THE VOICE IN MY HEAD

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The Voice in My Head is calm and assured:

You will know when it is time to act. It will come as a feeling, but a feeling of certainty. No longer will you be tempted to procrastinate, to wait for further evidence, to seek the advice of others. You will know that it is time.

Most people will not approve of your decision. Ignore them. They have their own paths to follow, their own inspiration to guide them. They can’t help you with your decision and you can’t help them with theirs.

I  want to argue with the voice. Knowing when to act and knowing what to do are two different problems. Hopefully, the inspiration for both will arrive at roughly the same time. If not, then patience and courage will be called for, in equal amounts.

The Voice agrees. If you don’t try, how are you gonna learn anything? We learn as much from our failures as from our successes. It’s just more pleasant to learn from success. And less expensive. And other people find it more inspiring. Serving as a warning to others is a form of service, but not a sexy one.

My life is living proof the voice knows what he is talking about.  I was once a movie star, albeit a minor one. I played the stupid guy who served as a sidekick to the leading male. He looked better and smarter with me by his side. I was good at this, and appeared in many low-budget movies made between 1970 and 1980. Still, my IMDb page is often visited, and although I have not had a request for my services in many years, people still stumble across references to me in anything from movie magazines to scholarly dissertations. I am well known among media studies professors.

My SAG retirement will not make me a rich man, but I will be able to retire in comfort in a third-world country with a low standard of living. There are worse fates!

The only real problem I have now is my heroin addiction. I’ve been an addict for more than thirty years now, and as long as I have a reliable, clean supply, I can do just fine. Take away that, and I’m fold like a cheap suit in a matter of hours. All my plans have to do with making sure that doesn’t happen.

I carry with me several secrets in addition to my opiate addiction. These I rarely share with anyone, because I am looking for neither sympathy nor a solution. I am the only person you are likely to meet who is highly radioactive. This came from an experiment I undertook back when I first suspected I had an auto-immune disorder which I first thought was multiple sclerosis, but I now know to be Parkinson’s Disease. Any any rate, I was going through a phase in which I thought I had been born with innate psychic gifts in the healing arts, and decided that if I ingested a few grams of radioactive cesium isotopes, it would cure me. It didn’t. I was not only wrong, but sorely deluded. Fortunately, I had never offered medical advice to others, so I have no guilt attached to this experience. Shame, yes, but not guilt.

The other shameful secret I rarely mention is my propensity to secretly dig holes in other people’s back yards. I do this at night. What am I searching for? Your guess is as good as mine. I’ve been doing this for years, and although I have not yet unearthed any buried treasure, I have come across several cat and dog skeletons. These I respectfully left in entombed. I am not a ghoul, just a person who wrestles with unusual compulsions often succumbing to overpowering needs to act out in ways the world is not likely to understand. That’s OK by me. I don’t need your understanding, just the freedom to act out as I see fit.

Again, I neither seek understanding or permission to be the person I am today. Even though I am an agnostic, I appreciate those who conclude that God made them just the way they are and they needn’t apologize for it.

In my best moments I am one of them. That which makes me unusual also makes me useful in ways I can’t predict but I have faith exist. I am ready, willing and able to be of use.

Lately I’ve noticed that if I am around plants for long, they change. Some wither and die, while others bloom and surge in growth. I have been told that my radioactivity is not harmful to others, though my expert advice for this matter comes from beyond the veil. Automatic writing, the Ouija board, and various ways of talking with spirits have given me access to a whole new realm of expertise.

I have been assured that a mate for me is on her way, and that once she arrives my current liabilities will change to assets. I try not to waste time wondering about her physical attributes. If she is a soul-mate sent to complete me, then whether she is a pinup girl or downright homely doesn’t matter in the least.

Sometimes before going to bed, when I’m brushing my teeth, I look in the mirror and try to imagine her standing next to me. If the lights are low, my teeth glow in the dark, and I can see her standing in the shadows just behind me. Sometimes a tall blonde, sometimes a short brunette. My soul mate.

