Margaret went semi-vegetarian for health reasons not too long ago, but didn’t turn down her mother’s chicken. She’s gearing up for a degree in industrial engineering at Cal Poly, which she hopes will allow her to stay in the area and create systems that are efficient and in harmony with the human and natural environments around them. Margaret’s still waters run deep.

After promising to see about kayaking out to the Sand Spit for a picnic sometime this week, I walked back to my car whistling a jaunty love tune…

…and dialed up my friend Toni, to see if she’d be able to make that afternoon’s garden party. Toni is an old friend, a mad little musician with a grin that lights up a house. She was still in the middle of band practice, that musical Toni, so I went alone. My friend Jody Mulgrew is moving to Nashville to further his musical career, and his sister and mother threw an open house. There was much hugging (and wine) and gladhanding (and wine) and pinching of cheeks (and wine) and reintroductions (and wine). I confessed to the younger Ms. Mulgrew that she had been my first crush. She arched an eyebrow and pointed out I’d said that thrice before. I shrugged, and turned red.

Jody and his music partner Gary Garrett plucked up a few guitars and we all gathered around in a circle in the backyard and watched them play in the warm afternoon sun. The quiet creak of weathered wood, the accompaniment of Jody’s young nephew and the windchimes his mother had hung in the trees, they all harmonized beautifully. During “Til My Peace Be Made,” I wept. It was so serene, so complete, so perfect, I nearly burst.

The day was not yet over.

After the impromptu concert, I had a few waters and said goodbyes. I wish Jody luck, over there in Nashville.

Toni texted and said she was out of practice, and would I like to come over? I got back in the car and headed into San Luis Obispo, meeting Toni at her ancestral abode. She looked radiant as ever and flushed from her flute-playing. That disarming smile never left her lips.

We headed out into Saturday night in San Luis, a very strange time and place to be a part of. For once, it wasn’t random folk stopping me on the street to say “it’s been forever!” (well, aside from Chris and Sarah), they were stopping for her. Friends, countrymen, bandmates…it seems T has either befriended or jammed with everyone, or will. I was amazed that this radiant creature was on my arm.

We had a quiet dinner and talked about our future plans and our philosophies of planning, then went to the random poetry reading we’d spotted on the way to the restaurant.  It was polite and restrained, and they shushed us a few times. There, we met more friends of Toni’s, including bearded Sven, gangly Wayne and his mysterious lover Marguerite. Sven and Wayne have both played with Toni, and while they talked the old days, Marguerite chatted with me. M is half-Mexican, half-Italian, and one hundred percent gorgeous, a free-spirited gypsy violinist following her feet up and down the coast.

As it was getting on, and Toni had a family date later in the evening, we took our leave. But I wanted to clear something up, so as we walked back:

“…was Marguerite hitting on me?”

“…um? Yes? And she’s beautiful, isn’t she?”

“Well yes but…does she do that with everybody?”

“Yeah, pretty much.”

“Oh, okay.”

I escorted her home and thought to go back to the poetry reading. As I passed the church on my way back, I heard a woman’s scream.

I spun around, and saw someone thrashing in the half-light in a car with flashing lights. Trusty fedora in hand, I ran over, and when I saw her sitting alone, I tapped on the passenger window and asked if she needed help. She alternately wept and flailed at the car, but asked me to help. Her key was stuck in the ignition, and in the on position, but she couldn’t start it. While I jiggled the key, she explained her whole story, bouncing between tears and an even voice, and several times asking me to pray with/for her.

At one point she completely broke down and said “I don’t know why God is doing this to my family…” I quoted St. Luke at her, that “I shall not burden thee more than thou can bear,” and she took a bit of solace from that. I got her key free and said “whatever you gotta do to let you be you, it might be a good idea to go do that. You gotta take care of yourself right now.” She thanked me, started her car, and started down the street.

I continued back to the poetry reading, meeting Sven halfway to our mutual surprise. We walked together, talking the philosophy of planning and the wiles and wonders of Toni, and when we got back to the poetry reading (now with snapping fingers and clapping), we found Marguerite there, standing tragic with her violin case and her red shawl and a stunned look between her eyes. Wayne had grown jealous, and kicked her out.

