Sunday, December 1, 2013

An Introvert's Take on YOLO


 'YOLO, you only live once.
The battle cry of a generation.
This life is a precious gift.
So don't get too crazy,
It's not worth the risk.' 


I love the Lonely Island and their hilarious Youtbe music videos. YOLO (You Only  Live Once) is one of my favorite comedic songs of all time. Uploaded January of 2013, the video's hilarious lyrics warn viewers about the over-exaggerated dangers of everyday life (including children's head lice, electricity and tounge-biting). As with most great comedy, I believe the song also offers an interesting, satirical commentary on certain attitudes towards life that seems to characterize a certain segment my millennial peers. 

YOLO, the acronym from which the song takes its name, is a phrase I haven't heard too often in passing. However, You Only Live Once does seem to be an accurate summary of a certain lifestyle that media, popular culture and a large segment of young twenty somethings have popularized.

This type of lifestyle can also be summed up with sayings such as living life to the fullest and carpe diem. To live according to the principles of YOLO means gaining as much enjoyment as you can out of seeing and experiencing the world, even if that means taking serious risks and getting outside of your comfort zone.

As a philosophy on living, this isn't necessarily a flawed perspective. After all, millennial Americans (those born in the late 80s and early nineties) are probably the most fortunate generation in history. We've grown up in an age of unparalleled prosperity and technological convenience. Even with all the strains placed on us by global economic crises, no generation in history has had the access to resources we've had. We are young people living in an age where it's possible to travel across the globe in a matter of hours instead of months, engage in a plethora of leisure activities that would have been unavailable to our parents and grandparents and consume at a rate never available before.

It makes sense that we would want to take advantage of all that our privileged place in the world economy has to offer.

However, as with most worldviews issues arise with the application.

For a large number of millennials, including some I've known, living your life to the fullest, often means indulging in a particular range of activities, many of them very oriented towards extroverts, party people and adrenaline junkies.

Don't get me wrong. Indulging in a night of heavy drinking, late night club hopping, a spontaneous trek through the mountains, and bungee-jumping off a bridge are experiences that are fun and can teach a lot. They create great memories and are experiences that bond people together.

However, is it really accurate to make these type of high adrenaline, highly indulgent and highly social activities the sole or primary gauge of how well a person is living their life to the fullest?  By allowing the definition of 'true living' to be confined to such a narrow spectrum of experience, are we unintentionally limiting ourselves and making our lives inadvertently more depthless and incomplete?  


Furthermore, where does this leave more introverted or quiet people who don't really see the appeal of going to the same bars, parties and nightclubs weekend after weekend?

What appears to have emerged from those four letters, Y.O.L.O., from my point of view anyway, is a very extroverted oriented way of life. The greatest experiences involve being 'out' and enjoying things that extroverts find energy and great meaning in.

I'd like to inject a little introversion into the mix.

I'd like to suggest we broaden our definition of fullest to include, quieter moments, deeper and more meditative times that introverts tend to find so revitalizing and meaningful. I'd like to suggest that picking up a book of poems or spending a day people watching in a park can be just as vitalizing and true as dancing in a club or taking a shot of strong liquor with friends. I'd like to suggest that truly living involve cherishing and hugging times of solitude as well as times of social gathering.

Exploring the introverted side of life has taught me many things. Reading, writing and introspection have made me aware of my self, my weaknesses, my strengths. I've learned from the hardships and triumphs of authors, historians and people around me. These quiet moments allow me to hear and distinguish the loud moments all around me that I want to be immersed in.They've made the journeys I take and the times I step outside more momentous and weighty for me.

YOLO, I believe should be about balance. If we truly only live once, and want to see and feel all of life in the short time we are breathing, thinking and moving, shouldn't we be pursue all that quiet and reflection has to offer as well? 


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Creation is the Sweetest Addiction

These days, I find myself frustrated creatively. I never seem to know what to write or why to write it. Only a few years ago, I could write for hours without taking a break. I used to love writing with a passion that was stronger than just about anything. I was infatuated with writing and my troubled muse Inspiration. I was infatuated with her even more than Egypt, my mistress for a time.

I wonder, now, if I am prone to short give away my heart and soul affairs when it comes to my passions? Am I just a shameless love-struck fool, who falls madly for places vocations I have no stomach to commit to?

My relationship with Inspiration has been a hot/cold affair for as long as I can remember. In the past, I was content to wait for her to come. I was perfectly fine with playing her game, letting her wander for weeks or months on end while I awaited her return. Now, I wonder if I can continue to live like this. Am I happy, still to wait for her while she gallivants and cavorts?


I know full well that Inspiration may come and go without so much as a thank you or goodbye for as long as I live. I know she may walk out one day and never return. Perhaps, this has already happened, only time will tell.

Yet, in spite of all of this I am hopelessly, bound to her. Creation, the greatest joy I know, is only possible when Inspiration comes. The art of creating is an addiction. It is the greatest and most soul capturing narcotic I have ever known.

Using words as the foundation for new worlds, new cities, cultures, individuals and environments brings joy so deep in turns my blood to warm honey. Sentences that can breath life into faces, bodies, spirits and minds.

The stories and characters Inspiration and I make are our children. I cannot abandon them and the potential to make more, though it may seem but a shattered dream at times, drives me on.