The spirit who tells me most of this calls himself “Doctor Pretorious.” I’ve been talking with him for so long now that he feels like family. Although I’ve never seen him, I’ve heard his voice in my head ever since I started my experiments with automatic writing. When I try to ask about her, he refuses to add detail, simply saying “Patience my son. She is on her way.”

A few evening ago I was back to my habit of sneaking onto the property of my neighbors, shovel in hand, and digging for an hour or two. The main house is hidden away behind trees and I am careful not to make much noise. They have no dog. I avoid properties with dogs. After an hour or so, I saw something glowing beneath the soil at the bottom of my pit. At first I thought it was the moonlight reflecting on something shiny, but no, the more I dug the more I became sure it was actually something glowing from below. The glow was deep yellow, custard yellow, and with a few more scoops of earth removed I could see it was a large rock, almost the size of a bowling ball. I lifted it up and out of the hole. It was cold to the touch.

I have a feeling about things that I often can’t explain, but that I put stock in. I follow these gut feelings and I am usually not wrong to do so. My finding this rock was no accident. It was meant to be, maybe put there since the dawn of time awaiting this moment.

Bundling the rock in my jacket, I hurried back home, carrying the shovel with one arm and the rock in another. It was all I could do not to shout “thank you!” at the top of my lungs, but instead I whispered it under my breath, over and over.

When I got home, there was a woman sitting on the steps of my front porch. In the glow that came from the rock, I could see that I didn’t already know her. She was very short, under five-feet tall. Black hair and black eyes.

“I’m Helga,” she said. “Dr. Pretorious sent me.”

“Helga?” I responded, stunned.

“If you don’t like the name you can call me Jane.”

“Jane,” I repeated. “Come in, Jane. I’ve been expecting you.”

Jane is my antithesis. Where I emit gamma radiation, she absorbs it. She is my graphite rod.

We don’t talk much, because we don’t need to. Our silence together is enough. She spends long hours reading and playing solitaire. She listens to early jazz recordings. Anything recorded before 1930 delights her, anything after that date she finds annoying. To me it all sounds the same, like music from a Krazy Kat cartoon, or the soundtrack of a Woody Allen movie.

Jane was once a nun in a cloistered order that observed strict silence. She hardly spoke for over ten years. Then, one night, Jesus appeared before her and told her that it was time for her to leave and go out into the world. The next day she left and took a bus to the city, where she was able to find work as a children’s librarian.

Fortunately, she had received a degree in library science before joining the convent. Through diligent service and by keeping a low profile, she was eventually promoted to head librarian, when the current head was fired for having sex with teenage boys. She said that contrary to popular belief, public libraries were dens of gossip, politics and outright iniquity. Her training at the convent had allowed her to bypass many of the snares that trapped others. But then she fell into a trap of her own making. She fell in love with another woman, also an ex-nun, and their conservative community was unable to handle such a scandal. Happily, they offered her a generous settlement to resign and she moved to Giant Rock, Arizona, where UFO sightings are a frequent occurrence and where Wilhelm Reich once built an Orgone accumulator.

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FLORIDA MAN

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He sleeps in a pile of cardboard in an alley. The police know he’s there, but they usually don’t disturb him, because he’s less of a problem when he’s unconscious. It’s when he’s awake that he bothers people.

His ex-wife has a restraining order prohibiting him from coming within a hundred yards of their former home. The last time he came by he tried to steal the lawn mower in order to sell it, but she had changed the locks on the garage door.

When he drinks he quickly becomes angry at perceived insults and slights, eventually provoking a confrontation. Even though he’s clearly in the wrong, the net result is that someone else ends up paying for his tantrums. Always the victim, he nurses resentments and plots revenge which he can never seem to enact because he forgets his plans the moment he makes them.

Just Another Shmuck

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When you take a long view, it’s obvious that we are all in this together, though often we feel alone. Our concern is mainly centered on ourselves. “How am I feeling right now?” If we could change this, we could change everything. If we could ask “how are we doing?” we might actually engender good will and get somewhere.

