Friday, April 9

9 to 5er

Trapped in The Pit
We stare at a light on the wall
They must drone on
Monotone, redundant, hurts all
Our souls have died


Dear Daniel Gill****, father of two
Becca and Ann would quit if only they knew
That as TMA’s chief guru
You don’t know a GODDAMN thing!


Herded off to the conference room
Database meeting, the presenter’s a nitwit
Shit! Here comes the executive officer
He rules the meeting to prove no one is bossier
This is our tomb


Poor Lori Carpenter
PD’s head marketer
Cut her wrists in a meeting
On the floor she lies bleeding
Oh no she got blood on the Monitor!

Wednesday, October 7

night of october 6, 2009

The characters present in last night’s dream surprised me; people who have not entered my thoughts in months, or those who walked in uninvited for mere seconds the day before.national-mall-300hn-092209

Much of the dream’s initial details have been forever lost in the abyss of my subconscious. I recall a brief scene among an expanse of beaten grass; the greens and browns appear faint and melt together, like what might be found along the National Mall.

Lying on the grass, I wrap my arm around X as X2 stands in front of us, her face glowing red with anger. As she storms off into the distance…

The red blur slowly defined itself as the display on my clock. 4:46 am. A wave of heat seethed through me. Enraged. But for what reason? I closed my eyes and concentrated on calming my nerves.  I focused on nothing, emptying my mind...

I stand in the kitchen of a two story house. The best reference my mind can produce is 334, yet this house is different. On the second floor, a balcony  faces the front yard, covering the first-floor porch. Warped floorboards creak with each step. The wood railings are soft with years of saturated rain. Outside the grass lies without care and patches of earth are scattered about. Weeds have taken up residence alongside the porch and between the two graveled ruts of the driveway. A waist-high wrought iron fence surrounds the property and the gate is rusted open.

A nondescript cake sits on the kitchen table. A birthday party. Several former marching band members are present including NS, CD, and EU (the few I remember). I move to the balcony to further socialize and notice a car pull into the driveway. By the time I walk outside to greet the new guests, they are sitting on the front lawn. I recognize the newcomers as the New Moon cast, though Kristen Stewart* is the only face representing a real-life cast member.  gallery_main-guess-who-cookie-hoodie-07102009-04

Kristen is leaning back against the porch wearing dark skinny jeans and a black hoodie. As I approach, she looks up and says, “Hey.” 

“What’s up Kristen?"

“Nothing, we just wanted to stop by and say hi.”

Our conversation continues, but in my head it is an incoherent murmur. I feel the urge to continue being a good host so I invite them in for drinks and return to the party. For an instant I think: I should find Kate.** However, I realize Kate left some time ago to run errands. A party guest suggests that Kate might also be with CH. I grow anxious because I feel it is necessary to apologize to CH for my earlier behavior with CB.

Time passes and I move about the party, but the details are a blur. I walk outside to visit with Kristen again, but she is in a car and about to leave. I run up to the red Ford Focus and lean into the driver’s side window where she is sitting with her hands on the steering wheel.

“Kristen, wait. My friend Kate really wants to talk to you, but she’s not here right now. Do you mind if I call her and you just say hi over the phone?”

“Yeah, sure.” I dial Kate’s number and she answers in typical fashion; a light and inquisitive hello reserved for people she is familiar with.

“Kate, Kristen Stewart is here and about to leave, where are you?”

“What?! Shit! I’m on my way, but it will be several minutes.”

“Too late, I’ll put you on the phone with her.” I hand the phone to Kristen.

“Hi Kate, what’s up?” Silence follows and Kristen turns to me and mouths, “She doesn’t think it’s really me.”

Kristen continues to listen before handing the phone back to me. “Sorry, she doesn’t believe it.”

And as her car leaves the house, a piercing noise erupts in my dream, beeping in quick intervals…

Time for work.

* I am by no means a fan of the Twilight Saga; however, my former roommate is an avid fan of the individual actors. Thus I am exposed to all related propaganda.
** My former roommate. Her existence is KS-centric.