So, I shall wait. I have no choice but to hope. I am an addict, hooked on the drug of creation that only Inspiration can provide.

Perhaps, as Tony Kushner wrote in Angels in America, I have finally recognized '...the habit, the addiction to being alive.'

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Roses and Veins

A few nights ago, I took a journey to Tha Phae Gate. I was heading to Art Cafe, a restaurant I frequent.

I grabbed one of the many red pickup truck taxis, songtaos, on Kaewnawarat. Some nights, when traffic is heavy along this main street by my school, I have troubled flagging down a ride. Tonight though I was lucky. Not only did I find a songtao in a few minutes but when I climbed into the back cabin I found the two cushioned benches empty. 

I crave emptiness sometimes, especially after a long day of school filled with vibrant, crazy energetic faces. I love my job but as a private introvert the wild and manic voices of my students drain me. They have a habit of draining away the reservoirs of sociability I store up during private and silent hours spent at home.

I was happy to be alone in the back of that truck. There were no matayom (high school) students getting a ride home or to a private tutoring session, no tourists from China, America or Europe heading back to their hotels from the New Arcade bus station.

As the bus went over a bridge spanning the waters of Ping River, my eyes went to the brown waters, bleached black in some parts by the night and orange in other parts by street lamps. My thoughts drifted with the river. I thought about how eager I was for a bottle of beer and a club sandwich. I thought about how much I was looking forward to my parents visit, Thanksgiving and my Christmas break in Cambodia. I even tried to brainstorm about a group of space monks I was developing for a sci-fi story. 

The thoughts kept flowing as the taxi turned towards a large market. Flowers, bright and vibrant in the street light, were a pleasant sight. And then the driver hit the brakes. We stopped in front of stall and a thin Thai man with a rose in a bouquet made of recycled paper approached the driver.

My river of thoughts stopped flowing as if they had come up against a dam.

The man climbed into the back with me. He sat down on the bench opposite me, his rose still clutched in his hand. He had a wide smile on his face. His long, slightly crooked slightly yellowed teeth seemed so bright in the evening darkness. 

I tried to dive back into myself as the car moved again. I wanted to be submerged in thought again. That was impossible now though. The man chuckled to himself like a small boy and starting talking to me, asking me where I was from. 

I answered but very briefly. I wasn't in a mood to talk and I hoped if he would stopped asking questions. Yet more questions followed. 

As I've done many times before, I tried my hardest to answer and be polite, even though speaking every new word forced me to squeeze out another precious drop from my nearly drained reservoir.

In my mind, I bristled: 'Can't you see I'd rather not talk?' I asked him hoping my thoughts would reach out and touch his mind. 'Why can't you stay to yourself, druggy?' 

That thought made me turn away in shame. True, the man was razor thin and dressed in dirty worn out clothes with tons of holes in them. Yes, his veins popped out from his forearms and his mannerisms and the odd way he spoke conveyed that part of him was lost and somewhere else. Yet, I knew nothing about him. I didn't even no his name. I had no true basis for such a judgment. And even is he did take drugs, who was I, someone who sometimes drinks too much for his own good, to be so condescending? 

I can't stand hasty and unfounded judgments about individuals or groups of people. I of all people should have known better. But I am a human, and it's human to judge unfairly and sometimes out of anger and irritation. 

I said to myself: 'That was a very nasty and unfair thing to think but at least I recognize it. At least I can try and amend it.' 

So, despite my shy nature, despite the urge to withdraw I started asking questions:



'What's your name?' 




'Where are you going?' 


'I'm going to see my mother.' 

'Is the flower for her?' 

'No, it was a gift from the lady at the flower market.' 

(By now, the songtao was coming to a halt near my stop.) 

'That's great, it was nice to meet you have a great night.' 

I shook his hand, he smiled and I climbed out and paid my fare to the driver. I stood by the side of the road as the songtao drove away, standing still as tourists strolled by looking for a place to eat or a souvenir to buy. I was sad now to see Pang go. I was still a bit ashamed of myself for thinking so judgmentally. Mostly, though I wondered about how many other people I might have written off over the years because of shyness and unfair judgments based on appearance. I wondered how many new friends or great relationships I could have made if I pushed myself to be a little more talkative during times when I wanted to just slip away. I wondered how I could have forgotten that everyone in the world has a unique and special story that makes them who they are. Finally, I wondered about how the emptiness and privacy I so treasured could also be detrimental to me at times. 

Being alone is essential at times, but sometimes the best emptiness is the one that is filled. 


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Poem: What's Done is Done

What’s done is done.


Roads, washed away cannot be taken.


Doors shut to you cannot be opened.


Ships departed for other shores cannot be boarded.

Triumphs missed or lost cannot be won.


Count the gold coins in your purse, and the achievements for what they are.


You are your greatest companion on the journey.


Friends come and go, though some come more than others and go less often.


Obstacles and enemies stand in your way but withdraw into the wilderness.


Heartache and betrayal sting deeply but the poisons are always purged.


Your burdens are yours to bear and yours to shed when you have carried them long enough.


The lightening will cackle at you and the rains mock you


And yet, Winter always blusters by and fades into Summer winds.


