Spring 2011
take an adventure and write about it.

There is a panic we feel
suddenly waking on a patch of unfamiliar ground.
We are utterly lost for moments
as our memories filter in,
and the walls come into focus.
Then we look down to see the shape of our bodies
through the clouds of breath.
And in the turning light we know
there is some part of us that sleeps
and some part of us that drifts away each night
to hover over the frozen fields.

Sophie was eight when the rebel army took her away. It was almost Easter, she remembers.

Four men came into her family’s hut one night outside of Gulu, Uganda. They didn’t knock.

Her parents stood by, silently.

Sophie says one of the men, pointed a small machete at her and said, “If you don’t cut your brother, we will kill you all.”

“So I did,” she said. “I cut him.”

Sophie cut her brother’s neck. The first time, the rebels didn’t think the cut was deep enough.

They made her do it again.

Charles, her brother, was five. He screamed loud and hard.

Sophie and Charles — bleeding down the front of his tattered green T-shirt, were loaded into a rickety truck where a dozen children were already crammed in. Hours later, the truck stopped and the children clambered out of the truck, unsure of what was going to happen. Charles, badly injured, was roughly handled by the rebels as they wrapped a rope around his ankles and tied him upside down in a tree. The rebels laughed as they tied him, Sophie recalls.

The captured children were warned that if they ever tried to flee, they too would be tied up in trees.

Sophie’s voice trails off at this part of the story.

“The next day, they took us back to see,” she said. “He was already dead.”

“The red ants had got him.”

There are certain stories you write as a reporter that continue to haunt you. They are the stories that send you gasping into the night, on a random Wednesday evening, in a safe, quiet bed in a safe, quiet country. They are the stories that flood your brain when you are home in North America, picking out peanut butter of all things, as you stand in the grocery store tearing up because you can’t figure out which of the 57 options you should buy.

They are, simply put, the stories that mess with your head.

The story of Sophie Akello was one of those stories.

In 2006, I arrived in Uganda with a chip on my shoulder, a small desire to help others, and, above all, a desire to see war, to report on war, and to generally end up like the grizzled war correspondents I used to see — sun baked and grouchy, with eyes lined by too many hours in exotic locales — the kind of person I wanted to be, I believed.

It was my first stint as a so-called “war reporter” (really, I was a rookie that knew nothing) and I dove in, spending time in northern Uganda, a region embroiled in a nasty 20-year civil war between a religious fanatical leader, Joseph Kony, and the Ugandan government. The Lord’s Resistance Army, a radical religious rebel group, had been terrorizing northern Uganda for the better part of 25 years.

Kony is the cruelest of leaders — 80% of his army is under the age of 12. Children, as it turns out, make the best soldiers. They have no fear. They are adaptable. They believe everything.

Sophie’s own story was not unique — she was one of more than 30,000 Ugandan children who have been captured by the Lord’s Resistance Army. The children are forced to kill their own people, often, as in Sophie’s case, their own families.

Many children, like Sophie, had escaped the clutches of the Lord’s Resistance Army and now walked miles and miles every night, from their villages to larger towns, such as Gulu, where they could sleep in safety, hundreds of them intertwined on the cold cement floor, a single guard at the front door.

And that was my job. Write about the current situation in northern Uganda. Write about the challenges these children face — much of which revolved about the fear of being kidnapped and conscripted back into a rebel army.

Sadly, it was their fear and the shared experiences of constantly being terrified that created and fueled my addiction to adventure. Perhaps it is more appropriate to call it an addiction to war.

I did not want to change the world by going to the worst places on earth and writing about them. I was certainly not a committed do-gooder. I just wished I was.

I liked the feeling of my heart pounding in my chest. I liked the feeling of hearing bullets and pretending they were fireworks. I even liked the feeling of how people thought I was important if I wrote about them. If those people only knew how little power or sway I had and how little words matter. How the pen is not mightier than the sword, despite our best intentions. If so, we would not have had Rwanda in 1994, or still have Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. No, the pen is weak and pathetic, and yet we still treat it with such reverence. The sword always wins.

And yet, it was the sword I was addicted to.

The other week, as I was thinking about where I might like to travel to next, I stopped, dead still, in the middle of the street, a fine drizzle coming down around me. One question had stopped me cold: what would ever possess a human being to so willingly and excitedly go somewhere like the warzone of northern Uganda to tell these stories? The reasons why someone would go to Sudan for a vacation, to exotic sounding places like Bujumbura, or Mogadishu, or to Goma, where 14-year-old red-eyed drug-crazed boys with Kalashnikovs man roadblocks that I had to pass through, multiple times a day. They are scarcely bigger than the guns they carry.

Through those years, all around me, people have died. My life, I believed, was charmed.

Simply put, it was boredom. It was a type of suburban restlessness that made me leave my comfortable home and jump on a plane to East Africa, to a fantastic, beautiful war-torn country with wounds so deep, I still wonder if it will ever heal.

Adventure is an addiction. That conclusion, years later, I have come to.

And yet, in that same phrase, all I can think is: war is also an addiction. I jumble the words together every chance I get — war, adventure — adventure, war — and yet at the end of the day the feeling is the same and the stories are the same. For me, the terms are interchangeable.

Four years later, it is those war-soaked memories that continue to pop up in the most inconvenient of places all the time. It is on the train in the morning, or in the grocery store when I buy peanut butter. It is when I hear fireworks and want to hit the ground and cry, while everyone around me is cheering because it’s the Fourth of July. It is when people at a party say, “Hey, have you seen that movie Blood Diamonds? You’re like that girl,” and I secretly want to punch them in the face.

Sometimes I fear that I will never shake my addiction to war and adventure. It is a feeling that ebbs and flows, depending on how my boring suburban life is going, depending on how much I miss feeling that tightness in my chest, the feeling of blazing adrenaline, like I can run for miles without stopping, the feeling like something extreme could happen at any moment.

It is a feeling that I cannot seem to rid myself of. And years later, as I dream of going back to those war-torn countries, to tell more stories about the people that live there, I often ask myself if it was all worth it. Is it better to be addicted to war and adventure than to have never experienced it?

The answer, thank goodness, is yes.

It is always worth it.

Portrait Of A Heavy Sinking Feeling In Your Gut That Cant Be Ignored And Then Your Ears Fall Off - Alisha Dall'Osto

Let’s go glissading down ice cubes,
we’ll take our boots down paths untrekked
and on ziplocs you’ll see I’ve carved a yeti
nestled between carrots and peas.

Let’s go kicking and gliding
on the freezer-burnt fields,
senselessly tumbling off ice tray-moguls
into etiolated strawberry sorbet.

Let’s go build a fire, melt a river
of lemonade concentrate.
Take this rapid slow, but even if we tip,
our sour fate won’t ruin us.

The music and the cold industrial ventilation noise of this place arrive unwanted through pipes above my head. The walls are aged wood paneling, like we were sitting outside by Leopold’s chicken coop home, except that you can see at the edges that it’s composite board. A chandelier is caged in some sort of old fishing equipment, the table underneath has been carefully and artificially battered to emulate the rustic farm look. The burnt orange velvet overstuffed sofa with gold tasseling tries to remind you of an estate sale find but it loses its authenticity because there are twenty of these sofas, mixed in with old dining chairs pulled up to new metal tables. The overall effect produces a slight unease.

A medium-sized jewelry box arrived last week, with a soft nest of batting tenderly cradling a fragile plastic rectangle. What would I do with a Starbucks gift card? I’ve come here as an experiment. This cafe is one of their new fake neighborhood places. It offers tea in teapots and lattes in real cups, but I have the feeling they’re trying to sneak something by me.