Moved more by the violin case than anything, I offered her use of the couchbed in the RV where I stay under the avocado tree in the back forty of my father’s ranch. She accepted, still stunned, and we went to get a burrito in her. We encountered a strange Jersey couple in search of a drum circle or Dr. Robert Green, but besides that the trip to the burrito place was uneventful. Marguerite was very appreciative, and got her wits about her as she inhaled the bean-and-cheese special.

We toddled back one last time to the poetry reading, which was by now a rock show, where she met an old friend and I met another, and the old friend offered her a place to stay for the night. Marguerite promised that we’d get together. I walked away chuckling, “easy come, easy go…” Especially for dark, mysterious, carefree gypsy violinists who’ve stepped out of the same pulp story I did.

I phoned up my old flame, the lady Jennifer, and met her for after-work drinks at our old favorite dive bar. She’s now happily married and a mighty Amazon, and I agreed to make it official in my capacity as Priest of the Universal Life Church if she and her man were interested. I unloaded the short version of my life (China, Peace Corps, life under the avocado tree, writing) and the long version of my day. Jennifer smirked and went “so, finally dating multiple women, huh?” The barman chuckled.

I got her one back when she sighed, “I like having men-friends, but it never seems to work out.”

“For a woman as good-looking as you, yeah, I can imagine.”

The whole bar applauded. Jennifer laughed and said “thank you.” She went home to where her husband had hot dinner waiting for her, with my regards to him for it.

It occurred to me on the drive home that today is not actually that unusual for me. In fact, rather an ordinary day. And to think, I was worried California might be boring in between China and Senegal.


Grand Adventure

I was a highwayman, along the coach roads I did ride

With sword and pistol by my side

Many a maiden lost her baubles to my trade

Many a soldier shed his lifesblood on my blade

The bastards hung me in the spring of ‘25

But I am still alive…

Tomorrow, I have a business negotiation to attend to, a meeting with my accountant, a radio interview, and a date. In between, I need to write that paper due Sunday, drop off my computer to finally get fixed, and drop off my paperwork with the Peace Corps so we can process my application, at long last.

Saturday, I see the Mikado with one young lady and hike the Marina Trail with another. I suspect the paper still won’t be done, so there’s that to do. Sunday, I have Quaker meeting and prepare for my trip to Portland, and that paper’s due. Monday, I head north with my friend Brandi Bennett for a combination business meeting and write-a-thon on the glorious Coastal Starlight line.

Did I mention the paper is about my company, FedoraArts Press, as we press into Brazil, one of the five largest ebook markets in the world?

Tonight, I just got in from Sacramento. I’m tired, and I’m also afraid.

I’m afraid of what I’ve set for myself. Of three dates and a radio interview and business and bull sessions. But as I sat with the fear, and looked at it in the firelight, I think I know what it was. I felt this the night before I flew to China. I felt this the night before I went up to the mountain for ten days of meditation. I felt this the night before I boarded the Lady Washington.

I’m having an adventure, and I’m afraid I won’t measure up.

I’ve failed before. Hell, I’ve failed more than a lot of people twice my age. I failed at Learning to Think, I failed at One Weird Idea, I failed at my first attempt at a degree. I still miss karate. And I’m not going to claim I know how to get over failure, or being afraid of it.

But it’s worth getting over.

This is night-before jitters. It means I’m doing something that scares me. Something I don’t know if I’ll accomplish. But if I fail again, it’s not going to be from lack of ambition and it’s not going to be from lack of effort. China exiled me three times, I came back four. I came into Northeastern University with a 1.666 GPA, I graduated with honors.

This means I’m doing something worthwhile.

And that makes the game worth the candle. I want to be scared of what I set out to do. I want to be worried I won’t be able to accomplish it.

If I only did what I knew I could do, what’s the damn point?


No Time Released!

No Time: The First Hour

No Time: The First Hour

My first novel, No Time, is now available from Smashwords! That’s right, my 60,000-word NaNoWriMo winner is cleaned up and ready to read! Gabriel “Gooch” Caballero, time-travelling detective, finds out on Good Friday that he’s dead by Easter Sunday. Now, he has to find out who kills him, and how to get out of it. It’s “like Harry Dresden if Dresden wanted to be Don Quixote instead of a noir detective.” Updates forthcoming when it goes up on other markets.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 439 other followers