And for every land of ash and dust, there comes the land of tranquil rivers and emerald fields, the lands of forested mountains and marble halls, the lands of quiet villages and gentle rolling hills.


And on the nights when darkness is all to be seen, cold all to be felt and sorrow all that is real, remember that joy will always be as tenacious as agony, and that you will live to see bright skies and sun once more.



Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Rains I Must Walk Through -Living With My Depression


I've often felt frustrated over the years when trying to explain what I feel like when my depression hits. Earlier this month, for example, I had a long break from school. My last day at school ended and that night should have been a time of rest, relaxation and relief. My first term as an ESL teacher had ended. I had two weeks off, and I would be spending the bulk of it traveling around Laos, a country I've never been before. 

I had dozens of potential adventures to look forward too. Plenty of time for relaxation and respite. And yet, all I could focus on that evenings, for reasons I can't pinpoint, was a severe feeling of inadequacy, inferiority and self-loathing. All I could think of was how much I hated myself, how I wished I was a completely different person from myself. How disgusting I am because I don't have a girlfriend and how no one could possibly love me in a billion years because of my sensitivity, my belly my not so perfect teeth, etc. I'm a failure as a teacher, a failure as a writer, a failure as a person. At some points I even tell myself all the blood in my veins is shit, the pale skin I carry is the color of bird dung, Imperialism and slavery. I wish I was another race, another nationality. Any characteristics but the one I posses I deem superior and more dignified. I saw saw myself as an evil Nazi and a worthless untermensch at different times. I never fired a bullet at Auschwitz or smashed a strip of leather into ebony skin. Yet somehow, in these moments I feel I should be killed and tortured. On and on this barrage of negative thoughts went, and counting my blessings, my fortunes and the opportunity I have as 1st world citizen to do as much as I have, couldn't consul me. 

Throughout life, I've found people who don't regularly struggle with self-loathing and depression often have trouble understanding how intense and all consuming these episodes of mine are.  This depression is an external opponent using an internal voice to destroy you. Much of the time I know this poison is false, or greatly exaggerated. Yet I can't bring myself to feel positive because the negativity is so complete and overwhelming.

Depression, the kind I've dealt with for a large portion of my life, is not a force to be reasoned with. It doesn't respond to rational thought.

I've struggled to come up with an appropriate metaphor for the times when my self-hatred strikes, but the rainy season weather here in Chiang Mai inspired me lately.

It's like walking around on a sunny day, when out of nowhere the clouds grow grey and an icy downpour engulfs you and the world around you. There's nowhere near by to take shelter and there's no transportation to get you where you need to go under a metal hood. You have no choice but to walk through the downpour to your destination. You feel the rain soak every inch of clothing, your skin and you begin shivering as the cold permeates you.

You keep walking and after a while as suddenly as it appeared, the rain stops and you begin to feel warm again.

All the icy negativity, which burns through you like a frozen fire, dims and goes out.

This is what a bout of depression looks like for me. It's a storm that I, from time to time, have to endure. It's not just a bad mood or a bad day. It's a force of nature I have as much control over as the weather. It is a storm which drenches every part of me, and makes me feel cold and icy towards every part of my life, national heritage, international upbringing and general existence. I've almost let it stop me a few times. I've almost let it pound me to the ground and drown me but I've always managed to get back up.

Yet each and every time it is a struggle, one that I will probably have to contend with for the rest of my life.

Though it's at times impossible to remember during these downpours of despondency, I do try to recall the faces and voice of all the people who were willing to listen to me over the years. At times I know my constant bouts of self-loathing, put them under strain and made their lives difficult. For them I will always be grateful because they have allowed to become far stronger than I could have been alone. 



Living with these rainstorms for so long as taught me how to wrestle with them better. I can prepare myself with certain techniques and precautions to make sure the rains don't always drench me. Cognitive techniques, medication, journalling and sharing with friends are my raincoats and umbrellas. 

In spite of this I have to concede that one day this, battle might be one I cannot win. While I am stronger and certain I can walk through these times in the future, I can't be sure that one day a storm may come that will prove too much for me to handle. 



In the past, I've come close on occasion to letting the sadness guide me to a place I couldn't return from. Somehow, sometimes for reasons I haven't figured out yet, I have kept going. Hope, love present and future, and the sheer will to live despite having no clear purpose or discernible reason to keep living, can be as strong a force as despair. 



Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Story Corner -American Apostasy



All come to the crossroads at some point, the place between where we have come from and where we will go. In many ways, life is series of never-ending patchwork junctures and interconnected highways. We turn down many roads and neglect others. Yet at other times, we inadvertently rediscover another path we failed take before. The place I am referring to though is the fork that decides which network we take, where we decided whether to take the road our ancestors have taken or go in on the path they did not travel. 


When I reached this point, I took the latter and this choice also manifested itself in my nighttime journey. I dreamt I was walking along the bank of a gentle river. The trees were green and the grass was shiny with morning dew. Nothing compared though to the glimmering light I soon spotted a few meters down the shoreline. Perched atop a large mound, sat the temple of my forebears. Made entirely out of white stones, the temple’s facade was dominated by two tall square towers that narrowed at their peaks into slender, golden coated spires. Between them was a grand archway, nestled in the wings of two silver eagles. From the face of the building a long hall stretched back towards another pair of towers. Identical in shape to those at the front, these towers flanked a colossal golden angel. She stood atop a circular platform, her right arm clutching a torch as she pressed our sacred book to her breast. I had not seen her face in some time. Her outstretched wings seemed inviting. Yet the sight that received me at the entrance was anything but. 