Is it snobby to consider Starbucks the epitome of corporate-passe? In many suburbs where they are just arriving in strip malls, there is no cafe culture to compare to. As meeting places they are at least better than fast food restaurants and maybe even a step up from the built-in cafes in dying big-box bookstores. Here in Seattle, Starbucks is a hometown hero, but its ubiquity makes it easily mocked by the young hipster artist class seeking authenticity. Or is that quite it?

Yesterday it was misting, forty, and still dark at six thirty. I was one of the only customers at the small corner Starbucks. Thankfully, since I’d last visited, someone in the customer psychology department had identified my type — Profile: rebels refusing to learn which sizes grande, venti, and tall correspond to. The customer-psychologists figured out that this subtype is always going to be slightly annoyed by this and respond with an eye-rolling “yeah, whatever the medium size is,” often in an attempt to provoke a genuinely human conversation. It is better for sales to instead either play along or make the drink without admonishment, leaving the customer room to assume that they are engaging in a small defiance of the man, even as they hand their money over. They must be reading Seth Godin a little. — Thankfully they also had trained the baristas not to respond in a nasal, didactic tone with “do you mean venti?” My order of a “medium” Earl Grey passed without comment.

I asked “for here,” but my tea came in two nested paper cups, a plastic lid and cardboard sleeve. They don’t do tea well, how do you keep it from over steeping? I perched at the window bench and started to write. Three baristas, all about my age, kept up a running patter. Each customer was greeted with “what can I get started for you this morning?!” as if the customer was the only other person in the world, and each in turn brightened, feeling special, though the same line had been used on the guy who’d walked in a minute earlier.

Regulars were served “the usual?” and encouraged to recount their weekends. Though all were well received, the only story that made me listen was about a date. It started with a drink at the bar across from his apartment, and then they had “gone back to his place and sang songs together at the piano.” Leaving, the dater was almost skipping with happiness across the street with his coffee. The whole place brightened, everyone left in line was smiling, and there was lots of cooing from the baristas.

At seven fifteen the sky was lightening and I was still the only one sitting; everyone else was fueling on the go. Repeated crashing from outside: one of the metal chairs on the patio was being hefted overhead and slammed to the ground. A rolling suitcase was plonked down on the table, a laptop case on top of that. A man wearing shades and jeans with a tan rivet webbing belt from the nineties flopped down into the chair, intently running his finger up and down his smart phone. He was not wearing a shirt.

He looked like a frat boy turned investment banker, his baby potbelly jiggled under a thick layer of hair. “Uggh, close your eyes” a barista giggled, and there was some silence as they tried to figure out what to do with this unexpectedly shirtless man on their patio. He wasn’t just a homeless person they could yell at and shoo away. He was the owner of expensive electronics which afforded him some status; he would need a more carefully reasoned approach.

Perhaps he was here on business, still drunk after a Sunday night’s revels. Behind the bar “it’s private property” was parroted back and forth in indignant agreement. After some time for the drawing up of courage, one marched outside. Confrontation, she delivers her line, a short exchange we all wish we could hear, and she returns. He’s popping earbuds out and leaning forward, getting up, and his shirt goes on. Then surprisingly she’s delivering him a plastic lidded cup of water, and he walks away with it, transformed. With a shirt and a casually slung laptop bag, he could have been any guy on the street. The story of her triumph poured out: “and I said: ‘you have to order something’ and he was like ‘okay I’m just using your wi-fi lady, but I’ll take a water’ and I was like ‘water’s free so that’s not an order’ and he said ‘bring me some water and I’ll leave’ so I did!”

Is meeting to talk over drinks inherently good? Does it have to be done in a beautiful atmosphere, or not at all? The thing is, you can order your pain et beurre in French from a real person at Cafe Presse, or make eye contact with the bearded flannel shirted guy behind the counter at Stumptown and know that you’re interacting with a human. Once you experience that kind of depth, once you go beneath the surface level of scripted interactions and processed food and industrially concocted coffee, it becomes impossible to go back.

To people who haven’t gone deep, we may seem arrogant, that somehow we (and not they) deserve real food, real people, beautiful places with wood, good chairs, maybe some pressed tin ceilings and uniqueness. Why isn’t corporate good enough for us, aren’t we caught up in being judgmental all the time if what we love to eat, drink and buy can only be fully enjoyed when it is local, independent, artist-made? It can’t possibly be worth the work, a friend’s brother argued, defending the mediocrity of his black and white pre-framed tulip prints from a big box decor store. Only stuck-up hipsters care, and they’re too busy judging everyone to be happy. How interesting. Is it true?

If you live in a suburb, or if you haven’t yet discovered how to eat, how to live, perhaps Starbucks is really the best option. It is at least a coffeeshop, and provides a space for conversation, thought, reading, and writing — the ingredients for cultivating awareness. The scripted lines from the barista did offer people interactions with other people. Training wheels for the real thing, for when one day you look beneath the surface and see that you’re no longer happy with mediocrity. Once you tried that local restaurant, indie coffeeshop, or farmer’s market, you know there is something more. Maybe you will think that it was lovely to have had such a place to meet and talk and grow, but now you have evolved. You don’t go to real places because you’re stuck up, you go because they’re real, they resonate with you and nothing else is quite good enough.

I usually try to make site visits on days when the weather is nice. Not today. Today the computer screen was giving me a headache. My coffee had turned stale within a half hour and the fluorescent glow from above was too much to bear. I was squeezed like paint from a tube onto the wet palate of the outdoors.

“See ya in about an hour, Greta.” I grabbed my jacket and raincoat, stuffed the directions into my messenger bag and made my escape.

The sky read rain and delivered on its promise just as I stepped out of my car. There was only one other car in the lot. Another drove through Lakeside Park with four people inside, their faces pressed to the glass like they were looking for something. Maybe a lost dog? Are they tourists that took a wrong turn? A family trying to pick up their fix and unable to find the drug dealer? I pulled my hood over my head to shield it from the misty Seattle rain and walked north along the path.

Two weeks ago, Heather Chen had contacted me by email:
GOOD MORNING... I am asking about dedicating a park bench in the name of my god-son who took his life at the park this past sept. Is this something that can be done... if so what kind of bench is permissible and what might the cost be for a single 2 person bench.,,,my god-son name was ZOT.... look forward to hearing from you.... heather chen
Upon hearing my reply that yes, this could be possible, Heather had Zot’s mother send in a check for the full donation amount — an unusually fast check. I proposed a few sites in the park that the landscape architect at the parks department had identified, but Heather wasn’t interested. She wanted a specific spot where Zot used to spend a lot of time. I asked if she could direct me toward a site that she preferred.
Good morning Mr. Zazinet..I had a chance to go by the park today and we found the ideal spot for the bench.I am pretty sure it will need to go by the board.what would be the next procedure? Might I need to meet with someone or send in pictures of our chosen area?thanks so much again for your input and ideas... you are much appreciated.heather chen

I didn’t know what she meant when she said “it will need to go by the board” but I encouraged her to tell me where they would like the bench to be located. The next email contained the directions.

1. Headed north on the trail past the airplane tail displays.

Treading through the mist, it took me longer than expected to reach the sculptures. I wasn’t used to driving to Lakeside Park, and my car was in a farther lot. As walked past the closer lot, I considered that had I followed the family of lost tourists/dog-seekers/drug-addicts, I may have been better off. On the bright side, I’d be out of the office just a little longer.

The breeze from Lake Washington left faint drops of water in my beard. I sauntered along the path through a hallway of sleeping giants lulled into dormancy by the cold weather. This was my first time in Lakeside Park during the winter. Gone were the children in bathing suits, chasing each other in and out of the water. Their parents were absent, too, sitting on picnic blankets and discretely but self-consciously sipping wine. Nobody was playing soccer in the meadows, nor were there any kites challenging the wind, tethered to their human anchors on the hill. The raft in the protected swimming area where Zot had once lifeguarded laid bare. One retired couple smiled at me as they walked their dog in the other direction. This was not the same park that Zot had spent his summer vacation in. This park held a quiet beauty instead.

