People always say that you can’t run away from yourself, that no matter where you go, there you are. I appreciate what they mean when they say that, but in my experience, there are some places that are better to be at than others. For ghosts there are three planes of existence in the physical realm, the Lower Plane, the Middle Plane, and the Higher Plane, or the Land of the Midnight Cure.
Until very recently, I spent most of my time and energy designing rockets that would fly me from the Lower Plane directly to the Land of the Midnight Cure, bypassing the Middle Plane, which is where you learn the correct way to get to the Higher Plane, and how to remain there once you reach it. My momentum would always get me high enough to catch a few dizzying glimpses of space and light, before I’d begin to plummet back down again, each time falling faster and further.
There were certain things I could rely on to get me off the ground. Music usually had a way of transporting me to another dimension, especially if I was writing a song and the words were beginning to appear. When I drank alcohol, I could usually feel the tension in my brain began to ease, and if I smoked a little weed, could usually reach a happy, safe place, at least for a little while. Psychedelics took me way up, then later took me way down.
What I always hoped to find was heaven on earth. When you travel often you find a small piece of it in many places. Just being in motion, either driving across the country on a long road trip, or staring out of a bus or train window, watching the scenery pass by, would often synch up the world with the pace of my racing thoughts, and bring the same relief as a couple of drinks.
There is something about seeing things for the first time, as well, that results in a perpetual sense of newness and wonder, as long as you keep moving forward. The road can be one long, unfolding revelation. If you have a bad situation, or grow tired of your surroundings, you can simply pass on in search of the next thing. The worst scenarios make good stories. The best ones are like beautiful dreams, hard to put in words, but powerful and life-affirming tokens you can string together and drape around your neck for when the times get rough.
People always ask me where my favorite place is that I’ve traveled to. I can’t name a singular place or country, but will say I love the tropics the most. Many of my attempts to reach the Land of the Midnight Cure have involved searching for a tropical paradise.
I’ve always been proud to have been born in Hawaii, and when I got older and life got complicated, like it does for most people, dreamed about making my big escape back to the islands. Every attempt I made to do so, however, showed me another reality, one I could hardly afford. I slept in rental cars and hostels. Once I worked the midnight shift at a hostel in Waikiki, just so I could sleep in one of the bunks. I’d sit around Kapiolani Park with my ukulele during the day, and the amount of homeless people squatting in the park and lining Kalakaua Avenue made it feel more like a zombie movie than vacation destination.
I traveled to islands all over the world, and many of them could easily be described as tropical paradises, but without a reliable income or independent wealth they were just places I was passing through. They were good places to chase fantasies, very difficult one to build realities. Most of them were long ago discovered, long ago exploited, full of other travelers and tourists, trading on the romance of the past.
In 2019, I journeyed all over Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, and while back in Huntington Beach for the summer, felt like there was some anxiety from my last military contract that hadn’t dissipated like it should’ve, even though it had been eight months since I’d last worked. I felt like I was drinking too much to try and calm myself down, and decided to go to Bali for three weeks to get clean, meditate, do yoga, and practice surfing. Those were activities that I’d dabbled in, and wanted to make my thing.
Denpasar, the capital of Bali, had developed quite a bit since I’d been there six years ago. When I went to Ubud to practice yoga, it often felt like I was walking through an outdoor shopping mall. I abruptly quit drinking upon arrival, and that led to a week of largely sleepless nights, and much to my dismay, a severe case of gout in my right knee. It got so swollen I couldn’t even sit cross-legged, and had to make modifications on any posture that involved bending that leg. When meditating, I had to sit in a chair with my hands in my lap. About ten days into things, however, I felt like I was seeing things through a crystal perspective.
My last week I went to a surf camp in Kuta that just so happened to coincide with a dangerous storm swell. The instructors felt compelled to take us to a sheltered bay, that every surf group in Bali had descended on. We paddled out to a point break where there were a hundred surfers for every wave. The sun lotion I’d applied to my face ran into my eyes and burned like acid. I almost couldn’t see and didn’t catch any waves.
It had always annoyed me to no end that I couldn’t surf. I had surfed. I had caught waves. I’d owned a few boards. Yet I’d never really gotten the timing down. I paddled out so infrequently that every time I went out, I was at the same plateau where I’d either paddle hard and miss the wave, or be too far inside and have it come crashing down on me. I hated being a kook so much that it made me even more of one.
When I got back to California, I felt much better than when I’d left, and resolved to implement the things I’d been practicing into my daily routine. I signed up for a month of unlimited yoga at a studio on Beach Boulevard. I took a workshop at the Zen Center in Costa Mesa, and learned the technique of counting breaths to meditate. My brother told me about a longboard he’d seen online. When I rode three miles on a bike to pick it up, I discovered it was a Wavestorm, one of the foam boards you can buy for a hundred dollars at Costco. It looked like I was about to do some Nerf-boarding. I picked up a wetsuit at Jack’s.
Then, one day, I thought about how nice it would be to have a White Claw, one of the hard seltzers that look like little energy drinks. It did taste good, good enough to have another. For a few days I drank a few White Claws in the afternoon. Then I began to drink four. Soon I was heading over to the liquor store some mornings and had decided I wasn’t done traveling. Next thing I knew I was back in Mexico, listening to Vicente Fernandez on a jukebox.
When Jesus talked about the Kingdom of Heaven, some people think it refers to the peace we could find on this planet if we learned to live by the principles he’d spoken of in the Beatitudes. By now I’d taken almost every journey imaginable except the inward one laid out in the Twelve Awakenings. What makes people change? Pain makes people change. How bad was the pain? I was willing to do anything to find a cure this time, even change my ways.
In the meantime, if I had to be stranded anywhere during COVID-19, there were way worse places to be than Huntington Beach.