When artists create, are they mainly motivated by a desire for self-expression, or a desire to make the world a better place for others? Hard to know. Maybe a little bit of both.

In the long run, those who are not self-obsessed have an easier time of it. They find they are propelled by the power of a group. Sometimes that group can be large and influential.

When you’re an egomaniac bent on self-promotion, you’re just another schmuck screaming “look at me!” Your voice is already drowned out by the cries of the hundred million people you’re standing with. It’s Day of the Locust. It’s the beach at Coney Island on a summer day in the forties. It’s Chinese tourists at the Louvre.

Digital Fog

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Many people smirk when they tell you “I don’t do social media.” They are above it. One imagines they spend hours in blissful contemplation over a good book, or perhaps engaging in what we used to quaintly describe as “writing” but is now known as “content creation.”

Maybe they glance up from their book occasionally, go online and look around. If they don’t like what they see they hunker down and try to tune out the monotonous drone of discourse that is not so much arguing over concepts as it is preaching to the choir. It’s not debate, it’s a pep rally. If you dare to say something on social media which irritates your fan base, you will soon hear plenty back at you. There is ample pressure to conform.

I’m learning some Handel keyboard pieces that he wrote when he was about nineteen. He and Bach were contemporaries and from almost the same part of what is now Germany. It’s hard to imagine one spot on earth turning out more pure musical genius than those two possessed.

I imagine there was a lot of pressure to conform back then when they were young and just making their way, but somehow I don’t think they let it get them down. They were alive with musical ideas, bursting with creativity, and they didn’t need focus groups and research studies that counted “likes” in order to forge ahead. They must have been as delighted by their creative output as we are today.

So we don’t need massive societal support to successfully be ourselves. We don’t even need dialogue. Bach once walked several days to hear a famous organist play. There were no recordings, no radio, no iTunes. None of that is necessary to reach great artistic heights.

If this whole Internet comes crashing down, the world will not be a worse place for it. It will simply be different. Songs will be written and performed, stories read and recited, dramas enacted, all without digital help. The blind English poet laureate John Milton used to compose his verses during the day and when his daughter came to cook him dinner at night, he would narrate to her his output for the day and she would write it down. Even late in life his mind was that sharp.

The digital fog that pretends to be so much will reveal the true nature of things after it’s been burned away.

ENJOY IT WHILE YOU CAN

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If there were ever a time to take action, it’s now. The time for normal score-keeping has elapsed, and we are now into Sudden Death Playoff. The next team to score wins the game. This may happen very soon, or after a while, but it will happen. The game will end.

If you’re a baby boomer who has always wanted to try something completely different once you’ve retired, then you have a limited amount of time to make that choice. Not choosing is a choice.

I’m not talking about going on vacation, but rather about relocating. Moving somewhere far away from your comfort zone in order to experience much more of the world before you die. You are going to die, right? I’m not suggesting you dwell on that fact, but being in denial about it isn’t going to get you where you want to go either.

Indeed, unless one is already content where one is, how does one choose and then get where one wants to go?

Through trial and error.

Chances are it will take some time and money, but that will be time and money well spent in the long run if you find someplace truly exceptional. Wouldn’t it be great to find a spot where you’d be glad to spend the rest of your days? More expensive than anything is wandering aimlessly, vaguely discontented and convinced there’s somewhere better just around the next bend in the road. Sure no place is perfect, but only you can determine what you want. A few years back I tried internet dating. I described myself as someone who enjoyed travel. I kept meeting women whose idea of travel meant taking cruises. I thought to myself, that would be absolute hell for me, everything I don’t like distilled, concentrated and pre-packaged.

So only your idea of fun will apply to you. That’s why you can’t easily and readily search it out without actually going places and finding what you don’t like. After one of my many trips to Nicaragua, I was back in the states playing Scrabble with friends, and telling stories about Central America, when a woman we were playing with asked me in all sincerity, “where do you go to the bathroom down there?” At first I thought she was joking, but then I realized from my descriptions of Nicaragua, it sounded like a place she wouldn’t be able to relax and go to the bathroom.