I recognized my landmark. The giant tails shot out of the grass like fins of black sharks frozen in time as they swarmed around their prey. I passed by unnoticed and unscathed and continued on my search for Zot’s special spot.

2. Arrive at the structure of the boarded up building that looks like a old home (located on the left side of the path)
3. Go - Due right across the pathway headed toward the lake.

After rounding a bend beyond the giant sharks, I came upon the dilapidated structure. It looked more like a warehouse than a home; the front was clearly a loading dock. But I wasn’t going to argue with my directions and the path clearly came to an end perhaps a couple hundred feet ahead.

I made a right turn and started to wonder where exactly I was going. Was I on my way to the spot where Zot killed himself? I had been on a work crew in New York City that had previously found a dead body in Highbridge Park while tearing out invasive species one spring. It turned out to be an old man with Alzheimer’s that had managed to walk out of his care facility in the fall. The authorities assumed he froze and spent the winter in the park, waiting to be found. Who had found Zot, I wondered? I shook my head and tried to focus on following the directions.

The path was no longer paved, and I was on a foot trail that cut through the brush and brambles toward the lake. The park is filled with these paths leading to small secluded clearings on the water’s edge — good places to go swimming or enjoy the view of the mountains in privacy.

What kind of guy was Zot? Did he like coming here because it offered a good place to go and get into some trouble, or was he a bright, innocent youth, drawn to the quiet clearing as a place to clear his head and cool down on a warm summer day?

4. There are several pathways headed north about 50ft. headed north to a cleared area.

This is where I began to have some difficulty. I had no idea where these “several pathways” could be. From the structure (which had definitely never been a house), I followed one trail and it had led me straight to the water. I was now standing on the beach. The only way north would be to walk along the beach. I looked to the next direction for a clue:

5. At this point, there is a fallen tree and a nice clearing.
6. There is also a tree that closes to the lake with the name of my god-son (Zot).. that was carved into a tree. Any where in that clearing facing toward the lake is our hearts desire.

Maybe I had already gone too far to the north? I looked up and down the beach for a clearing with a fallen tree. North of me, just past a fence, in the off-leash area, was a huge fallen tree. It had been dead so long that the wind had left it smooth like a piece of driftwood that had been launched ashore by a Lake Washington tidal wave. Could that be Zot’s fallen tree?


As I made my way toward it, sand collected in my topsiders. They were perhaps not the ideal footwear for this sort of trip. I reached the fence but there was no easy way around it and the brush and willow trees made the climb unattractive. Could there be another trail west of me that could bring me into the off-leash area? I started heading that direction through the scotch broom and thick forest of willows.

There was no such trail. As I emerged from the brush back onto the paved path I grinned sheepishly at the man and his dog walking by. “Don’t mind me,” I thought, “I’m just the guy wearing muddy slacks and boating shoes that just emerged from the forest.” I walked along the path to the actual entrance of the off-leash area and quickly discovered that despite the creepiness of the tree, there was no evidence of Zot’s name carved in a tree anywhere close by.

How could his clearing be such a pain in the ass to find? I was determined not to give up however, and headed back to the structure: the last place I knew I had been on the right track. This time, when I diverged from the paved path, however, I took a trail that was a bit farther south and veered southeast as opposed to northeast. After only about fifteen steps in, I saw him: “ZOT” carved in two inch letters in the trunk. The fallen tree was hardly as dramatic as I had envisioned, yet here it was. I had made it. I sat down on the fallen tree and took a deep breath in Zot’s small corner of the world.

“This neighborhood is so quiet; it feels like it’s been abandoned.”

“Yeah this feels like a zombie movie.”

“I wonder how humans would do against zombies.”

“You mean like 28 Days Later zombies or Dawn of the Dead zombies?”

“Well I mean Dawn of the Dead zombies would be easy because you could just walk backwards and shoot.”

“As long as you looked behind you enough; but yeah 28 Days Later zombies would be a lot harder. I wonder how good their stamina is, like if you could just outrun them. I don’t remember in the movie any extended runs.”

“Yeah I don’t know. That’s like my biggest fear though. Being in a huge field with nothing around, being chased by fast zombies with no trees or anything.”

“You feel anything yet?”

A car drove around the corner and Eliot filed behind John as they walked down the side of the road. They came to the section of the fence where it was peeled away, the corner drooping down like a piece of paper. Under a brown shroud of leaves the ground sloped down to a small stream and up again. The cool air smelled faintly of smoke, as if once the heavy blanket of summer heat was removed the hidden truth lingering behind it was revealed.

“What if we come across some restricted government testing building and had all these secret agents tracking us because we found out their secret?”

“I’m starting to feel it. My arms feel like they’re not really mine you know? Like they’re there but not really part of my body.”

“Yeah, me too.”

Several tree trunks lay fallen over the fence. Some lay as angled bridges over sagging woven metal and others left whole sections of fence mangled on the ground.

They followed the fence along until it turned and descended down into the valley again. The two boys stretched out in the leaves each with arms folded behind their head. Masses of branches and leaves reached over and towards them like the skeletons of monsters.

“I feel like I’m on Endor.”

Eliot laughed. “You know Cantrell’s like ten minutes that way right?”

John grinned with dilated eyes and turned from Eliot towards the graying sky.

Eliot gazed into the sky between the trees.

“Is it love, again? Dumbledore’s favorite solution? Love?”

“I’m gonna go see if I can climb that tree trunk over the fence over there so I can see if there’s anything over there.”

“John I just saw Lord Voldemort in the sky. Talking to me. I’m so glad I listened to Jim Dale earlier today.”

John threw his head back in wild laughter. “That’s awesome dude. Wanna come with me?”

“Sure. But I’m not climbing. I bet you break your leg again.”

“It doesn’t look that bad. I just feel like exploring around you know? See the what there is to see.”

“I’m seeing everything in a checkerboard of British flags. Your face is covered in them.”

John giggled as he shuffled along the tree while Eliot watched with arms folded.

“I’m only here so I can get help if you hurt yourself John.”

“I’m fine.”

The tree had bashed the fence down halfway and its end hovered three feet over the ground on the other side. In the distance a few houses sat in silence amongst the trees.

John hopped lightly to the ground.

“See? No problem.”

“Until someone comes and shoots you for trespassing.”


The boys heard the shuffling of leaves and saw a man approaching them. He was wearing a large brown jacket and carried a shotgun at his side.

“Watchoo boys up to out here?”

“Oh nothing, sir, just exploring. We were just leaving though.”

“Exploring? Ain’t nothin’ out here but trees and leaves.”

“Sorry, sir, if we’re bothering you, we certainly don’t mean to harm”

The man raised the gun in the direction of John.

“Sir.” John raised his hands with fingers extended in front of his face and stepped back against the fence.

“Sir if you just let my friend leave then we’ll get off your property.”

“And never come back.”

The man smirked. “Why don’t you hop on over and save ‘im?”

Eliot shook the fence with clawed fingers.

“C’mon man, just let us leave and we won’t bother you anymore. Just let my friend hop back over the fence and we’ll leave.”

“Yeah, we didn’t mean any —”

The man fired into John’s chest. Eliot watched jets of red burst from his back like curses from a wand.

Eliot screamed and sprinted down the valley as the man reloaded the shotgun. The clink of metal on metal accompanied the sound of the second blast and Eliot fell and rolled into a tree. Shrill laughter rang from above. The man approached the fence.

Peering up the hill Eliot saw a grinning Lord Voldemort climb the fence and stroll towards him with wand raised.