Tuesday, September 22

creating the illusion

[Editor’s note: I composed this a few weeks ago after a conversation with a friend* and struggled to tie the three parts together in a pleasing manner. After several revisions, I’m still not entirely satisfied, but what fun is reading if you don’t have to think to draw out the themes? Read it, think about it, and if you believe you have figured it out, email me.]

The rain began to fall in buckets yet I stayed on the bench as people rushed for cover beneath the carousel roof. She waved as her horse glided past. My clothes were soaked and a chill sank in, but it did not matter. I was so damn happy just watching her go around and around. I can’t explain why. She looked so nice in her blue coat and with a smile on her face. God, if only you had been there.**

The first time I remember experiencing loneliness was the summer before
third grade. We had moved from a comfortable house near a park in Dearborn to a new colonial-style home in Ann Arbor. The neighborhood was still under development, and a dirt road led to single acre lots surrounded by forest. It was, as far as I was concerned, the middle of nowhere.***

But neither Ann Arbor, nor the remoteness of the house brought about my despair. Instead, I had convinced myself that leaving my friends in Dearborn was somehow my fault, and as punishment, friendship would forever escape me.

I overreacted, but grief was the only way my young and naive mind could cope with the overwhelming feeling of uncertainty that begets loneliness. I did not understand then, but that year was the first time I felt the world was a cruel and unfair place.

John Steinbeck believed that love for others came only through understanding. If you listen to and appreciate the feelings and motives of another, many of the justifications for hate, envy, and murder would cease to exist. This theme is prevalent in his fiction, particularly East of Eden, and is the reason we endear ourselves to fictional characters. We love characters whose thoughts and actions we sympathize with (e.g., Adam Trask), whereas we despise those we either do not understand or with whom we share shameful traits (e.g., Cathy Ames).****

I am not covering new ground, but it amuses me how such a basic concept can be overlooked by the majority of the human race. I suppose it is our individualist nature, the need to satisfy the self first, that blinds us to the similarities present between us all. So in a perverse way one of the most powerful emotions, that which is associated with loneliness, happens to be a universally shared feeling.

Who of us has not experienced the loneliness felt when a heart is broken for the first time and love becomes a stupid emotion that you fear and hate, yet desperately reach for. When a loved one passes away and you are inconsolable in your grief and incapable of receiving the empathy of others. And even the moment when, in the face of death, you realize how alone you truly are.

* *

He had escaped death twice. Both instances occurred among the white-tipped peaks of the Sierra-Nevada range. Two years ago he found a solid hold that saved him from sliding off a cliff. Last year, he approached the edge of a 75-degree slope. It was mid-morning and the sun had chased away the chill of night. The warm rays softened the snow blanketing the slope he looked upon. He began to descend while his climbing partner rested on a nearby rock. Twenty feet later he slipped. In the first few seconds the ice axe was torn from his hands. Within five seconds he was careening down the side of a mountain where, 2,000 feet below, the snow gave way to a field of boulders.

He knew that life was rapidly drawing to a close, but there was no moment of
rapture, nothing flashed before his eyes. He turned onto his stomach and began
punching and kicking the snow in an attempt to slow down. His mind had never
been so singularly focused as it continued to repeat, “Fuck. Fuck. I have to stop myself.”

Everything but his heart slowed when his fists sank deep into a thick patch of snow. Then he came to a stop. If not for a small but dense snow pack untouched by the morning sun, the last moments of his life would have been brutal and terrifying, and they would have been experienced alone.

A near-death experience changes your perspective in profound ways. When he
returned home, the world moved in slow motion. The demands and condescending remarks from his boss were tuned out. There was little pleasure to be found in trivial arguments. He looked for humor in everything. The wilderness had ceased to exist as a place to regain one’s innocence as Christopher McCandless tried to do, and was now nature in its purest form, a beautiful, but treacherous and unforgiving world. But more than ever, he felt alone, unable to relate with friends whose lives had not skipped a beat.

