(Florianopolis, Brazil) Around 10am each morning a gate in southern Brazil rotates on its rusty hinges. The tip of a wax-covered surfboard exits first, followed by a bike whose owner, a 30-something man with a wetsuit peeled to his waist, stretches, yawns, and observes the scene with an air of satisfaction with the way the chain link fence divides the dead-end street from the grass of his Maui-style ranch home.
From my apartment’s rooftop, where my morning routine involves reading and weak tea, I watch him adjust the two forms of transportation, with special attention to where his neoprened crotch balances on the bike seat, before he pedals toward the beach access road, surfboard like an Aboriginal shield as he disappears into the concrete bush.
My neighbor to the left, in various tones of hate, calls his dog, “Dog.” The Rat Terrier obediently snaps to and confuses this for love. The neighbors to my right enforce a different Tough Love policy, deaf to the scraped knee whines of their toddler who runs into walls with his tricycle, never learning that plastic and cartilage cannot defeat brick. The elderly landlord couple who occupy my building’s first floor avoid me, more out of fear of a linguistic encounter in which they feel hospitably obliged to speak the seven English (mostly rent-related) words they know, than any real objection to my presence. To remedy their aloofness, the husband sends up home-made shrimp pasteis like apologies baked on the Rosetta Stone.
I have an address named after some famous guy or fisherman, Rua Barcelos, a key with a goofy monkey key chain, a kitchen with cutlery and assorted cookware (though out of habit I’ve been cooking and eating from the same pot), a shower I don’t need to MacGyver for hot water, a bed-for-two I don’t have to inflate each evening, and a signed contract that sits inside the top drawer of my very own closet, just below my four t-shirts that dangle awkwardly from plastic hangers, their pack creases slowly relaxing to the idea of personal space and permanence.
Bob & Surly too have settled into the living room lifestyle and share main centerpiece status with a black pleather couch and a small, wood-finished writing desk, similar to one from which I imagine a privileged kindergartner would complete French grammar lessons. A television is bolted into a metal stand in the corner, brand name Philco, whose empty DVD holder looks like two robotic arms awaiting a hug. The TV has been used twice, once to watch the news in Portuguese, once to drown out the crying crash aftermath of the dramatic toddler next door. Halving the high studio ceiling, a rustic loft supported by one wooden beam, accessible by a thin ladder with uneven legs, supports my bed, a reading lamp, and a few scattered books.
This is my new home.
Minutes ago, as I sat in my home wandering what to write on this blog that has been material barren for over two weeks now, and procrastinating on the general update that gets longer the longer I put it off, I repeated the two syllables “I’m home” over and over and over again for inspiration, like Dorthy trying to kick the red out of her sparkly high heels. Magically, it worked.
Minutes after minutes ago, inspiration struck in the form of a question, with the imagery of existentialist and positivist joggers in sweatpants attached: Are you running away from something or are you running toward something? The question smelled of blog post.
The semantics of running vs. pedaling aside, I applied this spontaneous, semi-forced, and distantly-related theory to biking across South America. Which way, besides south, was I running? The real heart-of-hearts answer was not as scientifically sterile and formulated as I would have liked for readability’s sake. Luckily though, the convenient, non-whisky-and-smoky-bar version fits neatly into two paragraphs.
RUNNING FRO: On one handlebar, when beginning this bike tour, I was running away from something. I was running away from the old me, the former self/ego/soul that I erroneously fused to the things I did (but never the things I owned); I was running away from a job that guaranteed international travel and money in the bank; from friends who I could actually visit instead of just tag sporadically with Facebook reminders of my aliveness in hopes that they’ll remember me when we meet again at some undefined future date and place; from my family who loves me more than they can comfortably express in words; and from that so sought-after American life that makes all of the above so easy to take for granted. I ran from all this not because I was unsatisfied or because these blessings were not thick enough to support my brand of happiness, but because I knew another life existed, one that I had never experienced. For me, that was reason enough to leave everything behind.
(You’re wondering if my slip from present to past, from running to ran, was a slip up, aren’t you, you sly dog? I’m no longer running, I ran and I learned that it’s exhausting and unfeasible to chase after all the possible lives that exist on this planet, now estimated by scientists at around 983,346,927,239,001, if you include dreams worlds, alternative realities, parallel universes, animal kingdoms, spiritual realms, and the characters in Charlie Kaufman’s movies.)
RUNNING TO: On the other handlebar, I too was and am running toward something. That something is mainly adventure—which is the perfect do-anything excuse because it’s universally accepted as valid and needs no pretty prose explanation; I’m running toward unique and varied experiences that, on my death bed, will allow me to redden the fleshy cheeks of Life with a hell-of-a-ride butt slap. (Hopefully Death will laugh at this and invite me to his favorite karaoke bar, thus giving me one last and final chance to sing before a public); and I’m running, stubbornly, perhaps unbelievably to any regular reader of this blog, toward maturity, toward a wisdom where the contradictions of I know everything and nothing sit equally well inside the calm inner space of me. On a more practical note, so as not to send the Great Powers into a hissy fit thinking that I claim to decode divinity, I’m also running toward plain old Portuguese fluency, the Brazilian kind; hence this expensive apartment with a washing machine that doesn’t work; hence this Russian doll vacation within a vacation to be someplace long enough to make Brazilian friends; hence the three pound 501 Portuguese Verb book I’ve toted up the Andes since Ecuador but only seriously began to study in Brazil.
(Here I’ll point out the obvious: I’ve cleverly, if not vaguely, used both past and present tenses to outline toward what I’m running like a Japanese bullet train on polarized tracks. Innovative and all-inclusively convincing, no? Past, present, and future have no cut-off points, just as a river only appears to divide at a dam or begin at a singular source. Adventure, on the continuum scale of me, is a constant. It’s always been and always will be part of my personality. Whether or not I dedicate two whole years to similar trips in the future, only time will tell.)
CONCLUSION: Since this post feels strangely like a talk show makeover in which a homely description was transformed into a quasi-academic essay with thick-rimmed glasses, I felt the capitalized and bold letters an appropriate closing. A little air of importance to aid reflection. And reflect we must because I originally proposed that the question “Are you running away from something or are you running toward something?” had only one answer, on par with the black-and-white simplicity of “Is the glass half full or half empty?” Straightforward. Fifty-fifty. Elementary, Watson. Close your eyes and throw a dart. Bet your house on red and roll the dice. So easy, a caveman could do it.
But I’ve come to realize the answer is not so simple. It’s complicated like the gray matter in Picasso’s Guernica. I’ve run away from incredible people and places only to find myself running toward other incredible people and places. To me, this is blending of hope and sadness, yearning and nostalgia into a Yin & Yang milkshake makes life strangely comforting. And delicious.
Questions without answers. Map-less orbits to planet Salvation. Half-developed million dollar babies. Only Team MB&S would write such a hybrid response, a vegetarian buffet with steak for desert, that questions our very purpose, that questions the question of our very purpose, that questions the question of the very purpose of our very purpose, then launch this confusion cocktail into the world wide web. However, like permission, Team MB&S still believes it’s better to ask than to not.
What are you running from/towards?