The trees swayed in the wind, their whispers joining the whispers of the distant cars, as they laid their leaves onto the ground of the empty lot. An-empty-lot-amanda-heinbockel


We embark on an internal journey of boredom, attempting to stay as bored as possible while maintaining awareness of the process.  The landscape is bleak, yet the subtle features of mind present themselves to be examined and explored.


The Buddhist phenomenology identifies six senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, smell, and thought.  Just as sights and sounds barrage our eyes and ears, thoughts manifest in our thinking mind, as sensual experiences that pass and cannot be owned.  

The boring experience is a temporary release from engagement - engagement with our senses and thoughts.  It is emptiness and dullness without depth.  Here, we hypothesize two main modes of boredom.  The first is tedious and physically miserable, often induced by waiting.  The second is fertile, like the gripping pause on top of a cliff, before a big jump into the clear and new.

J. Krishnamurti writes about seeing:

"…when you look at a tree or at a cloud of an evening full of light and delight, do you actually see it, not only with your eyes and intellectually, but totally, completely?  Have you ever experimented with looking at an objective thing like a tree without any of the associations, any of the knowledge you have acquired about it, without any prejudice, any judgement, any words forming a screen between you and the tree and preventing you from seeing it as it actually is?  Try it and see what actually takes place when you observe the tree with all your being, with the totality of your energy."

This type of seeing - profound, deep, and sometimes non-dual - often comes from being bored.  To really see a tree, in this way, one simply has to wait out the boredom that sets in when we hold our gaze.  This explosive move from boredom to insight may be pleasant, but is the main hurdle to a sustained boring experience.

This article details an adventure in boredom.  We undertake to maintain a state of uninterrupted boredom, turning the bleakest landscape into our forest of discovery.  We are simultaneously the observer (henceforth the "Witness") and the participant in this experiment, and, as with all subject/object dualities, this paradox frames the experience.  In particular, the experiment is compromised if the Witness leaves the room; meta-awareness must be maintained at all times, and such meta-awareness necessarily interferes with the thinking mind's boredom.  This requires a further level of meta-meta-awareness - the "Auditor" checks in with the Witness occasionally.  Although such levels continue in theory, in practice these three levels have sufficed for our crude experiment.

Glossary of Terms

These are not universally agreed upon.  We articulate them for the sake of clarity within this article.

Mind - the participant in the experiment; the thinking mind and sensing mind.

Witness - the observer in the experiment; self-reflection within the Mind.

Auditor - the observer of the observer; self-reflection of the Witness.

state of mind - the combined states of the Mind, Witness, and Auditor.

interest, interested, interesting - an interesting sensation/thought engages the Mind and leads it away from boredom; trains of thought begin, and must be interrupted.  Likewise, interesting meta-thoughts regarding the Mind may engage the Witness too much, and lead away from boredom.

looking/noticing, listening, thinking - perception from sight, sound, and thought.

seeing, hearing, thinking about - engaging those perceptions, à la Krishnamurti, leading to interest in some object.

depth - a state of opening to an object or experience, dissolving the subject/object duality and allowing an immersion in relative unity.  The opposite of depth is dullness.  Depth is beyond thought, but quickly becomes interesting, and so the true bored experience has no place for depth.

Experimental Setup

The experiment was conducted during a recent flight from Boston to Seattle - from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The author sat still and did nothing, for approximately 5 hours and 45 minutes.  The first 15 minutes were devoted to anapana meditation, to calm the Mind, bring focus, and establish a strong self-aware Witness.  The last 15 minutes, during descent, were devoted to a relaxed breath-awareness, to close out the experiment and return to a more healthy state.  In between, the priorities were as follows:

1. Maintain the Witness

2. Be as bored as possible.  Avoid any interesting sensations/thoughts.  If the Witness observes a state of seeing, hearing, or thinking about, it must disengage and return the Mind to boredom.

3. The Auditor intervenes occasionally, to observe the Witness and make sure it is not too engaged or interested.

4. When the state of mind has stabilized, or is punctuated, this is documented in brief hand-written notes.


Boredom is emptiness and meaninglessness, without any liberation, insight or depth.  It is dullness in the abyss.  On its own, boredom is empty, but it often resolves in two ways - one negative and one positive.  The negative is a painful tedium, a waiting, a lonely suffering.  The positive is an explosive release into depth, creativity, or insight.  Into the emptiness, beautiful thoughts blossom, new creative ideas are born, sensitivity increases, emotions surface.


0:00 - plane begins to taxi away from the airport.  begin anapana meditation.

0:12 - plane takes off.  stop anapana, and begin experiment in boredom.

0:15 - the city of Boston was interesting, so I looked away.

0:22 - looking at colors and shapes, and starting to see more, becoming more sensitive.  I dart my eyes, but does this help or hurt the goal of boredom?

0:31 - start fidgeting.

0:34 - ideas are reverberating in the form of phrases.  hear the ideas pull my awareness in.  fight it.

0:41 - seeing so much. flashes of childhood. feel some drowsiness.

0:47 - some fear about what's going to happen in the next five hours.

0:54 - cycles of fidgeting and staring, but of slower frequencies.  slowing down.  feel some peace.

1:05 - the weight behind my eyes is gone.  feels like watching a movie. concerned that too much low-level breath-awareness is putting me into a trance.  how to lose breath-awareness?

1:18 - have become very sensitive. hard not to be fascinated by every image, sound, sensation. maybe forcing awareness to move/jump only feeds it with interesting things. maybe need to force it to move towards certain things, so the objects are uninteresting.

1:28 - drink a soda.

1:34 - first wave of nihilism - emptiness AND depth, watching the guy hand out snacks.  I want to relish it but don't.  depth not allowed.

1:53 - finish soda and snacks.  fidgeting stopped. very peaceful, content.  maintaining the Witness seems to preclude the deep levels of boredom, like I had when riding on the subway or waiting to board the plane.  should I go for endurance, not depth of boredom?

1:56 - [Auditor steps in.] don't follow that last train of thought.  too curious about it.  I am in the experiment, not allowed to process the data or alter the course, only observe and document.

2:16 - second wave - massive - of nihilism.  profound awareness of utter and absolute meaninglessness, when I notice woman watching a TV show on jellyfish.  the abyss distracts and comforts me with sadness, fear.  I look away.

2:26 - notice her watching a show with Sarah Palin showshoeing across a crevassed glacier, roped in and gussied up.  waves of emotions and thoughts distract/engage me.  not bored, but they're so intense they overwhelm the Witness!  I lose control and self-awareness.  eventually the Auditor steps in and re-establishes the Witness.

2:41 - came up with a simple way to put the Witness in a less demanding/engaging role (else it becomes too interested).  I count.  once the Mind becomes interested in something, I say the next number in my head.  the saying is interesting, but afterwards it induces a waiting-like state of shallow emptiness.  once an interesting thought/sensation comes up, I say the next number and reset.  seems like maybe I can even make the Witness bored.  By #16 I was VERY sleepy, almost fell asleep.

3:02 - by #42 I felt a strain from the effort.  the Witness had its arms tied behind its back.  was very drowsy and felt a pressure in my head.  got worried I might fall asleep.  Switched to a body-scan meditation briefly - moving awareness as soon as it engaged, but allowing the Witness to be slightly more active and free in its imaginings.  this woke me up.

3:06 - to bathroom, and walking up and down aisles.  then ate my donut (Boston Creme).

3:42 - increasing dullness until I can't tell if I'm bored or interested.  there is no depth of thought, but also no impatience.  my Mind is dull but the Witness is sharp.  some expansive feelings of oneness with the group of us travelers on the plane - one in consciousness.  but soon it becomes a thought; I don't pursue it.