She wouldn’t have liked it there. She also had a miniature poodle that wouldn’t have liked it any better than she.

MY STORY

By the time I was in my mid-fifties, I realized that this was probably as good as it was going to be “career-wise.” I wasn’t ever going to be “discovered.” My hidden genius would never be revealed. Whatever good fortune had already come my way was maybe all I was due. OK, I could handle that. Now what?

So I started asking myself questions. If this wasn’t what I wanted, what did I want? If Iowa wasn’t where I wanted to end my days, where would I rather be?

I began by letting Internet travel sites show me cheap fares to exotic places. The first ticket I bought was to Nicaragua.

The flight from Des Moines to Managua was highly affordable and mercifully short. Compared to the flights I would end up taking to Asia, flying straight south four thousand miles from the Midwest was a walk in the park. I had traveled enough to realize that the capital cities which house airports are never the place you want to be, so I took a cab to the small city nearest city to the airport. This strategy has served me many time in many places.

I liked Nicaragua a lot. Affordable and interesting, not the least bit ruined by tourism, I found the people to be sweet-natured. Apart from Managua, it was safe, and although the developed areas were nothing to write home about, the natural beauty was often astounding, I ended up going there twelve more times before I was introduced to Thailand.

Thailand and Nicaragua have a lot in common, climate and vegetation-wise. They’re the kind of places where banana trees grow likes weeds in vacant lots. There are, of course, big differences. Nicaragua has volcanoes. Thailand has Thai massage. Nicaraguans eat red beans and rice, Thais eat the most amazing variety of foods I’ve ever sampled.

So I chose Thailand, where I live now. In the interim, I lived for a while in Uruguay, Paraguay, and Argentina. I like those places, too. I also visited Mexico, Peru and Ecuador, which I concluded were nice places to visit, but the place I chose to call home was and is Thailand.

It’s not perfect, and I have no intention of persuading anyone to move here. The main reason I’m here is because it’s much much much much more affordable than the United States, and that’s important to me. It might not be important to you. But there is probably someplace on this planet that trips your triggers, and unless you’re already there, it’s time to get shaking.

Places I could also dig living: the West Coast of Ireland, Bergen, Norway, the mountains of southern Chile and Argentina, Colombia, New Zealand, Tasmania, St. Petersburg, Russia but I’d have to do some serious planning to move there and since I’m not that motivated, I’ll probably just look at pictures. It’s amazing how many people with great cameras have recently visited these places. The Boomers are everywhere, snapping away with their top of the line Sony mirror-less cameras. Google images has it all, millions and millions of high-resolution, color photos. For free.

They’re the people who never prospered enough to get a real retirement account. Many of us are artists. Some of us got MFA degrees (Master of Fine Arts) which we knew at the time would not entitle us to tenure-track teaching jobs, but we didn’t care, because we thought we were going to “make it” as artists.

Few artists “make it,” at least financially. We are the MFA Boat People who have cast our fate to the winds and emigrated to foreign shores hoping for comfort mixed with adventure. We don’t want to be on Food Stamps back in the States.

Most of we MFA Boat People are working on a novel. All of us are writing blogs. Every person who has exiled himself from his home country seems to be writing a travel blog. I’m not sure if anyone is reading these blogs, but they’re being written. Google’s WordPress seems to host most of them. There’s no pressure to make money, because it’s free.

I am writing five different blogs, but for three of them I pay eighteen dollars a year so that I can own the domain. Those are geezersabroad.com, retirecheaply.com and dancoffeypost.com

I keep waiting for someone to contact me and offer me thousands of dollars for one of my web domains, but the longer I write these blogs, the less likely that is to happen. I attempt to drive traffic to the sites by linking to my Facebook account, but no matter how hard I flog my poor Facebook Friends, readership never soars above fifty souls. Google will not be sending me big money to put ads on my blogs.

But I write anyway. What else am I going to do?