The door was almost shut, leaving only a small gap through which to pass. Two boys, who had not reached puberty, guarded them with rifles. Their barrels were pointed downwards passively sweeping across the feet and knees of the mobs of ragged people who seemed to want to get in. I made my way to the front past screaming children and moaning mothers and showed the boys the star pendent I kept around neck on a silver chain. They allowed me in and I passed under the eyes of bearded ancient saints that covered the door. Inside, in the foyer I was greeted by yet another group of images the figures of other saints. Long haired and clean shaven, they were the venerated ones who had built the very temple I was raised in.


I walked down the wide foyer and reminisced, admiring the elegant statues and gardens that I had admired as a young one. The storerooms were there as well. Filled with every treasure or necessity imaginable their doors were totally empty. A few presumably still full were shut now and guarded by gun cradling toddlers. To avoid their inquisitive gazes I turned to the ceiling and it was there when I saw something new I had never seen before. Cracks had appeared in the ceiling, splitting the gorgeous murals that had once illuminated this paradise on earth. 


I was disappointed by this neglect, but not as disappointed as I would be when I entered the chapel hall for the first time in many years. I push open a pair of golden doors and entered a storm of raucous argument. The chapel, unlike many other temples, had several rows of stone benches at equal levels lining each edge of the hallway while at the far end stood a grand pulpit plastered with gold and jewels. An elder in a fine suit stood before it observing the chaos below. Two parties of elders sat across from each on the opposing rows, their members screaming across the aisle at the opposing side without any respite. 


Obscenities, lies and defamation swirled about the room. All were caught up in the maelstrom of distortion, so much so that all their voices blurred to the point of being unrecognizable. In appearance, both parties were very much the same as well. Covered in gold and silver chains and bracelets, their skin color seemed a smooth cinnamon color, a cocktail of all pigments. Baby faced and adolescent their bodies were utterly famished, their skins seemingly upholstered over their bones. 


They seemed barely human, and yet in an utter affront to their emaciated forms, each person in the hall had at least five bottles of various brews and several plates of food by their side. Some were even vigorously consuming their meals as they spoke. 


I watched the scene for some time in silence, trying to remember if I had ever beheld such a display in the temple before. Finally, after a few moments of deliberation, I walked into the middle of the fray. The arguments stopped at once as I reached the bottom of the pulpit.


The Elder at the front, garbed in a crimson cloak and hood gazed down at me. I could feel the same perplexed look in his stare from both sides of the aisle. 


“Sir,” I said. “I’ve come from the outside.”


“I see that,” He said, his eyes analyzing the foreign robes that covered my body. “Yet you are one of us correct?” 


“I am,” I replied. “And with your permission I would like to address the elders. I have important news I wish to share with them.” 


He nodded.


“All are equal here; we are glad you’ve returned home to us and are eager to hear what you have to say. Please realize that we have urgent matters to attend to and won’t be able to give you much time.”

“I realize that,” I answered. “I won’t be long.” 


I took a deep breath and turned to the parties. 


“First, I wish to say how grateful I am for this temple and all the wisdom it has provided me. Second, I would like to tell you that after spending much time in the world, visiting other villages, towns, temples and churches I will be spending my life outside of your reach. I no longer wish to live among you or live with you.” 


I had no idea what kind of reaction to expect from the chamber. Some were quiet, some silently nodded. Yet others were concerned. 


“Son, why would wish such a thing?” An elder asked, after taking a swig from his bottle. “Do you wish to evangelize other outsiders and bring them to our fold?” 


“No,” I answered. “I have no wish to work or serve on your behalf. I merely…I simply, cannot live among you anymore. Your way or life, your beliefs, your practices are simply not in line with the life I wish to lead. I simply wish to leave the temple and spend the rest of my life settled in another community.” 


This caused confusion to set in amongst the audience in the chamber. 


“Son,” The Elder at the front said. “How can you wish for such a thing? You have had everything you’ve ever wanted and yet now you abandon us without remorse? Need I remind you none have achieved more than we have. We are the greatest who have ever lived and none doubt it. Look at our temple, our golden angel, our wealth and excess. We are the blessed we are the elect; all peoples would love to have the prosperity that we have. We are the greatest, the exceptional. We can provide anything, do anything.” 


“That may be true, I have never seen a place with more wealth and prosperity but I still don’t find myself satisfied.” 


“That is impossible!” He shouted slamming his palm against the pulpit.


As the clap reverberated across the hall, another elder with a scar across his cheek stood and stepped out into the aisle.


“You merely don’t understand all that we are! You are young and naïve about the world, impressionable after being exposed to so much. I killed many and saw many sacrificed to protect this temple. I’ve seen the evil that lurks out there in its purest form. How dare you spit on my sacrifice on the sacrifice of all your ancestors! We died and were maimed for your sake! You cannot abandon the home we created for you.”


He returned to his seat in disgust as I answered.