4:10 - empty without depth.  the dullness extended to vision, so I just stare without any engaging thoughts arising.  If any depth comes, it has the flavor of a sort of out-of-body sharing of existence - sustaining the universe - shared with other plane folks.  also, feels like we're close enough to landing that waiting has kicked in - this fuels the boredom.  I've never sustained a Witness this long in public, but I'm not processing that - I let those observations go without trying to learn from them.

4:38 - stared at the tray table for a long time.  "empty, but dull" mantra, works like the counting.  nothing to report.

5:03 - still staring.  begin descent.

5:19 - my vision is still.  using the sound of the engine to gauge when a thought happens.  Witness is more steady.  steady growing urge to think something, read, or move, or hear music.

5:21 - begin to conclude the experiment.  allow thoughts.  Krishnamurti-esque seeing.  beautiful.  feel awake, alert.  stunning.

5:28 - stare in awe at the lights of Seattle.  allow depth - coast to coast, lights filling in the voids.

5:37 - plane lands.  rest with breath awareness.

5:45 - conclude experiment.  leave plane.


After the fidgeting of the first two hours, none of the negative effects of boredom were felt.  The need to maintain a Witness seemed to preclude the deepest states of miserable boredom.  The challenge was to fight off the seeing, the insight, and the depth.  The Witness rose to the challenge, but then often threatened to become too interested in analyzing the experiment.  Over time, we were able to lull the Mind into bored dullness while keeping the Witness active yet uninterested.  A possible next step would be to attempt to sustain this state while letting the Auditor guide the Witness to explore the oneness that was glimpsed around time 3:42.  This would leave the realm of boredom, to embark on a new adventure.

The city is our winter home
the mountains almost a dream
with roaring avalanches
and yeti arriving from the north.

The city has avalanches too
pouring down the buildings
leaving them glimmering and
making the cars wallow
like pigs through their own dirt.

The rains have set up camp
as an army would
to protect us from the sharp winter sun
trying to sneak in low from the south.

Night falls
and what was once
a blanket that felt
comically short for twenty-four hours
is now hard to get out from under.

We are now one in wetness and temperature
with the waters of the great Pacific.

We awake, mount, and ride
(bicycles of course)
no questions
because we can and must.
It is our adventure and life.

In between hidden mountains
and lanes of steaming traffic
we flow smoothly in the wet.

Our hides shed water
or sometimes soak it up
for movement keeps us warm
Only our eyelids tire
from blinking off
the drops.

Night falls
and magic rolls in.

On a clear night
sounds carry a sense of infinitely close space
in the howl of a train from the waterfront
or the wail of a saxophone near the highway
blowing its lungs out just to be heard
but only for a block.

And on misty nights
you are alone
with your own breathing
and if held…
maybe a tiny hiss of wet tires
and the silence of the suspended wet sky.

We ride
for how else will spring arrive?


Oh, uncertainty
you sly, recurring scoundrel
where to go from here

“Yes, yes, yes, I forgot it too,” sighed Franz over-dramatically. “But we are in luck!” With his index finger pointed at the noxious yellow sky and speaking in a charismatic German accent, “Since it’s tattooed across his shoulders, we need only to ‘conveniently drop something’ to the ground for him to pick up. When he bends over we’ll know his name without having to rudely ask a second time!” Franz acted out his plan with the flower he’d been twirling.

Anthony paid little attention. He was eyeing the house’s diverse collection of tropical flora native to a thousand Pacific Islands except this one; they were just props in some land developer’s dream. The thick yellow smoke wafting in from the sugar plantations made the flowers appear doubly artificial. From the caustic smell of gasoline-charred cane he could tell they were harvesting up island today.

Palm trees swayed nervously in the morning breeze. As he wiped sweat from his brow, Anthony thought he felt an early drop of rain from the rising storm. It had showered everyday he’d been on this side of the island and today was unlikely to be an exception. He picked at the laminate peeling from the faux-bamboo mailbox while Franz intently stroked his beard. Finally Franz remembered: they were waiting for Multi Khan.

Inside the house Mrs. Woof (as Anthony liked to call her) was up and about. She ran her organic farm like one of his former drill sergeants. Her nagging was oppressive and incessant: “Don’t burn the banana bread! Smile for the tour buses! And on days off, don’t let me catch you up in the cow pastures!” He was finished working like a dog for one woman’s selfish vision of tropical sustainability.

“Whatever his name is, as soon as he comes back let’s get the hell out of here.” Anthony came to the island for escape: from dishonorable discharge, from his mundane life, but mostly from reality. Franz, with his insufferable enthusiasm for life, made a worthy companion in their quest for Party. “Good times, jah!” So when a wild haired, barefooted, half-naked man appeared alongside the remote jungle road that morning promising the Moon, they knew just what to do.

Multi Khan reemerged from the forest. With his curly dark hair, brown skin, and youthful step he looked like an African faun; perhaps the Nubian cousin of the God Pan. Contrary to his appearance, he claimed direct lineage from his Mongol namesake. Pink plastic twine served as makeshift belt for his soggy cut-off jeans which fit loosely around his slender hips (standard issue for a modern day Mongol Warrior). He was flanked by his dog Nemo and a very stoned Angel.

In his right hand he was holding a brown paper bag filled to the brim with freshly picked psychedelic mushrooms. His left hand carried a bamboo staff.

Anthony had had a taste of altered states of consciousness and fancied himself spiritually inclined ever since that first joint. The chance meeting with a self-described “Psychadelic-Warrior-Shaman-Priest” was a clear sign from the universe to resume his ascent of the Holy Mountain.

“Like the children of Orien, listen carefully when the mushrooms speak to you and you shall receive a devine cleansing,” Multi Khan instructed as he handed Anthony the bag. He spoke in a hushed, solemn voice and a California surfer twang that made everything he uttered sound like a parable. The four seated themselves cross legged while Nemo curled up at the feet of his master. Franz produced the small bag of ganja they’d promised to exchange for Angel and Multi Khan’s labors up in the cow pastures. Angel accepted it greedily.

“It’s truly a beautiful thing when people understand the virtues of sharing a bountiful harvest,” said Multi Kahn. “We humbly accept your sharing of the Earth with us.” Anthony rolled his eyes.

“So about how many of these things should we eat?” he asked. Already Franz had shoved a fist-full into his mouth.

“Tastes like grass,” he said. “Very Earthy.” He was chewing like a horse and casually inspecting one of these moist specimen.

“Listen to the mushrooms brother, they will tell you how much to take,” said Multi Khan as he closed his eyes and placed one hand over his heart.

Anthony popped four stems and three caps into his mouth, chewed once and took a hard swallow.

“You’ve chosen to fly on an auspicious day, brothers. Today marks the end of the Mercury retrograde and the entrance of Jupiter into it’s seventh house. To celebrate, I’ll be hosting the Feast to End All Feasts at my beach.” Multi Kahn’s voice swelled with pride. Raising his staff, he gave careful instructions: “Travel by way of the Red Sand Beach and the Sacred Pools. Gather some food offerings from the dumpsters there and you may be granted permission to join the celebration and receive my sermon.” Franz and Anthony understood this to mean only one thing: Party. Multi Khan, Angel and Nemo disappeared into the forest from whence they came.

A few caustic drops of rain fell from the sky as Franz and Anthony began to walk down the remote jungle road. They had packed only the essentials for their trip: a sandy towel, three joints, matches and a flip phone already low on battery.

As they passed the Church’s weekly rummage sale, the volunteers were leaving their posts to to go inside and receive their tropical gospel. With the congregants were distracted, Anthony slipped around back and casually stole two over-sized Hawaiian shirts off the densely packed racks. They put on their new clothes and continued walking down the jungle road. With their psychedelic flack jackets, they were finally prepared for lift off.

