So far in my life, I’ve been a warehouse picker, a commodities trader, a plantation owner, an investment banker, Chairman, Manager, mortgage banker, venture capitalist, entrepreneur, telemarketer, door-to-door salesman, and non-profit manager. I have counseled Presidents and bribed Vice-Presidents. I have skirted near the extremes of affluence and poverty, and struggled in the in-between. I have dined in the most expensive restaurants and dumpster-dived for scallops and Jimmy Dean sausage.
On my 55th birthday:
- I realized I no longer enjoyed, nor believed in the story I was in, so I decided to write my own.
- I left my job, and walked away from a promise of a generous lifetime pension in exchange for my freedom.
- I surrendered my possessions to rid myself of distractions.
- I embarked on a journey.
Because I share Dianne Ackerman’s sentiment that: “The great affair, the love affair with life, is to live it as variously as possible, to groom one’s curiosity like a high-spirited thoroughbred, climb aboard, and gallop.”
And William Blake’s: “He who desires but acts not breeds pestilence.”
Unencumbered, with a glimpse of immaculate sand awaiting my footprints, I now walk on the edge of uncertainty.
Mine, is a spiritual journey, in which I intend to question all the conventions of our modern world – all the ideologies, myths, and illusions that shape our understanding of ourselves and the world – and think everything anew, as if for the first time: What is happiness? What is love? Why death? What’s the meaning of our short presence on this earth? How can we live with greater joy, purpose, and presence?
I am headed towards a new orientation to life, if you will.
I was born and raised in a ‘Banana Republic’ ravaged by civil war. Against a backdrop of guerrilla warfare, military coups, tin-pot dictators, kidnappings, car bombs, torture, and a native population caught in the crossfire, the stage of my early life was populated by almost-mythical beings:
– A step-grandfather (father’s side): A Dutch trader so consumed by his work that he had a stroke soon after retiring. He survived, only to attempt to murder his wife, or rape her (depending on who in the family you ask).
– My biological grandfather (father’s side): The Necromancer – well off, lived in a castle on a lake in Germany where he delighted in large parties of a libidinous nature involving nude women, slicing live doves in half to let their blood run down their exposed abdomens. He abandoned my father, age 5, to join a band of roving revelers.
– My biological grandmother and great-aunt (father’s side): My grandmother darned silk stockings to survive after Germany’s economic collapse following the Great Depression, and held the firm conviction that her sister Erna was reincarnated in my father and would spare him from danger, illness, and injury. Erna entered her early twenties as a stunning woman which drew her to the stage and into the arms of a married stage door keeper. He dumped her, and at twenty-two, she came home one afternoon and stuck her head in an unlit gas oven while Schubert’s Ave Maria played in the background.
– My father, single child: Smuggled by train out of Germany to Guatemala when he was seven. Transplanted into an alien soil, mostly raised by his Indian nanny, he found refuge in the lore of Tarzan and science fiction. The seed of his bipolar disorder would soon sprout into a bizarre and terrifying period that swept us all into a frenzied maelstrom.
– My maternal grandparents: My grandmother absconded with her five daughters, and to lighten her load, asked a friend to formally adopt my mother. The Stewarts lived in a lower class neighborhood in the Midwest. Margaret was an alcoholic who often puked inside the house and made my mother clean up the rank mess. Her husband was a gentle fireman. Later in life, my mother made a portrait of herself as a weeping girl holding a wilted daisy, looking out the window onto a rainy afternoon.
– My mother: Born in Norway, or so she claimed. A palimpsest – the top surface of which was etched with fantastical tales and self-diagnosed ailments such as polio and hemophilia. She often recounted how she had been inside an iron lung as a child while being nursed by nuns at a convent, and that she once spat at an Nazi officer in Norway while hiding her one-year-old sister in the snow. A master manipulator of men, if I am to believe my father. But if I rely on my memory, all I see is myself, as a young boy, looking for her during the day in the kitchen, living room, sewing room, only to find her – once again – sleeping in her shuttered bedroom, knocked out by another powerful dose of opiates. In her fifties, a few years before she died, she was reunited with all her sisters.
– The Prostitutes: The denizens of the upscale bordello to which I was taken from the age of seven, until I lost my virginity to ‘Little China Girl’ when I turned twelve. A place where high-ranking members of the military, and the wealthy elite, plotted torture, assassinations, and the next coup.
– The servants: Moving in and out of our household through an endlessly-revolving door. Among them, a nymphomaniac, a practitioner of voodoo, and a cook who threatened to castrate me and my brothers with a blunt butcher knife as punishment for looking up her skirt.
My refuge, away from this weird menagerie, was an old avocado tree.
As soon as I returned from school every afternoon, I would throw down my leather satchel and run up the stairs that led to the roof. This was not an ordinary roof, but a place of enchantment. Flat, with different levels and inclines, it led through narrow walkways and ramparts to the neighbors’ homes. Jutting through it, were four massive avocado trees, projecting a broad canvas of emerald-green foliage and mossy boughs. One was relatively easy to climb. Having loaded a cardboard box with food, books, paper, and pencil, I would clamber up to my usual branch, and hoist the box. I would nestle there for hours, away from the chaos below – reading, and writing stories of daring escapes and wonderful worlds – until the peal of church bells marked the hour of six.
It is to that tree and to that boy that I now return.