“I have yet to experience life in its fullest or discover the darkest aspects of our existence, this is true. I have also never killed any man woman or child on behalf of our people. But I have been too many other places besides this, so you cannot say I am naïve about the world, not entirely. Many of you have not even left the temple since it was founded, some of you have walked your whole lives behind stone walls or sat in golden benches, only hearing about what others have seen and experienced. Those of you who have left either witness only the worst of world or never bother to humble yourselves enough to learn the ways of others; more than happy to teach the outsider but always reluctant to learn from the foreigner.


I’ve met other preachers and herd other choirs, studied other books, worshipped in other temples. Some were quite beautiful possessing treasures that have never gone past our gates, some were run down and destitute but were full of life and true energy, and yes elder, there were some where great, great evil dwelled. Yet all offered a small part of a world that I think we are oblivious too, a world that gives ways to approach questions that might teach us something.” 


“We don’t need to see what the rest of world is or understand it on its own terms. We take what’s best from it and make it the best it will ever be. No one’s story or triumphs are greater than our own.” 


Another Elder shouted from one of the back rows. 


I turned to face him. 


“Many who came before you boasted such things, The Caesars in their Praetorian guarded palaces, the Emperors of China with their hoards of eunuchs and concubines. The poetic Shahs of Persia and the mighty Caliphs of Baghdad, the elephant mounted kings of the Khmer and the steel garbed conquistadors of Spain. Rulers of the high seas, kings of the steam engine, masters of the Panzer, Bosses of the atom, all claimed their superiority and for a time it rang true. Each and every generation believes itself to be the greatest that has ever lived, that it has overcome the worst trials and tribulations humanity will ever face. Who is to say this grand temple will merely be another empty Coliseum for visitors to gawk at and graffiti.


It was then that the outrage grew to fury.


“Do not blaspheme what we are and what we have created!” The Elder at the front screamed. “Perhaps you would like to go live with the filthy squalid shitholes you love so much. You are like everyone else; you hate everything we are, jealous of everything we have. You want to destroy us, even though we try our hardest to make the world better and bless it.” 


“Those squalid shit holes you condemn and claim to want to bless have lights as well. Also, I don’t hate you. I simply wanted to remind you about the one belief upon which this temples stands; the fact that all humans are merely human and nothing more or less. My very eyes tell me that you are destroying your own temple yourselves from within. You’re bodies are emaciated because you spent so much of your energies on building these gilded walls and lifeless treasures for your own pride and amusement. You cannot continue to live like this, in hollow chambers with hollow bodies, consuming all that you can and all that you cannot. Bickering will not solve your problems, blaming one side so emphatically for the sins you all commit.”


“Our ancestors created the perfect temple that would bless the world. Their vision cannot fail.” An elder proclaimed.


“Besides,” Said another. “How can our temple bless others if it is not the best and brightest? If we don’t take all that we can and make something extraordinary.”


“How can you bless a people, when they have nothing to eat and you give them a trifle of what you own?” 


“We give more than anyone.”


“Yes, but you won’t give up your golden angels or your silver mirrors, nor the ivory encrusted books you claim are meant for their benefit.” 


The elder had the front pointed his finger at me.


“You speak of things you don’t understand you rebellious, worthless ignoramus. Recant and embrace this temple in its fullest. It’s the best thing you or anyone else will ever know on this earth.” 


“I’m afraid I cannot do this.” I answered. 


“Then you will get your wish and be cast out like the half-person you are, never to be full again until you recant your heresy and accept us in all our righteous glory.” 


“I do not want to forsake my ancestry. This is the place I came from. It has shaped me just as deeply as the other places I have lived. I simply want to be free to be someone other than you, to be fulfilled and happy in a place I love.” 


“It’s impossible to have true happiness and value outside these walls. It’s not worth it to love the rest of the world as it is, not when it is completely wretched and evil.” 


“It is not what you think it is!” 


“Out!” The caped elder cried. “Out! Out! Until you recant.” 


And with that I turned my back on the temple and walked out the door, hounded by the elders from their seats with please to recant. I stormed past the empty storerooms and the armed children. I burst out and passed the many dirty, down trodden and oppressed who still lingered outside the doors hoping to enter what they thought was paradise on earth. I reached the river and dived in without hesitation, not once did I look back at the temple of adolescents and I did not stop until I reached a small circle of grass huts in a forest. 


I was invited into a home and in time I settled there among a strange but simple people. It was not paradise; no, it was nowhere near to the best of all possible worlds. Yet nevertheless, heaven seemed far closer than it ever was inside the temple of my ancestors. 


Story Corner -The Island of Uneeded Gods

Once, as I slept, I dreamed of traveling in a small boat up a wide river at night. A single lantern dangled above my head, attached to a pole driven into the back of the boat. From here, the Ferryman drove us forward with a single long bamboo pole. 


He was a small man, unassuming, unremarkable in appearance. He was easy mannered, as calm as the gentle waters around us. He looked at the black water confidently, as if he knew every drop of that made up the river. 


"It won't be long now," He assured me. "We'll reach the island, soon." 


"How will we know it?" I wondered, looking back over my shoulder. 


He smiled as he guided the boat along.

"The candles." He answered. 


Not knowing what that might mean, I turned my eyes forward. I held both sides of the narrow boat, scarcely enough large to hold me, and looked into the darkness. All around I heard the sounds of life along the river banks. Bugs sang their sweet songs of chirping love searching for mates, while the occasional monkey howled and a bird or to felt compelled to cry. 