Like the rain drops that were now falling steadily, the effects of the mushrooms landed softly and rhythmically on their bodies. Franz stopped for a moment and held out his hand, swaying while he observed the drops land in his palm. Anthony took a deep breath. The noxious smell of burning sugar cane rose and fell. At last they reached the beach path.

The Red Sand Beach was walled in by sheer cliffs made of charred volcanic rock. Lush green vegetation swung down from a dense, imposing jungle that loomed fifty feet above the blood red sands. Waves crashing onto the jagged outcropping of boulders sent spray soaring into the jungles above. The boulder outcropping created a natural swimming pool of violent whitewash that teemed with minerals and microbes. Anthony noted a young woman bathing nude in the primordial soup, her hair tied back in dread locks, as the two descended the steep, gnarled path.

Throngs of human lizards were enjoying a salty chemical bath of acid-rain and sea spray along the shore. Franz was quick to take his place among the reptiles but Anthony withdrew cautiously. Fearing the they might detect his altered stated of mind, Anthony held his breath and crept along the rock walls until he reached the safety of a low ceiling cave opposite the entrance path. He hugged his knees close and felt gratitude for temporary relief from social and sensory engagement. His cell phone, now conjoined to his body, beeped out the end of its life.

Franz, having removed his shirt and fastened it into a driftwood pole, paraded his flag around the beach with joyous shouts and howls. He planted his flag next to one group of beach goers and joined them in song. Waves continued to crash with tremendous force and made it appear that their voices, with each breath, unleashed a torrent of air into each others laughing, wind-swept faces.

The rain started to come down in sheets and everyone retreated to the shelter of the cave. Anthony nervously emerged from his shell and welcomed the soaked masses. Franz took his place to the right of his companion while Dread Locks sat to Anthony’s left. She magically revealed a purple ukulele and handed it to Franz who promptly began to serenade this pierced nipple goddess. Anthony, now mesmerized by the tattoo of Fred Flintstone beneath her right collarbone, figured he must be watching a movie and decided to relax for just a moment. He lit up a joint and shared it with the dozen or so cave dwellers.

Suddenly the clouds broke and sunlight poured through. Everyone slowly emerged from the caved to land softly on a sunny, rainbow protected beach. With this sign of providence, the two friends decided to continue along their journey. Despite momentarily recalling Multi Khan’s request, the two continued past the food laden dumpster without skipping a beat.

The calm did not last. The skies darkened and violent winds sprayed salty air as they attempted to crawl along the rocky shore towards the Sacred Pools.

They arrived at the site of ancient sacrificial rites to discover it over run with heathens. Anthony, fearing the unholy regulations of a National Recreation Area, hid behind a large rock to secretly observe the desecration rituals. Tribes of Pentaxians, Cannonites and Nikonos were positioning their lenses on the exact spot of a thousand virgin deaths. “Now, smile!” The mechanical mouths of their devices clicked with delight.

The word dweezils is often used to describe the action of going to war with one’s own mind, most often incited by potent psychedelic compounds. The dweezils had finally set in for Franz. Powerful drugs affecting his brain had talked him out of his remaining clothing and into a state of primal aggression. He lay completely naked, clutching a large rock and looking menacingly at the unknowing throngs of tourists. “Schadenfreude… ” he softly mumbled in German. “Schadenfreude… ” Anthony remembered that loosely translated to ‘taking pleasure in another’s pain.’

Now fearful, he collected himself and wrapped a towel around his confused friend. Anthony furtively made his way behind a distracted tribe of Cannonites and heroically stole a sarong to clothe his friend. Fearing for their lives, they left the pools.

Calamity had robbed Franz and Anthony of daylight and three of their four sandals. With night approaching and their trip just beginning, the two decided to make their way to a place where the world would make sense again. It began to lightly rain as they started for the Party.

The Plastic Beach was littered with the rubbish and refuse dumped from a nearby five star resort. Wood was scarce so they burned whatever they could find: styrofoam containers, plastic folding chairs, flip flops, batteries, ceiling fans, car upholstery, golf club bags, and any other object capable of a gasoline baptism. The result was an olfactory armageddon unsurpassed by any on the island.

Franz and Anthony descended upon the Party.

Magenta fog. Fire. Drumming. Beer. Fighting. Vomit. Sex. Trash. Nudity. Dancing. Drugs. Rage. It was raw, unfettered, volatile humanity distilled into glorious shit, piss and blood. They dove straight in, embracing the madness of it all.

Multi Khan’s hoard was a motley crew of a dozen or so drunks, dropouts, losers and transients who had scraped together enough cash to afford a one way ticket to the island. These invaders lived off the fat of the land, raiding dumpsters at the fancy hotels and setting up camp on the fringes of paradise. There was the Cougar: a haggard European who with her broken English was always trying to seduce a man about half her age. There was The Tweaker: a young, satanic druggie whose possessed yelling was celebrated with laughter. There was The Young Veteran: a grizzly, saronged thirty-something who appeared to be suffering from PTSD after too many Phish shows. He was examining a large knife and keeping a watchful eye on Multi Khan.

Flames rose higher towards the dark, ominous sky. The once peaceful Multi Khan was pacing around the fire and stewing with rage. He had become fixated on the failure of his vision of sharing and brotherhood. Hadn’t he given specific instructions? Everyone was supposed to bring an offering to share before receiving his sermon. Alas, no one brought anything.

Finally, he lashed out. “Didn’t any of you ever go to Elementary School?? Haven’t any of you ever heard of sharing!?!” His eyes glowed red through the darkness as he shouted with childish rage. His bamboo staff splintered as it came crashing down into the fire, sending embers flying to the heavens. He continued to spit fiery insults and curse his friends until at last The Young Veteran attempted to subdue him. Multi Khan attacked with all of his strength and had him pinned by the throat. Attempting to break up the fight, Dread Locks appeared from the shadows and sunk her teeth into The Veteran’s leg and it became a proper brawl. The drumming continued as more and more people piled in.

At last, Nemo let out a long howl. Silence. No one spoke, or even moved as they noticed the full Moon rising over the pale green ocean.

Multi Khan got up first and pet his loyal dog on the head. He paused, took a long stare at the fire, brushed sand from his beard and at last spoke, “Yo guys, I was trippin’. was trippin’… I’m sorry, I was trippin’.” He forced out a laugh and walked into the shadows.

Mutli Khan promptly returned with two large green, re-usable shopping bags filled to the brim with dumpster food. The shiny goods were distributed among the masses and a Bacchian feast ensued. There was a cornucopia of soggy french fries, half eaten bologna sandwiches, stale potato chips, bruised apples, frozen waffles (still in the package!) and the crumbs of chocolate chip cookies mixed with sand. There was sour tuna fish, moldy muffins, and plenty of donuts and pizza crusts to go around. Everyone sat cross legged around the fire and laughed as they shared in the bounty of Multi Khan’s raid.

Anthony hesitated as Angel handed him the container of sushi. Raw fish? With a scoff, Multi Khan seized the container. He popped the slick ahi into his mouth, chewed once and took a hard swallow.

With their bellies now filled, everyone was at last ready to hear Multi Khan’s much touted speech. Multi Khan raised himself in front of the fire.

Passionate, incoherent nonsense is the best way to described what followed. Everyone tried to keep up, but this desperate rant was making everyone a little sick. Mutli Khan’s eyes darted around searching madly for anyone who was engaged in his metaphysical and spiritual discourse. Even Nemo let out a yawn. This went on for what could have been hours until at last Multi Khan took off down the beach embarrassed, doubled over and looking a little sick. The fire was dying down and one by one the guests either departed or found a quiet spot to curl up and pass out. The party was over.

The sun rose into clear, pristine skies. Party goers brushed sleep from their eyes to discover themselves in peace and harmony with the earth. A newly wed couple, who had wandered too far past the boundary of the resorts, paused briefly to survey the scene but continued strolling.