* *

I waited as Robert scanned and bagged my groceries. Behind me a young girl shuffled her feet. Infancy lingered in her pudgy cheeks and in the curiosity that glimmered in her eyes. She looked up and pointed to the headphones I was wearing. I removed the buds from my ears and asked if she wanted to listen. She looked at me hesitantly, but with great interest, and turned toward her mother who nodded in approval.

“Te gusta la musica?”

“Si mama.”

The mother gently reminded her daughter to say “gracias,” and as the girl
handed the headphones back she said, “Thank you mister.” I said, “De nada.”

In an instant a smile broke upon her face and she turned to her mother,
“Mama, he knows espanol!” I flashed a quick smile, took up my bags, and left
the store.

Her smile reflected an untainted happiness only a child knows. That smile showed me a glimpse of a world free of disappointment, fear, loneliness, and death; a world in which a stranger can draw comfort from the purity of an anonymous child. In that fleeting moment, I was back in Dearborn.

*You are probably thinking: what kind of depressing conversations do you have with your friends?

**This is a quote only in that I wrote it. 1,000 cocktails to you if you know what I am referencing.

***A fact I soon began to embrace as my explorations through the woods developed into daring adventures to search for frogs, scale barbed-wire fences, and wander through a field littered with ancient televisions and rusting cars. It has all been flattened by a subdivision named Walnut Ridge that boasts unoriginal and identical houses that start in the 500s.

****Adam and Cathy represent extremes of good and evil.

Thursday, August 27

the next chapter begins

Forever lost. There is a way out.

When I signed off in June with a pensive final entry, word traveled and people began asking friends and family about my mental well-being. In such moments you understand the annoyances and comforts of blogging for a small audience. Placing opinion in a public forum whose members lie in anonymity encourages “gossip” on a scale you may never know. Conversely, you identify individuals who have a genuine interest in your life and happiness. Rest assured all is OK; however, the tumultuous period of two months ago has now taken a different form.

I am in the midst of a move and a heightened sense of anxiety clouds my thoughts. The apartment I called home for the better part of three years has now been abandoned. In three days I move from Arlington, VA to Washington, DC. Right now, my belongings, my life, are in transition in the corner and on the couch of a friend’s apartment. Sleep and exercise have escaped me. In the absence of a refrigerator my diet has been sidelined by beer and peanut butter sandwiches. I am amused that the exhaustion I feel has taken me faster and more completely than weeks of driving and sleepless nights in tents, hostels, and cars. I am even more amused that this has all occurred in less than a week. My response? Relax? No. Start writing. And reflect upon the direction of this blog (as if it ever did follow a script).

On occasion I read my earlier work. I want to know if the writing has improved, if a style is beginning to take form, if I can feel emotion in the words as though I was writing them for the first time. In some instances, and this is especially true for my published work, I am disgusted by the simplicity, the Dan Brown-like vagaries, and the egregious and completely unnecessary overuse of flowery adjectives and space-filling adverbs found in Stephenie Meyer’s work.*

Aside from my travelogue, the posts on Rizzology were meaningless. The thought-pieces on the economy, politics, and outdoorsy subjects bored me. They were trite. So I deleted them. Well, not really. I do not condone the destruction of any written material. Instead, I banished it to my first blog, Zealously Moderate, which is now behind a wall that only an adept hacker can penetrate (go ahead, click the link for futility's sake). To compensate, I brought my favorite work from ZM under the Rizzology banner.

Another administrative change you may notice is the addition of the bolded Roadtrip Archive link on the sidebar. For those wishing to re-live my roadtrip, sans the painstaking process of tracking backward through the blog, the archive links every entry in chronological order and provides a gateway to the pictures.

Going forward, this space will take the form of my early work on ZM: infrequent, but more meaningful posts; obscurities and symbolism; less focus on current events, and more notes and thoughts on, well, who knows for sure.

Comments and criticism are welcome. And, as always, Twitter and Facebook will be there to provide updates on the madness that is my world.

*Get it?