This was a truly wild place. As it should be, an island that was home to forgotten gods, could only be in a place this remote and untamed. It was a place void of the mortal bodies and souls who had once raised them up to the height of heavens with their praise. 


My guide drove our boat forward as his lantern swung gently back and forth in the still air. His was the only light for a time. Then in the distance, tiny yellow flickers appeared. They seemed to gaze at us like the eyes of vigilant jungle cats. 


"There it is." The Ferryman announced. "We should be coming to the village of Deities and Heroes fist." 


I wanted to ask how many villages were on the island, but I held back. There would be plenty of time for questions when we touched ground. 


The lights grew brighter and multiplied as we approached. Each passing moment, allowed this ever burgeoning crowd of orange flickers, to illuminate fragments of the world that was around them. Melting candlesticks appeared beneath them, followed by sword-blade shaped shadows of palm leaves. Last, came the round stones along the shore and the stone lips of a great cave. 


By the time we reached the shore, the Ferryman and I could see the hundreds of wax candles and a small peddle path that wound up to the cave entrance. 


We tied our vessel down and followed the rock tongue to its gaping mouth. The Ferryman led the way with his lantern. 


As we reached the mouth, we spotted the soft glint coming off the breastplate of a guard.

The Ferryman, ever confident, waved to the figure. 


"Evening Anubis. It's your turn to keep watch?" 


We moved closer and the figure stepped into our lantern-light. Above his shimmering breastplate was a necklace of intricate stone chips, above that a jackals' head of ebony fur with sharp ears, a long nose and thick amber eyes. 


"It is friend," The dog faced man spoke, leaning his hairless muscular arms on a golden spear. "Not that I have much to watch out for except your sad looking face. Do we have a visitor tonight?" 


"Yes," The Ferryman moved his lantern in my direction. 

My eyes met the Jackal god's. He seemed strangely cold faced.

"Alright," He said after looking me up and down from scalp to toe. "The others are inside eating. Artemis had enough fortune and light to snag a pig today." 


We bid the watchmen farewell and entered the caves. We took our time, gingerly making our descent along wet stones and soft, slick mud. As in the boat we soon had orange lights to guide us. Two fires blazed in the distance, encircled by a dozen or so male and female bodies....some sporting the heads of various animals.

The chatter around the flames stopped as we approached the circle. In the fire light, I saw the garb of dozens of long vanished cultures and peoples. Mayan and Aztec gods in grass skirt and jade crowns sat beside Greek and Roman deities and demigods in togas. Across from them, the crocodile headed Soka of Egypt shared a swine foot withe a horn helmed Votan from ancient Europe. Beside them, Hercules shared wine with Miyamoto Musashi from Japanese lore. 


Heroes and myths great and small from so many corners of the globe. Once mighty, they lived in darkness, aided only by a few fires. 


"Welcome back, Ferryman." 


An olive skinned woman stepped forward, clutching a bow and arrow in each hand. I knew her to be Artemis the Greek god of animals and hunting. 


"You're welcome to my pig. As is your friend." 


"Thank you," He said. "We've journeyed far in this dark. My friend has questions for you as well." 


"We'll do our best to answer." Artemis replied. "But first we eat." 


The Ferryman and I ate and drank with the other gods. Whenever I could look from my meal I searched for other faces I could recall from history and mythology classes in primary school.

Indra, the Indian thunder God was one. A bearded Thor with a rusting hammer another. 

Jason, Achillies, Quetzukhatal. Being up close, for a prolonged period of time, I could see the wrinkles in many an immortal face, the weariness in eyes that had glimpsed eternity. Even joksters, like Loki and Coyote seemed somber and cold in the firelight. 


When the big was done and wine passed around, courtesy of Bacchus, the gods stares all turned to me. 


"So what brings you to us?" Thor croaked. "Have you come to take some pictures like a tourist?" 


"He looks like one of the pseudo-spirituals to me." the cow headed Hathor mooed. "Come to find himself and absorb all our 'great wisdom'". 


The gathering laughed aloud but I wasn't greatly offended. I had the sense these abandoned gods were laughing at themselves as much as they were at me. 


"I have only some questions." I replied. "And I hope you can answer them." 


They grew quiet and a few moments of silence passed, broken only by the snap of burning wood. 


"Then ask away," Quetzukatal said. 


I asked basic questions. 


"This place is called the island of unneeded gods. Are all of you here because you were forgotten?" 


Zeus replied first, leaning on his lightening bolt. 


"Forgotten no. Many of us are still remembered, by scholars, teachers and dreamers but we are no longer worshiped. Are temples are museums. Our priests dead. No one sings songs to us or asks us for our aid." 


"We are not forgotten, just not needed." Athena said from beneath her tarnished helm. An owl sat on her shoulder, it's feathers molting. "If we were completely forgotten we would die." 


"Gods can die?" 


"Yes," Athena answered. "It was always our best kept secret but we can only die if forgotten entirely by mortal hearts. This is not necessarily true of all those who live on this island but that is how we who live here survive. Yet memory alone does not give us power." 


It was then that Thor interjected. 