Not far from the great fire, Anthony and Franz discovered Multi Khan’s body. He was lying face down and folded over; his soft cheeks pale blue and lifeless. He had choked on his own vomit.

In a somber daze, Anthony and Franz recalled the events of the night and preceding day. Now completely purged, they both felt eerily cleansed as they’d been promised. EMTs descended upon the scene. A young officer took down their details and questioned them about the details of the young man who had just passed away.

Their memories still foggy, Anthony and Franz had to read his name off Multi Khan’s back; his fleshy tombstone marking the beginning of the final trip.
Verse 1

I’ve driven down highways
I’ve driven down roads
I’ve driven to places that everybody knows
But where nobody goes

I’ve driven in the ice
I’ve driven in the snow
I’ve driven in the rain
When people hid in their homes
When people locked out the cold


And I’m driven away
Driven, farther and farther away

Verse 2

Where the straight lanes blend with the lines of the horizon
And a bent brim cap keeps the sun out my eyes
Even thought I keep heading its way
Stuck chasing another day

Dredge the long black rivers with the gilded signs
With the lily pad gas stations every hundred miles
Relying on a rusty frame
Depending on a dying trade


That’s driven to change
Driven, further and further away

Verse 3

I’ve seen mountains that smoke where there is no fire
I’ve seen the hills of California burn,
I’ve seen the Colorado run dry
But even the mighty C&O railroad must die.
I’ve seen the peaks that changed lives before my time
I’ve seen the canyon that split my father’s heart before mine
Oh, those were the times.

Pictures stand silent for a thousand words
When pictures write a generation’s curse
With one simple phrase:
“Things didn’t used to be this way”


They were driven to change.
And we’re paving the way.

Verse 4

Between the Hard Rains and New Orleans
We can hope we can pray this is just Dylan’s dream
But I’m afraid, babe, it’s the real thing.
So I’ve put to sleep all my hounds of greed
I’ve taken a look around, this world has taken me
I’m only taking what I need
Won’t you try to take this seriously

Chorus & Tag

We’re driven to change
And me and you, we are paving the way
As we fly as we drive further away
Remember, we are the change that we make
Drive, strive, fight for your change.
Drive, strive, fight for your change.

It begins to calm
A contrast to the land
Harsh and rock-faced
Steep and illusive
To ignorant eyes. Our eyes, so
We leave water
Leave it to rest in its
Steady movement
As we swim in the night’s stillness
Night bodies preparing for waves
To guide us. Waves
To overcome. Waves
To follow in vast reflection,
Perhaps to stillness

We live for these moments when
Exhausted from water
We welcome land.
Then we return
Once again
Rowing towards shore. Still though
We look back
Always turning towards
The next day
Not yet stretched before us
The continuation of unfinished strokes
Ceasing not in wind bound hours
Nor in our return to land locked days.

Dear friends: below is a 97.1% true story, yet with your clever additions, it will ultimately be a 71.3% true story. Fill in the gaps with the requested word choice directly on top of the grey text. It is meant to be light enough to write over. However, if you choose to use this story multiple times, it is suggested that you use a separate sheet of paper on which to write your words. The author understands that at least two readers are required to enjoy this interactive essay; therefore it has been subdivided into six parts so each reader can trade off and enjoy both roles of author and scribe (just don’t let your eyes wander beyond the section at hand!).

It was a adj and cold evening, and female friend and I put on our wintery superlative adj attire. She immediately noticed my mis-matched gloves, scoffing at the frayed fingers and worn holes. They did look kind of like swiss plural noun, but the blown out fingertips proved useful for actions like buttoning sweaters, zipping plural noun, and scratching plural noun, so it didn’t bother me. Even before we reached the exit off the interstate, cars were backed up all the way to the mall entrance, creating a large noun of red brake lights ahead of us. At this hour on Christmas Eve, this was the superlative adj party in town.

The first stop was Barnes and Noble… but in order to go inside, we had to verb. Finding a parking spot was adj, and as lengthy as the actual shopping. The anxiety from the other shoppers circling like plural animal for a space to park was palatable. For a good 30 minutes we verb (past tense) around the labyrinth, our goal always within sight, but just out of reach. Same female friend said, “uh, … is that a spot?” I said, “I think you should just go for it”. It was clearly illegal, but I wanted to get the hell out of the vehicle. Eventually we found a place light years from the store, grabbed our plural noun, but forgot our reusable shopping bags. I guess we could just buy another one, right?

We form of movement (past tense) into Barnes and Noble and I made a bee line for the music section, finding CDs to sample with their music-listening plural noun. I found Susan Boyle’s Christmas album, put the plural noun on, briefly thought about the germs on them, then listened away. Surprisingly, she had covered Lou Reed’s Perfect Day, so I skipped to that song, but unfortunately the clip ended before it got to my favorite part. I shifted focus. Upstairs was a whole other wonderland of books and plural noun, so I decided to ascend. Randomly, I ran into a friend from way back. In fact, this guy, Chris, was the first boy I ever kissed. Yep, we grew up together in Hot plural noun National Park, Arkansas. Random. He was shopping for a cookbook, and I told him I was looking for my friend. It is amazing to think how some things never verb, like losing people in malls. That shit’s been happening since I first stepped a body part from lower half inside a mall, except it was much scarier when I was 5. He wasn’t without his shopping buddy, who was hovering number feet away. Am I the only one who constantly verb ending in — s people in malls? Eventually I found same female friend, and she found her books, including one for her dad entitled “Body part in Space: A Guide to Astral Travel from the Comforts of Your type of room.” It was a successful stop.

Next? Straight to the internal organ of the mall: the trendy-teen-alternative-adj-made-in-country store. I rifled through the scarves and key chains and thought about all the times I visited the mall when I was in level of education … wanting to own all the sparkly plural noun on display, thinking how it must be so cool to have a job there. I helped same female friend find a t-shirt and decide on the perfect item of clothing for her friend. While checking out, I noticed the obligatory buttons for sale with adj phrases such as “The voices in my body part may not be real, but they have some adj ideas!” Another success, then off to the gift wrap store. We walked in and I was feeling silly and wanted to find wrapping paper to match my mood. I asked the job title for the silliest wrapping paper s/he had. S/he seemed puzzled and pointed me in the direction of the birthday-themed paper. But I had no use for birthday wrapping paper (Jesus’ birthday happened years ago, duh — we’ve moved on to plural noun and Santa Claus). By the end of the wrapping paper fiasco, I lost same female friend yet again. I guess she had changed her internal organ about the gift wrap… or else had snuck away to buy me a gift while I was preoccupied (secretly wished my number -year old kid-at-heart).

I hesitantly walked out of the store, nearly being verb (past tense) up in the one-way river of shoppers. Taking a couple steps direction, I carefully plotted my move. I channeled my video game skills that have accumulated over the years and, like frogger, hopped perpendicular to the traffic during a break, paused for number second(s), then dashed for the middle “safety zone” where other shoppers had broken from the river to eddy amongst the plural land form of knick-knacks. Reverting back to memories of getting lost in the mall when I was a stage of human life, I found a safe spot to idle and keep a body part on the location where we together last. That safe spot just happened to be right next to the calendars of sleeping puppies and kittens. I flipped through the pages and giggled to myself, thinking how strange it would be if cats had calendars of verb ending in — ing people nestled in blankets or sprawled on the couch… and then thought I should make a calendar of furry, burly, sleeping men, and sell it right next to the furry, adj, sleeping kitten calendar. I looked up to check for same female friend — no sign. A wo/man sidled up to me, no doubt the job title for the calendars, and said, “You know, if you laugh that means you have to buy it.” I told her/him the one I really wanted wasn’t for sale.