Tuesday, June 30

time out

Due to administrative- and life-related reasons, I need to shift focus away from the blog and toward other ventures. At this point I am unsure as to when I will start writing again; however, you’ll know because of the oh-so-reliable updates on Facebook and Twitter. Until then, I’ll leave you with a little inspiration I composed following a discussion with some friends…

It’s no secret that I’m a subscriber to and preacher of the “you only live once” philosophy. This mantra has had such an effect on some people that they, almost immediately, began doing new and crazy things. In fact, when I recently passed on an event, someone said, “C’mon Erik, you only live once!” I gave in.

Last week, a friend was in town while en route to a new home. Him, another friend and myself went out on the town for some drinks, and many beers later we were immersed in a discussion of sentiments (in the manliest way possible, of course…no tears or “woe is me,” just stern looks and hand on the chin contemplative poses; “yes, I think I see what you’re saying.”). No specific situations or people came up, but one friend, having recently been at the wrong end of a relationship that never really started (a very interesting story), posited that if there is something or someone out there you feel will make your short, and at times seemingly useless, existence on this planet better, you would be stupid to not try and reach for it. And if, despite your best efforts, you can’t grab it, well, you may be left with a void for the rest of your life (and in my case, great inspiration for writing), but at least you can say you tried.

Thursday, June 18

too much rain over virginia

On Tuesday, a friend from NYC bused here for what had originally been planned as a two day hiking excursion in southern Virginia. Alas, the weather gods would not let it be; a sixty degree, all-consuming front of precipitation moved in from the west and rooted itself on the eastern seaboard. However, we refused to admit defeat and decided to try our luck in Shenandoah NP.

A light rain rebounded off the windows as I explained our backpacking itinerary to the park ranger. Descend some hollow*, summit a few peaks, find a mostly, not totally, sopping wet campsite, make a futile attempt to dry off, sleep and pack-out in the morning. No ten minute conversation has ever produced such varying looks of incredulity, but the ranger registered my car and issued a backcountry camping permit. Ultimately, the permit would be useless.

The Vibe ascended SNP’s thoroughfare, Skyline Drive, and the clouds came down to greet us. Forty miles of driving rain and zero visibility later, I hesitantly suggested we adjust the plan. When I leaned over the railing at an overlook and saw nothing but gray and at twenty feet the Vibe disappeared in a fog thick enough to be manipulated with my hands, the plan changed.

We decided upon a much shorter, eight mile hike into a canyon featuring several waterfalls.

The whole experience was rather surreal. In the rain, the park regains some of the dignity years of human interference has stripped away. The wildlife emerge from hiding as jean-clad tourists and their raucous children retreat to the city. The only sounds are that of rain pattering the canopy above, the occasional breath of air, and streams raging through the hollows and canyons with a renewed sense of purpose. And the foliage, wet with rain, is overwhelmingly vivid.

As we hiked, the rain created an melancholy atmosphere that encouraged silence and introspection. When words were exchanged, the conversation centered on the direction of one’s life and the analysis of relationships, past and present. Each time the trail approached a cliff’s edge, the trees parted for a view of nothing but gray mist. The contrast felt as though we had found a narrow plane of existence and beyond the thin layer of green on either side of us was a cold nothingness. We had stumbled upon purgatory.

After the hike, and our figurative and literal cleansing, the question was whether to camp or not. There was no mountain to climb or weeklong expedition to continue, so we saw little point in further dirtying ourselves (and the still-clean equipment) for the sake of camping. However, with the aid of Taco Bell and The Dark Knight on Blu-ray, we again refused to accept defeat…

An Appalachian term for a broad riverine valley, essentially a wider and less steep ravine.

Monday, March 16

the end is the beginning is the end

Last week my trip came to an end. I've spent the past three weeks trying to write a conclusion. On Saturday I reached a mental cliff and literally wrote "nothing" over and over again until my mind hit the bottom about ten minutes later. Safely down, I came to the realization that what I had just written was garbage and, consequently, it was banished to the folder of unfinished works. Let's try again.

When I first began my journey I had not created any grand objectives. I have long viewed the solo cross-country road trip as a kind of medieval chivalric romance where the distressed damsels and horses are replaced with the voices in my head and catalytic converters. I embarked on this quest not to "discover myself," as the tiresome cliche for the uninspired goes. Instead, while I knew some amount of acute self-awareness was inevitable, I simply wanted to experience America without a script and see where my mind dropped me off at the end.