"We have no power now, save the stories and deeds associated with our memories. Our greatest hope is that we inspire dreamers to make new stories and new heroes. These new stories always pale in comparison to our deeds...indeed we who are here lost the hearts of men and women to greater stories and heroes who destroyed our, all we can aspire to is to become the foundation stones of today's Gods and not die forgotten." 


"Those who pass on, we honor with small statues." Apollo elaborated, gesturing up the cave wall. 


I followed his arm to a series of small niches carved near the ceiling. In the dim light I could make out that nearly all were filled with small figurines; of what material? I could not tell. 


"Who were they?" I asked.

"Gods and heroes who were adored and abandoned long before us." Thor replied solemnly. "They were old when we arrived and perished soon after." 


"And you are the only ones left on this island?" 


"No," Hercules grumbled from the back. "We are one community there are others. We can take you to them after some sleep." 


"Yes, some sleep would do us good." The Ferryman agreed.


I could have stayed up for a few more hours. I had so many questions about these neglected gods and how they lived on this dark island. Yet the Ferryman assured me there would be time if I truly wanted and we had other places to visit. We slept on straw mats, fashioned by Demeter, on the hard stone ground. I couldn't help but wonder if the gods around me felt the same aches and groans after sleeping on stones for so long? Had it ever bothered them at all? 


When I awoke it was still dark. The fires had gone out yet the candlelight lingered outside. I drifted back to sleep, hoping that when my eyes opened a second time, the sun would be out. Yet when the Ferryman shook me out of my dreams the night was still draped over the world. 


"On this island, the sun never shines." The Ferryman explained as I stood and heard the gods stirring around me. "There is only one way the gods can illuminate their world." 


As it turned out, the illumination came from the hundreds of candles outside the cave. Each time a person in the world humankind learned of their story or deeds, a candle appeared and ignited on one of the rocks in front of the island. A candle's life lasted as long as the person's memory of the god remained intact. When the person died or forgot the story altogether, the candle's flame went out. 


Everyday, after they had slept the gods would go to the rock with their name carved on it and picked a candle to use as their light in the darkness. The candles were the only way they could light torches and fires to allow them to search for food and water. It was the only way they could light camp fires to keep them warm and cook when they wanted to sleep. 


As I watched the strange assortment of mythical men and women collect their candles for another hard day of survival, I reflected on how arduous their lives were. Without faith and the need of people to believe in them, they were as weak and mortal as anyone.

The Ferryman and I followed Artemis, the Greek goddess of hunting, as she snuck through the jungle. We kept quiet as we moved in the tropical underbrush. The island's wild creatures chirped and called all around. 


As we trekked through brush and vines, I came to believe my eyes were adjusting to the dark. All around me the shapes of leaves, branches and soil became more visible. In time though, I realized that there was bright light ahead of us. The closer we came the more everything around us became clearer.

"Go on ahead and follow the brightness to the next village." Artemis said when we reached a moisture soaked wooden fence which marked the boundary on the community we would soon be entering. "They will receive you, but I'm afraid they are hostile to me and my kind."

After she left us, the Ferryman and I stepped over the fence. I asked him why the people in the village were so hostile to the gods.

"This is the village of philosophers and thinkers," He explained to me as I made out the thatched roofs of several huts ahead. "or rather the thoughts and worldviews of philosophers and thinkers. Many of these were opposed to the idea of blind faith, superstition and magic. They may have believed in god or gods but they lived by reason and rationality." 


I became confused immediately.

"If they never believed in gods why do they share the same island of exile?" 


The Ferryman smirked knowingly as we passed by a field of corn. By now the world around us had become almost as bright as day. My eyes hurt as they struggled to adjust after a full day of pitch black dark.

"Their philosophies share the island," He corrected me. "Philosophies and worldviews that sought to be as all knowing and authoritative as any church dogma or temple priest. For a time their ideas were like gods to the men and women who believed in them. Now, however, they too have been pushed aside to the realm of memory, supplanted by new philosophies and studied only in academia for a time before being pushed aside. Yet, because they are remembered more often their village is much more illuminated than that of the old gods who must scrounge with only a few candles to survive." 


I struggled to make sense of this as we entered the small village of huts where history's great philosophies now lived. So many candles burned here, that the inhabitants had put them in lanterns and strung them up over the roofs of the houses in an intricate spiderweb of light and vine. A great bonfire with a wax foundation blazed in the town center. 


Several men who were working in nearby fields of crops, fed by the light of their admirer's candles, approached us. A spindly Voltaire, his wig discarded, spoke first and introduced his companions. Moustachioed Nietzsche, white beared Marx. Others gathered around in time, Descartes, Spinoza, Confucius, Sartre and a lively and lengthy discussion began. 


Sadly, I can't recall of what was spoken but I can remember a few more interesting tid bits. I admit, even if I knew every word of this great gab-fest I doubt I'd be able to properly digest it enough to be able to accurately share it. 


Near the beginning of the convocation, I asked Voltaire why his reason based philosophy had placed him on the island: 


"It's strange isn't it?" He admitted. "I tried my whole life to crush superstition and religion and make people trust in reason. Yet I share an island with deities and demi-gods. Truth be told, it was the passion and belief that people of my time held in my work. Men, like that Robespierre guillotined aristocrats and clergymen in the name of reason and Enlightenment with the fervor of Templars and Hospitlars. True, reason and rationality were always the center of my worldview, but like those who worshiped Apollo or Jupiter, these words became empty slogans, preached by rabble-rousers to those who were not willing to think for themselves." 