I looked up again and spotted same female friend on the other side of the shopper river. We were stuck. She adverb navigated her way to me, bumping into a couple mall plural animal on the way. Eventually reunited, we plowed against the current and veered off to find an exit. After adverb bundling up and stepping out into the cold night air, a strange sequence of events happened while outside by the street feature. Actually, it wasn’t a sequence. It was a bombardment. At the same instant and all within number feet of us, a woman screamed, a car honked its noun, and a distraught man asked us for spare change for the bus. None of these things were related to each other. Same female friend handed him a single form of currency while I meandered adverb toward the car, still discombobulated from the adj synchronicity of the events and generally over stimulated from the mall experience.

The parking lot was still packed like sardines. We drove away feeling a little less adj and a little more ADD than before. Moral of the story: Dare to Dream a Dream like Susan Boyle and witness the ensuing adj success.

He lifted me onto the horse whose forelock whipped gently in the November breeze. The wind smelled subtly of cumin and coriander. I had refused to get on at first. I was content with searching irrationally for the tallest mound of Saharan sand from which to watch the sun slip below the horizon and paint the sand pink. But when he approached me the second time, I couldn’t decline. He was enticingly handsome. His black tagelmust concealed everything but his dark eyes, whose mysteriousness seemed to indicate that he was a mirage. He spoke not a word but instead pulled me onto the horse, galloped through the nothingness, and eventually brought me back to my nook in the sand. Tunisia epitomized exotic adventure.

Upon returning to the oasis and dismounting my dromedary, the horseman and a comrade trotted circles around me. Inspecting me with severe eyes, he spoke: “Où est mon argent?!” He demanded payment for the horse ride I’d initially rejected, awakening me from my North African dream. I argued with him until he became frustrated, sending him scurrying deeper into the oasis. Later, he’d mingle with European desert-trekkers as they sipped beers at the makeshift bar, dressed in athletic gear that complemented their Hummers.

My wanderlust has taken me on a series of adventures these past five years. I have seen fifteen countries and half of the United States during this time, always returning home with a new life lesson and matured perspective.

For example, bungee-jumping off the world’s highest bungee bridge in South Africa brought me to experience silence in its purest form. Living simply in northern Uganda allowed me to witness humanity and rethink my role in the world. Road-tripping across the U.S. enabled me to appreciate freedom, in every sense of the word.

Each of these adventures was an escape from the monotony of home. I set out on quests to eat unusual food, befriend locals, dance traditional dances, and participate in other clichés, all the while learning more about myself. I have indeed gained insight from all the typical points of individual and societal reflection that come with travel, but my most profound discovery was a tragic one: my thirst for adventure was unquenchable. In my desire to encounter something or somewhere new, I found that liberation from the familiar was a fleeting feeling.

The bliss following my 708-foot jump in South Africa lasted seconds before I began to panic that I was dangling hundreds of feet above rocks and river. However unplugged Uganda was, it was wrought with post-conflict recovery. And that freedom I experienced on the open road of America’s western frontier was often spent gazing out the window of my car at the miles of preserved Indian reservations nestled among arid land and fast food restaurants.

My escape from familiarity led me back to just that. The adventure was temporary and never as idyllic as it first appeared.

A year ago, I put my travels on hold and began my most daring adventure to date: living at home. It has been the most painful, mundane, and frustrating adventure yet, but the journey has never been more fulfilling. Unlike the utopian fantasies that filled my mind prior to my other adventures, I began this one expecting to be disappointed.

The word adventure implies an experience that involves some kind of risk or danger, which leads this experience to be exciting. Confronting the unpleasant realities of home might not seem as dangerous as jumping off a bridge, but the risk is just as terrifying. What if something goes wrong?

The excitement I’ve felt living at home has come from taking the risk, accepting failure, reconciling with my past, making decisions about my future, and, above all, learning to be present. My usual experience with home life had entailed dwelling on pain, wallowing in boredom, and agonizing over the uncertainties of my professional and personal lives. Because of this, I had developed a habit of thinking too much — expecting too much, fearing too much, anticipating too much, and so on. It’s that state of discontent, which comes from an inability to value life happenings as they come and as they are.

When I began this adventure of living at home, I didn’t have a plan. I’ve had to improvise and think critically. I even put my escapism into practice again — getting lost in my thoughts in the Smoky Mountains, journaling under a budding tree at the park, rediscovering the charm of downtown Knoxville. This time, though, I didn’t escape with expectations; I escaped to experience somewhere. That is, appreciating the beauty of what I saw or felt as I experienced it: the mountain vegetation, the tranquility of springtime shade, the warmth of local artisans. Nothing more. Nothing less.

I had had a habit of not being satisfied with things as they were, and this led me to find meaning or beauty where it didn’t necessarily exist. I learned instead that the trees did not impart advice as I walked by. The shade was not reading over my shoulder. The Knoxville artisans did not lead perfectly simple lives. There was beauty, but I came to realize that there was also unpleasantness. All of it was reality. And that in itself was worth cherishing.

I learned to incorporate this wisdom into the life from which I was constantly running away. The pain, stress, and tedium at home didn’t need to be beautiful for me to appreciate them. They were familiar realities that I needed to accept, work through, and learn from.

In doing this, I have begun to recognize my role as an active participant in my life. I started to find that my yearning for something more than I was experiencing caused me to live a passive life. It was a life I often spent waiting to be wowed. As a result, I struggled to acknowledge everyday thrills and trials as opportunities for self-awareness and enriched perspective.

Having this insight beforehand would have allowed me to understand that my trip to Tunisia wasn’t going to be a magic carpet ride. It’s a place with helpful strangers, scam artists, mini-skirts, business suits, natural wonders, skyscrapers, ancient artifacts, and tacky novelty gifts. Though Tunisia’s essence was unique, its substance resembled that of many other places I had seen. Had I anticipated this instead of the fantasies I created of Arabian nights in what I thought was an untouched part of the world, I don’t think I would have been as disappointed as I was.

I think perhaps I would have appreciated the familiarities and negative quirks as part of the fabric that made Tunisia beautiful in itself. If I instead found them ugly, that would have been fine, too; they would have been real feelings towards real observations. I would have been present, letting my feet sink into the rust-orange sand as the evening breeze rustled my own tagelmust and kissed my cheek.

I would not have imagined the spices I smelled or the whispers of bygone adventurers I heard in the wind. Instead, I would have recognized the splendor of that breeze for what it was: crisp, clean, comforting. Over millions of years, it had worked the sand into a fine dust.

Perhaps relishing this reality would have drawn my interest away from the desert-rider. Feeling the incomprehensible antiquity of the desert beneath my feet would’ve been all that I would’ve needed to have been satisfied.

“Travel is only glamorous in retrospect,” according to travel writer Paul Theroux. That had been true of my travels. I wrote home about the stereotypes of each destination, often glossing over or leaving out less-interesting truths. It was what I felt my readers wanted to read. It is what I felt I would want to read in my journals in reminiscence of my youth’s exploits many years from now. More often than not, though, I witnessed non-stereotypes, like Europeans devouring Big Macs and Africans chatting away on cell phones.

Experiencing home has enabled me to embrace familiarity as part of an adventure’s reality. In doing so, I have learned to value experiences in the present and look back on them as they really were — glamorous or not.

Retrospective longing has not only falsely glorified my past travels, but it has also caused me to anticipate this idealism in subsequent experiences, including my everyday adventures. With this knowledge, I intend to set aside expectations and recognize that adventure is not about the exoticness or the danger or the fairytale. The most thrilling adventure comes from savoring actual beauty, understanding actual ugliness, and treasuring truth. At that point, an experience doesn’t need to be glamorous in hindsight, foresight, or at present; it just needs to be what it is.