I logged 12,554 miles on the road and visited 36 states (plus Canada so that I could avoid driving through Ohio). I reached as far north as Seattle, as far south as Daytona Beach, and touched both oceans. My car has seen the east and west termini of both Interstate 90 (Boston/Seattle) and 10 (Jacksonville/Los Angeles). I've seen mountains and canyons, deserts and swamps, and even squeezed in a trip to Jerusalem just as Jesus was about to die. Talk about great timing.

I'm repeatedly asked what my favorite part of the trip was. I don't know. I knew in advance that that question would be the most frequently asked and I still don't have an answer. Sorry. Imagine something you've always wanted to see or do. Now what happens when you see and experience said thing and that same process repeats multiple times during the course of one trip? What if each experience elicits a different reaction or emotion? How do you compare and rate a hike through the Grand Canyon on a perfect day to snowshoeing around Crater Lake during a blizzard to spending a weekend in the company of good friends?

So in the end what do I walk away with? The road was the source of both my greatest emotional highs and lows. Driving is one our greatest expressions of freedom. Every morning I would get in the car and head somewhere new, somewhere I decided to go. If the sun is out and a good song is on the radio, nothing matches the feeling of being on the open road and knowing I'm by myself doing exactly what I want to do. Conversely, there were times I faced crushing loneliness and depression. When the only meaningful social interaction you have in a week includes asking gas station attendants if you can get a receipt for pump three, you begin to drown in your thoughts. In those moments of desperation, your mind grasps for air and begins flirting with the idea of turning around and heading home. So if I stop now, I'll save money, I'll lower the chances of getting hurt, I can start looking for a job sooner...Arrgg!! Or you can do something different with your life...Keeping driving!

My other take away? Perspective. Thanks in large part to my blog and all of my notes, every moment of the trip is a fixture in my mind and on paper. However, a factor as simple as a different weather pattern could have had a dramatic impact on what was written in any of my blog entries. Bill Bryson hated Yosemite National Park, I loved it. The difference? Spring and fall separated by about twenty years. The old man in Wyoming had a different take on the economy as compared with most rational people. Tomorrow morning someone could leave Washington and follow in my exact footsteps and they would have a different experience. Heck, if I take the same trip in twenty years, my perspective will change demonstrably.

Was it worth it? Yes.

Thanks for taking the time to read this blog over the past several weeks. Hopefully you enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it (for the most part). I'm sure this site will continue in some fashion as a personal blog, I just haven't begun to think about the details yet.

Thursday, March 12

wicked pissah!!

I've been told on dozens of occasions that Massachusetts drivers are among the worst in the world. I can say, without hesitation, that is categorically false. They cannot hold a candle to drivers in Egypt, it's not even close. And after fighting through traffic in several metropolitan areas, all of which claim the worst drivers in the history of the automobile, I can tell you that Massachusetts drivers are not even the most despicable in the country.

I think people have a twisted pseudo-masochistic relationship with the traffic and drivers that populate the cities they live in. No matter what major city I am in, people complain about traffic to such a degree I almost sense an air of pride. And you always hear about how everyone else is crazy as though your friend is the only reputable driver around.

Los Angeles is pretty awful and is undeniably the worst place in the country to be stuck in traffic. However, when a thousand highways go in a thousand different directions and merge together every three miles nothing can end well.

Freeways simply don't exist within San Francisco’s city limits, which means the only way to get downtown is via side streets or the God-awful mass transit system. Interstate 5 is only road connecting the entire Seattle-Olympia thoroughfare, ergo a disaster waiting to happen. One initially thinks Chicago drivers are terrible until you see the potholes stretching off into the horizon, potholes whose only purpose in life is to: 1) wreck your car; or 2) wreck two cars when you swerve into your neighbor's lane trying to avoid a pothole. Boston drivers refuse to abandon the left lane no matter how fast they are driving, which is a constant 70 mph on freeways and dirt roads alike. Washington, DC is the extreme of passiveness. People would much rather stop in the middle of the road than engage in risky, overly aggressive behavior such as merging or changing lanes.