Marx spoke in a similar vein: 


"I believed Nietzsche's words, God was dead. Their was no place for gods and magic in the world of proletariat revolution. No need for the 'opiate' of the masses. Yet, like Voltaire, many of the people who read me created governments that taught people to believe in a system without question or reason. My words, misconstrued and misinterpreted often, were as authoritative as the bible." 


  Confucius said: 


"My teachings made no mention of gods and men. That was an issue I left for the temple. My concern was with order and harmony in society. For centuries, my words kept the Emperors of China in power, creating an Imperial system of bureaucracy that kept the rulers of the Middle Kingdom on high. My teachings were the bread and butter of every public servant in China for over a thousand years." 


Many other spoke as well but after a long discussion, the camp broke for a midday meal of biscuits and roast chicken. The philosophers were sadly not as skilled cooks as they were thinkers and talkers, but their food tasted well enough and filled our bellies. 


"There is a third community on this island?" I asked Spinoza as he finished his last bite of chicken. "Apart from this one and the god's cave?"

He look weary as the words entered his ears. 


"Indeed," He said, a grimness blooming in his eyes. "A day's walk north, you will find the village of Tyrants and Dictators, men who made their words divine through fear and savagery. Speaking against them was a kind of blasphemy that could see you tortured and killed by their own inquisitors. These are dark and dreadful men, who put many of my fellows here to shame for using and misusing their words." 


Fearful for our safety, I asked the Ferryman if it was a sound idea to continue. 


"You don' need to worry." He assured me. "The men of that dark place know me as the gods and the philosophers."

Still shaken, but trusting in my guide we bid the village of thinkers farewell and started north. Soon enough the light of their candles dimmed and we were back in pitch-black jungle.

We walked through increasingly land. Soon all we could hear were our own souls crunching leaves and and branches beneath our feet. The Ferryman explained that all animals kept away from the north of the island, save rats and snakes. In time, even the trees grew fewer and farther between. Thick jungle gave way to open fields with scattered, fallen trunks and gnarled stumps. Even the trees seemed afraid of this part of the island.

A smell, at once burnt ash and decaying mildew filled the air. My nose had steeled itself to the odors by the time we spotted the lights in the distance. These small flickers were deep red at their center, and icy blue on the rim.

The Ferryman once again enlightened me. 


"These men and women and seldom remembered in a positive way. They inspire memories of despair, fear and bitterness in most. Such dark recollections produce only dim lights, that can only provide enough light for catching vermin, growing moss and fungus...and other deeds." 


Even as we closed in on the perimeter of the tyrant's village, the red lights only revealed a small portion of the dark, moistened wooden stockade that surrounded it. 


We reached a tall pair of rotting doors reeking of mildew. A pale skinned man in armor bearing a sharp mustache approached us. He recognized the Ferryman and let us pass.

Inside, ramshackle huts barely stood on waterlogged soil. The inhabitants, tyrants and dictators from days past sat with their heads between their knees staring into the blood light of their red candles eating away at black wax. All were so thin and disheveled that I often couldn't recognize them. The Ferryman had to help me.


Hitler, scrawny and black bearded, sat with his arms across his chest while a grizzled Stalin stared emptily into the sky beside a long haired, pencil thin Mao Zedong.


"Why are they so sad?" I wondered. Compared to the other villages, these villainous men seemed the most crestfallen. 


"They were men who became gods through the terror they inspired. They ruled through fear, and fear made millions bow to them and their every thought and word. None could question them without losing their lives. They were all powerful in their own times and their voices spoke with the power on the same level as divinity. Here, they are only men among equals. Gone are their armies, their thugs and parties, their secret police and propaganda machines. All they are left with is themselves." 


He ushered me in, deeper into the community. The shivering outlines of fallen tyrants lined the muddy pathway to a blood red fire crackling beside a house. 


A tall man stood beside it, turning a piece of meat on a spit. 


Like many of others, his wooly face prevented me from identifying him. 


"That is Muammar Gaddafi, one of the newcomers to this sad place," the Ferryman told me. "Like many who came before him he wants to be powerful, and even though memories of him provided enough light for a fire he wants to know he will have plenty of food and memory to last him. Look closer at the meat." 


I did as he asked and inspected the rotating flesh. It was not long before I spotted a brown, slightly burnt human nipple on one of the larger pieces. 


I stood back in horror. He was cooking the remains of another man. 


"Who is he eating?!" I managed to blurt out after struggling to keep my stomach from somersaulting out of my mouth. 


The Ferryman's reply was as calm and collected as ever. The haggard looking Gaddafi seemed oblivious to us as he continued to prepare his meal. 


"Those burning pieces are all the remain of Saddam Hussein. Each time a new dictator rises to prominence he consumes the memory of the man who came before him. Stalin absorbed Lenin, Idi Amin absorbed Obote. Here, the consumption of the other makes their lives longer." 


Repulsed by this dark place, I demanded we leave and return to the boat. The Ferryman idly consented and we left the island. I was glad to leave that black island behind.