Where was I going with this? Ah yes, I didn't find drivers in Boston to be particularly intimidating. I did, however, find many of the people to be a tad aggressive. I had a great time wandering through downtown Boston for a day. I walked along the Freedom Trail, took in a reenactment of the Boston Massacre, and stuffed myself with many local delicacies (Chowda and Boston Scrod to name a few). Just to give you an idea of how seriously Bostonians take their history, the reenactment was put on by the Boston Massacre Historical Society. An entire group was formed and money was spent in honor of an event that lasted maybe ten minutes.

The sheer number of young men who appeared to be on some type of steroid, wore Red Sox caps backwards and were just itching for a fight caught me off guard. On multiple occasions a group of guys would purposefully make eye contact with me, no doubt hoping I would commit some heinous act worthy of a beating. It's no wonder the British sent troops to quell the citizens in 1768. Two hundred and fifty years later Bostonians half expect lobster-backed limeys to show up and over-tax their Venti Mocha Lattes from Starbucks.

Bostonians could just be jealous of New Yorkers. While the city possesses hardly any sports teams worth paying money to see, New York City boasts infinitely more of everything, including the worst drivers in the country. I am an aggressive-defensive driver hybrid who is rarely frightened by lunatics on the road; however, the brazen disregard for the law and the safety of pedestrians exhibited by New Yorkers sometimes surprise me.

I stopped in New York City for an evening to visit with friends and play beer roulette and trivial pursuit. It was relaxing and a fitting conclusion to my trip. After weeks on the road and countless sights, people, and sleepless nights, I arrived in New York City, the city that never sleeps, and spent the night on a couch playing board games.

I suppose all that's left now is a conclusion.

Tuesday, March 10

ann's arbor

Ann Arbor is the college town's college town. Even my USA travel book states that if you want to experience the quintessential American college town, Ann Arbor is the place to be. Madison, Wisconsin is a close second.

I have lived most of my life in Ann Arbor, yet I never really appreciated or cared much about the city until my first days at the University of Michigan. I attribute much of that aloofness to four years of private high school thirty miles away in Detroit. However, Michigan athletics is the elixir to cure all apathy. And for all you Michigan haters out there, no, I don't plan to wax philosophical and use awful cliches to idolize the city or depict my journey from naive high schooler to reservist and then God of the Michigan Marching Band. I'll save that for my memoirs which I am currently co-writing with Miley Cyrus.

My parents have lived in the same house in Ann Arbor since what seems like the beginning of time. Actually I think I was in third grade, but same difference. Even though I moved out of that blue colonial-style residence when I left for college in 1999, I find myself reverting back to childhood tendencies whenever I am in town for a couple of days. There are the typical complaints such as: "Mom! What's for dinner?" and "Why is there never any food in this house?" Then there are the more quirky habits, one of which I just noticed this past week when my travels took me to Ann Arbor.

Growing up, the bathroom I shared with my siblings never had a lock on the door (until my dad installed one at the behest of my sister, AFTER the boys had already left for college). There were a set of drawers next to the door that, when opened, would effectively block the door, rendering useless any mischievous attempts to break in. For years these drawers were our bathroom lock.

This past week, every time I went to take a shower, I found myself opening the drawer to block the door. Keep in mind neither my brother nor sister were even home. And I didn't even bother to use the lock. Some habits die hard.

The few days I spent in Ann Arbor were relaxing, a break from the whirlwind of Park City and Chicago. I mostly just slept, wrote, read and had dinner with my parents. The one exception was Thursday night when I met a friend at a restaurant in town for a few beers and delicious curry fries.

On Friday, I got back in the car. I had planned to stop in New York City, but at the last minute I changed my plans and continued north to Boston.

Monday, March 9

the bucket list

The following is the final product of some musing that began before my trip did. I'll have an update on my status tomorrow.

No one has ever heard of Alain de Botton with the exception of his mother and the few newspaper book reviewers whose quotes adorn the back of his books. If you know who he is I’m wildly impressed. De Botton was raised a spoiled rich kid in Britain, but dropped out of a Ph.D program at Harvard to pursue his passion: the writing, fiction and non-fiction, on the philosophy of everyday life.

A South African fellow introduced me to de Botton’s The Art of Travel while I was stumbling along the Inca Trail in Peru with an even clumsier friend--who happens to be a surgical resident. The book is a fascinating and nontraditional look at the psychology of travel and uses the lives and works of artists and writers to examine five ideas: 1) departure and the overlooked beauty found waiting at the airport watching planes take off, or taking a cab through a shanty town en route to a five-star resort; 2) motive and why we seek to go places other than our own backyard; 3) a comparison of cityscapes and countryscapes; 4) art and how it captures beauty and opens one’s eyes to landscapes viewed through another’s perspective; and 5) return, an interesting perspective on Frenchman Xavier de Maistre’s extensive travels in his own bedroom. Needless to say, de Botton's travelogue provided me with some of the self-insight I needed to realize what I was missing through my travels. 

I am constantly looking to improve my lot upon this planet and that includes my approach to travel. In years past I've found that instead of truly enjoying and capturing the beauty and culture of places I visited, I was merely taking pictures and checking names off of a bucket list. My trips that produced the most vivid memories involved an emotional high, whether it was physical pain or laughter: an experience that pseudo-traumatizes the subconscious. For example, hiking down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon or sitting around drinking beer and playing cards with some locals in a backwater town in Peru. One can easily take a car or plane to every worthwhile destination on the map, but the most rewarding experiences come when you get of your car and leave the comfort of the known. Pack up your stuff and hike alone into the wilderness or strike up a conversation with a complete stranger.

All too often people view travel as the proverbial notch-on-the-bedpost. We must go to as many places as possible just so we can brag to friends about our travels by updating a world map on Facebook or posting gaggles of pictures on Flickr. American culture propagates this absurdity by publishing books on the 50 Places You Must See Before You Die or the 1001 Beautiful Cities/Canyons/Churches You’re Freakin’ Crazy Not to Visit. Before you know it, a generation of kids is traveling the globe without ever developing any type of relationship with the places they rush to visit.

Novelists create characters that represent an amalgam of people they know. During my summer abroad in Egypt, our group was often graced with the presence of a girl whose character perfectly embodies everything that is wrong with travel culture. Everyday I got to hear: “Ok, so last year I went to Turkey and it was like so beautiful and this year I’m going to Jordan and then two days later my parents are chartering a plane to fly me to Peru because the little girls in their native dresses are like soooo cute!” That might not be so terrible in and of itself, but her posse of girls would only eat only at the Euro Café, a hipster joint for Egyptian college kids who need wi-fi and croissants to avoid eating local cuisine with their fellow poverty-stricken countrymen. As if!

She also thought it a terrible idea to try and learn a few words of Arabic since we were only going to be in Egypt for two months. She is the reason foreigners think Americans are assholes.

I understand it’s easy to throw some of that back in my face. Yes, I ate at the Euro Café once, and during the past month I’ve not had time to enjoy some places as much as I would have liked. Now this is partially due to my blog, but at every stop I take time to examine my thoughts for what each place means to me. Descriptions and metaphors, yes, but I also search for peculiar flaws in seemingly invincible rock, the perfect angle to capture an image, or I try to walk in the shoes of people whose experiences long predate my own. I eat the house special at restaurants recommended by locals and try to get the latest gossip from the waitresses. Sometimes I just sit on the ground among a grove of trees listening to and feeling the breeze as the dense pines mute the faraway beckoning of civilization.

I owe many of the ideas for destinations on this trip to stories I’ve read by John Steinbeck and Bill Bryson, but de Botton’s work fundamentally changed my philosophy towards travel. Instead of simply taking pictures I try to immerse myself in and become a part of the landscape and cultures I’ve seen, even if it’s as a white Catholic guy in the middle of southern Egypt.